Good lord, mainstream media has done a number on us, haven't they? 🙄 News and media only show us the worst of what goes on in the world. They lead us to believe that without the supposed 'security net' of society, we are vulnerable to some sort of attack. The truth is that that's about as likely to happen as a shark jumping out of the water and eating your plane. 🙄🙄🙄
And yes, I suppose it's fairly natural to be afraid of boondocking, as most of fear the unknown. If you're a virgin boondocker, boondocking IS the unknown.
I'm here to dispel typical fears and concerns that you may have about boondocking and also to teach you how to do a few key things that you may be worrying about. You'll also find out what to expect out in the 'wild west'. It's really not as 'wild' as you may think it is.
Camp Addict Co-Founders Kelly and Marshall were in Quartzsite, Arizona in January 2018 and did a presentation on Boondocking 101 at the Xscapers Annual Bash. Topics covered included all things that are scary or seem prohibitive about boondocking so that you can learn how-to without being afraid of giving it a try.
Complete presentation is available in the below video. Enjoy!
How Can It Be Safe 'OUT THERE', Camping All Alone?
So this information is going to be pertained around boondocking out West. Public lands are quite plentiful out here as opposed to the East. But it's 'out West'... so most east coaasters may not know what to expect. I didn't at first, being a Floridian, but I do now. For boondocking, you may have questions like this:
- Will I have enough food to last me a couple of weeks?
- Is it safe?
- If I leave my rig unattended will it still be there when I come back?
- Will my pets be safe if I leave them?
- Do I need to get a water filter that lets me use water from a creek?
- What about wild animals?
- How do I find boondocking spots?
Let's look at some of the answers in detail.
Am I Safe From 'People'?
Is it safe to be out on public land all alone? HELL YES. It's way safer than living in a city! Or the suburbs, even. Why? Because if you're scared of other people, just know this: Criminals are lazy. They don't drive out to BLM land looking for a target.
Criminals look for low-hanging fruit. They don't drive for miles and miles to try to find a random RV in the middle of nowhere that is likely to only have clothes and food and games in it. Doesn't that sound silly?
It is silly. So, you can push that fear out of your mind right now. I was a tad scared the first night of my boondocking experience, but it was of the 'boogey man', not of people. I was over it after my first night of totally alone camping. Listen, criminals generally don't have much money, so they don't have ATV's and aren't four-wheeling for recreation. The people who are boondocking ARE recreating. They aren't looking for an RV to steal.
The people out there are out there for the same reason you will be. Either to hang out in nature, or as a place to sleep and park their RV. The only time I worry about locking things up because of shady individuals is if I am booning near or in a city (which is rare).
Or, I'll lock my generator up if I am in a crowded spot and don't know the other people, only if they look a little, mmmm, shady? Again- this RARELY happens. Maybe because I mostly boondock as 'out there' as possible.
Number of times anyone has come and knocked on my door in, well, almost 2 years of boondocking? Zero.
I'm not even going to list a bunch of ways to 'make yourself safer' while boondocking because honestly, I don't find it necessary. There's all kinds of little ways you can make yourself look 'bigger' or like 'more people' if you're solo, or 'you have a guard dog' or whatever.
I had read all these things before I left and planned to do them, but I have not found any of them to be necessary, and do not use them.
Only fear mongers, who have never done any serious boondocking, will disagree. It's your prerogative if you want to believe them.
What About Wild Animals?
Oh wow. I only WISH there were more wild animals around to worry about! I'm not saying you are totally 100% safe from them and shouldn't worry. It's just about being aware of your surroundings and not doing something stupid like putting your garbage outside to attract bears and such. I mean, just use your head!
If you go for a hike in bear or moose country, bring bear spray. Make yourself known while hiking by being noisy. This is stuff I shouldn't even have to say, but some people defy logic. 🙄
No, bears aren't going to be trying to get into your RV. Not unless you have an RV with holes in it and you leave a bunch of food outside at night, which you should OBVIOUSLY already know not to do, and you will be reminded not to do so in bear country.
Maybe there could be an almost starved to death bear that will try to get in. It COULD happen, but folks, it's not gonna happen. Use your head and you will be ok. In the almost two years of boondocking I have only seen 2 or 3 bears. They were all in national parks and nowhere near my campsite.
You're MORE likely to have a bear encounter if you are in a campground. Why? Because there are idiots on the planet. Some of them camp and some of those idiot campers leave food out when they are not supposed to. Other people just might leave stuff out on accident. Bears come to realize it's an easy place to score some food. Then tragically, a returning bear at times has to be killed.
In fact, the only wildlife I have seen near my campsite have been deer, mice, sheep, cows, porcupine, birds, donkeys, beavers, shrews, moles, bats, jackrabbits, rabbits, chipmunks, kangaroo rats, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, California Condors, and a moose.
The horrors! Better get your guns out and lock the doors. Hide your kids, hide your wife... 😂
Not once has a single person posed a threat to me or anyone I know 'out here'. (Not even an illegal Mexican who had just crossed the border who walked through some friend's camp down near Ajo, Arizona. He just wanted water.) In fact,I have met simply the nicest people 'out here'.
Should I Have A Gun?
Let's not get into the politics of this one. Here's my suggestion: If it makes you feel better, then sure. Get a gun. You won't need it. But if it makes you feel better/safer, then go for it!
Do I have a gun? Yep. A few, actually. I don't mind having them on hand for when I am boondocking totally solo (which doesn't happen much these days as I mostly travel with Marshall, my biz partner). But I was happy I had it when I did go off for some solo time in Arizona last year. I took it on my hikes. It just made me feel more confident. Did I ever need to use it? Of course not. Again- criminals are NOT out in the boonies looking for victims, and wild animals want nothing to do with you if they can help it.
The bottom line is that self-protection is not needed 99.9% of the time. Same goes for living among society. But if it makes you feel better, go get one.
Can I Leave My Rig Unattended?
Absolutely! This was something I was not very comfortable with at first. I wondered if my rig would be there when I got back. So, I got a hitch lock. However, these days I usually don't even bother putting it on. If I'm near a bigger city, then yes, I'll use it if I feel the need.
There are hitch locks that are VERY difficult for even the most talented criminal to break. You could do all kinds of stuff to secure your rig including booting the wheels. But seriously, you don't need to when you are in the sticks. Again- criminals want inner city and suburb RVs, if they want RVs at all!
Try the MegaHitch Lock Coupler Vault Pro, the self-proclaimed best hitch lock on the market. This lock literally looks like a vault.
Will My Rig Get Stuck?
This one is a valid fear. Sure, the possibility is there. But it is not the norm and it's pretty easy to avoid. Just don't be driving your rig down soft sandy roads or slick muddy roads. Especially without 4wd! Check out this doozy of a story:
So if you get to a potential booning location and you aren't sure what the road is like, the safest thing to do is to 'scout' the road with your toad or tow vehicle.
Still, there's always a possibility of getting stuck. I have, just look... If my truck was a 4wd, I probably would have been able to pull out of this: Had I stayed a little more to the left, this could have been avoided.
If you have a motorhome and you don't have a toad, well, I don't know how you would manage scouting. Personally, I would simply HAVE to have another vehicle if I had a motorhome.
For you toadless motorhomers, your best bet is to read up on the well reviewed sites on Campendium and only choose places that have been proven to be no problem to get in. Also don't travel down dirt roads on rainy days if at all possible.
How To Not Starve Or Die Of Thirst
When I first started thinking about boondocking, I was worried about food. It's as if I suddenly thought that you have to store enough food and dry goods for armageddon! Well, you don't.
It's not like you are going to be away from an area with a grocery store, or even a convenience store, hardly ever. Most boondocking spots have about a 2 week limit. You can usually stock up enough for that time period without issue, unless you have a large family. If you do, then sure, you may have to boondock where a grocery store is within a reasonable reach, which is not difficult to do.
Currently, parked near Spencer, Idaho, the nearest place is about an hour away in Idaho Falls. This is highly unusual for us. Usually there's SOME type of food store about 10-40 minutes away. And yes, you can drive there. There are roads. You don't have to hike or ride a horse to get there.
So you will be fine. Again, if you just have a motorhome and no tow vehicle, it's going to be harder for you if you need to make a run. You will have to drive your whole rig to get there. Still, most people can pack enough food to last for about 2 weeks. If not, and you want to be able to carry more, you can get a portable refrigerator.
And if you don't eat veggies, you've got no issues beyond how much dry good storage you have.
If you are moving every two weeks, you simply can plan to stop at a grocery along the way. Use Yelp to find local grocery stores. Easy!
The West is not as wild as you might be picturing. You have an RV, so you are going to always be on ROADS. Paved or dirt. Mostly paved. There's pretty much SOME civilization around most western roads.
Marshall's brother-in-law has a gigantic supplementary gas tank installed into the back of his truck. This guy can probably drive about 800 miles with all tanks full. Even so, he could still run out of gas if he doesn't watch where stations are.
There are some stretches of road where you won't come across a gas station for a long time. Funny enough, most of the longest stretches are in Florida! Still, always keep an eye out if you are getting low or past half full. Use the Gas Buddy app for finding gas along your route and be vigilant about knowing how far you can go on a full tank.
How Do I Find Boondocking Spots For My RV?
In Florida, if you're going down a dirt road, you're typically in redneck-ville. It's kinda scary! You have 'good ol' boys' raising hell down those roads. That was my interpretation, anyway.
The roads are usually sandy, so you might (EEEEK!) get stuck! So when I hit the road, the idea of trying this on my own was scary for sure as I feared mud pits, sand traps, and quicksand. 😆 If you know where to look and how to go about it, it's easy as pie.
Like you, I wasn't sure how I would find boondocking spots. All I found was information such as 'call the ranger station in the area', or 'use the public lands app', or 'use a public lands map'. Ugh, so much work!
Today, there are better and easier resources for finding spots.
Here we list them from easiest method to the hardest to find method
- Avenza maps + Google satellite (Best for finding spots that don't show upon the first two options)
- Word of mouth
This is a great resource and it’s the most reliable of the four. Many of the listed sites are reviewed by people who previously visited there. If reviewed, you can typically find if there’s cell service, road conditions going in, what the views are if they supplied photos, and where to dump/get water, etc. It all depends on whether it’s been reviewed or not and how thoroughly they reviewed the spot.
Brian and Leigh, the creators of this site, drove all around the country finding these spots as well as campgrounds. They took photos of the places they did go, and have a little information for each location.
Where you get the most benefit are the places listed that others have already reviewed. If cell service and road conditions don’t matter to you, and you have a really small rig or trailer, you may do fine at just about any of the places listed. Otherwise, if you’re new to this, stick to the spots that are reviewed that meet your expectations.
They also have a filter for dump stations. Just select the area, then choose the filter under 'category' for dump station.
To make it easier, we created a follow-along tutorial on how to find free boondocking spots using Campendium.
How To Use Campendium To Find Boondocking Spots
This site seems to be more geared towards tent camping. Some of the spots are also reviewed by users, but the site is not as user friendly as Campendium.
Also, trying to figure out if the site can accommodate a rig, as well as what size it can accommodate can be a PITA as it's not always clear. It’s just not as well set up but you may be able to find some spots using this site. Despite the name, they also list campsites on the website that cost money.
Avenza Maps is an app that you can use to tell you where camping is allowed inside of National Forests. It doesn’t show you where spots are, just that the road does, or does not, allow for camping. This does NOT mean that there are definitely spots on roads that allow camping.
I have driven down a few National Forest roads where there were no spots at all, despite dispersed camping being allowed. Remember, the rules are that you may only camp where others have obviously camped before. Check Google Maps satellite view for evidence of previous camping. Some spots you will be able to identify easily, while others may be hidden by trees or are otherwise less easy to view.
This is where Google Maps satellite view comes in handy. When you scroll in on a road, sometimes you will be able to tell that an open area is a spot. It’s especially helpful if there’s a rig there. That’s a pretty surefire sign that you can camp in that spot.
This is a do-able method, but it can take you a lot of time to find a spot. One big point to think about here is that you aren’t going to know if you will have cell service or not. Oh, you have a map of service coverage? Sorry, you can't totally trust it. Many times I have gotten to an area that ‘should’ have Verizon coverage, and service was unusable to non-existent, even with a cell booster. So, don’t rely on that completely if you have to have cell service.
This system of finding boondocking spots is a little easier said than done so we made a video tutorial on how to use the maps. Follow along to learn how to find super secret spots!
How To Use Avenza Maps To Find Boondocking Spots
Word Of Mouth
Pretty self-explanatory. If you have a friend who has been there before, and they tell you about it, lucky you! Make sure they give you an exact location (have them 'drop' you a location pin via Google Maps), so you aren't relying on their verbal directions (second turn after the third stump).
Leaving Pets Alone In Your Rig When Boondocking
This one can be tricky. Generally, if you boondock, you are following fair weather. Some people have access to air conditioning in their rigs, some do not. I have a travel trailer and only a 2000 watt Yamaha generator. Therefore, I can't use my A/C, so I chase the weather.
Weather chaser or not, there are days where high temps are unavoidable. Even in temperatures as low as the mid-70s, it can get very hot in any rig. This is why it is very important that you have your eye on the weather. Awnings may be tempting to leave out, but as a rule, you should never leave your awning out if you leave your rig. All too often, winds kick up unexpectedly and awnings get damaged. This should not be a relied on form of cooling.
On hotter days, if you don't have A/C, your only bet is to STAY HOME with your pets. I don't like to leave my rig if it's getting even in the mid 70's, as the temp in the rig, even with my Fantastic Fan open, can get into the high 80's. This won't kill my dogs, but I just made that my hard rule so if the forecast is a little off, they are still safe.
There are other factors to consider such as humidity and wind, so I simply play it safe. I will stay home with them if it's any higher so that I can have all my windows and door open. Unless I leave early in the morning, then come back before around noon or so.
If it's going to be in the 90's, then for sure you can't be leaving them in your closed rig. It can easily reach the 100's inside, much like a car.
Even if you DO have A/C that will kick on while you're gone, it's a good idea to not leave. Why? It could fail. Your pets could die in this type of situation.
A Fantastic Fan that has a rain sensor is even more dangerous. A few drops of rain and the fan will shut off and close. Much of the time it takes the sensor a long time to dry, so the fan won't start back up right after the rain is over. Now, your pets are in dire straights.
A Maxxair Fan is a better solution to this issue. It comes with a cover that won't allow rain in, and the fan doesn't turn off in rain.
I can't really leave all my windows open and leave. Why? Every one of my windows are an exit window. This means that anyone can get right in easily if I leave them open. Chances are that no-one would bother it, but I don't like risking that open of an invitation. Also, the girls could POSSIBLY get out. This momma won't take that chance. Nope. You may have a rig where you can safely leave the windows open.
You can get devices to remotely check the temperature in your rig. This can be a good thing to keep your mind at ease.
The main thing to get to know is how hot it will get inside your rig in full sun at certain temperatures. I.e., you need to know what the temperature will be inside when it's 'X' degrees outside. And you must know by EXPERIENCE. Only then can you safely leave your pets inside your rig and leave for the day if you know the temps won't rise above safe living conditions.
Water For Your RV Fresh Water Tank
This is one of the most challenging parts of boondocking for most people. Obviously, the more people you have in your rig, the more water will be used. The bigger your tank is, the more water you will have on hand when you reach your boondocking spot. Still, there are ways to conserve and to get more water without moving your entire rig.
Refilling Without Moving
Marshall and I both have collapsible water containers that we use. We can drive our tow vehicles to fill the containers, then return and dump the water into our rigs' fresh water tanks. Each jug holds 5 gallons, has a handle at the top for carrying, and has a dispensing spout. (You will have to buy a separate spout that would fit into your water tank hole for filling.) It's not the easiest thing to fill this way, but it's not really hard either and beats the heck out of having to move your entire rig to get more fresh water.
Filling Fresh Water Tank With Collapsible Water Containers
Reliance 5 Gallon Collapsible Water Container
You can also get a pump that does the filling for you, or you can rig your existing water pump to pump the water from bags or jugs for you. However, this will likely take longer than filling it manually (see video above for manual filling how-to).
Using a pump might be a better option if you have a very large tank or are physically unable to fill without one. RV fresh water tanks can be anywhere from 10 gallons to 200+ gallons. It would be impractical to have to store AND fill a ton of water bags. You can always get a water bladder or bigger plastic jugs that hold more water and then use a pump to get refill your fresh water tank.
Using a Pump to Refill Fresh Water Tank
There are so many ways to save water. Let's have a look at some of them.
- Less showers- Some of this has to do with your level of personal hygiene. Mine (Kelly) changed dramatically once I hit the road AND became single. Because I stay in pretty temperate places, I don't sweat. Since I don't sweat, I can go days without a shower. Sound gross? It's not. We are programmed in this country to shower every day. Many full-time boondockers don't shower every day. In fact, it's not unheard of to hear many say they don't shower but every 4-7 days. This doesn't mean that 'under' parts can't be cleaned with soap and water. This is a common practice. No, you won't smell. No, you can't tell. I used to shower every day. Now I find it to be a great waste. This is your #1 way to save water.
- Low-Flow Shower Head- An Oxygenics shower head is another water saver. So is any shower head with a low flow. You MUST turn your water off in between rinses. This is why all RV shower heads come with a shut-off valve. It's a no-brainer for water saving.
- Flushing Toilets- RV toilets are made to save water. They are not like traditional toilets that have a lot of water in them. Instead, there is just a minor amount left after a flush. You do your business in it and flush. The RV toilet doesn't use much water. You CAN pre-fill your toilet if you are going #2 to keep it off the sides of the bowl, but for #1 this really is not necessary. Keep your flushes short and sweet. The other option is to get a composting toilet. These use no water at all.
- Dishes- Here's a very high water-consuming activity. The easy answer here is to just use as little water as possible. Also- you can use the water that comes out of your shower head while you are waiting for it to get warm. Some people save this water to use for either flushing their toilet or to soak their dishes in. Paper plates are also an option. Clean your dishes as MUCH as possible before washing in sink. This might even mean wiping them down with a paper towel OR letting your dog clean them before you wash. This is up to you. I'm a dog person. Doesn't bother me in the least.
I'm not going to go into this subject here as it can get VERY in-depth and there is much information on the subject of generators, batteries and solar out there already. The bare-bones important thing about it is to make sure you have enough battery power to serve your needs, and to be able to fully re-charge them daily.
If you aren't sure, there's an easy way to figure out of you can boondock successfully. Unplug from your shore power while you are in a campground and make sure you can re-charge your batteries through your solar or generator. Do this for more than one day. If you are looking for more on solar, just Google 'RVing solar power' or 'boondocking power'.
Soon Camp Addict will have a solar power page. We do have a guide to portable generators.
Boondocking sounds scary when you haven't tried it. That was the purpose of this post- to reassure you that boondocking is not as scary as you might be thinking it is. I was a little nervous about it when I started. I didn't have solar at first, just my generator. Using IT even worried me a bit. Until I finally jumped in and did it- then it was the easiest thing in the world. Kind of like boondocking will eventually feel to you.
But with just a little education from fellow full-time RVers, I quickly found what it was I needed to make the most of every boondocking location I stayed at. Eventually I got solar, water bags, learned about Campendium and Google Maps/Avenza Maps, and became a pro at water conservation, among other things. 😁
This is the stuff I wish I had known when I started. I hope it helps you, too. Happy boondocking and Camp On, Addicts!