What if I told you it was possible to travel in your cushy RV, outfitted with a queen bed and indoor plumbing, without giving up the feeling of freedom that comes from setting up camp in a free, secluded, picturesque campsite out in the boonies?
Sounds great doesn’t it? This practice is commonly called boondocking, and it’s loosly defined as camping outside of an established campground on public lands with no utility hook-ups. Not only is it a rewarding way to RV camp, but after learning a few simple boondocking lessons, it’s really simple.
Things You Need To Know To Camp In The Boonies Successfully
Boondocking is a skill that improves over time. Eventually you go from over flowing your grey tank and running down your batteries on the second day, to having your water and electric needs so dialed in that it requires no more thought than staying at a campground with full hook ups.
But to get there you need to know a few things.
My husband and I recently hit a milestone of 70 days of consecutive boondocking. Seventy days of free camping, incredible views, complete solitude, and a diminishing desire to ever set foot in a campground again. During that time I started thinking about the most important boondocking lessons that we’ve learned over the years.
From power needs to learning from others, here are five boondocking lessons to help you camp for free like a pro.
1. Make a Plan
Sure, you could simply hop in your rig and head for the nearest patch of public land. As romantic as that sounds, the hard truth is that the most rewarding boondoocking adventures are usually the result of a little planning and forethought. Before you even start looking for potential sites, give some thought to your wants and needs.
Are you in search of complete isolation, or a more social scene where multiple RVs converge? What kind of roads are you comfortable driving on with your RV? Are your priorities a wide open view, trees to provide shade, or easy access to hiking trails?
It’s also important to learn the limitations of your RV. Things like knowing the ground clearance and height limit of your rig are essential when heading off the main road. Thinking about these wants and needs ahead of time will not only improve your boondocking experience, but it will reduce the chance of potential problems.
2. Learn From Others
The very best way to learn the ins and outs of boondocking is by following in the footsteps of those who have come before you. When we first started out I poured over travel blogs and websites trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
There is an impressive amount of information out there about boondocking. I like to utilize a variety of sources.
- Travel bloggers who write about boondocking experiences and locations: Wheeling It, Aluminarium, Technomadia, Road Less Traveled, Van-Tramp, Gone With The Wynns.
- Websites that list boondocking locations along with reviews from people who have camped there: Campendium, freecampsites.net.
- Online resources: BLM, US Forest Service, Frugal-RV-Travel Boondocking Guides.
Another great way to learn from others is to camp with them. Spend any amount of time in the Southwest during the winter months and you’re bound to run into other boondockers. Seek out the more popular boondocking areas like Quartzsite, Yuma and Borrego Springs to increase your chance of running into other people.
While it’s not wise to park right next the RV with 6 tilted solar panels on top and start firing away questions, if you park a respectful distance away and wander over for a conversation you might be surprised how willing most people are to share their boondocking knowledge.
3. Bring Extra Water (and learn how to get it in your tank)
Water conservation is an absolute must when boondocking, but if you want to stay out for an extended period of time, it’s always a good idea to bring extra water.
How much you bring is up to you, but if you’re going somewhere far from a water source – more is always better.
Our RV only has a 39 gallon fresh water tank, and we use on average eight gallons of water a day for two people (that includes drinking water). If you do the math that means we only have enough water in the tank to last about four and half days.
Since we almost always stay somewhere for at least a full week, we solve the water shortage by carrying three 6-gallon rigid plastic jugs and one 5-gallon collapsible water container giving us more than enough for a full week.
Of course, bringing the water with you is only the first step. Next you need to get it into your RV water tank. I will confess that I used to think this was a non-issue. Our RV has a simple gravity fill water port where we can pour the water directly from the jug with a funnel.
However, it came to my attention this winter while boondocking with a group of other RVers that some rigs either have the water fill location too close to the ground to pour into with a funnel, or even worse require water pressure to open a valve inside the tank to allow the water in.
Getting around these obstacles requires a bit of ingenuity (and maybe a homemade water pump), but it’s probably best to figure it out ahead of time before you end up in the middle of nowhere with an extra 20 gallons of water and no way to get it in your tank.