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Boondocking is one of those phrases that experienced RVers throw around. It sounds cool, but what is it exactly? RV boondocking simply means camping without being connected to water, electricity or sewer, but instead totally relying on the reserves in your RV.
Boondocking allows you to go off the grid in your RV and fully immerse yourself in nature. However, it can take a bit of research and planning,. In this article, we’ll share how to go about RV boondocking safely and responsibly, even in a rental rig.
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What is RV Boondocking?
Let’s start with the basics. Boondocking is another term for dry camping, where you essentially drive your RV into the boondocks (hence the name) and camp in an undeveloped area with no amenities like electricity, water, or sewer hookups.
While this may sound rugged and primitive, it can actually be quite comfortable and relaxing in a properly equipped RV. Boondocking is generally free, and it allows you the option to either camp miles away from your nearest neighbor or set up an impromptu “neighborhood” with your friends. Many boondocking sites provide spectacular scenery and views, unmarred by dozens of other campers or the smell of a nearby campground bathroom.
Where Can You RV Boondock?
Boondocking is perfectly legal, as long as you are in an area where it’s allowed. Common boondocking areas include national forest land, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, and other public lands. There are several apps and websites that can help you find free boondocking sites, which we’ll list below. Keep in mind that some BLM sites may require a permit (often free or very inexpensive) and that many boondocking areas have stay limits. Most limits are 14 or 21 days, which is more than enough to accommodate a casual trip in a rental RV.
Resources for finding RV boondocking sites:
This free crowd-sourced website has hundreds of free and low-cost places to camp, with detailed information like what amenities are available, what the access road is like, maximum advised RV length, and so forth. You can also check reviews for each site, which can give you even more details and pictures of the location. These sites are not reviewed for legality, so be sure to follow all posted signs and have a backup location in mind just in case.
This free website and app is another crowd-sourced project that includes much more than boondocking sites, so you can also find things like fuel stations, laundromats, water and dump stations, and much more. You can even search for campsites based on certain criteria like whether it’s big-rig-friendly or pet-friendly.
Campendium is a third free crowd-sourced website and app with a section for free camping. All three of these apps are constantly growing and soon may pretty much overlap completely in terms of campsite recommendations, but for now you may still find unique sites on each.
The Bureau of Land Management website also has a page with downloadable maps so you can determine exactly what is private property or BLM land to be sure that you are in a legal boondocking area. You obviously need to be able to read a map and orient yourself to use these, whereas the first three resources on this list will provide GPS coordinates and navigation to each site.
This free app isn’t specifically designated for finding boondocking sites, but it does have the important benefit of downloadable maps of the whole world that work for navigation even when you don’t have cell service. You need to pre-download the maps before you go, but this can be a lifesaver when Google Maps fails.
How Do You RV Boondock in a Rental RV?
Quite simply, your rig needs to be self-contained with enough capacity for at least a couple of days off-grid at a time. This means that you will need fresh water storage, gray and black water storage, fuel for cooking (propane, wood, etc.), food, and a source of electricity.
Manufactured rental RVs (like Cruise America rigs) are not usually designed for extended boondocking, but they can generally go a couple of days off the grid. That’s because they usually don’t have solar panels for renewable energy or composting toilets, but rather they need to be hooked up at RV sites or to a generator. And the black tank (toilet waste holding area) needs to be dumped fairly frequently at a dump station.
However, if you are boondocking near a dump station or just going out for a few days, it’s totally feasible.
If you really want to boondock for an extended period of time, you might be better off renting an off-grid capable rig from a site like Outdoorsy, which offers peer to peer rentals. There are hundreds of solar-equipped van conversions and RVs that have composting toilets and enough water storage to allow for boondocking for a week or more at a time.
Once you know you are properly equipped and prepared, all you have to do is select a legal boondocking site, ensure that you have any necessary permits, and head on out there!
Tips For RV Boondocking
Here are a few suggestions to help you have a successful boondocking adventure:
This applies to water usage, power consumption, and trash production. Once you run out of water, you have to pack up your whole RV and drive into town to get more, which can be a major production especially if the nearest water source is not nearby.
Simple water conservation techniques can stretch your water supply significantly, like turning off the water while you wash your hands and while you lather yourself up in the shower (think military-style showers), and pre-cleaning your dishes with a paper towel to minimize washing time.
Power is also a precious commodity, so don’t expect to be able to run the air conditioning your entire trip, and only open the refrigerator quickly to remove what you need so you don’t lose cold air. Heating and cooling devices use the most power, so be mindful of which appliances you plan to use most.
And, of course, no one wants a mountain of trash piling up in their RV, so try to get rid of excessive packaging before you head out to boondock and avoid single-use items whenever possible.
Scout Your Location Ahead of Time
This especially applies if you’ve rented a large RV, but it can come into play with smaller campers as well.
Many forest service roads are narrow, gravelly, hilly, and windy with few to no spaces for turning around, and desert roads to boondocking locations are often riddled with potholes, sand patches, mud, or tire-puncturing thorns.
All of this to say, check out the site you plan to head to in advance, either on one of the websites or apps we mentioned above or by walking or driving the access road in a smaller vehicle first. That way, you can avoid getting stuck or damaging the rental RV.
This should be obvious, but make sure that you research and follow all the rules of your chosen boondocking site like stay limit, permit requirements, fire bans, and so forth. Be respectful of the land by leaving your campsite cleaner than you found it, putting out fires completely, and not dumping your tanks. Don’t leave any food or trash outside your RV as it might attract critters, putting you and the animals in a predicament.
Also, be aware of any other campers that may be around. Give them plenty of space and be quiet at night and in the morning — don’t plan to run your generator all night long, that’s definitely a no-no.
While you always hope that other people will be respectful of your privacy and property, it’s possible that someone could be up to no good. Don’t leave your RV unlocked if you leave it or at night, and keep valuable items like bikes and expensive grills locked up or inside the RV when you aren’t using them. Depending on your personal preference, you may also want to have a self-defense weapon on hand just in case.
Finally, have a plan for emergencies. Many boondocking sites are outside of cell range, so if someone gets hurt or sick you may just have to drive them to the nearest hospital yourself rather than calling for EMS. It’s also a good idea to bring along a first aid kit and basic medications like ibuprofen, as well as more than enough of any prescription medications you may need and an emergency food and water supply.
It is entirely possible that weather conditions could change drastically and the dry lakebed that was hard as a rock when you parked is suddenly an impassable mud mire that traps you there for an extra day or two. Having an emergency supply can take that scenario from a disaster to an inconvenience.
As with anything, RV boondocking is a learning process and the more you do it, the more comfortable and prepared you will be! It really is the ultimate RV renter’s adventure.
Tell me, do you think boondocking is something you want to try? Why does it appeal to you?
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