Becoming a skilled boondocker takes preparation, practice and an adventurous spirit. Should you decide to take this journey, know that the rewards are life changing. However, making modifications to your RV and developing the skills to be self-sufficient does not happen overnight. So let me help you through it.
Many have made this journey before. So there’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. I’ve put together some resources, tips and advice to help you develop YOUR unique style of RVing.
What is Boondocking?
When you hear the term “Boondocking” what does that mean to you? Is it
- Free camping on remote public land,
- overnighting in a parking lot or rest stop,
- or staying in a campground without hookups?
For many it’s all of the above. I tend to associate it with camping out in the boonies, but it really doesn’t matter. The terms “dry camping” and “boondocking” generally refer to the same basic style of RVing which is using your RV without hookups.
What’s Possible When You’re Self-sufficient?
Whether you’re boondocking or dry-camping, you’ll need to be fully self-sufficient and able to sustain yourself with the resources and materials you have on hand.
Once you achieve this, you’re RVing options really open up. Let me ask you this.
Self-sufficiency allows us to use the RV freely for prolonged periods not having to rely on outside resources. However, it didn’t happen overnight. It took years before we could both really enjoy it. Hopefully this information will help you get there much quicker.
Here’s a video of Melissa and I explaining how we transitioned from RV parks to boondocking.
I believe you’ll find, like we did, that the beauty of being self-sufficient means you can:
- Travel freely not having to worry about checking into a campground each day
- Camp at rallys and events without having to be hooked up to power, water or sewer
- Stay at any campground or dispersed campsite with or without hookups
- Be more free and spontaneous in your travels
Being self-sufficient has completely changed the way we RV today compared to when we started.
Is Your RV Suitable for Boondocking?
With the right RV boondocking can be a fantastic and liberating experience. The experience may be very different if your RV is not properly equipped.
The RV length, road clearance and tank capacities are key characteristics to consider when selecting and RV for boondocking. Adding these features later is pretty unlikely. So knowing in advance that you plan to boondock for extended periods will put you in a better position to do so.
Batteries, solar panels, inverters, more efficient equipment, and composting toilets, can all be added later. Try boondocking a few times to really understand your RV’s limitations and your needs. You’ll have a better chance of ending up with the pefect RV if you take that approach.
Finally, there’s no need to accomplish all modifications at once. It will be more manageable and cost effective to plan your upgrades in stages.
Learn Your RV’s Capabilities and Limitations
The first step to self-sufficiency is to understand the capabilities and limitations of your RV. This will require some time experimenting to really get a handle on it. Start with answering these questions:
- What is the capacity of your water tank?
- What is the capacity of your black and grey water tank?
- What is the capacity of your battery bank?
- How do you plan to recharge your battery bank?
- Do you need or have the ability to generate A/C power?
Each time you go boondocking focus on what you’re using and consuming on a typical day. Take note of the following:
- How much water did you use per day?
- How much battery power did you use per day?
- What equipment were you able to use?
- What equipment were you not able to use?
The more you do this, the quicker you’ll realize what your RV’s limitations are and the improvements you’ll need to make.
When you do start making improvements, do it in stages. Start small, experiment, learn and make improvements when you can. The cost will be more managable and you’ll end up with an boondocking-ready RV that more closely suits your needs.
Are YOU Suitable for Boondocking?
Being flexible, able to adapt to changing situations, and OK being a little uncomfortable will help you adapt to boondocking life. It also helps to have a positive outlook on things.
In a full hookup campground or RV park most things are taken care of for you. Boondocking is the opposite of that. You’re on your own.
Do you get stressed out when things aren’t planned out and scheduled ahead of time? If so, camping on a first-come-first serve basis may not appeal to you. Or maybe it will as you’ll have to develop a plan A, B and C.
Boondocking is more like winging it. You typically plan to be flexible and adjust when conditions change. The reality in most boondocking situations is that you just don’t know what awaits you until you get there. The benefits of scoring a beautiful private spot can be amazing, but the risk of not find a site is always there. That can create stress for many people.
Also consider the conservation aspect of boondocking. You’re always trying to use less water, less power, and take fewer showers. How long can you go in this mode?
Can you be spontaneous? Do you have an advenurous spirit? What is your comfort level? Knowing these things about yourself upfront can be very helpful when deciding if boondocking is for you.
You may decide that boondocking is not for you, or that you can only handle a few days of it. That’s OK. It’s not for everyone. Giving it a try is the only way know for sure. Maybe go out with a group of friends the first time.
Understand your needs
Where do you plan to travel? Will you dry-camp at a rally or NASCAR event, snowbird in the Arizona desert, hit the ski slopes in the winter, or journey North to Alaska? The preparations needed for each one of these will vary significantly.
How many people are in your RV? Consider the resources consumed by each person. A family of four will consume much more than a couple or solo traveler will.
Examine your routine on a typical day and make note of what you use and consume. How will camping in a remote area without hookups affect that routine?
Here are some typical needs that come up:
- Do you sleep with a CPAP?
- Do you need a hair dryer?
- Can you cook without a microwave?
- Do you need a reliable internet connection?
- Do you need to be close to medical services?
- Do you have physical limitations?
Following Rules and Guidelines
Yes, there are rules and guidelines to follow. It’s important be familiar with and follow them.
As much as we’d like to, we just can’t camp in any open area. Be sure to check the regulations and overnight camping restrictions in that area first.
Overnighting while traveling is generally acceptable in rest-stops, truck stops, and some retail parking lots. Casinos will generally accommodate RVs assuming you’ll visit the casino while there. Don’t just assume overnight parking is allowed. Do your research or speak to someone onsite and ask for permission.
Camping on public land and other dispersed camping areas is not a free-for-all. Those areas are managed by federal, state or local organizations. Read all posted material and contact their local office for official information. If you see a ranger in the area, don’t be afraid to ask for guidance.
Remember that boondocking on public land is a privilege not a right. The more manpower it takes to clean up and police these large areas, the less likely we will be able to continue enjoying them. Be a good steward of the land you’re sharing and, when possible, leave it better than you found it.
Finally, be respectful and kind to your boondocking neighbors. Most of us are out there for the same reason. We enjoy the peace, quiet and privacy it offers.
Here’s an excellent reference. The Escapees RV community publishes these RV boondocking guidelines that I recommend you read, print, and share with your friends.
Essential Boondocking Gear
Here’s are some items we use or recommend for boondocking. Many of these items are mentioned in this article or in my 100 Pro Boondocking Tips eBook.
Click or tap on each item for more information.
Did I miss something? Send me a message and let me know.
There’s a collection of recommended RV Solar Equipment available too. Browse through those items here.
How Much Battery Capacity Do You Need?
Whether you’re simply looking to keep some lights on or fully power your RV, a basic understanding of battery capacity and power management is essential.
The battery in your newly purchased RV is probably ill-equipped for boondocking. Most have a single 100 amp hour deep-cycle battery which is inadequate for off-grid use. Expanding your battery bank with probably be necessary.
In the last 13 years, I’ve upgraded my battery bank multiple times. 450 amp hours seems to be the right amount of capacity for us, but it took some trial and error to figure that out.
Unless you plan to run your generator all day, your battery bank will be your primary source of electricity while dry camping. If you’re a new RV owner, you’ll probably underestimate how much power you’ll need throughout the day and night to be comfortable.
This may even be your first time trying to live off a deep cycle battery. So it’s natural to expect that huge battery to power your RV for days? Unfortunately, it’s not true.
The best way to know what your energy needs are is to measure how much energy you consume. This is best accomplished with a battery monitoring system.
Every boondocking setup should include a battery monitoring system (with or without solar). It should be the first thing you install. I’m not talking about that gauge your RV came with that shows the battery voltage.
Without a battery monitoring system, there’s no way to know how much power you are using in the RV or how much reserve battery capacity you have left.
A quality battery monitoring system includes a device called a shunt which can measure energy flowing in and out of your battery bank. That information is processed by the battery monitor to give you the TRUE status of your battery bank and your power consumption.
There are some good units on the market to choose from. Here’s a list of the top RV Battery Monitors available in 2020 to choose from. Bluetooth, WiFi and remote mobile access are some key features you might consider.
To determine how much battery capacity will you need, start by estimating your power needs within in a given day.
Without getting too scientific about it, I can tell you that you’re probably going to fall into one of these battery bank configurations:
Common Battery Bank Configurations
- 200 Amp Hours (good for occasional dry camping providing you can recharge daily)
- 400 Amp Hours (great setup for long term dry camping providing more than one day of power)
- 600+ Amp Hours (serious boondocking or full-timer setup)
Keep in mind that these configurations consist of multiple deep cycle batteries wired together to operate as one large battery.
Deep Cycle Battery Types
Deep cycle batteries vary in price and characteristics. Here are the most commonly used types of RV batteries.
- Flooded Lead Acid Batteries are the most common, and least expensive, battery type that require some routine maintenance. They have 50% usable capacity.
- AGM (Absorbed Glass Matt) Batteries are a step up from flooded lead acid batteries. At about double the price, AGMs are maintenance free and provide steady power. They also have 50% usable capacity.
- Lithium Batteries are becoming a popular option due to their light weight, steady high power output capability, and extended lifespan of 10 years or more depending on usage. They have 90% to 100% usable capacity.
Generating Electricity With Solar or Power Generator
Any off-grid RV power system must include a plan for maintaining and charging your battery bank. The three most common solutions are to:
- Use a generator and on-board charger to recharge your batteries
- Use solar panels and solar charge controller to recharge your batteries
- or charge your house batteries from your engine’s alternator
Charging Deep Cycle Batteries With A Gas Generator
Charging batteries from a generator is very common. Despite the growing popularity of solar power, generators provide a consistent power source for your RV.
When used with a good multi-stage battery charger or converter charger unit, a generator is a reliable option. The downside is that generators are noisy and need a steady supply of gasoline.
Many RV owners typically fire up their onboard 4000 watt Onan multiple times per day for power and battery charging. Not wanting to be “the guy running his loud generator all day“, they may run the generator for only 30 minutes or an hour at a time.
What you may not realize is that it often takes several hours to bring a battery bank up to a full charge. So you won’t get close to a full state of charge running a generator briefly.
Powering a multi-stage battery charger with a small efficient generator is a better option. Many seasoned RVers use a smaller and quieter portable generator that will run for many hours on a gallon of gas. This is also a great backup option for those of us with solar.
Using Solar Panels for Battery Charging
Let’s first clear up a common misconception about solar on an RV. Many believe that solar power is actually powering their RV while dry camping. This is not entirely true. Your primary power source off-the-grid (day or night, rain or shine) is your battery bank. The role of your solar components are to recharge your battery bank while the sun is shining.
Want to learn more about solar? Start learning here.
If you plan to do a lot of remote camping, then a solar charging system is something you should consider. Powered by the sun, a solar charging system can recharge your batteries indefinitely. The solar panels will be generating power whenever the sun is shining whether you’re in your RV or away.
Do new RVs come with solar? Some RVs are marketted as Solar Ready which simply indicates that some pre-wiring may have been done.
Charging RV Batteries From Your Alternator
Recharging from your alternator while driving is a great option if you’re often on-the-go. Many smaller Class B motorhomes include this as a standard option. For others, like myself, it’s only a secondary option.
You should first determine if your engine can accommodate charging a second battery. Many alternators are not equipped to handle recharging a large deep cycle battery bank in addition to the chassis battery and regular DC engine loads. If you plan to retrofit your RV for charging your house battery bank, check with a mechanic first.
I would also recommend installing a good DC-to-DC battery charger suitable for your type of battery. Having this component in place will ensure that you’re battery is maintained properly.
Using a DC-To-DC charger is essential if you’re charging lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. Lithium batteries will create very high current draw from your alternator if not regulated. A DC-to-DC battery charger designed to handle lithium batteries will regulate that charge to protect your alternator and charge the batteries properly. If you want to learn more about this, check out this video.
How To Power Household AC Plugs and Appliances
Having the ability to plug in a laptop, TV or electric coffee maker can transform the whole boondocking experience making it feel more like home. Without those conveniences it will still feel like camping.
Electricity in the form of DC power (DC = Direct Current) is stored in your RV batteries. This is different from the AC (or Alternating Current) electricity that we use in our house.
Some DC powered RV equipment can run directly from our batteries when AC power is not available. These include lights, slide out motors, and controls on our gas appliances. Other equipment like your air conditioner, microwave and electrical outlets only work on AC power.
There are several ways to provide AC power in our RV. The primary way is to connect the shore-power cable to a power-pedistal at a full-hookup campground. When that’s not available, a generator or power inverter setup is needed.
AC Power From Shore Power Cord
The primary source of AC power for all RVs is a shore-power cord. While boondocking, you don’t have access to shore-power. So you’ll have to provide AC power in another way.
AC Power from Power Generator
Gas powered generators are the most common way to create AC power. Your RV may already have a built-in generator that runs off of your fuel tank.
A portable generator is the next best thing because you can plug your 30 or 50 amp shore-power cord directly into it using an adapter.
- Are easy to setup and use
- Provide a large amount of power
- Can also be used to recharge your battery bank
- Don’t require you to have a large battery bank in your RV
Keep in mind that generators do require fuel to run and are not silent.
AC Power from a Power Inverter
Power Inverters are electrical devices that transform the energy stored in your RV batteries to AC power. The AC power output of the inverter is then used to power your household equipment.
- Transform energy instead of generating electricity
- Are great for renewable energy systems that store energy in batteries (like solar)
- Are limited by the usable capacity of your battery bank
- Generally require a larger battery bank
- Are not typically standard equipment
Inverter-based off-grid RV power systems typically start with a 1000 watt inverter. 2000 to 3000 watt systems are most common for full sized RVs. Remember that larger inverters require larger battery banks to power them.
AC Power from a Portable Power Station
Portable power stations are a great all-in-one solution for power off-grid. Larger capacity models now rival (or are better than) battery and inverter systems installed in many smaller RVs. Here’s how they work.
Modern portable power stations include a powerful and lightweight lithium battery, power inverter and solar charge controller in a compact package.
Example Usage: Instead of running a generator through the night to power a CPAP machine, consider using a 500W or 1000W portable power station which may provide several nights of power for your CPAP.
Portable Power Stations
- Provide AC and DC power
- Do not require complicate or expensive installation of components
- Include popular USB, USB-C and household AC receptacles
- Include high-powered, lightweight and fast charging lithium batteries
- Are rechargable from AC power, vehicle 12V DC plug, and solar panels
- Are extremely versatile and can be used anywhere (inside or outside)
Larger models provide 500 to 2000 watts of power and are generally priced at around $1 per watt.
Take a closer look this popular 1000W Jackery 1000 Portable Power Station I reviewed. The review also includes a video demonstrating the power station features in greater detail. See the full review and video here.
How To Manage Your Water Supply
Once you’ve done some experimentation, you will realize that there are some limitations. You may have also figured out that power and water are the most precious resources when camping without hookups. So let us talk about the water.
Conservation is key when it comes to prolonging your water supply. Developing smart water conservation habits will go a long way to prolonging your water supply. Unfortunately, this will probably be the most difficult adjustment you may have to make.
Taking long showers and letting the water faucet run while washing dishes or brushing your teeth are sacrifices you will have to make in order to preserve water. With practice though, these habits become second nature and you will quickly realize how much water you actually waste at home.
For a complete list of water saving tips plus many others, check out my 100 Pro Boondocking Tips. Put them into practice and you’ll be able to stretch your water capacity beyond what you thought was possible.
Finally, carrying refillable water containers and having the ability to refill your water tank while boondocking will allow you to say out even longer.
How Long Can You Boondock
This will be something you’ll have to figure out for yourself. How long can, or want, to stay out will depend on your comfort level and your RV’s capabilities.
Larger RVs are typically equipped with larger tanks to help you stay out longer. Tank capacities will be much smaller in smaller RVs. They often require different solutions such as composting toilets and extra water storage to boondock for extended periods.
We can typically stay out for 2 to 3 weeks in our class C as long as we bring or have access to extra water.
Most BLM dispersed camping areas have a limit of 14 days of free camping at one location. After that you’ll have to move anyway.
Internet and Cell Signal in Remote Areas
Cell phone and mobile data coverage is often weak or non-existent in remote areas. You’re certainly not going to have access to WiFi, so you’ll have to rely primarily on a mobile connection.
You’ll need a mobile hotspot device to privide WiFi to all of your devices in your RV and throughout your campsite. You can also your smartphone’s hotspot feature to do this. Keep in mind that the quality and speed of your WiFi will only be as good as your cell signal. So you may need to use a cell phone booster to boost weak signals.
Cell phone boosters are helpful if you’re in a fringe area with weak coverage, but results will vary from place to place.
Here’s another article I wrote about cell phone boosters that shows video of real-world tests and gives recommendations for getting a better cell phone signal in your RV. This second article will help you decide if you even need a cell phone booster in your RV.
If you’re in an area with decent coverage already, a cell booster may not give you the best signal. So you’re better off keeping the booster powered off until you need it.
Finally, keep in mind that 4G LTE coverage areas vary from one provider to another. For this reason, many RVers (including us) carry multiple devices and data plans. This increases your chances of getting online.
HOW WE STAY CONNECTED: We carry an unlimited data plan through Verizon plus a 20 GB monthly T-Mobile hotspot pay-as-you go plan. We also use a Weboost RV cell phone booster (check our Discounts Page if you want a discount)
Are You Prepared for Problems and Failures?
Lastly, being properly prepared for your remote dry camping experience is extremely important and will give you peace of mind as you enjoy the great outdoors.
- What if your RV or truck breaks down?
- What are the essential tools to keep on hand?
- What spare parts should you keep handy?
- Do you know how the basic systems in your RV function?
- What will you do in an emergency situation?
Having good working knowlege of your RV systems will come in handy should something fail to work properly. If prepared, you might even come up with a suitable workaround or even repair a minor problem. You should have a way to contact someone for help if needed.
Here are a few recommendations:
- Make sure your RV is running properly before heading out
- Keep the right tools on-hand (it helps if you can make minor repairs)
- Understand how things work for when they don’t (fixes are often simple)
- Let people know where you are going (in case of emergencies)
- Have a backup plan (tow car, ability to call someone, or camp with friends)
I recommend going through a dry camping checklist prior to venturing off. Here’s a sample boondocking checklist you can start with, but I recommend you create your own.
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