Boondocking Made Easy -> The Basics
So, we’re in our 3rd day boondocking here on the gorgeous TX coast. Yesterday it started off cloudy and ominous, but by 10AM the skies had cleared and our solar panels were cranking out more than 430W and 30Amps of power (even without tilting), and by early afternoon our batteries were fully charged. So far, everything is working perfectly and all this with an open view of the ocean and noone else in sight (there’s one other RV here, but he’s off on the beach where we can’t see him). This is such a serene and relaxing experience that I can totally see how boondocking can become addictive, but there are a lot of RVers who never do it simply because they either don’t have the experience or are too worried to try it. Well, here’s hoping I change your mind!
Now, first things first RV’s are really ideal pieces of equipment for getting “out there”. Anyone who’s ever backpacked knows there’s very little you need to survive in the wild and with an RV you’ve got everything you need (and more) with you. Yet you can cook like a gourmet, sleep in luxury, and spend the day relaxing on your sofa completely protected by the elements. Your biggest threats are running out of water, gas, propane, or electricity. The first are easily handled with a little conservation, while the latter can be taken care of with a generator or solar panels.
There’s actually very little that we’ve done to prepare for boondocking. Last year we dry-camped many times without any “extra” prep work using simple conservation and the generator to top off our batteries daily. This winter we added a few extra boondocking luxuries, but none of these are really essential. Here’s what I consider the basics of the business, and I hope you’ll agree they’re all pretty harmless and easy to take care of:
1/ Conserve Water – RV’s come handy and ready with self-contained water tanks, and with just a few basic conservation tips you can get those tanks to last for a good long time. Our fresh water tank is 100 gallons which (these days) will last us 2 weeks. We keep portable water jugs handy for extra water too.
2/ Conserve Propane – We really don’t use alot of propane. Cooking and the refrigerator only use a small/minimal amount. The only thing that can draw down your propane tanks in a big way is running the furnace for extended periods. When you’re boondocking this really isn’t practical (the furnace draws too much power), so we bought a portable “Big Buddy” heater that we use to warm up the interior whenever we need to. Some RVers prefer the Olympian Wave Catalytic Heaters.
3/ Make Sure Your Batteries Get Recharged Regularly – When you’re off-the-grid all your electricity draw comes from your batteries. RV deep-cycle batteries can handle getting slowly discharged and recharged (that’s what they’re made for), but you don’t want to overdo it since that can age your batteries prematurely. The voltage on your batteries will drop as they discharge (for typical 12V wet-cell batteries, 12.7V is fully charged, while 12.2V is ~50% charge). Learn how to check the voltage, and before the charge gets too low (ideally before it gets below 50%), make sure to charge them back up to full power. Back when we only had the generator we would run it ~once/day to recharge our batteries. Now, our solar panels take care of business. We like to enter each evening with a happy, full set of batteries or (if it’s cloudy) we aim to get a full re-charge before we hit the 50% level.
4/ Conserve Electricity– This is basic stuff. Since you only have limited juice in your batteries, make sure you turn off lamps that you’re not using and avoid “big draw” items (like aircon or electric water heaters) unless you’re ready to use the generator. This winter we enhanced our electricity usage by switching all our most-used lamps to LEDs, dropping our power usage from lighting by a factor of ~10. I’ll write another post on LEDs sometime for those who want more info on them.
5/ Watch Your Tanks – All the water that you use goes into either your grey or black tanks, and you’ll want to move and find a place to dump before they get full. Again, basic water conservation will go a long way to extending those tanks. We find our grey tank fills up first, well before our black tank is even half way there so we plan our boondocking stays around that.
And that, as they say it, is pretty much it! Not that frightening, is it? The only missing piece of the equation is finding that perfect spot to go park the rig. I’ve covered a few key tips in a previous post and over the next months I’ll share our spots and methods (how we found them) on the blog too.
Here’s hoping we see you, or rather hoping we’re far enough away that we don’t…out in the boonies someday 🙂