The only thing better than camping is camping for free. There are hundreds of places where you can camp in your RV without paying a penny. What’s even better, is there are free camping places in beautiful, wild locations. In this article, we’re explaining what is boondocking and how to do it properly.
What Is Boondocking?
As we mentioned before, boondocking is a way to camp for free. It also generally means you’re camping in non-designated campsites – no camp host, no site number, no picnic table.
The catch with boondocking is that there are no hookups. You have to take care of and manage your water, sewer, and electricity yourself. Although it is free to camp, you need to do a little work to properly prepare, which we will explain in this article.
Boondocking is a terrific way to actually enjoy the great outdoors. Sometimes RV parks, while convenient with their water and electric hookups, feel so crowded you can’t even enjoy your camping trip. But when you’re boondocking, you might be the only person around for miles.
The term boondocking comes from camping out in the “boonies” or out and away from others. However, it is also used as a synonym for any of the many types of off-grid camping. Each type has slight nuances as to how long and where you can boondock. These types include wild camping, freedom camping, dry camping, dispersed camping, moochdocking, and overnight parking. Generally, these terms all describe camping without hookups.
Where Can You Boondock?
Boondocking can be done either on public or private land. No matter where you hope to boondock, it is best to double check whether camping is allowed.
Most public lands allow boondocking. This would include places like National or State Forest land and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. While there are some restrictions, including stay limits or designated camping areas, this type of land is usually going to be your go-to for boondocking.
The best part about camping on public lands (besides that it is often free) is that it is frequently some of the most beautiful scenery around.
There are also other, less exciting places to stay without hookups. These include travel stops, truck stops, rest areas, and overnight parking lots. Some businesses also allow you to park overnight (usually for a maximum of 24 hours). These include some (but not all) Walmarts, Cabelas, some casinos, and even Cracker Barrels. With these, it is best to call ahead to verify if overnight parking is allowed. Also, don’t set up camp in these places.
Although boondocking in a parking lot isn’t especially adventurous, it is great for saving money on cross country road trips.
Due to the increase in popularity of boondocking, membership programs have been created to help increase the number of places that responsible, self-contained RVers can stay. We personally use two of these memberships and love them both:
Harvest Hosts is a membership that allows overnight stays at agritourism locations, museums, and golf courses. This includes wineries, breweries, fruit ranches, Christmas tree farms, aviation museums, dairy farms, and more! In return for your stay, you’re encouraged to visit the hosting organization and patronize them in some way. We really don’t mind this, as it usually turns out to be something we want to do anyway! Most of the time, this is just overnight, but some hosts allow multi-night stays.
Boondockers Welcome is a membership that connects RVers with people who have private property open for RVs to stay on. This is a great way to meet people on the road (as the property owners are often RVers themselves!) and to get local tips on things to do in the area. Again, this is usually for one-night stays only, but some hosts are open to multi-night visits.
Things You Need for Boondocking
As we mentioned, boondocking means you have no hookups. To properly live off-grid (and not just be miserable) there are several things you need:
Off-Grid Power & Energy Storage
First, you need a power source. Your RV has a battery system (though not all are created equal), and these batteries need to be kept charged. Charged batters allow appliances and lights in your RV to continue to work while you’re boondocking. To charge RV batteries, many boondockers use either solar power or a generator.
Solar RV battery chargers are popular due to their silent generation, and even portable solar panels do a lot to keep batteries topped off. Some RVers (like us) go all-in with big off-grid solar systems on their RVs, so they hardly ever have to run a generator!
Batteries are a big component of an RV’s ability to comfortably stay off-grid. While most RVs come with lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries are the best RV batteries for off-grid RVing. This is due to their superior energy availability and flexible charging cycles.
Another thing you need for off-grid RVing is a fully self-contained RV. “Self-contained” means having grey and black water tanks, so you have a way to store your wastewater for several days.
Grey water is the wastewater from your sinks and shower, while black water refers to liquid and solid human waste that goes down your toilet. These feed into an RV’s grey and black tanks, respectively. Depending on your RV’s tank capacities, you will be able to spend shorter or longer amounts of time in between dumping your tanks in a designated sewage dump station. Dump stations can be found at RV parks, some rest stops, and some truck stops.
When it comes to your black tank, one way to upgrade your RV to being able to go longer periods of time between dumps is to switch to a composting toilet. Find out What’s So Great About RV Composting Toilets? here!
Remember: all waste and wastewater must be disposed of properly at a dump station. Do not dump your tanks on the ground!
No hookups also means that you’ll have to bring along all of the fresh water you will need for the duration of your boondocking stay. You need to have enough water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, using the toilet and drinking. It is best to have an RV with large tanks for boondocking, but there are plenty of ways to conserve water and stretch your fresh water tank.
Which RVs have the biggest tanks and are best for boondocking? Find out here: What Is the Best RV for Boondocking?
Finally, when you are boondocking, you must manage your trash. You can’t just stroll down to the nearest RV park dumpster. Instead, you need to have a way to store your trash for several days.
Your best bet is to store trash in an airtight that won’t lead to a smelly RV. And definitely don’t leave your trash outside. The last thing you want to deal with in the boonies is wild animals shredding your garbage everywhere.
Boondocking Rules and Etiquette
When you’re out boondocking, it is important to be respectful and follow the unspoken rules for these undeveloped places. So, here are a few rules you need to follow to be a good boondocker:
First, never camp super close to someone. The whole point of boondocking is to have more space and freedom. Plus, if you run a generator, it is noisy and annoying for the surrounding people.
Also, observe “usual” quiet hours when other people are camped nearby. Most campgrounds have quiet hours from around 10 pm to 8 am, and this is a good rule of thumb to go by out in the wild, too.
It is also important to monitor your pets. Even though you love your dog, keep them out of other people’s campsites. Keeping your pets close is key for their safety as well. When you are boondocking, there is always the possibility of encountering wildlife, finding something dead to eat, or having your pet run off and get lost.
Obey all local rules and regulations. This could include campfire restrictions, limitations on the length of stay, fireworks bans, gun regulations, and more.
Finally, and most importantly, leave no trace. Many public lands and wild camp spots have been closed due to being damaged by irresponsible campers. To keep boondocking available, we must all do our part to preserve the land and leave it better than we found it.
This means you should only camp on durable surfaces that have been camped on before. Don’t trample plants or cut down trees, or make new fire pits. And please dispose of all waste properly.
If your site has garbage from a previous camper, your help in cleaning some of it up is appreciated by the boondocking community!
How to Find Legal Boondocking Spots
There are a few great resources for finding legal boondocking spots. A great option is to search “dispersed camping” or “boondocking” + “where you want to stay” on Google. You can also look at the National Forest and Bureau of Land Management websites for boondocking sites in a specific area.
Boondocking Is Our Favorite Way to Camp
Boondocking is an awesome way to get out in the great outdoors. You will save money and most likely have a more pleasurable camping experience. Now that you know what boondocking is, we know you’re probably pumped to hit the road. But make sure you take our advice for preparing to boondock and being a responsible camper so you’ll have the best experience!
Build Your Boondocking Confidence
If boondocking still sounds a little intimidating, don’t worry! The RV Masterclass Boondocking 101 course can help you learn the ropes, gain confidence, and ultimately save money by being able to take advantage of amazing free camping opportunities!
Boondocking 101 walks you through the best safety practices and shows you, step by step, how to find the best boondocking campsites. Then, we suggest trying out some of these steps in a safe place – like an RV park! Simply unplug your RV and disconnect your water and voila! You’re on your way to enjoying the benefits of off-grid camping.
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