June 24, 2024

Boondocking Guide For Beginners

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?

Believe it or not, the answer is a bit complicated. It will vary depending on who you ask. What you may consider boondocking, might be considered by some as simply dry-camping. In our 15+ years of RVing here are our observations.

RV owners who typically stay in campgrounds and RV parks with full hookups are more likely to refer to all camping without hookups as boondocking.

Then there are those who prefer to primarily stay off-grid for extended periods in remote areas. They’re likely to refer to that style of camping as boondocking or wild camping. All other camping without hookups would be considered dry-camping.

Since we RV almost exclusively off-grid (mostly in remote areas), we see ourselves in the second group and consider that to be boondocking. That is our preferred style of RVing and we generally avoid campgrounds and RV parks. When overnighting in parking lots, fields, or no-hookup campgrounds, we consider that dry-camping.

Campendium.com (our source for boondocking locations) says boondocking is when “…there are no connections to water, electricity, and sewer like you’d find in a developed campground. There aren’t any bathrooms, water spigots, or picnic tables. It’s just you, your camper, and a piece of land to call your own for a night or two.”

Bottom line is that it doesn’t matter. Feel free to develop your own definition of what boondocking is, but be prepared to explain when someone asks you “what is your definition of boondocking?”

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.

What if you could live comfortably in your RV without hookups? Where would you go? What could you do?

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.

Video: Transitioning to Full-Time 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 reservations and 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.

RVWITHTITO - Offroad Camper

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 manageable and your RV will be setup for your style of boondocking.

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.

RVWITHTITO - Traveling

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 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.

Did I miss something? Send me a message and let me know.

There is a collection of recommended RV Solar Equipment available too. Browse through those items here.

How Much Battery Capacity Do You Need?

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.

Unless you plan to run your generator all day, your battery bank will be your primary source of electricity while dry camping. This may be your first time trying to live off a deep cycle battery. So it is natural to expect that huge battery to power your RV for days. This is a common misconception.

So how can you know what your power needs are? The best way is to measure how much energy you consume in a 24 hour period. This is best accomplished with a battery monitoring system. It should be the first thing you install.

There are some good units on the market to choose from. Here is a list of the top RV Battery Monitors to choose from. Bluetooth, WiFi and remote mobile access are some key features you might consider.

Without a battery monitoring system, you won’t know precisely how much power you are using and how much battery capacity you have available. Every boondocking setup should include a battery monitoring system (with or without solar). It should be the first thing you install.

This article shows how calculate your battery requirements
How Much Battery Capacity Do You Need for Off-Grid Living?

You are 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. For more information, I’ve provided a detailed price breakdown of several off-grid configurations.

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, a generator is a reliable option. The downside is that generators are noisy and need a steady supply of gasoline.

Many RV owners fire up their onboard 4000 watt Onan multiple times per day for power and battery charging. If camped near other RVers, consider limiting your generator use to 30 minutes to an hour at a time. You do not want to be the person running their loud generator all day.

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 marketed 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 from your alternator. Lithium batteries will create very high current draw from your alternator if not regulated.

The two most popular chargers are the Renogy 20A, 40A and 60A DC-to-DC and Victron 30A DC-to-DC chargers. Here is a video comparing the two options.

How to charge your battery while driving using a DC-to-DC charger

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.

RVWITHTITO - AC Power While Boondocking

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-pedestal at a full-hookup campground. When that’s not available, a generator or power inverter setup is needed.

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.

Power generators

  • 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.

Power inverters

  • 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 rechargeable 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.

The size of your fresh water and waste water tanks is often the limiting factor. Larger RVs equipped with larger tanks will be able to stay out longer. Smaller RVs with smaller fresh water and waste water tanks, will often require different solutions such as composting toilets and extra water storage to boondock for extended periods.

We would typically stay out for 2 to 3 weeks in our class C as long as we have access to extra water.
We now travel in a 2003 Winnebago Class A motorhome with a composting toilet and more than double the tank capacity of our Class C. This allows us to be out for several weeks.

Keep in mind that 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. Your options are to use either a mobile or satellite internet provider. Many carry both.

RVWITHTITO - Internet Access

Using a Mobile Internet Data Provider

Mobile internet refers to internet access from a mobile data provider like Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile. There are three options available these days for mobile internet.

  • Use you Cell Phone Hotspot – This is the easiest and least expensive option. Just enable the hotspot feature on your phone, then connect your computer or smart TV to it. Keep in mind that your coverage, data speed and data limitations will depend on your mobile carrier and data plan. I’d recommend getting an unlimited data plan.
  • Use a Mobile Hotspot – Most mobile carriers offer plans for dedicated hotspot devices. They include data-only plans that are separate from your phone plan. Mobile hotspot devices are very portable and easy to use.
  • Use a Mobile Router with one or more Mobile Data SIM cards – A mobile router will give you the most flexibility for customizing a local network (with internet access) using SIM cards from one or more mobile carriers. They also support external antennas for improved signal strength. Peplink routers are very popular among RVers. Here is a list of available Peplink Routers on Amazon.

Keep in mind that 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.

Do You Need a Cell Phone Booster?

Cell coverage has been improving steadily over the last few years. Still, cell phone boosters can be very 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 with recommendations for improving your 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.

We carry both a Weboost RV cell phone booster (check our Discounts Page if you want a discount) and Starlink Satellite Dish.

Satellite internet is no longer a pipe dream. Starlink Internet (from SpaceX) now has satellite coverage for the entire globe at speeds that are as good or better than residential internet service. They offer multiple plans now, including a roaming plan that is perfect for RV travelers. The cost is roughly $150 per month (US pricing).

We have found it to be a good internet option for boondocking within the remote areas of the Southwestern US, Canada, Baja Mexico. There have been speed complaints though in several urban or suburban areas and in the Eastern US. Services continue to improve though as they continue to expand their satellite network and services.

Another provider to keep an eye out for is Amazon’s satellite internet service, Project Kuiper. Kuiper is currently in development and will provide global internet service in the coming years.

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.

RVWITHTITO - Boondocking RV Repairs

Ask yourself:

  • 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.

Looking for more?

Here’s a list of all the boondocking tips we’ve acquired over the years. I recommend you get a copy.

PRO Boondocking tips from 16+ years of RVing

There’s no need to start from scratch
Add this guide to your library today!