Among the full-time RVing community, there are many people who boondock often, but also many who rarely or even never boondock. I’ve compiled a succinct list of our most frequently asked questions about or favorite style of camping. I hope that you find this useful in your future boondocking endeavors.
“Boondocking” refers to free camping without any sort of hookups to water, sewer, and electric. This is typically done on public lands (both BLM and NFS) where views and space abound, but is also commonly available at various businesses and other blacktop locations across the country, including, but not limited to, Walmarts, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, casinos, rest areas, and various wineries, farms, museums, and even people’s backyards who allow it. It is also sometimes referred to as dispersed camping, dry camping, free camping, or all of the above.
This is probably one of our most-asked questions. I get it, staying out in the middle of nowhere can be nerve-wracking to some, especially if you’ve never tried it before. We were a bit nervous at our first (and second) site, simply because we did not know what to expect. Exactly fifty boondocking sites later, and I can tell you honestly that not once have we been made to feel unsafe. We have yet to be bothered by anyone (people or animals), and we tend to stay far off the beaten path. We also have many friends who boondock quite often and have not experienced any safety issues.
If you are boondocking in the wild, use simple precautions such as closing your largest windows and locking your door at night if you are nervous. After you have a few boondocking trips under your belt, you will likely feel confident and brave about boondocking, as we do.
It seems, among RVers, that there is an assumption that, while boondocking, you cannot leave your campsite at all. We have never lived by this “rule,” and we frequently leave our boondocking sites to run to the grocery store or post office, go for a hike, explore a nearby town on a day trip, paddle our canoe, and so much more. If you are nervous about leaving your site due to the potential solitude of the area, start with just leaving for an hour or two until you get more comfortable.
And, as always, use common sense by locking your door and large windows and not leaving valuables outside or within view inside. We’ve never had any issues, and, if you use the proper precautions, you will most likely have safe, enjoyable stays while boondocking as well.
While we know for sure that wildlife abounds out on public lands, we have yet to experience much of it. In the mountains, where bears and mountain lions are native, we have not yet seen any with our own eyes (much to our dismay). In the desert, where rattlesnakes, coyotes, and scorpions thrive, we have been totally unbothered by them as well. We have actually not yet seen any rattlesnakes in the desert although they do obviously live there, and we have seen coyotes only a handful of times, and this was often in more urban areas.
I say all of this not as an admonition to be reckless and assume you will never see wildlife, but rather as an encouragement that dispersed camping is not nearly as scary as you may think. In fact, most wild animals tend to steer clear of humans and historically only attack when they feel intensely threatened. Be smart and use caution (for both you and your pets), but do not let a fear of certain animals hold you back from finding some of your best campsites yet.
We use four excellent resources to find our best boondocking sites. These include Campendium (website and app), freecampsites.net (website), AllStays (app), and iOverlander (app). Each of these provides general information about each site, including details such as the max number of days allowed, elevation, address/GPS coordinates and website, photos, cell data details, and much more.
Another way to find boondocking sites is through the old-fashioned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service (NFS) maps method. This involves camping on BLM land and NFS roads through sites you specifically find yourself, as opposed to camping in sites previously designated. To read more about how we find our campsites and the best ways to use these sites and apps, check out my blog post “WHERE to Boondock.”
Most boondocking sites are accessed via a dirt road, and, while many of these are fairly well-maintained, others can be rather sketchy. We drive a large class A motorhome which has surprisingly high clearance, but roads that are excessively rocky or graded are not possible for us. Campendium reviews usually mention road conditions for specific boondocking sites, so we are able to read about the road situation before entering a BLM area.
In addition, we typically detach our tow vehicle from our RV at the beginning of the road and use that to scout out prospective sites. In all of our travels, we have only encountered a handful of roads impassable for our rig, but scouting helps us to know exactly what to expect before getting to our new site.
Our pets (seem to) enjoy boondocking much more than staying in campgrounds. For the kitties, there is more wildlife right outside our rig for them to watch. They love to see birds and mice running around outside and will often watch the world outside the windows for hours at a time.
Our dogs especially benefit from boondocking, as they are able to run and play outside for hours a day off-leash. In campgrounds, there are typically leash rules for the safety of everyone around, but on BLM and national forest land, dogs can roam freely outdoors (with human supervision of course). If you plan to allow this with your dog(s), definitely train them to listen to your voice and return on command to ensure a safe and fun experience for everyone.
There are clear boondocking rules set in place by the National Forest Service and the BLM, and there are basic rules of etiquette that every boondocker should follow. Rules include staying no longer than fourteen days, cleaning up trash around your campsite, following official campfire safety procedures, and respecting burn bans that may be in place. As always, if you are unsure about a certain rule, call your local NFS or BLM office to double check.
Etiquette (politeness rules) includes not intentionally crowding others, being polite with generator usage, keeping noise to a minimum, and keeping a close eye on your off-leash dog. To read more about boondocking etiquette, check out my full write-up on the subject.
Not all boondocking sites are created equal, and we use a set of criteria to determine the exact spots where we decide to stay. These include the location, cell phone reception, accessibility, views provided, overall privacy, and proximity to amenities. This set of factors helps us to pick the best site in each individual area we visit. For more information, check out my post “Factors We Use to Determine Where to Boondock.”
We absolutely need to have cell reception for work, which is what makes this lifestyle possible for us in the first place. We have a few methods for ensuring connection in boondocking locations which have served us well over the past eighteen months on the road.
The first is to be aware of the coverage provided before showing up to a site. We rely on sources such as campendium, Open Signal, and the “Coverage?” app to check for cell data connection before we head to a boondocking location. Campendium pools information from reviews to give basic connection info, and Coverage? and Open Signal tell you the average reception available for various carriers in certain locations.
The second method is to diversify carriers. We have unlimited cell data on AT&T and a Verizon unlimited hotspot and having the two carriers usually ensures that we will have enough coverage to work. Many locations have service for each carrier, but we also encountered many areas that are a dead zone for one carrier but not for the other. Having both will open up your options for sites.
Our third tactic is to always have our booster handy. This device cannot create reception where there is none, but it can turn a weak connection into a strong one. Again, this is not a boondocking necessity, but it is certainly useful for boondocking in places with suspect reception. For more tips and tricks for how we stay connected in the wild, check out our blog post “How We Maintain Connection While Boondocking.”
There are two main methods we use for power while boondocking. The first is a generator, and this seems to be the most accessible off-grid power source. Our motorhome came equipped with an excellent ONAN-brand generator, which we use on rainy or cloudy days. However, we know that many travel trailers, fifth wheels, and older motorhomes do not come with a generator, and these can cost anywhere from $150-500+ for a decent one. They also require gas fill-ups and some regular maintenance, but this is still significantly off-set by the money saved at campgrounds and RV parks.
The second way one can maintain consistent power while boondocking is through a solar array. We have 800 watts of solar on our roof, and these 5 panels bring in a ton of power. This power is stored in four 6-volt golf cart batteries that we purchased at Sam’s Club. With this solar setup, we have more than enough power at all times. We use said power to charge our devices (phones and laptops), turn on lights in the evening, watch TV, run our fans and water pump, and even vacuum.
This is another common question we get. First of all, we tend to travel with the seasons, going north in the summer for the cooler weather and south in the winter for warmer temperatures. So far, this has worked out very well for us. However, occasionally the weather is too hot or too cold due to poor timing or even just hot and cold weather waves.
If this happens, we can run our propane furnace to warm up the RV on chilly days or run our generator to blast the air conditioners when it is hot. If the weather is only mildly warm (upper 80s), we can run our three fans off of our solar power and open the windows, which keeps everything cool enough. Even on a very hot day, the evenings are always considerably cooler, which works in your favor while RVing.
If the weather is really too unbearable in a certain area, remember that your home is on wheels, and you can always migrate to the better weather, which is one of the biggest perks of this lifestyle.
Since we have been out West for the past eighteen months, we have never had trouble finding places to fill our fresh water tank, and we rarely even have to pay for it. Many places offer free, potable water (and sometimes dump stations), and it’s never too difficult to find a spot to fill up. Free places we’ve filled include gas stations, travel centers, rest areas, fairgrounds, and state parks. Occasionally, if all else fails, we will pay a fee at a private campground (sometimes $5 but up to $10) to fill our tank.
Our favorite places to fill are at travel centers, such as Love’s, Flying J, or Pilot. These places are a magical one-stop shop for boondocking RVers, typically providing free water, and a dump station in the same lane as a gas pump designated for RVs. In this same line, they often have propane available. We love finding these on the way from one destination to another.
If or when we run out of fresh water, we have probably been at our site for quite a while, and it may be time to just move on to our next site. However, if we want to stay a little longer but have run out of water, we carry three 6-gallon jugs of water for convenient refilling of our tank. This usually buys us another five days or so.
Similar to finding places to fill water, finding dump stations is not too difficult. Sometimes dump stations are marked on Campendium, and, in a pinch, we have also used the Sanidumps website/app for dump station scouting. Typically, however, we use gas stations and travel centers for dumping, and this typically costs $5. As mentioned above, Love’s, Pilot, and Flying J are our favorite places to go before boondocking, because they have literally everything available in an easy-access lane. If all else fails, you can always pay to dump at a private campground or state park.
We fill our propane at gas stations and travel centers while we are getting gas. Our tank is eighteen gallons and typically lasts us about 6-8 weeks. We use propane to power our refrigerator, stove, oven, hot water heater, and furnace.
Disposing of trash is a boondocking challenge. At campgrounds, there are nice, handy dumpsters provided, which allow for convenient waste disposal. While boondocking, you must drive your trash to another area to get rid of it. We typically throw away our trash at gas stations while we are filling or grocery stores where we are shopping. If you are unsure, it is best to check with the business and make sure it is okay to toss your trash. We have found, in most cases, that businesses are fine with this, especially if you are spending money at their location.
Another tip we have is to try to minimize trash as much as you can. Removing excess packaging at the grocery store, burning cardboard or paper when possible, and eating mostly fresh foods help to minimize our trash disposal, requiring less trash drop-off while boondocking. This certainly helps with less disposal but does not eliminate the need to find a place to toss our trash once in a while.
As with everything else, mail while boondocking can be a bit of a challenge. At a campground, you can often (but not always) have mail delivered to the front office for you, where they will either deliver it directly to your site or hold it for you at the office. Unfortunately, there is no mail delivery in the wilderness, but we have a few methods for receiving mail while boondocking.
That being said, sometimes there is no other option to buy an item in need online, as we are often in remote areas with no access to stores that would carry necessary items. These items have been things such as a car part, a new 12V light bulb, or dog food that we cannot find in local stores. In this case, we ship the item to a nearby USPS or UPS location to hold for pickup. Typically, we call ahead of time to ensure that this is okay with the location. We have had items shipped back on us a few times, but this generally works out in our favor.
At campgrounds, you can often expect to have an on-site laundromat, where you can wash your clothing and bedding for a set price per load. While boondocking, you will have to rely on laundromats in cities and towns to wash your garments.
However, we actually almost never visit laundromats because we were blessed with an awesome combo washer-dryer machine that came with our RV. If we have extra water, we run a load before leaving a campsite, and we can then fire up our generator to dry it or dry it on a clothesline.
In a pinch, we have even laid our clothes out in the RV to air dry if we’re in a spot with neighbors who don’t want to see our laundry. If you want to go really rustic, you can also handwash your clothing (there are several tools that you can use in conjunction with a bucket) and line-dry it outside.
We crave the wide-open spaces and feelings of silence and solitude to be found in wild places, rather than in campgrounds. This is what lead us out west, where the majority of the boondocking in the US is to be found. In short, we prefer the silence and solitude, privacy, openness, and overall views to be found while boondocking. Coupled with the fact that boondocking is totally free, we definitely think boondocking is America’s gift to the world. But don’t just take my word for it. Get out there and try it yourself! (See our post “6 Reasons Why We Love Boondocking” for more details on why boondocking is the very best).
Do you enjoy boondocking? Are there any other questions you’d like us to answer on this list? Feel free to ask in the comments below!