In a world inundated with distractions and overwhelming stimuli, camping is a breath of fresh air (literally).
Although, for better or worse, camping has evolved with technology where RVs offer electricity, vans come fully equipped with kitchens, and hotspots bring the internet to the outdoors. This evolution allows for more access outside. But does it take away from appreciating sunrises as you pee first thing in the morning or laughing around a campfire as your food cooks?
So what do you do if you want to unplug and get back to the roots of camping? One word: boondocking.
What Is Boondocking?
Everyone has a different definition of boondocking. It is a combination of dry camping, dispersed camping, and wild camping. Essentially, boondocking is camping without hookups on public land away from campgrounds. Boondocking occurs in a vehicle, like a truck, a van, an RV, or an SUV.
Hookups provide access to water, electricity, and dump stations. Boondocking forces campers to be self-contained, unplugged, and conservative with resources.
Did you know the word “boondocking” comes from “boondocks,” which stems from the Tagalog word for mountain, “bundók.” Boondocking is just another way to enjoy the mountains.
What Are The Pros of Boondocking?
- Cheap or free accommodation
- Unlimited and private space for camping
- Beautiful views and locations
- Large group and kid-friendly camping
What Are The Cons of Boondocking?
- Remote locations that are hard to reach
- No amenities or services
- No reservations or guaranteed spots
- Less convenient
How Do You Start Boondocking?
Chances are if you are interested in boondocking, you are already a camper with a setup. Boondocking is just the next step. Here are some ways to help you start boondocking:
Prepare Your Vehicle
What does this mean? It means covering your basics. Make sure your freshwater tank is full, you have fully charged batteries, check and supply your propane, empty black and gray water tanks, stock your fridge, and camp with extra drinking water. When it comes to boondocking, you never know. For non van/rv campers, it could mean making sure you have proper bedding, storage for your gear, and your vehicle is in good working order.
Check The Weather
Checking the forecast before any outdoor pursuit is imperative, especially boondocking. If you are boondocking for the first time, plan a trip when the weather is clear and moderate, so there is no need to worry about temperature control within your vehicle.
Weather also plays a role in your ability to collect solar energy.
Before you head out on that road trip of your dreams, prepare yourself with a boondocking adventure in your hometown or nearby. This will not only help you work out the kinks, but also give you confidence further down the road.
Embrace Partial-hookup Campgrounds
How can you take baby steps into boondocking? Booking stays at campgrounds that offer partial hookups. What are partial hookups? Partial hookups are sites that lack one or two utilities, like water, sewer, or electrical. Dip your toe in boondocking and see how you manage.
What Are The Best Vehicles for Boondocking?
Are you looking to get off-grid? Then you will need the right vehicle to support you and your adventures. The best vehicle for boondocking has several crucial features. Plenty of tank storage is a must to accommodate fresh water, black water, and grey water. The bigger the tank, the longer the adventure. How much power do you think you will use? What temperatures do you need to be able to withstand? Planning for your off-grid power system is a must. Other essentials for boondocking are multiple power sources, size, clearance, and weight.
Best Rigs for Boondocking
- Fifth Wheels
- Truck Campers
- Travel Trailers
- Camper Vans
- Class B RVs
- Class C Motorhomes
Emergency & Safety
Safety is the number one priority when it comes to boondocking. This means traveling with an emergency roadside kit, including an air compressor, tire gauge, jumper cables, lug wrench, jack, coolant, engine oil, and an ice scraper. Another essential is wheel chocks for parking on uneven ground, unloading, and other situations where your vehicle may be unstable.
Unlike with car camping or backpacking, you need to consider your power usage when boondocking because there are no hookups to electricity out on those dirt roads. Invest in portable solar panels or a generator. Although, generator usage is a double-edged sword in the off-the-grid community. While generators effectively power your devices, they are noisy and produce harmful fumes. So before you use your generator, be aware of your surroundings and neighbors.
Inverters and power stations / battery packs are also helpful devices in navigating power off the grid. Inverters convert DC battery power to AC power that most everyday resources use. Some solar panels even come installed with an inverter.
Regardless of how you’re camping, you should always prepare emergency water. Boondockers use more water than the average camper because they have more access to water sources, like a toilet, shower, sink, etc. This is where portable water jugs come in handy. This not only keeps you prepared, but it also allows you to fill up on water without having to move your vehicle. Don’t skimp on cheap options and invest in products made for offroading, like the Scepter Water Container.
Pro-tip: Make sure your drinking and gray water hoses are clearly labeled.
Figuring out ways to mitigate your water usage, while boondocking is essential. Consider investing in a composting toilet. A composting toilet breakdowns human waste rather than using water to flush it away into a tank. Composting toilets saves water and energy while creating fewer odors because it separates your liquids from solids. This method is also eco-friendly, eliminates the need for a black tank, and you can even make your fertilizer!
Do you have a flush toilet? Make sure to have thinner toilet paper. The toilet paper will break down easier and avoid clogs.
Although your RV or other mode of transportation probably has an established kitchen with a stove, refrigerator, and other necessities, it is ideal to keep a camp stove or grill, like a Coleman, at your disposal. If the weather is nice (or too hot) it is a perfect way to cook, while the sunsets over the vista.
The key to camping is creature comforts, whether that is a camping chair to cozy up with by the fire, solar lights to decorate your space and deter creatures, or extra large body wipes (also on Amazon) to save water and keep yourself clean.
Tips for boondocking
- Always start a trip with a full fresh water tank and an empty gray and black water tank.
- Do not dump waste water on the ground. Remember the Leave No Trace principles.
- Prepare or freeze meals before you head out on your next adventure. Prewash fruits and vegetables too.
- If you have a shower, keep a bucket to catch excess water and use that to flush the toilet later.
- Are you worried about your water usage? Buy a transparent tank where you can mark your water usage with post-it notes and plan accordingly.
- Invest in LED lights. LED lights don’t use as much power.
- Park where it benefits your RV, depending on the shade, wind, flat ground, and privacy.
- Invest in reusable products like cups, plates, and towels to avoid garbage buildup.
- If you are a woman traveling solo, leave a big pair of boots or multiple pairs of shoes to dissuade any curious humans.
How to find boondocking locations
First things first, where can you boondock?
- Walmart Parking Lots
- Cracker Barrels
- Truck Stops
- Rest Areas
- Visitor Centers
- Trail Heads
- National Forests
- BLM Land
- Army Corps of Engineers Land
Before you boondock anywhere, make sure boondocking is legal and allowed.
How To Find Dispersed Camping
Recreation.gov: Helps find camping on BLM and Forest Service land.
Roadtrippers: This is the perfect app to map out your entire road trip. The pro version is worth the price.
Harvest Hosts: “Harvest Hosts is an RV membership program that allows self-contained travelers to overnight at unique locations around the country including farms, wineries, museums, breweries, and more!”
Campendium: Campendium is a free app that offers in-depth reviews of campgrounds, primitive sites, and even stealth options with a boondocking and RV focus.
The Dyrt: According to The Dyrt, “Camping starts here.” And it does with over 40,000 sites across the United States listed.
iOverlander: Like Campendium and The Dyrt, iOverlander has a robust database for all kinds of camping.
Embracing boondocking forces you to experience camping without hookups. You have to prepare and utilize the resources you learned and prepared for. It is not as easy as just rolling up to a bustling campground with amenities, but it sure is worth it.
For other alternative ways to camp, check out The Ultimate Car Camping Guide.
Boondocking Glossary Of Terms
Boondocking: Also known as dry camping or wild camping, boondocking refers to camping in self-contained vehicles (such as RVs, camper vans, or trailers) in remote and undeveloped areas without access to traditional campground amenities like water, electricity, or sewer hookups.
Grey Water: Grey water refers to the wastewater generated from sources like sinks, showers, and washing machines in an RV. It does not contain human waste (which is considered black water) and can sometimes be reused for purposes like irrigation, depending on local regulations.
Black Water: Black water is the wastewater that comes from the RV’s toilet, containing human waste and toilet paper. It requires a designated holding tank and proper disposal methods at authorized dump stations.
Inverter: An inverter is a device that converts direct current (DC) power, often provided by a battery or solar panels, into alternating current (AC) power, which is used to run appliances and electronics in an RV while boondocking.
Solar Panels: Solar panels are photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. They are commonly used in boondocking setups to generate power for appliances and charging batteries.
Fresh Water Tank: The fresh water tank is a container on the RV that stores potable water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing while boondocking.
Holding Tanks: Holding tanks are containers that store the wastewater from RVs. They are divided into grey water tanks (for non-toilet wastewater) and black water tanks (for toilet waste), which require proper management and disposal.
Dump Station: A dump station is a facility where RVers can dispose of their wastewater, including both grey and black water. It’s an essential stop for boondockers when their holding tanks are full.
Generator: A generator is a device that produces electricity by burning fuel (such as gasoline, diesel, or propane) to power appliances and recharge batteries in an RV while boondocking. It can provide additional power when solar panels or batteries are insufficient.
Power Station / Solar Generator / Battery Bank: A battery bank is a collection of multiple batteries connected together, or a large battery to store electrical energy. It provides power for RV appliances, lights, and other devices when the main power sources (like shore power or solar panels) are not available.
Composting Toilet: A composting toilet is an alternative to traditional RV toilets that uses natural processes to break down human waste into compost. It’s an eco-friendly option for boondockers looking to minimize their environmental impact.
Leveling Blocks: Leveling blocks are tools used to raise one side of an RV or camper to create a level surface. They help ensure comfort and stability when camping on uneven terrain.
Four-Wheel Drive (4WD): Four-wheel drive is a drivetrain system that powers all four wheels of a vehicle simultaneously, providing enhanced traction and maneuverability. It’s useful for accessing remote and rugged boondocking locations.
Quiet Hours: Quiet hours refer to designated periods during which campers are expected to keep noise levels to a minimum, respecting the tranquility of the camping area and the privacy of fellow campers.
Leave No Trace: Leave No Trace is an ethical principle that encourages campers and outdoor enthusiasts to minimize their impact on the environment by packing out all trash, avoiding damage to natural resources, and practicing responsible outdoor behavior.
Boondocking Etiquette: Boondocking etiquette refers to the unwritten rules and guidelines that boondockers should follow to respect the environment, other campers, and the areas where they camp. This includes practices like minimizing noise, staying on designated paths, and leaving campsites as you found them.
Shore Power: Shore power, also known as external power or campground power, refers to the electricity provided by connecting an RV to a power source at a campground or other location with electrical hookups.
Battery Monitor System: A battery monitor system is a device that provides real-time information about the state of charge, voltage, and overall health of the RV’s batteries. It helps boondockers manage their power usage and battery levels.
Boonies: “Boonies” is a slang term often used to refer to remote or isolated areas, which are ideal for boondocking. It’s a colloquial way to describe the kind of off-the-grid locations boondockers seek out.
Dispersed Camping: Free camping, also known as free camping, refers to camping in locations where there are no campground fees. This often involves camping on public lands managed by government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the U.S. Forest Service.
Madeleine is a freelance writer and social media manager in the outdoor, gear, and travel space. She loves being buried in the snow, running single-track, and eating gummies next to high alpine lakes. When she’s not writing or traveling, you can find Madeleine in Telluride, Colorado romping around in the San Juans.