What is Boondocking? [Plus 21 Awesome Tips For Beginners]

What is boondocking? Are you considering boondocking but worry about being without electricity or running water? Is it possible to go without all the comforts of a developed campground and still have a fantastic trip? Of course, it is!

What is boondocking?

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking is just camping with your RV on public land that does not have any sort of amenities. There are no electric, water, or sewer hookups. You also won’t find public bathrooms, freshwater, or even picnic tables.

Boondocking is also referred to as dry camping or free camping, with “free camping” being one of the more popular terms. There are several types of boondocking you should be familiar with.

According to Camping World, there are three types; Overnight Stay, Developed Campground (No Hookups), and Undeveloped Campsite. Let’s go over each one in detail.

Overnight Stay Boondocking

In this type of boondocking, you will stay in one location for a night. This is common if you are driving a long distance and just want a location to stay at that is easy to get to and is free.

Let’s take a look at what locations are usually available for an overnight stay.

Walmart Parking Lots (Wallydocking)

Looking to stay overnight and stock up on supplies? A Walmart parking lot is our preferred choice. Most Walmart parking lots are very well lit, have security, and are typically very visible.

Even if you have no plans to park at a Walmart you may be forced to do so if you encounter severe weather conditions that are preventing you from getting to your destination.

One thing to keep in mind is that Walmart in some areas is locking down on overnight boondocking so your best bet is to call ahead.

You can also download an app that allows you to check which Walmart is good to go. If you are interested in learning more check this other article I wrote called “Can I Park MY RV at Walmart?

Rest Areas and Truck Stops

Truck stops and rest areas are completely fine with RVers staying the night. It’s always a good idea to let the manager or cashier know you are staying there just in case.

Chances are it’s going to be noisy because you are right off the road you will be close to a bathroom and a place to buy drinks and snacks.

Visitors Centers

Staying overnight at a visitor’s center is ideal since most are unoccupied during the night. You will have bathrooms and running water if needed.

Before you boondock at a visitors center call and ask for permission to stay before making a final commitment.

There are several other places such as hotels and motels and even apartment complexes. However, I don’t recommend those places as they are usually used for boondocking and sometimes are not very convenient or friendly to RVers who want to stay the night.

No Hookup Campgrounds

Is it still boondocking if you stay at a developed campground without hookup? Technically yes but we are in a gray area.

Some developed campgrounds will charge you a fee, so they are not free. However, you have no hookups available you are reliant on what you brought in. As for me, I’ll say yes it’s “boondocking”.

Reserving these campgrounds is just a matter of calling or in some cases booking online. You’ll find they don’t have many if any amenities you really need to plan ahead.

You might find a water spigot, and you are able to run your generator.

It’s still a good idea to arrive with a full tank of fresh water. Also, have your house batteries charged in case you arrive late and can’t run your generator.

Chances are you will also find a dump station but it’s best to verify all of that before you arrive.

There are many national parks and state parks that have developed campgrounds without hookups. This allows you to have some comforts without missing out on all nature.

Undeveloped Campsite Boondocking

When most people think of boondocking camping at an undeveloped site is what comes to mind. This type of boondocking places you completely off-grid without any amenities or resources.

This makes many beginner RVers nervous since they will have to be self-reliant.

Most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS)  land have undeveloped campgrounds. For many, this is the most exciting and rewarding type of boondocking.

Imagine being all to yourself, under the Milky Way surrounded by a beautiful landscape. It’s hard to beat such an experience.

Boondocking in our National Forests

Boondocking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable tho because there are several ways you can stretch the electricity and water, you do have, by following our advice!

With a little planning and preparation, you can camp without a few of the comforts of home and still have a great time!

As I mentioned earlier there are many undeveloped campsites in both our National Forest and BLM properties.

In our national forest, you can typically camp anywhere as long as there are no signs prohibiting camping.

It’s easy to just follow the forest access road to find the perfect spot where you can park your RV and camp for free.

It’s always a good idea to check with the local ranger and ask about road conditions, road access width if you have a larger RV, and get any safety tips as well.

A good resource for how and where to camp in our National Forest and BLM land is the USDA guidelines.

I’m often asked if boondocking is legal? Absolutely legal. Just make sure to boondock where it is allowed, be courteous, and follow proper etiquette, and you should be fine.

When in doubt, ask first before you dry camp.

Is Boondocking Safe?

Boondocking is as safe as just about any other type of camping. Just make sure to use common sense and don’t do anything stupid.

The best safety tip is to be well-prepared before you embark on your dry camping adventure. The campsite is not the place to find out your generator needed a tune-up, and now it won’t start.

What is the Best Boondocking Travel Trailer?

When it comes to answering the question of what is boondocking, no answer is complete without going over what campers are good for boondocking. Though you can free camp in a typical hard-sided travel trailer you might be better off in a compact travel trailer like a Happier Camper, a teardrop travel trailer, a small pop-up camper, or A-frame. All of these can be pulled by a small SUV.

what is boondocking

What are some features you will need in a boondocking travel trailer?

  • Bathroom – for Tammy and me a bathroom in the camper is a must. We are not fans of going to the bathroom outdoors. If you are comfortable with that then scratch this requirement off your list.
  • Good Ventilation – Having a camper with a good roof vent fan is a must. You want to circulate fresh air throughout the day and night and help keep the interior a bit cooler if the temperature outside is hot.
  • LED RV Lights – Having LED lights throughout your RV is going to not only save you money but will let your batteries last longer since LED lights consume less electricity.

21 Boondocking Tips

Now that we’ve answered the question “What is boondocking?” Here are 21 boondocking tips to help you prepare for all that boondocking has to offer.

1. Bring extra water jugs

Freshwater is something you don’t want to run out of. Bring along at least two 5 gallon jugs of water to use as freshwater when water hookups are not available.

Leave them in your vehicle so as you travel or explore you can refill them when you are near an area with fresh water.

2. Save your dishwater

As you wash your dishes use as little water as possible but don’t let the water go down the drain when you’re finished.

Wash your dishes in a tub that you can then use to dump that water into the toilet.

This will save space in your gray tank (as it will more than likely fill faster than your black tank) and save freshwater reserves from being used by the toilet.

3. Shower less

Yes, you did read that correctly, we said shower less. If at all possible, space out your bathing as long as you can stand it to keep gray water from filling up so quickly.

Use shower wipes as a way to remain clean between showers.

If spacing out showers isn’t something you’re comfortable with, consider investing in a low-flow aerated showerhead to lessen the amount of water you’d be using.

4. Bring a portable tank for gray and black water

Even if you’re doing everything possible to limit, and make the most of, your water use, there’s a chance your gray and black tanks will need to be emptied.

If you have a portable tank and a macerator pump, you can empty the ones in your RV and then drive the portable tank to a dumpsite without having to pack up your entire RV.

5. Bring Quality Batteries

When you don’t have access to electricity, batteries are what keep the lights on! This fact, alone, makes them one of the most important items to have on hand.

Invest in a quality battery to be sure you have the power you need during your off-the-grid camping days. If possible, bring a spare battery too.

These are some of the best RV batteries I recommend.

6. Bring Solar Lights

When boondocking expect very little light after dark. In the event you’d like to light up the exterior of your RV, using the outdoor light attached will use some of the electricity you’re working so hard to conserve.

We recommend bringing along solar lights instead of using the outer light attached to your RV. Solar lights will only require a little sun to charge and won’t take away from your electric reserves.

7. Bring a Generator

Inevitably your battery, or batteries, will need to recharge. Make this possible by bringing along a generator or solar panels.

The RV generator will require fuel and the solar panels will require the sun so, keep in mind, you’ll also need a way to keep them running.

8. Add more fans

12-Volt fans are an important part of the workings that help to regulate the temperature in your RV. Consider replacing the factory-installed fan with a more powerful, more dependable aftermarket fan like the one below. Add a second fan, if you can.

Fan-Tastic Vent 2250 Off White Vent with Reverse Thermostat...
  • Dometic USA 802250 Fantastic 802250 RV Roof Vent w/ 12V Powered Fan - Manual Lift

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Also, if your vents are open, consider purchasing covers that will keep the sun and weather out while allowing air in.

9. Don’t use the Furnace

On those nights when extra clothes or blankets just won’t be enough to keep you warm, we suggest using a propane-fueled space heater.

They are more efficient than the furnace in your RV and won’t use any of your precious electricity. Just be sure you’re following every safety rule when using space heaters.

10. Invest in new lightbulbs

The lights installed in your RV, by the manufacturer, are not very efficient. If you were to swap out those basic lights for LED lights, you could save power.

An additional perk of LED bulbs are they do not get nearly as warm, when in use, and should last much longer than the ones you replaced.

A second option would be to hang battery-powered lights in the areas you use the most. These lights will require zero electricity and, as long as you’ve packed replacement batteries, they are perfect for use when you aren’t hooked up to electricity.

11. Use your car for charging phones

If you are not wanting to completely unplug and would like to keep your phones or other devices charged, we recommend using your car to do the charging.

As long as the car and alternator are in good health the battery should recharge the next time you drive.

12. Do Not Use Electric Appliances

It might be tempting to use your favorite coffee maker or your microwave but remember, you’re trying to conserve energy so do your best to avoid using all the electric appliances.

Maybe even put them away so they don’t get used out of habit.

13. Use an Ice Chest Instead Of The Refrigerator

Your fridge may run on propane but it will still require a small amount of electricity which can be saved by choosing to use an ice chest instead.

We recommend using a high-quality ice chest; one that will keep your items cold for more than a day before the ice melts.

The following tips won’t help you conserve water or electricity but we do think they are helpful to know in general before you venture out

14. Pack A Paper Map or Atlas

If your journey takes you to an area of poor cell coverage you want to be sure you’ll be able to accurately navigate where you’re going.

You might not ever need it but we think you’ll be glad you grabbed one, just in case.

15. Bring Your First Aid Kit

Emergencies happen and if you are in a remote area, far from the nearest hospital or pharmacy, you’ll want to be prepared for injuries.

Hopefully, with a well-stocked first aid kit, you will be able to handle most issues on your own.

16. Don’t forget extra fuel

We’ve touched on a few items that will use propane to help save energy so don’t forget to bring additional bottles in the event you use up the first ones.

Also, be sure the bottles you do take have been filled. Start your trip with full bottles, not half-empty ones.

17. Your RV Size

Even though you can go boondocking in any size RV you need to be aware that not all RV can access all of the available free campsites.

Road conditions might prevent you from taking your Class A into the wilderness as you would have liked.

18. Scout Ahead

This is important if you have a larger camper or RV. Send someone ahead in a smaller vehicle to assess road conditions, road width, any bridges for weight restrictions, and underpasses for height limitation.

Out in the wilderness bridges and overpasses don’t have to need highway requirements so scout ahead and save yourself the headache.

19. Don’t Ignore Regulations

Though there are many places you can dry camp there are some you simply cannot. If you are unsure of where you can legally camp ask a local park ranger.

They’ll tell you where you can stay and places you should stay out of. You can purchase a Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas for your state if you want more detailed information.

20. Respect Local Wildlife

As you might know, wild animals can be very dangerous. Don’t leave food or tray outside, stay a safe distance from any wildlife you see, and please don’t disturb any of the animals.

Follow these simple tips, and you are bound to see some awesome wildlife.

21. Stay Alert and Secure

Chances are slim that you will encounter any safety issues when boondocking, however, you still want to remain alert and secure. Avoid doing anything that will attract unwanted attention to your valuables. Keep your expensive items out of sight or locked up.

Bring some personal protection with you. Pepper spray is always good to have, an air horn and a personal alarm can all come in handy in a time of need. Some recommend a baseball bat while others recommend bringing your firearm.

If you do bring a firearm you need to make sure to follow the correct property regulations.

What is Boondocking? Final Thoughts

in this video, we share some additional information that will help answer the questions of what is boondocking.

To sum up our whole article on boondocking tips in a small, easy to read list, here are the things you’ll want to be sure you bring along (in addition to the usual items) for your next or first boondocking trip:

For Conserving Water

  • 5-gallon jugs full of water
  • Aerated shower head
  • Portable dumping tank and macerator pump
  • Drinking water
  • Shower wipes

For Conserving Electricity

  • Camper battery or batteries
  • Small batteries for anything battery operated
  • Outdoor Solar Lights
  • An RV ready generator or solar panels
  • 12 V Fans
  • Portable Propane Heater – extra propane tanks
  • LED lights

Boondocking is such a wonderful way to connect with nature and see incredible places without also having the added people and noises that come with staying at developed campsites.

We hope we’ve been able to help to answer what is boondocking and with these 21 boondocking tips you’ll see that you don’t have to sacrifice the comforts you’re used to in order to experience the peaceful, seclusion of dry camping.

If you invest in quality items, plan ahead, and pack wisely we’re confident you’ll have an awesome experience!

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Ray & Tammy Roman

Ray and Tammy Roman are the co-owner/authors of Go Travel Trailers. They have been featured in AARP, RV Today, and Porch.com, among others. When not writing about RVs and the RV lifestyle, you'll find them fishing, vacationing in Red River, NM, and spending time with family and friends.