Last Updated 10/24/16
Are you wondering where to find good boondocks? What you should do to prepare before arriving? How to stretch your resources for a longer stay? How to stay safe out in the boonies? Well this is the article for you.
I’ve written about most of these subjects before, but the individual posts eventually fall off the main page of my blog and become harder to find for those looking for answers. So I’m fashioning this as a reference article that’ll link to all the how-to stuff I’ve written about boondocking. I’ll pin this post on my “Useful Stuff” page where it’s easier to find and update it as I come out with new articles so that it stays recent.
Are you ready? Here we go!
The three websites I use to find most my boondocks are (in order of use):
All of these websites work in a similar way: users are presented with a map with camping locations pinned on them. When you click a pin, it pulls up the details about that particular site with reviews from other users. You can enter in a town or park to find boondocks in a specific area that you’re planning to visit or pan through the map and zoom in and out. Freecampsites.net is exclusively for free camping, but Campendium lists all camping – there are filters for the map so you can make it display only free/cheap options. These sites are typically where I start my boondock hunt.
Sometimes the information given on these sites is spotty though, or there may not be any reviews to help judge if it’s a good place or not. As a secondary measure I’ll do a search through the blogs of other boondocking-savvy RVers to see if they’ve written anything about a location I’m looking at (I write about all the locations I visit).
The blogs I check most often for location reviews are (in no particular order) WheelingIt, Technomadia, RV Sue and Crew, and Cheap RV Living. Just about every blogger has a Search bar on their website where you can enter in the name of a camp or location, and everything they’ve written about that subject will be pulled up.
Another good resource is a map or atlas that shows public lands, like the Benchmark series. Most boondocking is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land or in National Forests (NF), so an atlas (or a phone app that shows public lands) will let you see where the roads and boundaries are.
In most places there are rules that you have to stay in previously established campsites (look for a clearing with a homemade fire pit) and have to stay within a certain number of feet from the road. There is also always a limit to how many nights you’re allowed to camp in a spot, and it varies. When in doubt, call the ranger office that manages the area you’re planning to boondock at and ask what the rules are.
By their very nature, boondocks won’t have easy access to amenities. You’ll want to dump/fill the appropriate tanks ahead of time, and stock up on food and propane if necessary. You’ll also want to check the forecast to see what kind of weather to expect and plan accordingly.
Upon arriving, I recommend walking down the road to your boondock before driving your rig down it, in case the road isn’t in good shape or there isn’t room to turn around.
For more on locating boondocks and preparing, see Finding a Boondocking Rhythm.
I’m of the opinion that boondocking isn’t any less safe than any other kind of camping or living. In fact, it might be safer because criminals are less likely to put forth the effort to drive out to the middle of nowhere just for the chance there will be a likely target there when towns and cities offer guaranteed pickings.
Still, there are precautions that should be taken. For safety tips and more musings, see Boondocking Safety.
My Casita has a 16 gallon fresh water tank. For many people water is the limiting factor for how long a boondocking trip can last, but it isn’t for me. Here’s what I do to conserve:
- I don’t use my shower. Once a week I’ll pay for a shower at a truck stop or campground (or laundromat). In between showers, I’ll sponge bathe and use baby wipes to keep myself presentable. I’m not worried about being spotlessly clean while out in the boonies, it is ‘roughing it’ after all.
- I wipe my dishes off with paper towels to remove the majority of the debris before cleaning them with water and clean my dishes immediately after every meal – otherwise the food dries on and it takes a lot more water to clean.
- I carry six, 1 gallon jugs for my drinking and cooking water. This increases my water capacity and they can be taken to town and refilled without having to move my whole house.
The gray tank in my Casita is 30 gallons, I never come close to filling it while boondocking since I carry less water than that. If the gray tank is a limiting factor for you, reducing the length or frequency of showers helps a lot.
Most boondocks have a rule against dumping the gray water on site, but not all. My biggest concern with dumping gray water at a campsite is the environmental impact. If you’re in a place where it’s legal and you’re going to do it, use biodegradable soap for showering and dishes so that you’re not leaving any residues behind. I have a bottle of Campsuds which is specifically marketed for camping, backpackers, and travelers and is good for cleaning anything. I haven’t had to use it yet since my gray tank capacity is large enough to last between dump station visits, but I’ve heard good things about it.
The black tank in my Casita is 15 gallons, and for me this is the limiting factor for boondocking. To stretch it, I put all my paper waste in a trash bag, this reduces the volume that goes into the black tank and also makes it possible to use less water without worrying about solids getting left behind while dumping. I don’t flush after doing #1 (unless it starts to stink), but do flush after #2.
Most boondocks are pack in, pack out, so you will be carrying your garbage around with you – I’m fortunate to have a truck as a tow vehicle because the full bags can sit in the back of the truck and I don’t have to smell them between garbage runs. I use plastic shopping bags as trash bags for a couple reasons. They cost nothing to get, by tying the handles everything inside is fully contained, and they’re a good size for dropping into garbage bins at gas stations and the like.
I’m surprised by the number of people who’ve asked me what I eat while boondocking. This one is going to be radically different for everyone, I can only share what I personally do. I do my major grocery shopping every two weeks, between those trips if I need something in a pinch I can usually find it at a convenience store.
I don’t like cooking. Really. So my boondocking menu lacks imagination. But it doesn’t cost a lot ($80-$100 every two weeks depending on food prices), doesn’t take up much space (important in a small RV) and doesn’t take much time or effort.
Breakfast is sometimes cereal, sometimes breakfast bars.
Lunch is my big meal of the day, the meal I use my stove for. When I go shopping I buy 4 cans of hearty soup, and 3 frozen meals for two people (the kind you cook in a skillet). I alternate between them and have tupperware containers for the leftovers to store them in the fridge. So it’s the first half of soup 1 on day one. The first half of frozen meal 1 on day two. Then the second half of soup 1 on day three, and the second half of frozen meal 1 on day four. Then I move on to the next can of soup and the next meal. The next time I go to the store, I’ll buy 3 cans of soup and 4 frozen meals to continue alternating.
Supper is a sandwich or wrap with chips and a fruit or vegetable of some sort, or sometimes it’ll be chips and hummus with a fruit and vegetable. Usually the first week it’ll be something fresh like salad or carrots that’ll go bad first, and the second week is something packaged like applesauce or yogurt. Dessert is usually cookies or chocolate of some sort.
I keep trail mix and granola bars on hand for hikes, or for when I feel hungry between meals. I usually (but not always) go out to eat once a week which provides some variety.
My fridge and stove both run on propane, my water heater would too if I ever used but I don’t (no showers remember, and washing dishes in cold water really isn’t a problem). So far, one 20 lb propane tank has lasted me 20-21 days consistently. This is using it once a day for cooking for no more than 12 minutes or so. I also try to park so that the side of my RV that the fridge is on does not get the hot afternoon sun so that it doesn’t kick on as often and saves propane.
I carry a second 20 lb propane tank secured in the back of the truck (my Casita was modified so it only has one on the tongue) so when the first runs empty I switch them out and put the empty in the back of the truck, and take it to get refilled next time the opportunity presents itself.
The entirety of my electricity needs while boondocking comes from my 100 watt Renogy portable solar kit. It works very well for me, but I do not use a lot of power. My lights are all LED, I charge my laptop and phone daily, I power the water pump to flush the toilet and my fantastic fan when it gets warm and that’s about it.
For more on my solar (and heating) solution, see Solar and Heat for Boondocking.
The best solution for staying comfortable while boondocking is to migrate with the seasons. Stay down south in the winter, and up north (or higher elevations) in the summer.
It’s all but impossible to power an A/C unit with solar, you’ll have to get a generator if you want to boondock in hot places. I have a fan in the roof of my Casita that can blow air in or out, and it has a vent cover on it so it can be used when it’s raining. When it gets warm, I’ll open all the windows and set the fan to blow out so that the warm air by the ceiling leaves and pulls cooler air through the windows. When it gets hot, I leave or find hookups.
As my RV does not have a furnace, I have a Mr. Heater Little Buddy propane heater for when it gets cold, but I only use it when it gets truly cold – below freezing where my plumbing is at risk. Otherwise I wear thermal underwear and put a sleeping bag under the covers of my bed. I never run the propane while I’m asleep for safety reasons.
For more on my heating (and solar) solution, see Solar and Heat for Boondocking.
There isn’t any free WiFi out in the boonies. I have 3 GB of data with my Verizon phone plan, and I use my phone as a hotspot to get online with my laptop. Often boondocks are remote and getting a phone signal can be a challenge, I look at reviews and make sure I pick places where there is a usable signal and if I end up somewhere with no signal, I don’t stay long.
For more on staying connected, see Getting Lucky with Mobile Internet.
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Phew, I think that about does it. So how long can I go boondocking? 21 days is my maximum before my black tank needs dumping, which is plenty long enough. Since most BLM and FS sites have a max stay of 14 days that’s the number you want to aim for as an RVer, anything above that is icing on the cake (for vandwellers or campers who don’t have tanks, the strategy is different).
With my 3 week limit I can easily stay at two or three different locations before I need to locate a dump station and take on water. Depending on the cost and availability of dump stations, it sometimes makes sense to pay for a night of camping somewhere with full-hookups between boondocking stints. Besides filling up on water and dumping tanks this grants the opportunity to charge all of your electronics (and battery) completely full before relying on solar again and gives you access to a shower and laundry facilities without having to drive elsewhere.
Have any questions? Information to add? Tips you’ve learned from boondocking? Part of what makes these kind of articles so special is all the additional things readers share in the comments, so feel free to pitch in!
Today’s pictures were all taken around Sawtooth Canyon Campground in Lucerne Valley, CA within the past couple days. I’m leaving here tomorrow (Wednesday) and it sounds like I won’t have a good signal where I’m going next. I’ll answer the comments and e-mails that I can in the morning before I go but after that may be silent for a day before I respond.
(Other blog posts written about boondocking that haven’t been mentioned in the main body above)
- A Typical Day Boondocking – What my average boondocking day looks like
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