Boondocking 101: How To Go Further and Stay Longer
By Alexis Chateau \
I’m no stranger to dry camping, but I’ve really put my rig to the test these past two weeks. After giving up my lot close to the American-Mexican border, I traveled north to Silver City to stay on a 20-acre off-grid property. We harvest rainwater, use solar, and have no city utilities. We can’t even get mail here. The experience has given me a boondocking refresher on going further and staying longer. Here’s what you need to know.
How To Go Further When Boondocking
A true adventure requires escaping the norm. For some people, that means camping with full hookups and all the comforts and conveniences of home. Others prefer to venture onto the less beaten path and discover new experiences, places, and faces. Will that be you? If yes, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Choose the Right Setup
Going further requires a proper adventure rig. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen people take the most unexpected RVs down some gnarly trails. Not only have I seen it: I have done it. But, ultimately, you damage trailers that aren’t made for that level of abuse. My trailer is mechanically sound, but she’s had a few things shake loose and come crashing down inside. She does, however, have 12-ply tires and higher clearance than my FJ Cruiser! And, that’s a HUGE plus.
So, if you want to go further, start with an overlanding setup. You might feel tempted to purchase a big truck and start shopping for lift kits, but the best overlanding vehicle is the one you already have. The great thing about TAXA Outdoors is that there’s a Habitat for virtually any car you’ve got, and they all have overlander versions.
From the tiny Woolly Bear to the massive Mantis, TAXA’s got you covered. Check your vehicle’s tow rating and determine which trailer best matches your existing capabilities. With that said, if you’re in the mood to splurge on a new truck and get that Mantis, who am I to say no?
2. Have a Plan
A plan? For an adventure? Why, yes! Some people hold fast to the belief that true adventures begin when plans end. There is some truth to that. However, wildfires, flash floods, and the owners behind no-trespassing signs should give you pause.
You don’t need to plan out every waking moment of your trip, but know where you’re headed. Seasoned travelers and full-time RVers use topography maps and satellite images of the terrain to determine what lies ahead. They then plan accordingly.
How To Stay Longer When Boondocking
Whether you’re full-time or enjoying the weekend warrior life, you’ve likely had some anxiety about how long you can dry camp. Will you have enough water? How long will your batteries last? What happens if you run out of propane? These are all valid concerns and they are questions you should attempt to answer before heading out. These tips can help!
1. Stay Charged With Solar
Generators are an incredible invention that provides excellent backup systems for businesses, homes, and RVs. Even so, lugging around a generator is a hassle. They are heavy, and you must keep fuel on hand to run them. I much prefer solar.
Some people put solar panels on the roof, but I prefer to keep my panels unmounted and then lay them on the ground. Why? Well, what happens if I find shade and want to park underneath it?
Three of my four solar panels charge my Goal Zero solar generator. The last solar panel connects directly to my RV battery to keep it charged. I can also plug my RV directly into the solar generator if I need to. It will run it for an hour or two before calling it quits.
Want a more detailed look at whether solar is suitable for your setup? I tackled the topic in this article: Is It Worth Installing Solar on My Travel Trailer?
2. Set Up a Water Catchment System
When I arrived in Silver City, I stopped at the local Walmart and bought three buckets. My mom had a good laugh at this water catchment experiment of mine, but those buckets have collected several gallons of water for my swamp cooler and my Berkey.
You could use your bucket to haul water to your campsite if you’re near a water source. Sometimes, you can run to a store or campground faucet, fill up containers, and return to camp. If you aren’t hauling potable water and keeping it in squeaky clean containers, consider the following items:
- Filter: Whether you have a piece of cloth or an in-line filter in your RV, put it to use. I strained my water through a piece of fabric to get the debris out and then ran my drinking water through my Berkey water filter.
- Kettle: Don’t have filters? Bring the water to a boil and let it bubble for at least three minutes before using it for potable purposes.
- Bleach: Did you know you can use household bleach to disinfect water? The EPA gives precise recommendations on how much to add per gallon. My Berkey then filters out the scent and taste of bleach.
- Water Pump: Sure, I could use the water from the buckets, but I have an onboard freshwater tank. So, how do you get water into the tank without a garden hose? I bought this on Amazon a year ago, and it does an excellent job.
3. Set Up Climate Control
One of the top reasons people leave campgrounds early is the weather. Most people know how to stay warm when it’s cold. If there are no fire restrictions, you could cozy up in your PJs and light a campfire. When you go to bed, you fill a bottle with warm water, cuddle it in your sleeping bag, and you’re golden for the night.
It’s a bit trickier when you’re hot at camp. You likely can’t run the air conditioning unit in your travel trailer for very long. Even if you use the gas or diesel generator, that would mean frequent trips back to town. So, what can you do?
In the video below, I show how I keep my kitty cool.
There are three main components of my keep-the-kitty-cool strategy:
- Angling the RV and awning to minimize sun entering the rig
- Ensuring proper ventilation, such as via the exhaust fan and windows
- Running my swamp cooler, which uses only 98 watts
Using the swamp cooler when water is scarce is not ideal, but that’s okay. It’s enormous and has a powerful fan that circulates the air.
4. Reduce Tank Use
You likely already know you can keep your black waste to a minimum by digging catholes, but what should you do about grey waste? Some people believe grey water isn’t worth considering, but that depends on where you are and the restrictions in that area. Not all states or localities allow you to dump grey water on the ground.
What you use in your rig and your outside kitchen is also essential. Don’t show up to camp with Dawn dish soap and Dove body wash if you plan to dump your grey water. Instead, use biodegradable and eco-friendly detergents. Common brands include Dr. Bronners, Mrs. Meyers, and Seventh Generation.
You can also reduce tank use by cutting down on water use. We’ve all taken a few baby-wipe-baths at camp or did the quick military shower to conserve water. Some people also wipe dishes instead of washing them, but beware of doing this when you cook eggs, meat, and dairy.
Final Thoughts on Boondocking Further and Longer
Dry camping is a great way to test your creativity and self-reliance. You’ll amaze yourself with all the crazy ideas you come up with to extend your time in the wild. Even so, know your limitations and where to get services when you need them. Doing this will give you peace of mind and an easy-to-follow backup plan if you need assistance.