Boondocking and Free RV Camping is a great way to explore the beautiful outdoors while saving money on camping fees. This comprehensive guide covers everything a beginner needs to know to have a safe, fun and successful boondocking trip.
Boondocking and Free RV Camping refers to camping in a self-contained, recreational vehicle without hookups for water, power or sewer. Boondockers rely on the RV’s battery power, freshwater tank and propane supply instead of being plugged into utility services. This allows RVers to camp anywhere it is legal and suitable to sustain themselves off-grid, which opens up many more free options than developed campgrounds.
Boondocking provides a fabulous opportunity to visit remote places and get close to nature. It attracts those seeking solitude, simplicity and freedom away from crowded RV parks. With proper preparation, boondocking can be comfortable, enjoyable and affordable for anyone. This guide covers everything a beginner needs to know to get started.
- Boondocking involves camping in a self-contained RV without hookups to utilities like power, water and sewer.
- Proper planning and preparation help ensure a successful and enjoyable boondocking trip.
- Choosing the right RV, finding suitable locations, and following guidelines help maximize the boondocking experience.
- Managing resources like water, waste, power and internet access are key factors when RV camping off-grid.
- Boondocking allows RVers to visit scenic remote spots and camp for free.
Understanding Boondocking and Free RV Camping
Boondocking goes by other names like dry camping and dispersed camping. It simply refers to camping off-grid without connecting to external utilities. All supplies must be self-contained within your rig.
While boondocking is free from campground costs, it is not necessarily free of charge or investment. Outfitting an RV to sustain itself requires some gear and upgrades. Extra supplies are needed and some camp areas still charge a small fee. But without the need for hookups, boondockers gain access to many more free locations.
The main factors that determine the viability and enjoyment of boondocking include:
- Self-sufficiency – Can your RV independently support itself with power, water, waste management, etc.
- Amenities – What comforts and conveniences do you require while camping?
- Location – Are there suitable public lands or private sites to camp in the area?
- Resource management – How will you resupply water, conserve power, and handle waste?
With the right RV setup, minimalist mentality and some adjustments, boondocking can be comfortable and rewarding. But it does require effort, precautions and preparation.
Essential Equipment for Boondocking
To live self-sufficiently off-grid, boondockers need gear to independently generate power, haul water, contain waste, maintain comfort and safety in camp. Here are some essentials:
To effectively live off-grid, your RV will need to be outfitted with equipment that allows it to independently generate power, store water, contain waste, and provide basic functions and amenities.
A solar panel system and/or a generator are extremely important for producing electricity to meet your power needs while boondocking. Investing in an efficient solar array and having a gas-powered generator as backup allows you to harness renewable energy and recharge your coach batteries between long durations without shore power.
Opt for a 12VDC-powered refrigerator specifically designed for RVs to efficiently operate on your battery bank and propane. Residential style AC refrigerators consume a lot of precious electricity.
Make sure to have a high capacity freshwater tank holding at least 50-100 gallons and a durable hose for replenishing your supply as needed. Calculate roughly how much you’ll consume between fill-ups.
Properly containing waste is critical. Your RV should have an adequate gray water holding tank for wastewater from the galley and bathroom sinks, shower, and washer if equipped. A sufficiently sized black water tank is also essential for containing sewage from the toilet before transferring contents to a dump station.
Ample propane capacity fuels appliances like the furnace, stove, oven, and refrigerator. This allows you to cook, stay warm, and preserve food without relying on shore power. Carefully monitoring your levels allows you to replenish before you run out.
Good ventilation via operable windows, power roof vents, and roof-mounted turbines or fans allows fresh air circulation and temperature control without draining your batteries.
The coach batteries you choose directly impact how long you can go between charges when off-grid. Invest in quality deep cycle AGM or lithium batteries with high amp hour ratings. Supplement when possible with a rooftop solar array for self-sufficiency.
An inverter converts DC battery power into 120VAC current to run appliances and electronics that require standard household electricity. Choose a pure sine wave inverter adequate for your needs.
To camp comfortably outdoors and have backup resources at the ready, make sure to pack these boondocking necessities:
Leveling blocks are essential for stabilizing the RV and keeping it level when parked on uneven terrain. Stackable Lynx blocks are a popular solution that provide solid support. Hydraulic leveling jacks found on many larger motorhomes do the same job automatically.
Comfortable folding camp chairs and a portable table allow you to relax outside and enjoy the views and fresh air. Look for compact, lightweight options that pack up neatly when not in use.
Temporary shade structures are invaluable for blocking intense sunlight and protecting you from precipitation without cooping you up inside. Choose from quick setup tents, canopies or tarps in sizes suited for your needs.
Small solar-powered lanterns provide lighting around the exterior areas and campsite once the sun goes down. Illuminate pathways and picnic areas safely without draining your coach batteries.
A contained fire pit is great for cooking, warmth, and ambiance on cool evenings. Pack a hardy steel fire ring and buy local firewood or use propane tanks with adaptable burner tops when wood isn’t available.
Portable grills, stoves, and cooking equipment allow you to prepare meals outdoors. Choose compact, lightweight options that require little-to-no power. Stock pots, pans, utensils, plates, and cutlery sufficient for the whole group.
Hard-sided coolers or electric powered portable fridge/freezers offer refrigerated storage for perishable items like meat and dairy without taxing your RV’s power system. Use block ice or cold packs to keep contents chilled.
Bring extra fuel to run generators for recharging batteries in between solar, shore power or driving your RV. Calculate your electrical needs and fuel accordingly. Use ultra-quiet inverter generators.
To ensure safety and the ability to handle common repairs and issues when boondocking, carry these critical spares, tools and backup systems:
Bring commonly used spare fuses, fluids, belts, seals, and vital replacement parts that allow you to quickly fix minor breakdowns yourself while off-grid. Study your owner’s manual to plan accordingly.
A thorough tool kit equips you for diagnosing issues, doing repairs, and minor adjustments. Tailor it for RV needs like plumbing, electrical, appliances, and more.
A well-stocked first aid kit attends to minor injuries and ailments. Pack over-the-counter medications, bandages, topical treatments, medical tools, and personal prescriptions.
Reliable flashlight, headlamps, and lanterns give light if your RV’s electrical fails. Stock plenty of spare batteries in common sizes or use rechargeable options.
Fire extinguishers inside and outside the RV allow you to rapidly suppress fires before they spread. Check pressure gauges regularly and replace expired units.
A weather radio tuned into NOAA broadcasts gives you access to weather alerts and emergency messaging even in remote locations outside cell service.
Satellite communicators and personal locator beacons provide contact with emergency services in the event of an injury, breakdown, or weather disaster off the grid. These can literally save lives.
Having the proper gear on hand gives boondockers the critical resources and backup equipment needed when staying at remote campsites. Investing in certain RV enhancements and bringing key supplies helps ensure a self-sustained, safe, and enjoyable off-grid experience.
Choosing the Right RV for Boondocking
Not all RVs are created equal when it comes to sustaining off-grid. When selecting an RV, consider these factors:
Power – Large coach batteries, solar arrays and generators allow you to boondock longer between recharges.
Water storage – Larger freshwater tanks reduce the need for frequent refilling. Look for at least 60-100 gallons.
Waste capacity – Holding tank capacities over 30 gallons for gray (shower/sink) and black (sewer) allow longer stays before dumping.
Efficiency – Well insulated RVs with efficient appliances like tankless water heaters, ventless dryers and 12VDC fridges conserve resources.
Propane – A large propane tank fuels appliances and can last for weeks if used prudently.
HVAC – Having an air conditioner and furnace allows comfort in warm or cold climates. Fantastic Fans offer ventilation.
Size – While any RV can boondock, smaller units are often better choices for maneuvering remote campsites.
Amenities – Consider which features and luxuries (dishwasher, washer/dryer, etc.) are must-haves versus nice-to-have when boondocking.
RVs designed specifically for off-grid camping include truck campers, Class B van conversions and some small trailers. Many find Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels spacious and comfortable for boondocking. Assess your needs and find a self-sufficient RV within your budget.
Finding the Perfect Boondocking Location
With an endless network of public lands across America, RVers have ample options when choosing where to boondock. Here are some prime locations to consider:
National forests, BLM land, state parks and other public spaces allow free dispersed camping in certain undeveloped areas for around 14 days. Options include:
- National Forest Service land
- Bureau of Land Management land
- State parks, forests and recreation areas
- Corps of Engineers lakes and dams
- National Conservation Areas
- National Wilderness Areas and Monuments
Research specific areas using dedicated boondocking apps like Campendium, RV Parks, Ultimate Campgrounds and FreeRoam to find potential sites. Always check regulations and restrictions first.
Some private landowners allow RVers to camp on their property for free through hospitality exchange networks like Boondockers Welcome, Harvest Hosts and overnight RV parking. Options include:
- Farms, wineries and ranches
- Golf courses and resorts
- Small businesses
- Driveway surfing with online hosts
- Campgrounds offering free overflow nights
Research spot reviews and connect with owners to secure permissions. Follow all rules and minimize impacts during your stay.
Within cities, some legal overnight parking areas exist for RVs and van dwellers seeking amenities. Look for:
- National retailers like Cracker Barrel, Flying J, Cabella’s and Walmart
- Casinos and truck stops
- Public parks and recreation areas
- Suburban neighborhoods (with permissions)
- Roadside rest areas and weigh stations
- Special municipal RV parking zones
Carefully check ordinances, zone hours and posted restrictions when urban boondocking. Be discreet, avoid disturbances and don’t wear out your welcome.
Using online maps and guides can reveal ideal boondocking sites near where you want to travel and explore. Discover little used hideaways or popular “boondocking meccas” by networking with fellow RVers in online forums too.
Safety Measures and Guidelines
Boondocking safely depends greatly on making wise decisions before and during your travels. Keep these tips in mind:
When handling flammable systems like propane, generators, stoves and lanterns exercise extreme caution to avoid fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning. Understand proper use and maintenance before operating.
Keep fully charged and easily accessible fire extinguishers both inside and outside the RV. This allows you to quickly suppress fires before they rage out of control in remote areas away from emergency responders.
Carry protection like a whistle, pepper spray, or air horn when hiking or spending time away from the secured RV in case of wildlife encounters or intruders. Know how to respond to different animal threats.
Research the types of wildlife active in the area and understand proper precautions to avoid encounters, as well as how to respond to confrontations. Prepare an action plan for your group.
Pack surplus food, water, fuel, first aid supplies, tools, medications and other essentials in your RV or tow vehicle. Having backup resources allows you to handle emergencies or surprise situations when far from civilization and supply stores.
Develop a well-rehearsed emergency action plan for different scenarios and thoroughly share it with everyone in your group. Give a detailed itinerary with locations and contact info to friends and family.
Avoid attracting attention by closing blinds and curtains to conceal your belongings from passersby when camping in unsecured locations. Keep a low profile.
Deter break-ins and theft by activating RV security alarms, wheel locks, and exterior lighting when away. Use video surveillance if possible. Make your rig an unattractive target.
Be sure to secure all doors, hatches, windows and exterior storage compartments before leaving your campsite for any length of time. Don’t give easy access.
Use a steering wheel club and hitch lock or frame boot to securely immobilize your RV when parked. This provides extra impediments for drive-off theft.
For added security, install a GPS tracker device discreetly on your RV. If your rig gets stolen, you can assist police in recovering it. Some systems have remote shut-off capabilities.
Never leave valuable items visibly unattended inside the RV, regardless of location. Keep items secured out of sight and lock the motorhome.
When boondocking, follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impacts on the natural environment, wildlife habitats and historical sites.
Take care not to damage live vegetation, disturb sensitive soils, or alter natural water sources. Protect areas for future visitors.
Properly contain and pack out all trash and waste. Scatter gray water when possible or strain out solids if dumping on the ground.
Only use existing fire rings and avoid making new ones or scarring the landscape. Choose bare surfaces when building campfires.
Be mindful of noise pollution from loud generators, music or rowdiness. Follow local noise ordinances and quiet hours.
Ensure holding tanks are secure with no leaks or drips during transport. Only empty at approved dump stations, not directly on the land.
Check for seasonal fire and fireworks bans. Extinguish campfires completely, spread ashes and pack out unburned debris.
To maintain access to boondocking privileges on public and private land, it is important to be a respectful and responsible guest. Adhere to proper etiquette by doing the following:
If camping in a public area that requires a user fee, always obtain the necessary passes and permits to legally occupy the site. This revenue helps maintain resources.
Stick to camping only in designated zones approved for dispersed camping. Be aware of property lines to avoid trespassing on neighboring private land.
Keep pets under control, properly contain and pack out all trash, and avoid excessive noise especially during posted quiet hours. Follow all posted rules.
Limit your stay duration to 14 days on most public lands, unless signs specify otherwise. This prevents monopolization and allows others to also enjoy the area.
Leave natural, cultural, and historical artifacts untouched. Do not remove rocks, plants, antlers, feathers, bones, etc. Allow others to enjoy.
No matter how you found it, always leave your campsite cleaner than it was before you arrived. Scour for microtrash and pack out all remnants.
Properly contain waste and dispose of it only at approved dump stations, sewage treatment plants, or appropriate toilets. Never dump directly on public or private land.
When dry camping in a RV park without full hookups, offer to pay the normal daily rate or a utility fee for the water/electricity you use. Expect to compensate.
Before using someone’s outdoor faucet for freshwater fill up, kindly ask permission first. Offer to pay or give a small thank you gift.
If boondocking for free on private land, show your gratitude by volunteering to help with minor chores or repairs. Offer to split firewood.
Carefully follow all rules and stipulations mutually agreed upon with any private landowner without question. Uphold your end of the bargain.
Be considerate of other campers, respecting their personal space and right to solitude. Tread lightly, keep noise down, and allow privacy.
Park mindfully to avoid blocking roadways, driveways or gates. Pull over to allow local traffic to pass freely. Be courteous.
Building a reputation for being conscientious and responsible boondockers helps preserve freedoms and access to both public and private lands. Follow the golden rule and minimize your impacts.
Handling Challenges in Boondocking
While rewarding, boondocking also comes with inherent challenges to overcome. Use these tips for managing key concerns:
Water and Waste Management
- Monitor tank levels closely and conserve every drop of water.
- Collect runoff from the roof and use a water filter system to purify it.
- Take occasional trips to fill up freshwater tanks and dump gray/black tanks.
- Consider portable toilets, water jugs and a wagon for bathroom trips if too far from the RV.
- Adjust habits to use less water like taking military style rinseless showers and navy sinks baths.
- Install water-saving fixtures like low-flow showerheads, faucets and toilets.
- Compost food waste or use resealable bags to contain trash odor.
- Maximize solar panels and prioritize charging coach batteries.
- Use campground showers or public restrooms to reduce RV power demands.
- Ration usage of lights, appliances and electronics to preserve battery level.
- Charge devices in your tow vehicle as you drive.
- Disable power-hungry devices like residential refrigerators and electric heaters.
- Adjust sleep and activity schedule to stay in sync with sunlight and cooler temperatures.
- Use LED lights, power strips and an EMS to avoid electrical overload.
Internet and Communication
- Determine cell reception at campsite and use cell signal boosters if needed.
- Further expand cellular range with mobile hotspots and high gain antennas.
- Leverage communication apps like WhatsApp and Messenger for minimal data use.
- Activate email and text message forwarding to transmit over low bandwidth.
- Enable WiFi calling capability on your cellphone if supported.
- Invest in an unlimited data plan for primary connectivity if budget allows.
- Search for nearby public WiFi signals from restaurants or businesses.
- Use long range walkie-talkies to stay in touch around camp remotely.
Get creative in how you conserve, stretch and replenish resources. Adjusting habits, routines and expectations helps offset the differences of off-grid living.
Benefits of Boondocking
The rewards of boondocking go far beyond just saving money on camping. Here are some of the biggest perks:
Explore anywhere – With self-containment, you can camp off the beaten path in nature. No more RV park constraints.
Find true solitude – Boondock sites offer quiet isolation perfect for restorative time unwinding.
Connect with nature – Immerse yourself in intimate natural settings removed from crowds.
Simplify life – Pare down the clutter and return to basics without peer pressure.
Save money – Avoid the price tag of developed RV parks which typically run $40-60 per night.
Gain independence – Live life on your own terms, free from reliance on utilities and amenities.
Meet friendly RVers – The community is a huge support network and share invaluable tips.
Travel lighter – Shed the need for huge cargo capacity by living simply with less.
Feel more self-reliant – Boondocking teaches useful outdoor skills and self-sufficiency.
Keep moving – Stay flexible by not booking fixed long-term campground stays.
Boondocking rewards the self-sufficient and adventurous. If you seek financial freedom, minimalism and closeness with nature, give it a try. The lifestyle is not for everyone, but the personal growth and memories are priceless.
For any newcomer, boondocking can seem daunting. But with proper preparation, mindset and equipment, it offers an exciting way to travel and camp. Follow this guide to outfit your RV, hone techniques and embrace the boondocking lifestyle.
Always focus first on safety and responsible stewardship of public lands. With attention to water, waste, power and security needs, boondockers can camp comfortably off-grid for weeks at a time. It requires effort and adjustments, but yields adventure unlike any other mode of travel.
Boondocking invites RVers into wide open spaces rarely visited. Away from congested parks, find your own tranquil site to soak up nature’s splendor. If you seek financial freedom for extended travels or authentic outdoor living, boondocking is worth embracing.
Have any other tips for beginner boondockers? Please share your best practices, lessons learned and favorite camp spots in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Questions
What states allow boondocking?
Most states allow boondocking or dispersed camping to some extent on public lands like National Forests, BLM land, state parks, etc. Some popular boondocking zones include California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Washington which have expansive public lands. Always check specific area regulations.
What is the difference between Boondocking and stealth camping?
Boondocking involves camping off-grid on lands where it is legally permitted, usually for a 14 day limit. Stealth camping refers to illegally camping in prohibited areas like city streets or private property without permission.
What size RV is best for Boondocking?
Smaller, lightweight RVs like class B camper vans, truck campers, and small travel trailers are better suited for boondocking’s modest power and water needs. Their size allows access to more remote locations.
How do I power my RV while Boondocking?
Solar panels and generators are key for powering RVs off-grid. Maximize battery capacity and install an inverter. Propane can fuel certain appliances. Drive daily to charge batteries. Conserve electricity.
Is boondocking safe?
Boondocking is generally safe with proper preparation and precautions. Choose suitable locations, tell others your plans, stock backup supplies, watch weather, secure your campsite, and base decisions on experience.
Why is it called boondocking?
One theory suggests “boondock” evolved from the Tagalog word “bundok” meaning mountain. Boondocking involves camping remote in the “boonies” away from developed RV parks with amenities. The origins aren’t fully known.