There are lots of ways to camp in an RV. You can stay at a fancy resort with a heated pool and an onsite golf course, a state park with wooded sites and easy access to hiking trails, a KOA with lots of activities for the kids, or you could leave all that behind and strike out on your own for the ultimate RV experience—boondocking.
The term boondocking is used loosely to describe RVing outside of a campground with no hook-ups. It is commonly done in national forests, on BLM land, and occasionally in parking lots.
Boondocking requires a sense of adventure, a willingness to conserve resources, and a desire to enjoy nature. It also requires a few extra items that you might not already have in your RV.
With that in mind, these 10 items are essential for a successful (and enjoyable) boondocking adventure.
All RVs come with either one or two house batteries that power things such as the lights, the water pump, and other 12-volt appliances. There are different types and brands of RV batteries that store varying amounts of power, and require varying amounts of maintenance.
The important thing to remember when it comes to RV batteries and boondocking is that the more battery capacity you have, the more power you can store, and the longer you can go without having to recharge.
2. Solar panels / generator
No matter how many batteries you have, eventually they will need to be charged. Short of driving to a campground and plugging in, the two best ways to charge your batteries are with solar panels or a generator.
Solar panels for RVs are more popular than ever. Plus they have quite a few benefits over generators, including being much more environmentally friendly. These days, even casual boondockers often travel with a small roof mounted set-up or a portable panel.
How much solar you need is determined by how much power you use. Some people find a single 150 watt portable panel to be more than adequate, while others install 600, and even up to 1000 watts on their roof.
The best way to determine your power needs is to conduct a real world test. Go on a short boondocking trip and see how long it takes to run the batteries down when using your normal power load. Then consult a resource such as AM Solar to calculate how much solar you need.
The other way to charge your batteries is with a generator. Most Class A and Class C RVs come with a built-in generator, while most travel trailers and fifth wheels do not.
Even with a solar set-up, a back up generator is good idea for those who plan to do a lot of boondocking.
The limiting factor of relying on solar power is that with no sun, you will not generate any power. This can be a problem on both cloudy or hot days when you want to park in the shade.
3. 12-volt chargers and appliances
Conserving power when boondocking is essential. No matter how many batteries, how much solar power, or how large your generator, you are going to want to use less power than if you were plugged into shore power.
Does that mean you need to leave behind all your electronic gadgets and appliances? No, but it does mean that you may have to find a more efficient way to power them.
When an RV is running on battery power, all the power coming in is 12 VDC. If you want to power items that run on 120 V AC, you need to use an inverter (converts power from 120V to 12V). Sounds simple enough, but it’s important to remember that not only are inverters expensive (and have limited uses) but they also require their own power to run. While many boondockers do add an inverter to their RV, the other, simpler solution is to run as many items as possible off 12 volts.
12 volt chargers are readily available for many common electronic devices. You know that cord you plug into the car to charge your phone? That’s a 12 volt charger. They also make those for laptops, e-readers, camera batteries, and many other small rechargeable electronics.
Does this mean you can run everything off 12 volt power? Maybe not. But keep in mind that every time you avoid turning on the inverter you are saving power.
4. LED lights
One of the simplest ways to conserve power is by switching all the lights in your RV to LEDs. Did you know that LED bulbs use up to 90% less energy than traditional bulbs? That’s a huge difference. Other benefits of LEDs are that they don’t produce heat, and they last up to 50 times longer than a typical incandescent bulb.
5. Outdoor solar lights & lanterns
Boondocking often entails camping far out in the wilderness with no city or streets lights for miles. While the darkness is usually a huge advantage of many boondocking locations, it can be helpful to have some outdoor lights.
One of the easiest ways to light up the area around your RV is with solar lights.
6. Low energy 12-volt fans
Using your A/C while boondocking is generally not possible. An air conditioner is a tremendous power hog. And while in some cases you can run it off a generator, ask yourself if you really want to spend all your time holed up in your rig with the generator on while the A/C blasts. Kind of defeats the purpose of boondocking, doesn’t it?
A much better way to keep cool while boondocking on a hot summer day (aside from driving to the mountains or the ocean) is with low energy 12 volt fans.
Most RVs have one or more roof vents that open to allow cool air in. These roof vents may or may come with fans in them. If they don’t have fans, consider installing some.
Both Fan-tastic Vent and Maxxair make fans that fit in the roof vents and move around the air in your RV. They are available with a variety of features including: rain sensors, rain covers, remote controls, and thermostats.
Another excellent 12 volt fan is the stand alone Endless Breeze fan by Fan-tastic. This slim-design fan pushes out a large amount of air while using a minimal amount of power.
7. Propane heater
Just as you may need to cool your RV while boondocking, you might also need to heat it. No matter what time of year, night time temperatures can sometimes get cool enough for a little heat, especially if you are boondocking in the high elevation mountains.
Instead of cranking up that noisy, energy hungry furnace, why not use an all propane option that requires no extra power?
You can choose from a simple portable heater such as a Mr. Heater Buddy that runs off small propane bottles, or you can have a wall mounted catalytic heater installed that hooks directly to your on-board propane tanks.
Remember, it is critical to properly vent propane heaters. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and never leave a propane heater unattended. Read more about the Dangers Of Propane Heaters And What Precautions You Should Take
8. Water-saving shower head and faucet aerator
Now that you’ve got everything you need to conserve power in your RV, let’s talk about conserving water. Without a water and sewer hook up, or even a nearby water spigot, it’s important to conserve both water and tank space when boondocking. One of the easiest ways to do both is by limiting the amount of water that that comes out of your faucets.
For the kitchen and bathroom sink, a simple Low Flow Faucet Aerator slows the flow of the water coming out, saving you both fresh water and space in your grey tank.
9. Dish water pan
This is an easy one. Simple buy a plastic tub that fits in your sink and wash your dishes in it. This method will automatically save water, and you can use the dish water for other purposes such as flushing the toilet.
10. Portable water jugs
If you don’t want to be limited by the size of your fresh water tank, portable water jugs will allow you to refill the tank without moving the RV.
Depending on the size of the container and the type of fresh water fill your RV has, you can either use a funnel to pour the water directly in the tank, or a 12-volt pump to add it.
What do you think? Are you ready to ditch the crowded campground for some wide open spaces and a great view? While not all of these items are critical for a successful boondocking trip, having at least a few with you will make your adventure into the wild easier and more enjoyable.