Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild
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?
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?
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 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?
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?
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?
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:
- Boondocking Made Easy -> The Basics
- Boondocking Made Easy -> LED Lighting
- Going Water Green = Conserving Water On The Road
- Streching Your Tanks In The Boonies – Dumping And More…
- Lessons In Cold Weather Dry-Camping = Our Sierra Nevada Week-End
And For Those Considering Solar:
- RV Solar Part I – The Discovery Process
- RV Solar Part II – The Equipment
- RV Solar Part III – The Installation
- RV Solar Part IV – Panel Tilting & Winter Solar Optimization
Other Online Boondocking Resources:
- Escapees Days End Directory (you need to be member of Escapees)
- Frugal Shunpikers Guides To RV Boondocking
- Bureau Of Land Management
- US Forest Service
So, any burning questions I didn’t answer out there?SPONSORED LINK:
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
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. ..
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.
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!
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.
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
Glad you enjoyed the post. It was fun to write 🙂
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.
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.
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
The views are definitely 5-star out here. Better than any hotel I know.
Dante Javier Diego Mandala says
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?
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!
Do you have to have a permit or sign in somewhere to camp on BLM land?
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.
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?
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 🙂
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 .
Congrats on your upcoming fulltiming! It’s a huge change of life, but it’s also a huge experience.
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…
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!
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!
Welcome to “the pack”…glad you’re following along and enjoying the posts.
The Lowe's RV Adventures says
As always excellent information. We still have to do our first real boon docking like what you guys are doing.
If you’re near AZ, Quartzsite is always a really nice and easy spot to start. Lots and lots of space and super-easy to find a site. I have info on that area here:
Boondocking Site Review – Dome Rock, Quartzsite, AZ
Lots of campers go there every year for the “big show” in Jan and it’s quite fun too. We’ve been several times outside Jan and enjoyed it tremendously.
The Lowe's RV Adventures says
Thank you Nina, we will definitely look into this as we plan to head that way in Jan.
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??
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.
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?! 🙂
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
PS We love the shower head you recommended!
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.
Craig cunningham says
Love reading your travel stories. Thanks for the good information keep them coming.
How generous! Helpful tips, interesting and a fun read. 😀
When I’m stingy with paying for a hotel, I sleep in Rest Areas. I don’t think I stink overnight. 😀 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.
Yeah, travel is easy if you stick to the basics.
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.
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..
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.
Brett and Cheri (Hello Freedom) says
Nina, here in Desert Hot Springs at my in-laws for Christmas and reading your boondocking articles for the umpteenth time. Since we don’t have the generator or solar yet, we want to really “get it” before we invest this year. After barely getting a reservation in the Mesa area for part of February and seeing the high season rates $$$$$$$ I get why you Boondock in Arizona in Jan/Feb. We run multiple computers for our 2 companies and really look forward to understanding how we will be changing our habits to be able to boondock successfully. Thank you again for all the time you spend for our benefit on this great website.
Hope the articles help. I’ll probably be writing a few more over this winter. The hardest thing is the FIRST time boondocking. After that, you start to get the hang of it. If you decide to get a generator I hear very good reviews about the Honda EU2000i. Very quiet and efficient.
Tina Garcia says
Hi, your information is so helpful. My husband and I are ready to set out to be fulltime by March, after getting our house ready to rent out. There is so much to know i am so excited for the highs and lows of boondocking. Is it pretty easy to find a BLM spot. That is my concern, we will be headed to Benton ME from Stockton Ca woth our 4 dogs, 2 small 2med stafashashire terriors, other wise pitbulls that are big babies they are like my children. Can u offer any planning tips. I donts know how to start. I do not wnt to stay in fancy campgrounds i am pretty simple. U sound like me in alot of ways. But very more knowledgeable. I want to order the Schumacher books, and join the escapee club. Thank you. Tina
I’d advise you start by buying a Benchmark Map for the states you want to boondock. That’ll show you the boundaries of BLM land in each area. Once you see an area you’re interested in, call the local BLM office to ask about camping & road conditions.
More tips here:
Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds
Back To Boondocking Basics – 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wild
Thank you! This is the most helpful BLM and boondocking info I have come across. My husband and I have been on the road almost 4 months now. We have not done any boondocking yet, but looking forward to it.
Boon docking is something I’d really like to try. However, the firmness of an RV site concerns me. It’s one of the things that makes me think developed sites are the way to go. Still I feel I’m missing out on some real adventures/scenery with my conservative approach. You state that you test the water, so to speak, with your toad. From the pix, it looks like your toad is a Honda CRV. My guess is it weighs about 3,000 lbs. That’s probably 1/10th the weight of the your motorhome. So while the CRV may not sink, there’s no guaranty your motorhome will not have a problem. Is there anything else you do to satisfy yourself that you’ll be able to make it back to the highway once you get ready to move to your next location?
So we’ve been boondocking for many years now and have learned to judge the firmness on the ground by looking at how/if our CR-V makes any dents into the ground. The weight of our toad is very different from our rig of course, but if our toad tires make any dents we know our big rig will make much bigger ones. So we never take that chance.
We also always look for evidence of previous use. Most of the spots we go are well-used and it’s easy to see the tire tracks of others that have stayed here before us. Plus we look at other rigs in the area. Again, most of the sites we take “the beast” are fairly well-used and we can easily see what other rig sizes are around there. If there’s good evidence of other big rigs being in the area, it’s a good sign the ground is generally pretty firm. I’ll also check online to see what other RVers have to say about a spot, and if I can’t find anything I’ll call the local BLM office to talk to the Rangers about road quality and where they recommend for bigger rigs (the latter is actually something I do for every brand new spot we go).
Lastly we always make it a point to park on higher ground, never in/near a wash or on lower ground. This is not only a precaution (for rain), but also because higher ground is typically harder packed, especially in the the desert.
So, it’s a combo of things. If you haven’t read my boondocking series I have more about this in part III of the series:
Hope that helps!
Steve Dragoo says
Thank you for this article – agree w first post “If you ever decide to teach…” Very useful and appreciated…