Is anything better than heading out onto the open road for an outdoor adventure? How about enjoying it all for free?
Boondocking is when you camp for free in your RV, van, or similar vehicle. It’s an awesome and affordable way to enjoy the outdoors.
However, if you’re new to boondocking, it can feel confusing to figure out. Fortunately, with some planning and know-how, boondocking is fun and easy, even if you’re a total beginner.
Check out the guide below to learn everything you need to know about boondocking and get ready for affordable, on-the-road fun like never before!
What is Boondocking?
What is boondocking? It’s a fun activity and even a potential way of life!
Boondocking is a type of camping where you seek out free spots to spend the night. Typically, your camping spot won’t have hookups, restrooms, site assignments, and other common camping amenities. Popular among owners of RVs and vans, boondocking is a cool adventure and an easy way to save some bucks when traveling.
You can boondock in all sorts of locations. If you’re away from civilization, look for free spots to stay in national parks, public BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands, rest stops, and more. If you’re boondocking within a city or town, check out the parking lots in Wal-Mart, apartment complexes, and other locations we’ll detail below.
Benefits of Boondoking
When it comes to boondocking, the best things in life really are free! The best boondocking sites require no fees of any kind. But the benefits of boondocking are more than financial. When boondocking, you can often find beautiful spots far off the beaten path and away from other campers.
Dry camping is similar to boondocking, but with a slight twist. When dry camping, you’re spending the night away from any established campground. That means away from national forest campgrounds and other locations with oversight (even minimal oversight). As with boondocking, dry camping means you’re not using electric, water, or sewer hookups.
In many aspects, dispersed camping is the opposite of dry camping. With dispersed camping, you’re spending the night in a National Forest or similar location with oversight. However, you’re camping away from any designated campground. The idea is to find an isolated spot that still has access to toilets, established fire pits, and other minor amenities.
Boondocking Tips – How to Best Prepare for Your Adventure
Boondocking is a bit more than simply pulling over the side of the road and going to sleep. It requires some preparation and planning. What do you need for boondocking? Here’s a rundown of what to keep in mind when planning your trip:
1. Water Consumption
You’ll definitely want to plan for your water needs when boondocking. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend big or sacrifice much to stay hydrated and clean. Here’s a look at how water consumption works when boondocking:
If you plan to shower in your RV, install a low-flow showerhead and a shut-off valve. You want to reduce the water pressure, and give yourself the ability to shut off the shower when lathering up.
Low-flow aerators help reduce water consumption by more than 50% when using faucets. As an added benefit, these low-flow aerators allow you to wash dishes. Permanent dishes are often a more economical and environmentally-friendly alternative to paper plates and other disposables.
A solar shower provides hot water and requires no electricity. It’s also an easy way to clean the outside of your RV.
A water distiller creates safe, drinkable water from practically any source such as a lake, pond, or stream. Another option is a freshwater tank in your RV. The larger the tank, the less you’ll need a water distiller.
Fresh food is often an excellent option for boondocking, especially if you’re on a road trip. You can stock up on a few days’ worth of food without worrying about storage. Of course, canned foods are an excellent option if you need to plan for the long-term
If you have a refrigerator in your RV, you can use it to store frozen foods. However, in many cases, a cooler packed with ice achieves the same result but uses far less power.
3. Phone Service
While boondocking allows you to get away, most people don’t want to go without cell service completely. Reliable cell service is a reassuring safety feature. Plus, the ability to plot your route is far easier with GPS and other smartphone features.
Coverage quality depends heavily on your carrier and where you’re traveling. Check with your provider to learn what areas are covered the best. If you’re crisscrossing the country, you might want to use multiple providers or switch between them as you travel.
Finally, you might want a vehicle signal booster. It improves voice quality, boosts download speeds, and increases overall talk time.
If you’re traveling for any significant amount of time, you’ll want a reliable power source. It’s used to power appliances, lighting, keep your phones charged, and more. You have a few options:
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are a popular, reliable option. They provide power through multiple USB ports, allowing you to charge a wide variety of items simultaneously.
Portable Solar Panels
Solar panels are an extremely cost-effective option. Cells store power, so they can provide energy even on cloudy days or during the night.
Generators are a classic portable power source. You can find many types, with gas-powered probably the most popular. While affordable and reliable, they’re loud, with even quiet generators making more noise than the other options.
5. Waste Tanks
As you use water in your RV, you’re creating wastewater and sewage, which need proper disposal. The exact disposal method depends on the type of waste.
Grey water is “clean” wastewater. It’s water from showers and sinks. For example, after washing dishes, the water collected is grey water. It’s not water you want to drink, but it’s not toxic or lethal.
As long as you use biodegradable soap, you can pour wastewater around your campsite. Spread it around in a wide area, so you’re not creating puddles or larger bodies. Dumping all of your wastewater in one location is illegal, but spreading it around is allowed and helps keep down dust.
Black water is wastewater from toilets. It’s decidedly not safe for human contact. It includes feces, urine, and any other water with bodily fluids.
To dispose of black water, you’ll need to visit an RV park, gas station, or location with similar hookups. Many national and state parks have them, too.
You’ll want to empty the tanks when they’re roughly 2/3rds full. If your tank doesn’t have a level, emptying your tanks every two to three days is a good general guideline.
Is Boondocking Safe? Boondocking Safety Tips
Generally, boondocking is safe, although you want to take a few sensible precautions to protect yourself and your property.
Don’t confuse real life with horror movies. When boondocking, you’re unlikely to run into other people, period, much less psycho murderers looking for victims deep in the woods. While you probably don’t want to pick up hitchhikers, the chances of encountering thieves and killers are extremely low.
That said, always maintain awareness of your surroundings. Lock your vehicle if you’ll be away from it for extended periods. Try to stay within cell range. Plus, if anything about a situation feels unsafe or off, you can simply start the engine and drive away!
You’re far more likely to run into animals than people. Keep all food and trash properly stored. National parks and many other regulated camping areas require that you store all food inside a closed vehicle.
Remember, stay away from all wild animals. Even seemingly docile creatures such as deer will attack if they feel afraid. Give every animal you see plenty of room.
Boondocking Do’s and Don’ts
No matter where you’re boondocking, here are a few general do’s and don’ts to always keep in mind:
…Leave Nothing Behind
Have you heard the phrase “take only photos and leave only footprints”? Well, it applies to boondocking as well as camping. Pack out all of your trash. Don’t leave behind waste or puddles of grey water.
…Stick to the Roads
Unless the area specifically allows off-roading, always stick to designated roads. A large RV or similar vehicle can drastically damage the natural landscape.
…Run Your Generator All Night
Your fellow boondockers want to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. Keep it quiet from 8 pm to 8 am. Even if you’re the only person for miles, running a generator all night will likely upset the local wildlife.
Part of the fun of boondocking is exploring new areas and getting off the beaten path. But you want to always stay safe. Use maps, follow all local guidelines, and check-in from time to time with a friend.
Good Spots for Boondocking
No matter where you are or where you want to go, you’ll find no shortage of great places for boondocking throughout the US. Here are some top spots:
Arizona is home to expansive BLM boondocking areas, including many beautiful deserts. The La Posa Long Term Visitors Area is a favorite for boondockers from around the state. Located near Quartzsite, Arizona, it offers stunning desert vistas with the convenience of a nearby town.
Florida’s term for boondocking areas is Water District Management Areas, so keep that in mind when planning. Almost all of them require an online reservation, but you can stay for up to six days at a time and reserve multiple spots around the state so you can plan your trip.
Colorado has some of the best mountain boondocking in the country, including world-famous Pike’s Peak. You’ll want to make reservations, as the state is seeing a 22% increase in RV camping so far this year.
California has numerous boondocking opportunities across a vast array of geography. If you’re looking for the easiest time, you’ll generally find more free spots throughout the deserts compared to the coast. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are a popular favorite, along with numerous BLM options.
Washington State offers a wide range of boondocking options, including many coastal and forest locations. However, you’ll need what’s called a Discover Pass to park in state parks and some other areas. Be sure to apply for the pass before you hit the road.
Oregon has multiple climate zones and can see drastic weather shifts, so plan accordingly. If you’re boondocking in the summer, get ready for hot days but cold nights. Also, the eastern part of the state is dry, but the humidity increases as you approach the Oregon coast.
You’ll find plenty of free RV camping in Georgia, including on all USDA Public Lands and State Wildlife Management Areas. The USDA Oconee National Forest is an especially popular spot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to common questions about boondocking
What stores can you park in overnight?
A variety of stores across the US and Canada welcome RVs and other vehicles for an overnight stay. Wal-Mart is probably the most popular spot.
While Wal-Mart is generally welcoming to boondockers, their policies vary by store. You’re encouraged to call the particular Wal-Mart ahead of time to learn the details. Also, Wal-Marts don’t have hookups for electricity, water, sewage, etc.
How do you shower when Boondocking?
Some RVs have an internal shower, but outdoor camping showers are another option. You want some type of heating element, so you’re not showering in cold water. Solar-powered showers are a popular choice.
How much water do you need for Boondocking?
The more water you have, the easier you can travel. As a general rule, you need about six to eight gallons of water to wash dishes for two or three people. A person needs about 64 ounces of drinking water a day for general health.
Showers use more water, but most boondockers only shower three to four times a week, if not less. You’ll want to experiment with water storage based on the size of your RV’s water tank plus your needs.
How can I camp without electricity?
Camping in a vehicle without electricity is fine for a night or two, but you’ll likely want a power source for extended periods. A reliable power source helps regulate the temperature. Plus, it allows you to keep your phone charged, which is important for safety reasons.
How long will my RV battery last Boondocking?
Specifics vary by battery type and overall needs, but a typical RV battery lasts about 80 hours with the normal use of lighting, a water pump, and other standard amenities. Four lithium batteries in a pack will provide power for about five days or so, depending on your use.
Hit the road, enjoy nature, and save some dough by boondocking! It’s an awesome way to travel and camp. Whether you’re RV boondocking, boondocking in a van, or another type of vehicle, the basics are usually fairly simple.
Manage your power usage, be respectful of the environment, and plan ahead as much as you can. The boondocking tips above have the info you need. Your new adventure awaits!