Beyond Hookups: What is RV Dry Camping and Boondocking

Dry camping is one of many different types of camping. When most people think of camping, they probably think of heading to the campground with their tents or RV’s. While this is probably the most common way to camp, there are many more!

What is Dry Camping in an RV?

Dry Camping involves camping in your RV or camper van, but without the benefits of full hookups for utilities. This form of camping is inexpensive (after you have the RV, of course) and allows you to live off-grid, often visiting exploring a remote location. People who live in their RV tend to dry camp.

What does Boondocking Mean?

Boondocking is camping with no water, electricity, or sewer hookups in an area outside of an established campground.

An RV dry camping with bikes attached to the back with green fields and mountains in the background

Boondocking vs Dry Camping vs Random Camping

These three terms are used fairly interchangeably.

There are some regional variations in which terms are used and what they refer to, but it seems when one is boondocking or random camping they are using an RV or camper of some sort for this ‘no-services’ camping.  

Dry camping also refers to camping without services. You’ll often find that boondocking occurs in a remote and more beautiful area than camping at a designated campground, thus the appeal. But RV dry camping can occur at a developed campground and many might refer to this as car camping (driving to the campground in your vehicle and setting up a tent and such for camping).

The other appeal for boondocking is that there isn’t much oversight. Developed campgrounds often have people in charge of where you can go and what you can do and when. Boondocking allows you the freedom to roam and do what you please. But, ironically, boondocking and dry camping come with a set of rules to follow.

The Other camping terms:

Before we get too far ahead, in case you were needing a quick review of the other types of camping terms, here they are:

Camping in your car: This is exactly what it sounds like: camping in your car. If you don’t want to invest in a lot of camping accessories, sleeping in your vehicle is a great way to try it before investing.

Primitive Camping: Again, exactly how it sounds. You’ll be at remote areas that don’t have access to water, electricity, or even restrooms. All you’ll have is your shelter, food, and a water supply. You may hike into a place and camp or certain campgrounds offer primitive sites at a discounted rate.

A camper RV parked in a snowy campsite

Backpacking: You’ll bring all your supplies in on your back and hike until you’re ready to settle for the night. Then you’ll set up camp and cook your food over a fire or camp stove. Backpacking requires a lot of lightweight and specific equipment in order to be enjoyable!

a camper with bikes attached parked on a sunny lake side spot

Some Do’s and Don’ts for RV Dry Camping & Boondocking

It’s important to think through safety measures if you’re planning to dry camp on public lands, outside of a designated campground (boondocking). Since you won’t have anyone to tell you what is safe and what isn’t, you should be aware of what you’re getting into.

Safety tips for Camping off-grid

Here are some things to think through:

Maneuverability: Whether you have a small teardrop camper or a large RV, getting in and out of places has its challenges. If you have to drive a narrow path to get to a place, remember, you’ll have to drive it back out, too. Make sure there will be room to turn around so you don’t have to try to back out of a sticky situation!

Size: Again, think about the size of what you’re driving. Some boondocking locations will help you with specifics of what size vehicles will fit and what won’t. Read up on reviews and scout by foot, if you’re uncertain. It’s better to walk a bit than get stuck.

You are truly alone: Or, at least you probably are. Even if you aren’t alone, no one is obligated to tell you that there is a forest fire meandering, a tornado on its way, or a skunk nearby. You will likely be far from cell service, so be sure to have what you need on-hand to keep yourself safe and be aware of your surroundings.

Leave a travel plan: If you’re heading out of cell service range (and even if you’ll be in range) it is always a good idea to let someone know the general area you plan to camp and a date they can expect your return

A camping trailer being pulled by a black truck

Please Respect the land

An important part of any dry camping trip is to make sure you leave the area you stay in just as beautiful as when you came. Here are some thoughts on this:

Trash: Whatever you bring in to the site, be sure to take out. Most dry camping locations won’t have trash receptacles, so be sure to keep your trash with you and take it when you go.

Stick to the beaten path: Unless it’s specifically allowed, stick to the trail that was blazed before you. Reuse spots that have clearly been used before so as to not destroy more nature in the process. Sometimes you will be asked to not park on a used spot to allow nature a chance to regrow, so pay attention when you arrive.

Don’t rearrange: With boondocking, the point is to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. So don’t go changing it! Leave rocks, pinecones, leaves, and trees where you found them and keep everything beautiful so others can also enjoy it after you. This goes for wildlife’s homes, too. Remember, you may be sharing!

READ MORE: Resource page to learn more about Leave No Trace Principles

Be Respectful of your camping neighbours

Depending on where you are, you might not find yourself alone. Different locations will have varying ‘camping norms’…. pay attention and consider how your noise. For example, maybe run your generator during the day or think about how loud your music is at night or whether you should be gunning around on your ATV at 2am.

However, this being said, I am aware that many many people choose to camp off in the wild because they want to do what they want to do without caring about how it affects others… so maybe consider this when you choose your spot.

Is wild camping illegal?

Do make sure you pay attention to local signage and be familiar with off-road camping laws.  I’d suggest you not cross into any ‘no trespassing’ areas.  Getting a back roads map or guide book might be a good start for finding common wild camping locations.  

Here in Alberta, Canada, they are now requiring permits for any random camping on ‘wild’ lands east of the Rockies.  This is partly due to the huge amounts of trash that were being left behind which officials had to clean up afterwards. 

A vintage travel trailer set up at the campsite

How Long Can You Dry Camp?

I guess this answer will depend entirely on what you want / need and what you’ll be using to achieve those wants and needs while camping.  

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you want running water in your camper? 
  • Can you find a spot near a water source? 
  • How will you bring or acquire enough water for your trip? 
  • Do you need an air conditioner, a heater, your toaster?  
  • Do you need daily showers?  Will you absolutely die without a shower after 3 days? 
  • Or… can you afford to set your unit up to be off-grid?  
  • Or, are you willing to rough it?

Typically, depending on your potable water tank sizes, you could dry camp for 1-2 weeks. This may be a smidge overwhelming if you’re new to this, but dry camping for that long is usually what “professional” or full-time rvers or dry campers do. With practice, you should be able to have a successful dry camping trip that last 3-4 nights with no problems.

READ MORE: This page is full of info on RV tanks

It all depends on how well you are able to conserve water and resources. Things like not filling your sink all the way to wash dishes and taking a “navy shower” (getting wet, turning off the water to suds up, then rinsing) will help conserve water and your tanks will last longer.  Or, your camping… who needs a shower anyway!

Different ways and tips for conserving water:

  • Reuse your dish rinsing water for washing dirty feet at the end of the day or dousing the fire. 
  • If you’re by a lake or river, dunking and swimming will get you and your kids clean enough for the week.  Don’t use soaps in these waters.  Just splash and rub with a cloth for the really dirty spots.
  • If you’re using cooler or ice to keep food cold, freeze large jugs of water to use a ice and when they melt you’ll have drinking water

Oh, and if you really want to extend the capacity of your black and grey water tanks you could always dig a hole.  Just make sure you’re far from water, digging deep enough and covering properly afterwards. 

What Kind of Battery Do I Need for dry camping?

Your needs in batteries will depend on what kind of dry camper you are. If you’re planning to shoot for two weeks off-grid, you’ll want to invest more, but if you’re just trying out dry camping for a few days, you’ll be able to get by with a smaller get-up.

For the hardcore dry camper, you’ll want to invest in a lithium-ion battery. They don’t require much maintenance, they are reliable, and less likely to get damaged. If you’re put off by the price, then dry camping for the long-term may not be your thing.  Or, you’ll want to practice limiting your reliance on the battery as much as possible.

If you’re wanting to try out dry camping, you should be able to get by with a 12-volt RV battery. It will be a smaller investment and should suit your needs for the short-term camper.

How to heat the RV or Camper when camping without electricity?

This is a big question and depends on a variety of factors… outdoor temperatures, your unit, your willingness to insulate, your availability to additional heat sources and so forth…

So, to properly answer all these questions,

READ MORE: how to heat your RV without electricity here!

Conserving electricity or going without when RV dry camping

Many who dry camp with an RV have propane powered appliances, like their fridge, heater, and stoves.  This will reduce your electricity needs considerably.  

When we camp we rarely have electricity hookups.  We manage with just a propane camp stove, candles, batteries, and a portable propane camp stove.

UPDATED: We recently got ourselves a power station battery and solar panel to power our devices when we’re dry camping without electricity. Check out our power station system and a review of it here.

A portable power station sitting outside on a wooden bench

Some tips on decreasing your need for electricity when camping:

  • Use candle, battery, or propane lanterns as your night-time light sources
  • Bring along extra batteries for your flashlights and rechargeables
  • Invest in a solar-powered phone charger or battery bank for your cell phone and devices
  • Bring a book instead of an e-reader… games instead of a movie
  • Use the campfire and propane camp stove for your cooking needs
  • Make an inventory of your electric appliances and determine how you could manage without using them (kettle, toaster, microwave, baby monitor, fan, etc)
  • Make sure you have warm clothing and bedding to avoid needing the heater at night or use the propane heater only

Solar Power Panels for your RV or Camper

It’s so nice to see solar systems getting easier to use and more affordable to buy!  More and more, you see solar panel set-ups at campgrounds.  People are buying these smaller kits and using them to charge their phones, laptops, and even their unit’s lighting.  

You’ll want to do some research into which solar energy system would be best for you and your needs, but a quick Amazon search shows these as one of the top rated best selling systems.

The EBL 100W portable solar panels

If you do decide that you’d like to be able to boondock frequently for extended periods of time, then solar panels might be one of the first big investments you might want to make. Instead of running a generator for your extra charging needs, these panels could do the same.

Dry camping provides the opportunity to adventure in the great outdoors, to see places and experience remote places you wouldn’t normally find on the beaten path, without having to be tied down.

Happy RV Dry Camping! … or just regular camping if that’s your thing too!

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