What is RV boondocking? A helpful beginners guide

Click here to learn one of the best forms of camping out there, RV boondocking.

So what is rv boondocking? Easy answer… taking your RV in an open space without hookups. That’s it!



I have been researching everything related to boondocking for the past three days and made a complete guide to inform those who are unfamiliar with the concept. 



In this article, I explain what boondocking is, where you can boondock, and some additional information. I have also made some tips for beginner boondockers, and how they should start their first boondocking trip.



Boondocking explained


There is a lot of RV jargon, like dry camping, and mooch docking, which may confuse those outside of the RV bubble. Time to cut through the fluff, and clearly distinguish boondocking from other types of camping.



What Boondocking is: Quite simply, the most important word which separates boondocking from other forms of camping is self-sufficiency. Meaning, no dependency on hookups for electricity, water, or sewage. Also no camp amenities like bathrooms, and tables. It’s just you, your RV, and the beauty of nature.



What Boondocking is not: If your RV is hooked up to electricity, or anything else, and you are accessing camp bathrooms, then you are not boondocking.



Developed campground vs boondocking: Developed campgrounds offer a fee for your stay, and are not without camp hosts, picnic tables, and restrooms. Boondocking often has primitive campsites without bathrooms, or tables, and fewer people. Most of the time it’s only you and a few other boondockers in the area.




Different types of boondocking




Wild camping




Photo by Fabien Rousselot on Unsplash

Most people boondock to escape into nature for a few days instead of just stopping at someplace to rest for the night which is closer to dry camping. Sometimes people go a little deep into the woods for more privacy.



Dry camping


Photo by Steven Weeks on Unsplash

Why use the word dry? What does it mean? Well, it simply means parking in a parking lot. It could be Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or many other places which allow boondocking under certain conditions which I will address later on.



List of dry camping locations



  • Walmart
  • Target
  • IHOP
  • Dennys
  • Marriot Inn
  • Winco/Safeway/24 Hour Grocery Stores
  • Holiday Inn
  • Cabelas



Mooch Docking


Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

Parking at a friend’s driveway and some apps help you find driveways to park in. (More on this later)



Is boondocking legal?


Yes, boondocking is legal. Although there are rules, and areas that are off-limits.



Before you go, call a BLM regional officer and talk to the park rangers. They will tell you about the available boondocking spaces, and how to drive there safely.



Boondocking sites often offer exact coordinates to parking areas, that way you know your boondocking legally. When driving to your spot, use the available roads, and stay within the designated camping zones.



Where can I boondock?




Dispersed Camping



When you camp outside of a designated campground( normal campground), then it’s called dispersed camping. There are typically no bathroom stations, or places to get water, only space to park your RV or set up a tent.




Designated dispersed camping


Photo by Vladimir Haltakov on Unsplash

Due to littering from lousy RV boondockers, some camp areas are becoming more strict about where you can camp, and for how long. These sites are for designated dispersed camping. These designated areas are marked with a post and numbers which will tell you where your camping zone is.






Many backpackers park they’re RVs at the beginning of trails for overnight backpacking trips.



How to find amazing and free boondocking locations!


Boondocking is generally free, but sometimes a permit is required. There are also small fees for certain areas, typically less than 20$ per night.



Campendium: Offers pricing information, photos, reviews, and more. This app also reviews cell phone signal strength. It tells you where local dump areas are, and where water stations are located as well.



Free roam: Offers many of the same features Campendium offers. It also has a unique safety rating feature for every boondocking site.



Allystays: If you are going on a long road trip, you would want free places to rest. For $10, this app will show you where these places are, so you can rest overnight. Allystays is geared for road trippers and dry campers.



US Public Lands App: This app costs $3. Made by RV boondockers, for boondockers, and gives you info on free BLM, and Forest Service land. Also, This app will notify you if you trespass on private property.



Boondockers Welcome: A Moochdocking app that guides you to houses that allow overnight RV parking in people’s driveways, or somewhere else on their property.



Boondocking essentials

Photo by Reuben Kim on Unsplash


To fully answer the original question, what is rv boon docking, I though it would be good to list some of the basic items you will need for your first trip. 


Buy food



Bring enough food for your trip, and bring extra food in case you stay for longer than intended.



Water filter



While boondocking you may be getting water from questionable sources, making filtering water a must.



Biodegradable soap



When taking an outdoor shower, use soaps that do not hurt the environment.



Water bladder



Bladders are collapsible, often portable, and efficient ways to store extra water. They are often used for storing emergency drinking water. This qualifies water bladders as an important safety item.



Use small appliances which operate under low power



Choose gas over convection ovens, and anything else that is energy efficient. For example, 12V fridges can operate on propane, making them more energy-efficient than everyday fridges. 



Leveling Blocks



They help prevent the body of your RV from suffering under uneven terrain. This will also prevent any other internal issues from happening to your RV in the long run.



Composting toilet



About 1/3 of RV water gets wasted by flushing toilets, but composting toilets helps you conserve your water usage.







They are often built into larger RVs. Although trailers, smaller RVs, and fifth wheels often come without generators. Also, take caution when buying cheaper generators, which are often louder. 



Insect repellent



Be aware of any bugs that can cause illnesses, such as spiders, mosquitoes, and ticks. Bug spray can protect you from these nasty insects.



Boondocking etiquette



Do not leave your generator running at night or early in the morning. People are trying to sleep in both cases.



When you start your generator, put it in a place where the wind won’t blow the gas from it directly into your fellow campers. Also, please be considerate, and place your noisy generator away from the nearest RVer to reduce its volume.



Boondocking is about the open space, and getting away from busy campsites. If you park very close to a fellow camper, you are interfering with their privacy. Give your fellow boondockers plenty of space if you can, although some campgrounds are narrower than others.



Fully extinguish fires you made to keep the forest, and the community at the boondocking site safe. Check out this article on how to make a campfire, and how to safely extinguish it.



Most importantly do not leave trash at your campsite. Not only does leaving trash damage the environment, but leaving trash also damages RVer’s reputation. Rangers will find the trash and already have shut down different boondocking locations due to boondockers and their excessive littering.



Dry camping tips, and why it’s a good first step.

Photo by Wee Ping Khoo on Unsplash


Go-Dry camping, using it as a first step to making you more comfortable with boondocking in the future. Unplug the power cable, water, and sewer hose, and now you are boondocking on a dry area overnight. You don’t have to travel in the spooky woods, because it’s only a parking lot. 



Call the manager before you arrive at a dry camping location because some states do not allow overnight camping in parking lots.



There are often designated parking zones for RV vehicles, you will need to park in these areas. Also, spend some money at the businesses to encourage boondocking in the future, you don’t have to spend a lot.



Do not use your awning, this blocks parking spaces.



Remember to keep to yourself, and don’t treat the Dry camp spot like a campsite. For example, don’t set up foldable chairs, it’s not an open campsite with no traffic, people are trying to park. You don’t need to use your stabilization jacks either for parking one night. 



Leave parking spaces cleaner than you found it, if you leave a bunch of trash behind then over time companies may decide to ban Dry camping on their property.



Arrive during the evening, after the major rush of shoppers has left, making it easier to enter and park.



Stay one night: Do not extend your stay past one night because companies that allow dry camping only allow it if you camp overnight.



Wild Boondocking tips

Photo by Sergei Akulich on Unsplash

General tips



If you want to become a Boondocker, start small. You will progressively get better, and know what you really need to bring over time. Each time you will grow more comfortable, and be able to stay in nature for longer lengths of time. 



Don’t make big boondocking purchases in solar gear, gadgets, or accessories. Instead, spend 1-2 nights doing it, and see if boondocking is right for you.



Entering and exiting



Park in a spot that makes leaving easy.



Get out of your RV, and scout the area at day time in a truck so you can get a better idea about how hard leaving and entering the site will be in an RV.



Tips about power and generators



Do not leave windows open while the generator is running. You do not want carbon monoxide gas to flood into your RV, and hurt your lungs.



Pro tip: use DC appliances when possible. DC power is much more energy-efficient than AC power, which makes DC appliances a key factor in conserving your energy.






Knowing the weather for the next couple of days is a smart move. If there is unfavorable weather, then the roads may be difficult if not impossible to navigate. 




What to do now

Now that you know what boondocking is, go on a dry camping trip for a night, or in your backyard if you want to feel more comfortable with it. Then plan a very simple 2-day trip. Start small, and you will learn more each time, happy travels! 





Save money on tents, backpacks, and more

Coming soon!


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