We get this question pretty frequently, “What is boondocking?” from family, friends, and other RV’ers.
Ever hear of “off the grid” camping? Well, they’re pretty much the same thing as boondocking. If you’re a seasoned tent camper, try not to laugh, but it’s like primitive camping in an RV.
Boondocking is when you set up your RV without shore power, water, or sewer connections. Simply put, Park your RV in an authorized location, set up, and camp! Why would you want to do this, you might ask? There are various reasons we’ll cover, but knowing how to boondock is a great skill to have if you want to take your RVing adventures to the next level.
RVs typically have holding tanks for freshwater, gray water (kitchen/bathroom sink & shower), and black water (sewage). Additionally, many RVs come wired to run some electrical components on both 120v and 12v power sources using a converter. This configuration gives you the ability to sustain yourself for short periods without having to be in a traditional RV park. To put it simply, an RV with a full tank of fresh water, empty collection tanks, and a fully charged battery is ready to start boondocking.
Being ready to boondock is the easy part. Where it gets challenging is pulling it off. If I could describe Boondocking, “it’s an art” of resource management for your RV. Several variables need to be taken into consideration when boondocking. It’s almost a trial and error exercise in the beginning.
No two RVs are alike, no two families use the same amount of water per day, and no two people have the exact power requirements over 24 hours. Boondocking is about knowing your RV systems, usage requirements and managing them with the resources you have.
Here is an example of how we manage our water usage and the effect it has on power while boondocking:
Our RV has a 60-gallon freshwater tank. A family of three could easily use that in one day if we were careless. To run all that water we also need power for the pump. If we’re going to boondock in one spot for 3-5 days, we would need to stretch all these resources just for our water usage. Here is how we would adjust:
No long showers
I don’t know about you all, but I have some world record shower takers in my rig most of the time. No! Not while boondocking. Get in, rinse, turn the water off, soap up, wash off, then out! Aka, a Navy Shower!
RV toilets don’t flush like those in a home. They run water as long as you hold the pedal down. So you can use a lot of water to flush the toilet if not careful. You can also fill up your black tank sewage system with your freshwater. An empty freshwater tank and a full sewage tank are something you want to avoid when boondocking. You won’t have a readily available spot to empty those tanks and that can end a boondocking trip fast!
Dishes in the Bucket
Washing dishes can also use a lot of water. We always try, but especially when boondocking, wipe all dishes first with a paper towel into the trash. Then, we’ll let the dishes build up a little before washing, rather than after each meal.
We use a secondary bin in our sink when boondocking to minimize our water usage. We’ll fill the container in the sink with hot soapy water, scrub and set dishes aside, then set dispose of that water outside if allowed. Fill again, while rinsing and then dump. Even if you’re not able to dump this water outside you can control which tank you want to dump the water into and better manage your tanks. Lowing the water requirements saves the freshwater we have, puts only the water we use in the holding tanks, and lets us use our battery for other things.
These are just a few to start. There are dozens of tips and tricks you can learn to extend your boondocking time. One of my favorite tips is from You, Me, and the RV. They capture the cold water from the shower (before the heated water arrives at the spigot) and use that for dishes later in the day. It saves the holding tank’s space while using the water that would have just typically run down the drain. Brilliant!
One single 12v battery doesn’t last that long in an RV, and draining a led acid battery can actually destroy it. So you’ll need a way to keep it charged. With one single battery, you won’t be running your AC or watching TV, but your pump, slides, lights, exhaust fans, and maybe some USB ports are going to have power available to them by that single battery.
When boondocking, we recharge our battery every day with either an inverter generator or have the option to run 100w solar panels. We need to keep those USB ports on for our wireless router, phone chargers, and 12v fans going! Oh, of course, to make sure the pump and slides work too!! 🙂
Unless you have a generator or an enormous onboard battery system, you’ll have to be very frugal with your power needs. It might even be impractical if you don’t have a way to recharge your battery at some point in your boondocking trip.
Some who boondock a lot upgrade their RV to have solar systems with lithium battery banks. With a system like that, you could have your power needs met almost indefinitely.
View our Off-Grid RV Gear list on Kit.co
Now, WHY would you want to put you and your RV through this?
With boondocking, you’ll find the freedom to visit and camp at places like no other. Check out the hashtag “#rvboondocking” on Instagram to see what I mean. You can stay on designated federal and state properties such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas or Army COE sites.
We have also boondocked at wineries, breweries, farms, and golf courses, using our Harvest Hosts membership (a great place to learn how to boondock). Some of our most memorable RVing stops have been while we were boondocking from one place to another on a long trip.
It’s not all remote opportunities either. You can also stay at some local venues (RV shows, infield racing events, and multi-day sporting events) in large cities. Knowing how to boondock opens up a lot of additional opportunities for your RV experience.
An even better “Why?”
Boondocking is also very much about building confidence in your RV knowledge. Suppose you plan to (or unexpectedly) park in a Walmart parking lot or truck stop for the night. Knowing you and your family will be somewhat comfortable and that your RV can provide for you is important.
Every RV’er should know their equipment well. Understanding how systems interact with one another or how you can best manage your RV resources can help you troubleshoot problems or issues that pop up unexpectedly. That same knowledge can help get you off the grid for some epic camping adventures you’ll tell tails of to all your friends.
Happy boondocking! We’ll see you off the grid!