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RV Boondocking: 18 Great Tips + Important Safety & Legal Issues

In RV livingby Morten Storgaard

Boondocking with your RV can be a great way to save money and to explore more remote areas of the country.

However, boondocking does come with a few challenges as well as some possible legal and safety issues.

In this post, we’ll go over these issues and give practical tips that you can use to go boondocking in your own RV.

1) Reduce Your Water and Power Usage

When you’re boondocking, otherwise known as dry camping, you won’t have access to the grid or to water and sewer hoses.  Because of this fact, you’ll want to reduce your water and power usage as much as possible.

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your water usage:

  • Add a low-flow aerator to your bathroom and kitchen sink.
  • Use dry shampoo.
  • Change your showering habits.
  • Use gray water from sinks and showers to flush your toilet.
  • Don’t pack as much dry food.
  • Pack disposable utensils and dishware.

A low-flow aerator can be added to your kitchen sink and your bathroom sink.  These aerators simply slow the flow of water down so you won’t use as much water when you wash your hands or your dishes.

Dry shampoo will eliminate the need to wash your hair with water when you shower.  If you have long hair, this can end up saving you a large amount of water.

Even if you don’t have very long hair, you’ll still save water as you won’t need to pre-wet or rinse off your hair each day.

Your showering habits should also be more conservative when boondocking.  You can reduce the number of times you shower, the duration of your shower, or both.  You could also skip showers altogether and just take sponge baths.

When you are showering or using your sink, place a bucket underneath to catch some of the water.  You can then use this water to flush your toilets so that you don’t wast water there.

Another way to reduce your water consumption is to use less dry food.  For example, you may want to skip over bringing pasta as you’ll need water to boil it with.

Also, consider packing disposable utensils or dishware.  This will eliminate the need to wash these dishes afterward so you’ll end up using much less water in the kitchen.

Steps you can take to reduce your power usage:

  • Pack non-perishable food.
  • Read.
  • Bring low-energy devices and lighting.

If you pack canned goods and other items that do not require refrigeration, you may find you don’t need to run your refrigerator at all.

This appliance can use a lot of electricity or propane so eliminating your use of it will save you a lot of power.

Reading is just a suggestion to help you reduce your reliance on your tv and computer for entertainment purposes.  However, you really could do anything entertaining that doesn’t require the use of power.  For example, you and your group might bring playing cards or board games.

If you’re by yourself, you might bring a musical instrument or a pad and a pen to draw with.

When you do use energy consuming devices, make sure you use ones that do not require a lot of energy to run.  For example, tablets will use less energy than desktop computers and led lights will use much less than incandescent ones.

2) Go Solar!

If you have to use energy, why not get it from the sun?

This tip is especially useful if you’re planning on boondocking out west or in a desert where you’ll be exposed to a lot of sunlight each day.

Get set up with solar and you’ll have free and abundant electricity to use while boondocking as well as while you’re traveling to more modern campsites.

For more information on solar power, take a look at the post titled, “Tiny Houses & Electricity: Facts About Generators & Solar Panels“.

3) Boondock Near Water

Some boondocking spots such as areas run by the national forest service may have places to find potable water nearby.  In this case, you won’t have to worry about bringing as much water because it will already be there.

Even if the water found nearby isn’t potable, you could always make it potable by bringing a good water filter with you.  For example, you may decide to boondock near a lake or stream.

A high-quality water filter could easily filter this water to make it drinkable for you.

One thought to keep in mind however is not to rely solely on nearby water sources.  You may show up at a boondocking site only to find that the stream you intended to drink from is dried out or that the potable water source you were counting on is no longer potable.

To combat this, make sure you bring some of your own water and be sure to scout the area ahead of time whenever possible.

Also, potable water sources can become contaminated so my advice is to always filter the water even if it is labeled as “potable”.

4) Bring Extras And Backups

When you’re boondocking, it isn’t always possible to make it back to town when you need something.  For this reason, it is always better to bring as many extras as possible.

Here are some extra items that you might want to consider when you go boondocking:

  • Batteries.
  • Propane.
  • Flashlights.
  • Water.
  • Food.
  • Portable waste water tanks.

Most of these items are self-explanatory but many of you might be questioning why it is recommended that you bring portable waste water tanks.

Portable black and gray water tanks are great for boondocking because they give you the ability to leave your RV behind while you go dump your tanks.

This is great for those times when you need to empty your tanks but you don’t want to lose the great parking space you’ve secured.  It also helps cut down on fuel costs and allows someone to stay behind while someone else empties the portable tanks.

5) Upgrade Your Communications Technology

Many boondocking locations are in remote areas.  Getting the Internet, television, or even cell phone reception can be difficult in these areas.

Unfortunately, this is often the time when you need cell phone service the most.  If you’re RV breaks down in a remote area and you do not have any cell phone reception, how will you get back to civilization?

For starters, you’ll want to get a cell phone signal booster.  These can range anywhere from $50.00 to over $1,000.00 depending on the model you choose.

Typically the larger and more powerful the signal booster, the more the booster will cost you.

After your cell phone is taken care of, you may want to add additional satellites to boost your Internet and television capabilities.  These aren’t necessarily essential but you might find they come in handy on rainy days.  They also add to your safety since you’ll be able to pick up weather alerts and reports of big events like terrorist attacks and avalanches that may be happening near your area.

One thought to keep in mind is that older and larger televisions will use more power than newer or smaller televisions.

Also, 12-volt televisions will use less power than standard televisions as you won’t lose any through the inverter.

Another thought to keep in mind is that the larger the satellite dish, the more power it will use.  This means that bigger isn’t always better and you’ll want to get the smallest dish you can get that will still provide you with the channels you want to receive.

For those of you who want to forego the Internet and television altogether, consider getting a weather radio.

An NOAA weather radio will keep you up to date on extreme weather conditions and will help keep you safe in the absence of any other reports. 

These radios are extremely reliable and have been used by boaters for many years.  In fact, even if you have television and the Internet, it is advisable that you bring along a ship-to-shore radio for additional safety.

6) Boondock During Fair Weather

Reducing your power consumption is a lot easier when the weather is nice.

With daytime temperatures in the upper 70s and nighttime temperatures in the upper 60s, you won’t have to worry about running an air conditioner or a heater.  You’ll save on electric during the day and on propane at night.

Another benefit of boondocking during fair weather is that you won’t have to worry as much about getting stranded.

Heavy snowfall and ice can trap an RV and make it difficult for help to get to it.
(Here’s everything you need to know about RVing in the cold winter. It’s a must-read if you are interested in that!)

A lot of rain can make areas muddy and can increase the chances that you’ll get your rig stuck in the mud or sand.  Avoid these problems by boondocking in mild and sunny weather.

7) Choose a Great Place to Park

The place you choose to park when you’re boondocking can have a dramatic impact on how fun and safe your trip is.  Start by finding a place that is legal to park in.  There are plenty of free boondocking areas for you to enjoy, so why add unnecessary stress to your trip by parking somewhere illegal?

You can find information on BLM land by visiting https://www.blm.gov/

Once you arrive at your destination, choose an area with natural terrain that works to your advantage.  This terrain should be flat and it should be sheltered from unfavorable weather conditions.

You can also use trees and shrubs to help provide some distance between you and other boondockers.

For example, many people head out into the desert to camp on BLM land each year.  Because of this, many people end up parking close to other RVers.  Park next to an area that can’t be parked in and you won’t have to worry about someone else pulling up close to you.

For those of you that are dry camping in parking lots, choose an area that is away from the main flow of traffic.  You can use buildings and grassy areas to help keep distance between you and other vehicles.

You may also want to park in an area that is away from the road as it will be noisier the closer you get to the road.

8) Work with the Weather

You don’t always have to fight against the weather while RVing.  In fact, the weather can actually end up helping you.  The key is that you need to work with it in order for it to do so.

An example of this would be parking in the sun when it is cold out.  The sun will help to warm your RV so you won’t have to run your heater as much.

Another example would be to capture rain and snow to convert to drinking water.  Just make sure you bring a great water filter or you might end up getting sick.

If you don’t mind cold weather camping, you could use the weather to give you a more private camping trip.  Winter campers are few and far between so if you go out when it’s cold, you’ll be less likely to have neighbors pulling up next to your campsite.

Even the wind can be a helpful tool when camping.  Set up camp in an area with a slight breeze and you’ll be able to cut down on the number of flying insects bothering you while you’re camping.

This can be especially helpful when you’re in a state that is known for gnats and horse flies.

9) Take Outdoor Showers

Boondockers often have the advantage of secluded campsites.  One way to take advantage of this is to take an outdoor shower.  This helps to cut down on condensation and reduces the need to run the fans in the bathroom.  You’ll save energy by doing so and you’ll have a unique showering experience.

Also, if you take advantage of an outdoor solar shower, you won’t have to worry about using energy to heat up your water.

These solar showers do not cost much and they pack down small so you won’t have to worry about taking up space within your RV.

Important Safety Tips To Know

RV campers often have rangers and campground security guards to watch over them while they sleep.  When you’re boondocking, you’re responsible for your own safety.

Luckily, there are many steps you can take to help make your stay a bit safer.

Follow the tips below and you’ll have much less to worry about.

10) Invest in Securing Your RV

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Cameras and alarms aren’t as expensive as they used to be but they do cost money.  However, the cost is always worth an additional increase in safety.

Get security cameras that you can monitor online while you’re away from your RV and you’ll know that you’re always coming back to a safe RV.  Add an alarm system to your RV that you can arm while you’re sleeping and you’ll know that you’ll never have to worry about sleeping through a robbery.

Additional security doesn’t have to be high-tech either.  You can add deadbolts to your doors and you can reinforce your door frames so that they’ll be harder to break into.

Extra locks can also be added to your RV’s wheels and hitch so that you don’t have to worry about your RV being stolen.  Imagine going out for a hike, only to find that your motorhome has been stolen and you’re now stranded out in the wilderness.  Put a steering wheel lock on your motorhome and the chances of this happening will go down dramatically.

If your RV does get stolen, wouldn’t it be great to be able to track it down right away?  Luckily, this is easy to do.  Just install a GPS tracking system in your RV and you’ll be able to easily pinpoint where your RV is at all times.  In fact, you don’t have to wait for your RV to be stolen to take advantage of this technology.  You can use this simply to help you remember where you parked.

Get more information on securing your RV by reading our post titled, “9 Ways to Secure RVs and Tiny Houses“.

11) Tell People Where You’re Going

Wilderness boondockers run the risk of getting stranded out in the wilderness.  Some of these wild areas lack cellphone reception and it can be difficult for rescue crews to find RVers that are lost in these areas.

Increase the odds of someone finding you in an emergency by letting people know where you’re likely to be.

When you’re camping in state and national forests, you can always let the rangers know where you’re going.

However, it is also a good idea to let your loved ones know as well.  This will help in case the Rangers forget to mark down where you are and how long you’ll be there.

12) Practice Proper Food Safety

In some areas of the country, bears can be a real problem.  You might think that you’re safe inside your RV but this isn’t always the case.

A bear can easily rip an RV door open and it has already happened to other campers over the years.

Avoid this issue by properly storing your food away from bears.  In certain areas of the country, this might be as simple as keeping your food inside of your RV.

In more dangerous areas of the country, you may have to take your food outside of your RV so that you can hang it from a tree inside of a bear canister.

13) Stay Away from High Crime Areas

The best way to stay safe while boondocking is to stay away from areas that aren’t safe.  High crime areas exist in many areas of the country and they’re usually pretty easy to find.

You can do this by checking out the crime statistics on websites like Zillow.com.

Websites that show crime maps will let you know which areas have experienced crimes in the past so you’ll know to stay away from them.

For areas that don’t have a lot of information on them, it might be easiest just to ask someone.

For example, if you’re parking in a parking lot, ask the business if it is safe to park there.  If you’re parking on BLM land, ask the rangers if they’ve experienced a lot of crime in the area you’re looking to camp in.

Legal Tips For Boondocking

Boondocking can be done safely and legally but not everyone does so.  Sometimes this is intentional but many times it is not.

Follow the tips below so that you’ll know what you should and shouldn’t do while boondocking.

14) Don’t Overstay

Almost all boondocking areas throughout the country will have restrictions on how long you can stay.  BLM areas like state and national forests usually have a 14-day limit.

In many cases, this just means you have to find a new place to park. 

This is an easy step to take and will help to keep you legal.  It’s also the right thing to do since someone else might want to get a chance to enjoy the spot you’ve been parked in for the last two weeks.

Other places, like Walmart parking lots usually only want you to stay for one night.  If you want to park at a Walmart parking lot for more than one night, you should go in and ask for permission first.  In most cases, simply asking nicely will buy you an extra day or two.

15) Practice No-trace

It is both illegal and immoral to destroy local wildlife habitats.  However, this is exactly what you’re doing when you fail to practice no-trace.

Human waste can pollute local streams, ponds, and rivers and trash can harm the local wildlife.

Not only this but polluting the local area ruins the camping experience for other people.  You wouldn’t want to show up to a campsite only to find someone else’s trash or unburied waste, would you?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with leave no trace principles, here they are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

These principles are mostly common-sense but it is important to remember them while you’re out boondocking.  For example, some people forget the impact that starting a campfire can have.

This is especially true during dry periods when campfires can become especially dangerous.

Starting a campfire during a period of prohibition can get you a serious fine.  In fact, starting a wildfire with your campfire can get you thrown in jail.

Taking animals out of the wild can also get you into legal trouble as well.  Some small animals like turtles may be protected in the area that you’re camping in.

Take a turtle home and you might end up with a huge fine or even prison time.  If you see an animal you’d really like to have as a pet while you’re out, go ahead and buy one at the pet store when you get back, but never take one out of the wild with you.

16) Be Aware of Self-defense Laws

Some boondockers feel the need to carry weapons with them in their RV.  Unfortunately, this can get them into a lot of legal trouble.  Firearm laws vary dramatically between states and often-times it is illegal to have them on public lands.

Even bear spray can be illegal to carry in certain areas of the country.

Are you planning on boondocking in a parking lot in New York City while on your way to the Adirondack Mountains?

If so, you might want to be careful with your bear spray.  Legally, you aren’t allowed to carry a bottle of pepper spray that is too large to fit into a pocket in the city.

17) Don’t Park Anywhere without Permission

Parking in spots that you don’t have permission to park it can easily get you into legal trouble.  It could be as simple as getting a parking ticket to as troublesome as getting your motorhome towed.

If you see a sign that says not to park somewhere, be sure to follow it.  Towns make a lot of money by issuing parking tickets and parking in a no-parking zone is sure to get you one.

18) Keep Quiet

Just because you have permission to park somewhere, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.  Be respectful to businesses and other campers by keeping the noise down to a minimum.

This is especially true for those of you who are boondocking in urban areas such as parking lots.  A parking lot is a place to sleep and get rest while you’re on your journey.  It isn’t a place for you to play loud music or to start trashcan fires outside of your RV.

Keep quiet and stay out of sight and you’re less likely to be bothered by other RVers, rangers, or parking lot security.

In Summary

Boondocking can be a fun experience but it is a little more complicated than just visiting a campground or state park.

Be careful, be courteous, and plan everything out in advance so that you can have a safe and fun time while boondocking.

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