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What is Boondocking?

Boondocking refers to camping in an RV without hookups for water, sewer, or electricity. (This is also sometimes called dry camping.)Why do RVers boondock? Well, lots of reasons. Sometimes it's by necessity, such as an overnight stay at a Walmart or in a friend's driveway. Other times it's to enjoy a remote location, save money at a campground, or simply enjoy the freedom that comes with living off the grid.Boondocking can be very enjoyable and rewarding, but it does take some preparation, and first-timers generally have a hundred questions. Is boondocking legal? Is boondocking safe? Where can you park? What must-have items do you need to boondock?We'll answer these common questions and more below. Read on to learn the basics of boondocking and discover whether it sounds like the right camping experience for you.

Is Boondocking Legal?

If you Google what is boondocking, one of the first additional questions that pops up is is boondocking legal? That's kind of like asking if parking a car is legal. It's perfectly legal—provided you park in a legally designated spot. Many locations allow and even encourage boondockers to set up camp. There are different camping locations and different rules depending where you go. It's always best to research beforehand, call ahead, and ask permission when necessary.
Chicken Farm

The Unique Camping Experience

Boondocking opens up an entirely new brand of adventure. There are some truly unique locations that welcome RVers—often for free. An easy way to enjoy these locations is to sign up for an online membership like Harvest Hosts, which grants you access to a huge network of RV-friendly wineries, farms, breweries, vineyards, and other locations for a yearly fee.These gracious hosts allow you to park for free and see how things are run on the farm or business. Plus, you'll have the chance to snag some unique wine, gifts, or other goodies as well as support a local small business.
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The Nature-Lover's Camping Experience

You may also consider public lands, state parks, national parks, national forests, and even beaches. Just make sure to check ahead of time to see what, if any, restrictions exist for campers. Camping stays are often limited to 2-3 weeks, and some locations require you to pay a fee or get a permit.You may also want to plan your trips around the camping season. Some camping locations are free during the off-season and only require a fee during peak season.
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The Overnight Camping Experience

Sometimes you'll boondock not because of the great views or off-grid privacy, but because—well, you need to sleep. Many RVers find themselves parked overnight at a Walmart at some point in their RV journey.There are quite a few businesses known for being friendly to RVers. It's always best to call ahead or check in with the store to make sure setting up camp in the parking lot is allowed, but in general, the following businesses are known for allowing overnight camping:
  • Walmart
  • Cracker Barrel
  • Costco
  • Camping World
  • Highway rest stops
A Note on Boondocking EtiquetteThe most important thing to keep in mind when boondocking is to be respectful and courteous to your hosts, your environment, and your neighbors.Obey any rules or restrictions for RVers, and camp only in designated locations. Don't draw attention to yourself. Properly dispose of any trash and animal waste, and always empty your holding tanks at a dumping site. Don't play loud music on your RV's fancy stereo system or run your generator in the middle of the night. If you park in front of a local business, try to purchase something, even something small, to support them.These courteous behaviors help ensure that these locations will stay open and welcoming to RVers in the future. Don't be the reason a store or camping location decides to close their doors to campers!

Is Boondocking Safe?

Many campers worry about safety when it comes to boondocking, but with some precautions and basic common sense, boondocking is actually quite safe! Most campers go their entire lives without ever running into a safety problem.Use the same discretion when boondocking as you would any other time. You wouldn't pick up a hitchhiker in your car or invite a stranger into your house, so the same rules apply to your RV. If you don't currently have an RV and are shopping for one, consider a motorhome over a conventional travel trailer or fifth-wheel camper. With a motorhome, you never need to leave the camper to drive off—just pop in the front seat and go.Also, if you live in your camper full time, try not to advertise this. This just implies to the outside world that you've probably got some kind of valuables stowed inside.For more tips on staying safe, check out our Safety Tips for Solo Campers, which also apply to couples, families, and large groups. And as always, trust your gut, and if something feels unsafe, leave.
Motorhome

How Long Can You Boondock in an RV?

Aside from local camping restrictions, the main restrictions to the boondocking lifestyle are your holding tanks and electricity. That is, you'll need enough potable water in your fresh water tank, enough capacity in your gray and black tanks, and enough power to get you through your trip—however long that may be. So how long can you go? Well, it depends on a few factors:
  • How big are your holding tanks?
  • What size battery bank do you have?
  • How much water and electricity do you use per day?
  • Are you willing to make concessions to conserve water and power?
  • How many people are camping with you?
  • What kind of climate are you camping in? (i.e., will you be running the furnace to stay warm or drinking extra water to stay hydrated?)
On average, most boondockers find they can camp anywhere from a few days to about two weeks. Depending on your personal habits, you'll probably find that one of the above limitations becomes more of a problem than the others. For instance, you may find you always need to dump your gray tank first, or possibly you run out of fresh water before anything else.For a more in-depth breakdown of how long you can last boondocking and tips to prolong your trip, check out our article, How Long Can You Boondock in an RV?
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Image Credit: Keep Your Daydream

Must-Have Boondocking Essentials

Boondocking requires some special considerations in order to preserve your precious resources—namely, power and water—as long as possible. Reliable power sources, low-power appliances, and water-conserving devices are your best friends. Below, we've listed our top 10 product choices we'd take boondocking.
Battery Bank

1. Batteries

A sizable battery bank becomes especially important when boondocking. The larger your battery bank, the longer you can go without having to recharge. If you're planning on using solar power, it's also important to have a large battery bank, since solar panels work by recharging your batteries (not powering your appliances directly). Of course, you're limited by space in an RV, but we recommend adding to your battery bank if possible to get the most out of your dry camping trips.
Battery Health Monitor

2. Battery Monitor

A battery monitor goes hand-in-hand with your battery bank. Battery monitors provide up-to-date information about the state of your battery, so you can make sure it's always optimally charged. Battery monitors typically provide a screen or phone app to check your battery status. How much power are your solar panels bringing in? How much power have you used? Are you using power faster than you can replenish it?These are the questions a battery monitor will answer for you. Battery health is super important—keeping your batteries optimally charged will prolong their lifespan (and batteries are expensive, so your bank account will thank you for this).You can purchase a battery monitor separately, or you can purchase a monitor + charger setup.
Solar Panel

3. Generator and/or Solar Panels

When it comes to your power source, your choices when boondocking pretty much come down to a generator or solar power. You don't have to limit yourself to just one. Many boondockers use solar power when the weather is ideal (mild and sunny) and run their generator on hot or cloudy days.There's a lot to consider before purchasing a solar panel setup—will solar panels be a worthwhile investment for you? Is your climate ideal for solar power? How big a setup do you need? For additional help on the nitty gritty aspects of a solar panel setup, check out our help articles on the topic here. You may also want to consider a battery charger like Redarc's BCDC, which can use your tow vehicle's battery as well as solar power to keep your rig charged.
etrailer Inverters

4. Inverter and/or Chargers

It's important to know that half of your RV runs on 12V DC power from your batteries. Your furnace, most lights, water pump, etc. all run on DC power. If you want to run 120V AC appliances like your microwave, air conditioner, and household electronics (laptops, tablets, etc) when boondocking, you'll need an inverter. An inverter changes your rig's 12v DC power into 120V AC power. Some RVs come with built-in inverters, but you'll have to purchase one separately for most older model RVs.As an alternative, also consider an inverter generator, which provides both 12V DC and 120V AC power, so you have everything you need in one.If you don't want to splurge on an inverter but just want to power a few sensitive electronic devices, you can also purchase individual chargers. You know how your phone can be charged via an outlet in your house (120V AC power) as well as in your car's cigarette lighter (12V DC power)? You can find other types of chargers that do the same. A variety of portable chargers are available to charge various electronic devices.
Low-Flow Shower Head

5. Low-Flow Shower Head

One of the main challenges of boondocking is making your water last. One way to do that is with a low-flow shower head with shutoff capability. These shower heads by Camco allow as little as 1.7 gallons to flow per minute and have a handy on/off switch that lets you pause water flow in between rinses. This is ideal for those navy showers so common to the boondocking lifestyle.
Portable Wastewater Tank

6. Portable Wastewater Tank

A portable wastewater tank allows you to extend your trip by providing extra storage space for your black and gray waste.Many boondockers find their biggest limitation is filling up their tanks (particularly the gray) too quickly and needing to find a dump station. A portable tank gives you a little extra room to ensure you don't have to cut your trip short to go dump your tanks. You can store your portable tank in your truck bed, RV ladder, or rear bumper. Some campers even transport the tank in their RV's shower when traveling.
RV Toilet Paper

7. RV Toilet Paper

TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCKSurprised to see this on the list? It may not be the fanciest RV gadget out there, but you'll certainly be glad you have it. RV toilet paper dissolves quickly and is biodegradable, so it's suitable for your RV's delicate sewer system.Besides that, you definitely want to stock up if you're going to be camping in the middle of nowhere. Running out of toilet paper at the wrong moment may be even worse than running out of water.
LED pendant light

8. LED Lights

You'd be surprised how much energy you can save just by switching to LED bulbs. LEDs are about 80% to 90% more efficient than the incandescent bulbs that typically come standard in RVs. Using less energy to keep the lights on means you can maximize your stay at your campsite.For more information on making the switch, check out our help article 5 Reasons to Convert Your RV Lights to LEDS Today.
Camco Olympian Catalytic Heater

9. Fan and/or Heater

Running the furnace or air conditioner draws a lot of energy. But boondocking doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your comfort.A great way to provide some relief from the heat or cold without draining your batteries is by using a low-draw 12V fan or a propane-powered heater.LP-powered catalytic heaters require no battery connection, so you don't have to worry about electricity drain. These heaters don't have an open flame, so they also draw minimal propane. Just ALWAYS make sure to keep a window open for ventilation if you use these inside your camper!
Wi-Fi Router

10. Wifi Router/Booster

Okay, this one might not help extend your stay, but as far as we're concerned, it's still a must-have boondocking item. We love nature as much as anyone, but we also love WiFi.Furrion's available pay-as-you-go data plans are available for the US nationwide. Just sign up, pick your plan, and enjoy a 4G LTE signal on the go. If you want to enjoy your remote nature adventure and still maintain a connection to civilization, a WiFi router/booster will give you the best of both worlds without requiring you to find a nearby Starbucks every time you want to get online. Whether you're working remotely or settling in for a nightly Netflix binge, you'll appreciate not having to leave your RV.You'll also need a rooftop antenna. You can purchase the router and antenna together. Or, if your RV already has the required antenna, you can purchase the router alone.
Still have questions?Give our experts a call at 800-298-8924, or contact us online. We're happy to assist any way we can!
Amber S.
About the AuthorAs a content writer for etrailer, I might spend my morning loading and unloading a bike on five different bike racks to figure out which is easiest to use. I might be in the parking lot, taking pictures of an impressive RV battery setup our techs came across in the shop and discussing the benefits of the setup with the owner. I might spend an afternoon in a manufacturer training classes for some hands-on experience with new products, and then sit down to assemble all this information into a coherent article.At etrailer, one of our core values is that we are always learning, and I learn something new every day. I start each morning with the goal in mind of taking all of this information and figuring out the best way to answer the questions people ask us (and the ones they don’t know to ask yet), and helping people get the solutions they need to make their lives easier, safer, and more fun. I’m a DIYer at heart, so it brings me great joy to help a fellow DIYer find what they’re looking for, whether that’s a product, an answer, or a community.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated on: 3/9/2020

Questions and Comments about this Article

Sandy F.

We boondock every season. I am long retired from the Forest Service and have a couple of comments. First, please take care with your campfire. Campers leave and think it is out,,,but isnt. Scary! I have put out many campfires over the years.We need water regularly. I bought a small 12 volt pump, battery, short hose and several containers. A generator to charge the small battery helps or get a big one. A run to a nice clear creek occasionally is necessary. Our long time favorite places dont need filtering of the water. 73485

Reply from Chris R.

Thanks so much for that feedback and you're absolutely right. Taking care of the beautiful places we camp in always has to be a top priority. 59970

Stephen M.

Informative article with some good advice for anyone wanting to boondock. One more thing to be mindful of depending on where and type of terrain you set up camp is rodents. Its a good idea to put traps out under the RV especially near power cord access or engine bays. Mice will try to access RVs and even the best built RV have areas that mice can enter. I use traps and also spray peppermint oil under coach around axles, tires and any place they can climb or jump up on. They can do lots of damage to wiring, etc. Last year while camping in Colorado our camping traveling friends had rodents get in their 5th wheel. I put out traps every evening a caught no less than 3 or 4 mice every night during our stay. Mice do not like peppermint oil and it will help as will battery powered devices that emit high frequency sounds and flashing lites. 73483

Reply from Chris R.

That's fantastic advice. Rodents LOVE to chew on wires. 59969

Stan

Great article and you explain things very well, I wish I had known about you 3 years ago when I started my adventure of Rebuilding too far gone to restore a 1965 Air Stream. According to what you have in your info I am pretty much on track with my build. I am coming into the home stretch and hoping when this virus stuff is over I will be ready to go camping. 73471

Reply from Chris R.

Great! Even though you didn't have us 3 years ago, we're here now - so please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns as you plow through that home stretch. 59946

Bob V.

Heed some advice, I have a 25 ft. 2003 motor home with only 1 battery in the living area. I have room for may be up to 6 batteries. Is there any special way to connect the batteries and would I need a bigger charger for them? Any information with this would be a great. I am thing about of 2 or 3 batteries right now. What help would solar panels d]add to keeping the batteries full 73459

Reply from Chris R.

You'll want to wire the battery bank in parallel, meaning the positive terminals are connected together and the negative terminals are connected to each other. This keeps the voltage the same but increases the actual capacity as you add more batteries to the chain. I linked a handy answer page on the subject as well. Solar panels will absolutely help to keep them charged, especially if you plan on going off grid. I've linked a few other great articles on this below that you might find really helpful. 59945

Clester O.

We boondock a lot. We have been living in our 45 year old 15 travel trailer that I gutted and made it wheelchair accessible with an attached fold out 48 wide ramp and dooras far as Ive been able to search its the only truly wheelchair accessible camper in existence as well as a Hoyer lift built in to get my wife on the commode and in the bed. My wife is a wheelchair bound severely disabled woman. Small trailer because our twenty year old wheelchair van cant pull anything much bigger. We have stayed in dispersed campsites in national forest from Michigan to Florida. At times in extremely rough places to get in and out of,most people wouldnt even attempt with a 4x4,but Ive had a lot of off-road experience so I am better prepared and equipped to know what I can and cant do than most. We usually stay about two weeks at a time in each place. We are solar powered using six agm wheelchair deep cycle batteries. On a sunny day I can run our 120 volt mini washing machine and charge her wheelchair at the same time. We have a small inverter generator as backup when neededwe have yet to use. Forty gallon filtered fresh water tank, and we usually get at least ten one gallon jugs for backup. We love it. Far better than living in a prison in a house. Spending money on our travels instead of rent. Living on her social security alone less than minimum wage . I cant work because she needs around the clock care and Im not old enough for social security. If we can do it, literally anyone can.Live life and have fun!!! 73450

Reply from Chris R.

That is fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing. I think what you described is the absolute essence of boondocking and what it can offer to EVERYONE. 59944

Dan S.

Great article! The only thing I would add is that although back-country boondocking in the national forests is a lot of fun, it is also a lot of time-consuming work you have to find a site, tote your own water, level the RV on a rough patch of ground, commute over rough roads, etc. If you want a relaxing lower-effort experience, stick with an RV park or a campground. If you want adventure, privacy, and silence, boondocking is the way to go. 73438

Reply from Chris R.

I completely agree. Boondocking and camping at a park/campground are definitely different things - each with different draws. The former certainly requires a bit more work - you're intentionally breaking free of modern conveniences, after all - but the experience of truly, genuinely, "getting away" can be absolutely worth it. 59932

Bruce B.

I Bought A Starcraft Autumn Ridge Extreme In January 2018, And I’m Always Gone And I’ve Stayed In Only Two Camp Grounds Since ... I’ve Been Through Cali, Utah , Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas , Mississippi And Louisiana... I’ve Put My Truck In Four Low And Fished Some Of The Best Holes Going , I Travel With Two Dogs And A Cat And A Tortoise... There’s Nothing Better At The Age Of 60 73430

Reply from Chris R.

I think you might make a lot of readers jealous with this comment. That sounds like a blast! 59927

Big 4.

The Forest Service refers to it as Dispersed camping, and it is highly dependent on the local guys or gals as to whether or not they will permit you to stay.I like Dispersed personally, but the Lady misses her amenities. 73428

Reply from Chris R.

I've heard that term used as well. Getting out on your own definitely has lots of appeal - but I don't blame anyone for appreciating those convenient amenities, either.... 59926

Billy B.

As an experienced boondocker &amp host for boondockers welcome. Your article is very well written. Im sure it will be helpful to many.THANKS. Regards 73424

Reply from Chris R.

Thanks for the kind words! 59925



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