Our boondocking site in the Alabama Hills is lit by a “Sierra Wave” after a stormy day

Although our caravanning  buddies are now gone and we’ve weathered the storm we’re still thinking about them. Lu and Terry, like most RVers had alot of preconceived fears about boondocking. Will my RV get stuck? Will I be able to make it on my water?  Will I stink? Do I need to wear a loincloth? Is it safe? This is not your regular park camping experience and I figured this would be a good intro to re-post some of the blogs I’ve already done on boondocking, plus answer a few more of those burning questions folks might have. So, here we go:

First of all a definition of boondocking as I see it. This means camping out in nature (in the “boonies”) with no fixed sites or campground. I consider this different from dry-camping (= camping in a campground with no hookups) and overnight “freebies” (= staying a night at Walmart or the likes). This is truly out there, in-the-wilds with nary a water spigot in sight :)

1/ How Do You Find A Boondocking Site?

Our site in the Alabama Hills took a trip to the BLM office and a bit of scouting

Many boondockers not surprisingly keep their “best” sites a secret, so you’ll have to do some legwork on your own. Most boondocking sites, often called “dispersed camping” are on public land typically either Forest Service or BLM land. You’ll find bits and pieces of info on spots from other people’s blogs, certain publications (e.g. Escapees Days End and Frugal Shunpikers), on websites (e.g. freecampsites.net), on online RV forums and by word of mouth, but the easiest thing to do is contact the local public lands office. The ranger there will have detailed maps and can usually give you the low-down on what’s open for camping, what the roads are like and how long you can stay there (most places have 14 day limits, but it can vary and there are even certain spots that allow seasonal long-term stays). I’ll usually start by contacting the local office and checking out the area on Google Earth. Then, since our RV is a very shall-we-say ample girl we’ll always unhook the toad and scout out the area in our car before bringing in “the beast”. Sometimes we’ll even plan to stay a few days at a nearby developed campground so we have more time to look around. Our main concerns are always access, a place to turn around and firmness of the site. As long as those 3 are good, we’re good to go.

2/ How Do You Stay Clean? Do You Get Stinky?

“I am ze locksmith of love, no?” Pepé Le Pew

We definitely practice good water conservation on the road but we DO wash when we’re boondocking even if it’s just a “sponge bath”, and since going no-poo my hair usually lasts a week before I need to clean it again. When we’re feeling generous we turn on our propane water heater and take a navy bath (much improved since we installed the new Oxygenetics shower head). So, do we get stinky? I guess it’s relative to who’s around you. I may not smell of the latest perfume and roses, but I’m usually presentable enough for government work and since this is the boonies I figure my charm will get me through and nobody much will mind (it worked for Pepé, n’est ce pas?)

3/ What Do You Do With Garbage?

Well believe it or not darlin’ we throw it in a garbage can! While in the RV we keep it enclosed in a bag and inside (either in the rig, in a downstairs bin or in the toad). Some folks will leave it outside, but I won’t do that since we’re usually boondocking in areas with wild animals and there’s no reason to entice them (plus in states with bears that’s illegal anyway). Then we’ll find somewhere during the day to throw it out. Most cities will have some kind of communal garbage dump, or you can find them by grocery stores, behind restaurants, near malls etc.

4/ How Do You Get Water? How Long Does It Last?

We love our handy little Coleman tank

We fill up our 100 gallon motorhome tank whenever we dump (most dump stations also offer potable water) and with basic water conservation management that’ll usually last us a good 2 weeks, more if we decide to stretch it. We also have a 5 gallon Coleman jug (many boondockers simply use empty milk cartons) and some backpack bladders that I’ll fill up wherever I see a good water spigot (e.g. at a campground, or gas station) and use for drinking, cooking & tea. If we wanted to get reaaaly serious we’d buy a separate bladder and 12V pump, but we’ve never needed one so far. Most public land has 14-day camping limit anyway.

5/ Where Do You Dump?

When “the beast” is ready to go we usually find a dump station using sanidumps.com (they have a phone & Ipad app too). Most campgrounds will have dumps available, usually for a small fee, plus some gas and truck stations will too. In certain states, even the rest areas have dump stations (often free!). We’ll refill our water tank when we dump as well.

6/ How Do You Manage Electricity?

We loooove our Xantrex battery monitor

The main thing to watch with typical RV deep-cycle batteries is to make sure they don’t go below ~50% discharge (typically ~12.1V) and recharge them when they do. This is one of those areas where you won’t really know how you do until you try it out. So, plan to have a way to test those batteries. Our first year boondocking we tested with a basic voltmeter and hydrometer (specific gravity tester), and recharged daily with our generator, but there are wonderful battery monitors such as Xantrex and TriMetric which will give you even more detail. Basic management like shutting off lights, staying away from electric heat and using bigger power-draws like your propane furnace sparingly will take you a long way to good electrical management. Also if you’re in colder temps you need to be aware of battery capacity loss. As you get more into boondocking you can consider LED lights (reduces your light draw by a factor of ~10) and even solar power (see below).

7/ What Do You Eat?

It’s tempting, oh yes it is…

Well despite being in the boonies (where the urge to don a loin-cloth and run with a spear in the wild DOES get rather tempting) we have a fridge, full kitchen, propane stove and propane oven so we cook the same gourmet meals we’d eat at home, which is perfect given we’re already home! So basically we cook food just like we’ve always done, even before our RVing days….and we loooove to cook. Our propane systems don’t draw any electricity and use very little propane so we can do anything from raw veggies to Indian curries, Thai delicacies and full multi-hour roasts. Paul has even been known to pull out his charcoal-powered smoker and go on an all-out, all-day smoking-in-the-boonies binge.

8/ Is It Safe?

Who needs weapons when you’ve got a viscious guard-dog on the case?

Alot of people never boondock because they worry about safety. Honestly I’ve always felt more unsafe in big cities than I have in the boonies. The chances that someone is driving around on BLM land looking for remote RVers to steal from is very, very slim (payback is not particularly high for this kind of thieving). We do know folks who “pack heat” -> we’re not among them and prefer something like wasp or bear spray instead, but if you do go that route train yourself well and know the law for carrying in all the states. We do lock the RV when we’re gone and try not to leave anything tooooo enticing outside the rig, but other than that we’re pretty relaxed. And wildlife? Well if you can hike, you can camp. Basic things like being aware of where you step, keeping garbage locked up and not letting the cats out to roam at night with the coyotes will keep you within bounds.

More Reading For the Boondocking Hungry:

And For Those Considering Solar:

Other Online Boondocking Resources:

So, any burning questions I didn’t answer out there?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the product links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That said, I only ever recommend products or services I personally use and love! Wheelingit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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52 Responses to Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild

  1. RVingFT says:

    Love i! If you EVER decide to teach a class, puleeeze post it so we can sign up. You have so much great information and a unique way of writing that is truly addicting :) Adn the picture of Polly in her cap STILL has me ROFL… Too, too cute! Thanks again. ..

    • libertatemamo says:

      Maybe one day I’ll get around to the teachin’….hard to fit in with my tight schedule out here :)
      And yes I love that pic of Polly too. It’s one of my favorites.
      Nina

  2. RVingFT says:

    I noticed you haven’t yet been to Montana. We experienced it in detail this past summer, and are totally enthralled. Since Mom bought an RV lot in Eureka, we are going back this summer. Can’t wait. It’s really an amazing state with spectacular view, after spectacular view around each bend in the road. Would love to hear YOUR take on the boon dock ops there, too!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Montana is most definitely “on our list”!! Hoping we can hit it in the next few years. I know there is LOTS of beauty and space up there.
      Nina

  3. Lee and Shelia says:

    LMAO….. Oh Nina you are incredible with your writings. Your writings are not only informative but they are entertaining. I/we are learning so much from your experiences. Thanks Lee and Shelia

  4. Cherie - @Technomadia says:

    Thanks for this – we’ve been tied to the pole for so long, I had almost forgotten about this boondocking thing!

    In all our 6 years on the road so far, I feel we’ve even barely scratched the surface of that style of living. Despite having specifically designed our systems to be optimized for it.

    It seems being near family & friends drives so much of our travels, and funny that – they never live in ideal boondocking locations. But oh do I miss those occasional nights without another light in sight.

    • libertatemamo says:

      You guys have been spending most of your time in the East this year too, and I do find boondocking a little tougher out there. The year we went to FL we pretty much stayed in state/county parks the whole way….still really nice, but not quite the boondocking experience. There’s alot more spots out here in the SW and good winter weather is just the extra bonus.
      Nina

  5. Great post! My hubby and I prefer to boondock and it is very rare that we stay in a site that has hook-ups. For us that is like staying in a four star hotel! lol

  6. I really enjoy your blog. I plan to be full time by the beginning of the year and boondocking will be a big part of that plan. I notice that a lot of the sites that you visit seem to be in the desert or other places where there don’t seem to be a lot of trees. I plan to get the frugal bookdocking guides soon. I am wondering have you found boondocking in wooded places?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’ll admit that the desert in winter is really the place that attracts me most for boondocking…both because of the ample space (easy access) and good weather. We HAVE done a little bit of boondocking in the forest (e.g. In Texas) and have scoped out forest areas in other spots. The main issue w/ forest is that access tends to be worse, especially for our size (roads are smaller, trees in the way etc.), but with a bit of work you can definitely find gorgeous sites there too!
      Nina

  7. Tom says:

    Do you have to have a permit or sign in somewhere to camp on BLM land?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Generally you don’t need anything. Public land is just that -> free and open to use for the public without the need for permits. The general rule of thumb is that boondocking is allowed for free anywhere on federal public lands within 300 feet of an established road. Usually the limit is 14 days (it can vary) and then you need to move a minimum of 25 miles away. There are a very few rare exceptions to this:

      1/ Long-Term Visitor Areas - If you want to stay for the winter or summer season (lasting 6-months) at one of the LTVA areas (like the one HERE and HERE) you’ll need to buy a seasonal pass. This is ONLY if you plan on staying longer-term in these particular spots.
      2/ Arizona State Land – AZ manages large tracks of land that are separate from either BLM or forest service. If you stay on AZ State Land you need to buy a pass ($15 for the year).
      3/ Special Consideration Areas – Some BLM land is limited or restricted from dispersed camping for environmental reasons (e.g. it’s a sensitive area). The same is true in some designated Wilderness Areas. So, it’s always worth calling beforehand to make sure it’s OK to bring in the rig.
      4/ Campfire Permit – If you want to burn a fire in camp some places will require you to get a fire permit from the local BLM or USFS office. Mostly these are free, but sometimes there is a small fee.

      That’s the main exceptions I know of. Most public land spots are free and require nothing except adhering to the rules. It’s always worth calling the local office so you know what those rules area.

      Nina

  8. Sally Timm says:

    Great entry, Nina! You don’t say anything about laundry – an activity that would be limited both by water and energy usage while boondocking – so I’m curious. How do you balance your resource management with the need to keep your dirty clothes from coming to life and walking out the door of your rig?

    • libertatemamo says:

      The public laundromat is our answer here and just about any town has one. There are folks who use mini hand-cranked machines or other creative methods, but I just take it to the laundromat. We keep dirty clothes in a hamper (bag) in the closet and wash when they’re ready to walk :)
      Nina

  9. BadKat says:

    So much great information. We are planning on going fulltime in May. Want to boondock. Will be rereading your posts many times. So exciting Thank you, BadKat .

  10. jil mohr says:

    we love Boondocking even though we have not done as much lately…we always look for dispersed camping and often the rangers are very helpful with that….as for safety I think the only time I was ever nervous was our first time alone which was off the side of a road in Alaska after that ….nada and we do not pack either…not my thing..we also recycle water..ie when first taking a shower until it is hot capture it in a bucket then you can use it for dishes (there we use the drip method)…and we use the dishwater in the toilet…we find that water is the biggest thing for us in boondocking…

    • libertatemamo says:

      GOOD thinking on capturing that first cold flow out of the shower…don’t know why I never thought of that? Just goes to show you can always learn new water-saving tricks!
      Nina

  11. Beverly says:

    I’m new to your site and enjoying it very much. I found you through following RV Sue and the crew. Thank you for the invaluable information you supplied. I keep notes of all of your tips for our future RVing experiences. It’s so great that so many of you RVers are willing to share. Your photos are captivating and dreamy. Love your pup, too!

  12. As always excellent information. We still have to do our first real boon docking like what you guys are doing.

  13. Sherry says:

    Electric for loptops, refrig, and recharging phones without using the generator for hours is our biggest problem. I hate the noise and the smell. Do you use solar completely??

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yup we’re 100% solar. Our fridge is propane so it’s only our electronics, internet and TV that draw any significant electricity, and our solar system can easily keep up with all of those unless we’re in shade and/or have several days of clouds. I do love the peace of not needing to run our generator.
      Nina

  14. LuAnn says:

    Great post Nina and love the photos (still chuckling), especially the one of Polly (we do miss that gal and of course you and Paul as well!). Ok, now that there is some distance between us you can say, did we stink?! :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      Weeeellllllll….it wasn’t too bad LOL Actually I think we may be a little smellier than you, so it all evens out in the end.
      Nina

  15. BadKat Elder says:

    Loved the post on Boondocking. Leaving in May 2013 hoping to enjoy this treasure. Your tips are something I will reread many times. Enjoy your blog and who knows may meet down the road. Cannot wait.

  16. Rowanova says:

    Great post Nina, as always. And plenty of good replies too. although I’ve camped remotely and boondocked with my 5er almost exclusively my whole life, I’ve wondered about the stackable RV washers/dryer units for those RVs set up for them. Any thoughts or stories you’ve heard from other full timers?or extended stay users?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I think if you have hookups they’re great. We have an integrated washer/dryer (Splendide) that we use alot when we have hookups. Takes a while to do a load, but it’s worked great for us. Not much use when we’re boondocking of course, but sure comes in handy the rest of the time.
      Nina

  17. jjcruisers says:

    Like you, I love to eat good quality, interesting food. I leave home with a fully stocked refrigerator and freezer. Our longest trip is about 2 1/2 months. I am wondering how you obtain fresh fruits, vegetables and meats in the boonies and how do you preserve their freshness once you have obtained them?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Given the size of our fridge I typically have to stock up about once a week, and mostly I look for farmers markets and supermarkets. Lots of towns offer farmers markets these days, especially in summer and the veggies are terrific. That’s always my #1 choice. Most decent-sized towns will have a decent supermarket and that’s my #2 choice, but Walmart is always a back-up if I’m in an area with not much else (Super Walmarts offer organic produce these days -> better than nothin’). Lastly I always carry a set of frozen veggies and some hard long-lasting fruits/veggies (apples, squash, dried mushrooms etc.) for those “emergency” moments where I can’t find anything at all.
      Nina

  18. Robin Weckerly says:

    I was wondering if you had heard of Active Wipes? I use them when boondocking. They are designed for travelers who don’t have access to a shower. They are great! They make you feel like you have just showered without using your water.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I haven’t heard of them, but I used to use baby wipes back when I was backpacking so I’m thinking it’s a similar idea. The baby wipes work great too. Cheers for the tip!
      Nina

  19. Cheryl Smith says:

    Thanks for all the info. We have not done much actual “in the boonies” boondocking as we are mostly visiting family around the country right now. Plan to get to some of the sites you mention in the future. One tip – I bought a Fagor pressure cooker online to make cooking faster. Really works well and dinner can be ready very quickly. Beef stew less than 30 min. – delicious. Saves resources as well.
    Cheryl
    PS We love the shower head you recommended!

    • libertatemamo says:

      We have a pressure cooker too and LOVE it. In fact at some point I am going to do a post of my top 5 cooking items….pressure cooker is one of them.
      Nina

  20. Craig cunningham says:

    Love reading your travel stories. Thanks for the good information keep them coming.

  21. rommel says:

    How generous! Helpful tips, interesting and a fun read. :D
    When I’m stingy with paying for a hotel, I sleep in Rest Areas. I don’t think I stink overnight. :D I brush my teeth or gargle with mouthwash, put on a cologne ;) and deodorant. The inconvenience is not at all a problem for me. It’s all for the love of traveling :D.

  22. […] boondocking. I’ve written many times about this free-camping practice in past posts including how to do it, where to find it and other musings, but what I haven’t written about is why it’s soooo […]

  23. […] my handy paper map shows a nearby large forest or BLM area I’ll also look for boondocking spots. This takes a little more effort especially for our size, but it can really make for some super […]

  24. […] our solar panels (= 40% boost in solar generation, baby) and settled in for a longer stay. When we boondock like this we like to linger. With careful water management we can usually last 3 weeks on our 100 gallon tank […]

  25. […] Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild […]

  26. […] Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild […]

  27. Jeanette says:

    The smell is relative! Haha you crack me up. Indeed, just like eating Garlic… it won’t offend if everyone is doing it.

    Actually, I’ve found that a sponge bath is very effective… no smells! Thanks for the great tips.

  28. […] Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild […]

  29. Liz says:

    late to this party, but, what do you do with the 4 legged friends? While out in the boonies, do you just let them go? I would hate to have to keep them on a leash, or confined, but you woulldn’t want them to get hurt, or lost either..

    • libertatemamo says:

      We never let our animals roam unattended in the boonies. Both our cats and the dog go out everyday (the cats especially love the boonies), but we always, always supervise them. There are coyotes and other wild animals in the desert that could make a meal of them, so we *never* leave them alone. Our dog is often off-leash, but she is very well-trained and always stays close.

      Nina

  30. […] Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild – Nina & Paul of WheelingIt’s guide to boondocking – from how they find their spots to managing water and electricity. […]

  31. […] private, amazing spots to camp. I’ve written extensively about boondocking including tips on how to do it, proper boondocking etiquette, and our top (most essential) boondocking items. I consider it of […]

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