Boondocking For Newbies Part IV – Enjoying Your Time In The Boonies
Whoo hooo! If you’ve followed Part I, Part II and Part III of this series you’re parked right now in your very first boondocking site and ready to reap all the joys of boondocking. To make your experience as rich as possible I have a few final tips for you. This is the very last installment of this series.
So, let’s get cracking with Part IV – Enjoying Your Time In The Boonies
Monitor Those Batteries
Hopefully you followed Part II of this series and you learned how to monitor those RV batteries before you got to your site. So, now all you need to do is put that put that great knowledge into practice. Keep an eye on how low your battery voltage is going, and have a plan to re-charge those batteries when they hit 50%. Be aware of big energy “suckers” (e.g. microwaves, electrical heaters, hair dryers) and use those things sparingly. Turn stuff off when you’re not using it (lights etc.) and plan to spend more time outside where the sun is free and energy is what you bring with you.
Practice Water Conservation
Next to battery monitoring, one of the biggest barriers newbies face is learning to conserve water. Regular folk use an insane amount of water. It’s estimated that the average westernized person uses ~123 gallons (466 liters) of water/day at home (per The World Almanac), most of which goes towards flushing the toilet, long showers and washing dishes. That’s an astounding amount of water and you wouldn’t last a SINGLE day as a dry-camp RVer with that usage!! Our fresh water tank is 100 gallons and between the two of us we typically last 2-3 weeks (fairly easily) on that amount with extended stays to 4 weeks (with ultra-conservation). That breaks down to ~2-3 gallons/person/day which, with some practice, is easily achievable.
The key is to conservation is to reduce your biggest usages which are usually bathing, washing dishes and toilet flushing. Just these three areas alone will help substantially extend your stay in the boonies:
- Bathing -> Practice “navy showers” (wet down your body quickly, turn off the shower, then soap & lather without running water, then final quick rinse) or take a “cat bath” with a wash-cloth & bowl of warm water. For folks with longer hair going “no poo” can really help reduce the number of times a week you need to wash your hair.
- Dishes -> Wipe before you clean and don’t let the tap run while you wash (= wipe, sponge, rinse). You can also soak all your dishes and use that same water to clean everything at the end of the day. Another option, which eliminates dishes altogether, is to use paper plates.
- Toilet -> Reduce paper usage (consider using disposable baby wipes which you throw away in the trash) and only flush #2 (follow the age-old saying -> “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”).
Just these 3 things alone will reduce your water usage A TON, and if you supplement your drinking water with external jugs you’ll last even longer. I have a ton of additional tips which I’ve written about in a previous post, so instead of re-writing the whole thing I’ll just refer you there: Going “Water Green” = Conserving Water On The Road
4 Tips To Going “No-‘Poo” -> The Shampoo Free Movement
Be A Good Neighbor
If you followed Part III of this series you will have respectfully parked your RV with a good amount of separation between you and the next guy. However many boondocking areas will have neighbors even if they’re over 1/2 mile away, so you still need to think about how sound travels (which can be very far in the boonies) as well as good neighborly etiquette. Most folks are out in the boonies for some peace and quiet, so try to be considerate of that.
- Generator Noise -> Running a generator can be noisy, so think about the times of day you’re running it so that it doesn’t ruin the experience for others. Very early morning, very late at night and sunset are the worst times IMHO since those are the times people are either sleeping or trying to relax. Also no one wants to be listening to generator racket all day long, so limit generator use to only what you need (e.g. a few hours for recharging batteries) and turn it off when you’re done.
- Music -> In a similar vein think about the other noise you’re making. You may think Black Sabbath is the best music in the world, but your heavy metal jam is likely creating massive headaches for your neighbors. If you play music, keep it to a reasonable level or keep it inside where you can rock out naked if you wish.
- Pets & Pet Noise -> You’ll find a lot of loose dogs on public land whether legal or not and, in general, I don’t have too much of a problem with it. The only time it bothers me is if your dog is very vocal (e.g. constantly barking) and/or cannot be controlled. The last thing I want is some crazy dog attacking me on my afternoon walk, so if your dog isn’t trained to stay close do everyone a favor and put them on leash.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Anyone who’s ever backpacked understands the concept of pack it in, pack it out. It means whatever you bring into the site, you should plan on packing out. This includes ALL your trash and what’s in your tanks.
- Trash -> We have a collapsible trash can that we use to store our daily trash. Every day we bag up the day’s worth and we will either store the bin outside (if we’re in an area with no discernible wildlife) or (more often) inside one of our downstairs bins or inside our car. Then, we get rid of the trash in town at a dumpster, trash bin or rubbish transfer station. Keep in mind that certain spots (e.g. areas with bears) require you to lock-up your trash, so be aware of these things before you go.
- Grey Tanks -> In an RV the grey tank takes all the water run-off from your sinks and shower, so it fills up as you wash dishes and yourselves. In some boondocking spots it is legal to leave gray water on the desert floor IF it is only from dish washing or taking showers, IF you are sufficiently far away (typically at least 200 feet) from a natural water source, and IF only environmentally safe products have been used (e.g. Campsuds are a great environmentally-friendly biodegradable soap). See this example of camping regulations from Hollister Field Office BLM. However this is not always the case, so you must specifically ask about this beforehand if this is what you plan to do! When we’re in areas where grey water can legally be left we use a cheap ~$2 plastic dishpan/bin that fits into our sink and is used to collect our dish water. Then, at the end of the each day we “water the cactus” with the contents. The rest of our grey water we leave in our tanks and take out of the area.
- Black Tanks -> The black tank fills from your RV toilet so it’s the tank that fills whenever you pee or poo. It is NEVER considered OK to dump black tanks, so don’t even think of doing this. Can you imagine arriving at a boondocking site smelling of piss and poo….aaand what this does to the surrounding nature?? I know some folks occasionally pee outside, but dumping the mass of multi-day stuff that’s in your tanks is unthinkable. So, when your blank tank is full (it’ll typically warn you by “burping”) plan to get out of your site and find a dump station (e.g. using sanidumps.com) where you can get rid of the stuff in a sanitary and proper way.
What’s Our Biggest Tank Limit? In “the beast” we have a 100 gallon water tank, a 60 gallon grey and a 40 gallon black. When we first started boondocking our grey tank was our biggest limit, but through experience (with conservation etc.) our black tank is now our limiting factor. Water is easy to extend (especially if you supplement with external drinking water), grey tanks are easy to extend (by cutting down/changing how you wash/bathe), but you simply cannot limit how much you need to “go”. Most folks will put around 1.5-2 gallons of “stuff” in their black tank each day. This means a 40-gallon tank will typically last 2 people around 2 weeks. You can definitely extend this by how much paper you use (I’ve become a HUGE fan of baby wipes) and how often your flush, but once that tank is full plan to leave your site. Since most boondocking sites have 14-day stay limits (see below), this timeframe matches up well with moving on.
RV Tank Sensors & The GEO Method
Respect Stay Limits
Most public land boondocking has 14-day stay limits, but there are exceptions. There are places you can legally stay much longer (e.g. the LTVA’s in AZ/CA where you can stay the entire winter season for $180 pass) and there are places that have much shorter limits (e.g. 3-7 days). Many folks “push” the limits, but in my opinion it’s not a great practice since it tends to lead to stricter restrictions when/if it gets out of hand (which it often does).
As an example this happened a few years back** in the Coconino & Prescott National Forests north of Pheonix, AZ. A few, select boondockers were spending months on end in the forests (way beyond the stay limits), so the rangers started to get tough and even went so far as to start harassing boondockers in the area. It became a very uncomfortable & rather nasty situation, and now many of the roads & areas which used to be open to boondockers up there are completely closed off.
I don’t think a few days here and there are a big problem, but as much as possible I strongly encourage all boondockers to respect the stay limits. It just helps to keep the area relaxed, open and accessible for everyone in the future.
**Another incident just happened within the past few weeks near Bouse, AZ. Someone complained about the ever-present RVs so BLM rangers swooped in and cited/fined a bunch of campers for exceeding the 14 day-limit. Hopefully this won’t limit where/how campers can stay in the future, but it’s never a good thing.
Leave The Site Nicer Than You Found It
Sadly, there are alot of “trashy” boondockers out there who think it’s OK to leave a site with trash and glass. In my mind this is a total no-no. Once you’re done with your site, clean it up, collect all the trash and plan to leave it nicer than you found it. We always take along extra trash bags for a final “clean-up” and we keep a cheap collapsible rake to tidy up the ground around our site. Leaving your site in good condition is simply good boondocking karma and will come back to you in the form of many additional years of great boondocking locations.
Go Dump Your Tanks & Re-Fill Your Water
Once you’re done with your boondocking stay find a sanitary and legal place to dump your tanks. Many regular RV parks (both private and public) will allow non-guests to dump tanks and re-fill water for a fee (typically between $5-$20). Many gas stations also offer this service (same fee). We find most of our dump locations on sanidumps.com (they also have an App), but if I can’t find anything convenient there I’ll just call the nearest RV park and ask if I can dump there (I’ve never been told no).
If you’re planning to fill-up your water tank and you use that same tank for drinking be sure to ask if the dump you’re using offers potable or drinking water (some dumps only offer untreated well-water ), or if the park/station provides another water tap that is. For those who are particular about their water many cities, especially in the southwest (where water can be extremely hard) offer salt-free or RO “water stations” to refill water (typically $0.05-$0.25 per gallon). Some RVers will also use water softeners and/or install extensive water filtration systems on their rigs. We’ve always drunk the water directly from our tanks and only have a basic water filter on our main line.
YOU DID IT!!! At this point you’ve completed your first boondocking experience and you are ready for your next one. Hopefully it was just as awesome as you imagined and gives you the impetus to try more. You probably also learned a lot of stuff which will help you next time around. So, call yourself a pro and start planning the next trip. Enjoy!!