HIKING BASICS

What is Dry Camping: More than Boondocking in an RV

picture of motorhomes in a mountains landcsape
John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

You may have heard any number of terms pop up in camping and hiking circles that you are unfamiliar with.  Some of them could merely be new terms that are coming into fashion and others might be old fashion terms that are rarely used.  There could be regional terms or even terms that are just used by one or two people. At times, we feel comfortable asking the person what a given term means, like what is dry camping?  Other times, we are too embarrassed or just unable, such as when watching a television program.

Luckily, we access the world wide web, you can find answers to those terms that you are familiar with, often times without having to get out of your pajamas.  You’ll need to make sure that you have found a trusted website to glean your information from, lest you be lead astray.

picture showing a motorhome in alaska

In this case, you need not worry since you have landed here.  Today, let’s take a look at our example about and dive further into dry camping.

RV Trips and Boondocks

In a normal outing in a recreational vehicle or RV, you would drive to a campground, trailer park, or other suitable stopping location and plug in.  Most of these areas are complete with connections to give your home on wheels, power, water and even somewhere to dump your sewage.  This means that you don’t have to rely solely on what your RV can provide (as that will most likely involve burning gas and filling up a different tank).

photo of free rv camping and a mountains view

However, when you are dry camping in your RV you don’t have any of those hook ups.  You are going to have to trust that your vehicle can provide anything and everything that you will require for the length of your trip.  While this might not be much of an issue your first night, or even your second, as the days and nights start racking up you will need to do some planning.

Some people will refer to this kind of RV trip as Boondocking.  When you are doing this you will want to go in with a plan.  Since you won’t have the external power you will need to consider either running your engine or using a separate generator.  Either of these can be used to charge up your batteries that you can run other equipment on through the rest of the day.

Of course, you probably won’t be able to sit around watching hours upon hours of television and movies, but if you are camping you probably don’t want to do that anyway. You will need to find out how much power you are using to store your food (think of your refrigerator) and how you will go about cooking that food.

Camp sites on the Mercier Ranch

Some people may run stoves off propane, and in that case, you don’t need to consider it in your electrical usage. In your particular plan, you may also want to take into account the quiet hours of the location that you are staying at.  You don’t want to be running your generators while others are trying to sleep.

Of course, there is another method that has the potential to provide all the power you need with just a little bit of setup.  Solar kits are becoming more and more affordable and simpler to integrate into your setup.  Here’s an article on the best portable solar panels for you to take a look at while you’re at it. As long as you have easy access to your roof you will have a fairly stable place to park your panel and then you might be able to skip burning gas for power, for a few days at least.  You probably don’t want to totally do away with the generator, as a few cloudy days or a very wooded parking spot might foil your solar ambitions.

Picture of RV Standard Equipment for Dry Camping

The other major item to look at is your water usage.  The main thing is that you have to think about how much water you are using.  In general, this is a good plan, as people should be smart about their water use where ever they find themselves.  Some people will opt not to run washing machines or dishwashers.

Others find that if they watch how long they shower and are careful when hand washing dishes, they have no problem.  Your first dry trip may be a learning experience, but once you come up with a plan as far as how you will handle it, you won’t have any issues.

Why Would Anyone Try This?

There are any number of reasons that people opt to stay at dry locations.  We’ll touch on a few of them here, but we welcome you to add in any more reasons that we didn’t touch on in the comment section at the end of the article.

Cost Savings

Some RV parks can charge quite a bit of money for little more than a parking spot, some wires, and a picnic table.  As you look at what you are getting for the money you quickly figure out that the parking spot and picnic table are not really what you are paying for.

Now, going dry might mean needing more gas to burn during your stay and depending on what the current gas prices are in your area the amount you save may fluctuate, sometimes dramatically.  But take into account that if you do some searching, you can find a place to park your RV that is either very low cost or even free.

motorhome on the road

Closer to Nature

Another reason that people will give when asked why do you do Boondock is that you get closer to nature.  Consider for a moment your view in the morning at a standard RV park.  You climb out of bed in the morning, soft light breaking through the windows, perhaps a bird song coming through the window and look at your door to take in the majesty of nature.

Of course, you are greeted with the view of your picnic table and your neighbor’s RV.  When you head out to somewhere without hookups you will first normally come across far fewer people.  Even if there are some others about you will most likely be closer to the actual nature that you are hoping to enjoy.

Boondock Camping in the middle of the nature

Going Hardcore

Some RV campers feel that they are closer to nature when they drive their vehicle out and don’t have to hook up to anything in order to be out in nature.  They feel that this allows them to “rough it”.

While some tent campers and ultra-light campers may find the idea of hardcore camping in a rolling house a joke, they should remember that every has their own particular limits and abilities.  It is far better to get people out enjoying nature than causing rifts simply based on where one sleeps when they are not staying home.

Wild and Free Camping

Just For Practice

Some people take up this pursuit to hone their skills.  They may be in the prepper movement or might just want to know they are able to survive if they need to make an unscheduled stop for a few days on their next RV trip.  Either way, these people might just go dry camping in their own driveway or use it as an excuse to visit a friend or relative.

Touching the sky

Preparing for Your First Dry Camp

If you are inspired to take up this style of camping for your next outing, regardless of the reason, there are a few ways that you can go at it, being fully prepared.  The first will be to consider if you want to do a “dry” run or not.  Before doing it for real where you truly are without any hook ups you may want to consider giving your plan a shakedown at a standard RV lot or campground.

The thought process goes that you will be able to pull in and simply not hook up to any of the provided utilities.  Yes, you will still be paying for the privilege, but you should think of them as a lifeline.  This will allow you to put your plan into action, knowing that if you didn’t take something into account, and it all falls apart, all you need to do is step outside and plug in.  This will make sure that you aren’t left high and dry.

Chaco Canyon Boondocking (Dry Camping)

You will also want to do some research as to the best places to go dry camping.  There are several books and websites that have been written on the subject that can be located with minimal effort.  These can point you to both specific locations as well as some more general classifications of places to stay and give you an idea as to how much you will need to put toward staying there (if anything).

Some people will recommend staying at truck stops or rest areas or even parking lots of larger stores.  These may work out, but keep two things in mind.  First, you should consider if you are legally allowed to stay there and if so is there a limit to how long of a stay you can make.

This could be as simple as checking for signs or talking to someone there.  The second thing to look into is if you feel comfortable staying there.  It is not worth saving a few bucks to stay at a location that you don’t feel safe at. Also, make sure you read on the best compass watch to help you stay on track.

Quartzsite Arizona and Dry Camping Experience

We mentioned above making a plan as far as your consumables.  For any trip, you will need to plan for gas and what food you will eat.  In these trips, you’ll want to look at your power budget as well as your water consumption.  Don’t forget to take into account your own waste.  First timers can often have amazing plans as to how they will cover the level of electrical and water that are required only to release that they completely forgot to address their sewage needs.

Depending on the length of your trip and the capacity of your RV the plan could be as simple as emptying the system before you leave.  Don’t plan on there simply being restrooms that will be available at your location, make sure that you check on it.

Why wouldn’t you save money?

After reading through the reasons to embark on this method of camping you might wonder why anyone, including you in the past, would bother paying money to stay at what amounts to a parking lot full of RVs.  You certainly aren’t alone, there are groups of people that are springing up all over the country that has adopted this model of camping wholeheartedly.  Many refer to this group as nomads.  Some go about full time and others will use their vacation to just go on an adventure as inexpensively as possible.

Dry camping on Nenana River so of Denali NP

But before you look at RV campgrounds as nothing but cash grabs, consider some of the other features they may offer.  In addition to those utility lines, you might find any number of other conveniences.  For example, some campgrounds will have a swimming pool or a Jacuzzi to help you unwind after a long day of travel or hiking.

Sometimes you will find that these locations are very close to a range of restaurants, which may or may not be the case with a Boondock location.  While you can cook at your site, there is a nicety to letting someone else handle the cooking and the dishes now and then.  And at locations with more people, you might even be able to experience planned social gatherings, giving you a chance to meet and chat with others that could share your passion.

When looking for boondock locations, the first thing I recommend is to make a list of what you want to do at your boondock location.

One way, isn’t really better than the other, both have their pluses and minuses.  At the end of the day you will have to make up your mind about which is right for you and your family on the current trip you are looking at embarking on.

Other Meanings

It is, of course, possible that you heard this dry camping term that was not in the context of RVing.  In other camping circles, it can mean any number of things as well.  Some campers will tell others of a dry camp simple meaning that they don’t have any built up facilities.  This could be bathrooms, water fountains or set campsites with a fire pit prepared for you.  Backpackers, however, might just look at those as a front country camping. Nowadays, however, you can have your own bathroom, so read on our informative piece on how to build camping bathrooms for more information.

They may, in turn, use the term to describe a location that has no water available.  Depending on the ones talking about it, this could mean that there isn’t a knob to turn on at the hut or shelter to refill water bottles.  Then again, it could also mean that there isn’t even a stream, river or lake to dip your water bottle into.  There are times when you head out into desert country that dry camping is just the way that you have to go about it.

Family Rv Camping

The only way to make it through this kind of trek, is to plan in advance and know how much water you need and where it will come from.  This could mean that you need to carry all the water you will need from the start of your trek, or it could be that there are only certain places that you will be able to refill your supply at.  If that is the case, be very careful with streams or springs that are labeled as seasonal or occasionally running. Here’s our guide to the best water filter for backpacking for you to read prior to your trip.

Wrapping Up the Subject

You should now be fully informed on the subject of dry camping and even be able to plan out your next such trip.  While if you are firmly at tent style camper you may not be inclined to go about trying it out for yourself, possibly based on either method that we discussed.  But if you do, you might find that you like the additional challenges that come with not having the support of a full-service campground.

two womens sitting around a campfire

If you spend your nights sleeping in either a tent or an RV, you might find that taking up this particular method of camping can get you to places that very few other people get to see.  Humans, for the most part, have become creatures of comfort.  While everyone has their own particular comfort zone, and it may vary greatly from person to person, it is not easy to get them to step outside of it.

This means that the majority of people will stay in the campground, be it a tent or an RV, stick to the simplest trails or only want to see what can be viewed from scenic overlooks along easily traveled roads.  This means that will a small effort you’ll be taking in views that few other will have enjoyed.

relaxing-in-hammock-by-rv

The main thing to remember when heading out for a round of camping without the support of utility cables for your RV is that planning is important.  It will be the difference between having a great adventure and wanting to head out again and hating the experience and wanting to stay in a hotel next time you travel.

While any RV trip planning involves making sure that the propane tanks are full you will have to give special thought to the electrical and water requirements.  These will vary based on length of trip and your given vehicle, but you will need to plan out what you will need.

Lastly, we would love to hear from you!  Is this the only way to head out or can you not fathom why anyone would even attempt it?  Do you have some hard-won knowledge and pointers on the subject for those embarking on their first trip out? Let us know about it in the comment section below.

having a "soft boondock" experience

And don’t forget to share this article out on social media, you never know when one of your friends might be interested in making an adventure out of it.  They may even take you along with them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John C. Porter

John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.