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What Is Dry Camping In An RV?

Kelly Headshot

By Kelly Beasley

Last Updated: January 26, 2023

The definition of dry camping is this: camping in an RV without having your camper connected to any hookups. Camping 'off the grid,' so to speak. You can dry camp in campsites, parking lots, national forests, Walmart parking lots, or on BLM (Bureau Of Land Management land).

You can dry camp anywhere.

Glacier Montana dry camping

So what does dry camping mean? It means providing your own amenities:

  • Fresh water source
  • Propane (if applicable)
  • Waste water containment
  • Electricity
  • Trash management

It's not as easy as camping in a spot having dump stations, a fire ring, and all the niceties. You're forced to be way more diligent about your consumption and output.

What's The Difference Between Boondocking And Dry Camping?

These two similar terms are often misused.

Let's get them straight.

 β€’ Dry camping = camping without connection to any public utilities.

 β€’ Boondocking = camping remotely, usually on public land.

Both boondocking and dry camping are similar in that both are camping without hookups.

Dry Camping Bear Creek Campground Washington

Dry camping in a campground. So, this is NOT boondocking.

You could say boondocking is a remote dry camping situation.

In both cases, you provide your water and power and need wastewater and trash containment.

Dry Camping RV Needs

If you want to dry camp, you need to be able to do these things:

  • Store your toilet water in a holding tank of some type, OR have a composting toilet or bucket toilet.
  • Store your fresh water.
  • Capture the used or 'grey' water you use, such as shower water and sink water.
  • Provide electricity for any of your power needs.

You are not permitted just to dump your sewage onto the ground; in most places, you are also prohibited from dumping your grey tank on the ground.

Is Dry Camping Safe?

No matter where you are, the possibility of bodily harm or someone stealing your things exists. Some places put you more at risk than others.

No matter where you go on your camping trip, use your head and intuition when you arrive. If it doesn't feel safe, don't stay.

It's that easy.

Dry Camping McCall Idaho

What we CAN tell you is this. Having been dry campers out west, we understand that the odds of being UNsafe are much lower than when RV dry camping in campgrounds or RV parks in towns and cities.

Criminals want easy, low-lying fruit. People shy away from having to drive out where there are hardly any people to rape, kill, or steal from.

So you're more 'at risk' in cities and towns. Fact.

Is RV Dry Camping Legal?

Dry camping in an RV in itself is legal. As long as you stay where camping is permitted and don't overstay the limit, there's nothing illegal about it. (Can you camp on public lands?)

Just make sure you aren't parked on, say, private property when it's not legal to stay.

Water Conservation Tips

When learning how to dry camp, one of the biggest challenges is conserving water. Here are a few things you can do to make yours last longer when RVing:

  • Use portable water containers to bring more with you.
  • Don't shower traditionally. Instead, take 'sponge baths.' Or, only have the water on in the shower when rinsing something. Use a low-flow shower head.
  • Use paper and plastic, so you don't have to wash dishes.
  • Pee in the toilet a few times before you flush.
BLM camping Miners Canyon Utah Lake

Water everywhere but none to use!

Propane Management

Dry camping in a travel trailer or motorhome usually requires propane for the furnace and stove, among other things.

Most RVs have a built-in propane system. But without being diligent about your usage, you might run out.

Try practicing at a campground to see how long you last before you run out.

Then adjust accordingly, OR bring a second tank while RV camping without hookups.

Black Tanks

Your black water tank holds everything that goes down the toilet, including toilet paper (don't put your TP down the toilet). You know, the stuff RVers love to talk about so much!

When you are dry camping with a travel trailer or motorhome, your RV must hold and contain the contents until you get somewhere that you can deposit the contents into a proper sewage tank.

Travel trailer dumping into septic cleanout

Always dump your tanks at an appropriate location.

Naturally, the RV septic tank is only so large (RV tank size), so you must know how many days your rig can go before it fills up. This is another thing to test before you start dry RV camping.

Grey Tank Concerns

Your grey tank holds the wastewater from your sink and shower drains. Once again, your RV must hold this water in the gray water tank because you have no sewer connection.

Typically, keeping the grey tank from filling up is easier than keeping the black tank from filling. You can catch used water in a small tub in the sink and throw it outside as long as you use all-natural soaps (and it's legal to dispose of gray water on the ground where you are camping).

Dry Camping Sultan Camping Area Silverton Colorado

Same with the shower, you can catch the water coming out while waiting for the water to get hot to use for dishes and use it for something else.

Just be aware of how much goes down your drain so you don't fill up before your dry camping trip ends.

How To Keep Your RV Batteries Charged

Your recreational vehicle can only use so much of your house batteries' power (amp-hours) before it's time to recharge. Recharging happens in one of two ways:

  • Solar panels
  • Generator

Unless you have lithium batteries (come with higher-end brands of campers), they MUST stay charged above 50%. You cannot simply run them until they die and have no amp-hours left.

Battery and multimeter in road

Well, you can, but it will kill your batteries. So, you should test your power capacity before your adventure so you don't end up with dead batteries.

Trashy Thoughts

Ha ha- but seriously, the garbage you produce is something else you must manage. Where will you put full bags while you're out? Here are some options:

  • Get a mouse-proof Tupperware bin that snaps tight to put the trash into until you can throw it away. 
  • If you have a ladder on the back of your RV, get a Trasharoo to hang off of it. Make sure you are not in bear country, or if you are, only put non-food-related items inside.
  • If you have enough basement storage, put the trash in a sealed bin in your basement.
  • Get a sealed bin to put in your tow vehicle for storing until you head home.

Just have a method set up where you don't have to sit and smell garbage when you're in the camper or are driving home!

Advantages and Disadvantages Of Dry Camping

Being off-grid has many advantages. First, let's look at the good, then we'll share the sticky side of RV camping without a water hookup or any other connection.

Dry Camping Advantages:

  • Usually, much better views.
  • Almost always cheaper or free.
  • Teaches you about your rig's systems.
  • Boondocking is generally more peaceful than campgrounds.
  • No reservations are needed if boondocking!
Dry camping at SKP park

Dry Camping Disadvantages:

  • Limited amenities/no hookups.
  • Must have solar (portable solar panels work) or a generator (we prefer an RV inverter generator) to keep your rig's batteries charged.
  • You might run out of provisions before the trip is over.
  • It could be hard to get to the campsite due to its remote nature.
  • Some boondocking areas might be full.

Do A Practice Run First

It's HIGHLY advisable to dry camp in a campground with full hookups available before you try it for real. Just don't connect to sewer, water, or power.

Start with your gray tank empty, fill your fresh water tank and propane before you arrive (or right after you get there) and test how long you can make everything last.

Boondocking Klondike Bluff Road Moab

Try dry camping in a campground before attempting it in a place like this.

If you need something, you can dump, fill, or use it at your camping spot. This is especially important when learning your power usage so you don't kill your battery bank. You will learn a lot by doing this test.

Dry Camping Tips

There's a lot to learn about dry camping. Here are some quick tips:

  • If you have portable propane tanks (usually only on travel trailers), if you can, get a larger tank(s) if you find you go through it quickly. Or, bring along a second full tank.
  • Solar power is your best friend! Having more than enough to keep your batteries topped is ideal.
  • You can break your dry camping virginity by going to a Harvest Hosts or Boondocker's Welcome for a night or a few, depending on how long you're allowed to stay. You'll be around people, and there will likely be amenities close by if you run out of X.
  • The Bureau Of Land Management has millions of acres of land on which to dry camp out west. You'll find gorgeous spots if you want to!
  • Appliances like your water heater and inverter can often be turned off when not in use. Do this when you can to conserve your power (propane).
  • You can easily save a gallon or two of water just by capturing it and putting it back into your freshwater tank while waiting for the water to warm before a shower or doing dishes!

Conclusion

Dry camping is something every camper can do as long as their RV is self-contained. Learning how to live in an RV without hookups is the perfect way to get away from it all and learn about how your RV systems work.

If you want to get 'out there' and camp away from the city and into nature, sometimes dry camping is a requirement. It's pretty easy to learn and do. Just be stingy with what you consume, and you'll reap the benefits of a quieter camping experience, often out in nature. Enjoy!

  • Want to learn more about camping off the grid? Check out our other articles here on Camp Addict.
Kelly Headshot

As a seasoned and passionate RVing expert, I have dedicated myself to living the full-time RV life for over 5.5 years, immersing myself in the unique quirks and joys of the boondocking lifestyle and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. In December 2020, my business partner and I made the transition to part-time RVing, but in January 2023, we hit the road once again, this time in our trusty vans. My mission is to help others embrace the RVing lifestyle with confidence and excitement, armed with the knowledge and resources needed to make the most of their adventures. I believe that the more you know, the more you can truly appreciate and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the open road. Join me on this journey and let's make some unforgettable memories.

  • For many of the reasons you mentioned, we dry camp as much as possible. We also dry camp to reduce our carbon footprint in an effort to leave the planet viable for our grandchildren. When we need to use our generator we only burn LP (we have a dual fuel generator) because it burns cleaner (I think) than gasoline. And, I’m “different,” this I know, but I find it fun to manage our Airstream’s resources (water, batteries, etc.); it’s kind of like a hobby for me.

    • LOL, I find myself doing the same kind of thing. “How long can I make this water last?” It is sort of a game!
      Thanks for your input!

  • Jeepers, why not go all the way ? Try backpacking where you carry everything in your backpack and walk/hike to your destinations. You do not bathe till you return, you pack out your shit, men & women piss on rocks, not plants. You follow “leave no trace” rules, and do not forget water !

  • thank you so very much .. I am 76 and am about to do some camping in my 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan and to be on my own .. I am camperising my van .. my major concerns are “toilets” and “heat” .. I think I can manage all else .. I shall be doing this one night or two nights or three nights, so I can handle grocery needs and some recharging needs .. if you can provide more specific info, I would greatly appreciate it at my email address. said info would be about the toilet in which all solid waste falls into a plastic bag which can then be disposed in available trash facilities????? (smell concerns with such a toilet????) and providing heat as needed without using car battery or solar panels or propane heaters, if possible .. I would like a battery-operated heater (name of such????) in which the battery would provide DC power and could be recharged but not be driving the vehicle as it will be stationary for my camping duration as I cannot drive anymore and rely on drivers who will only be available to drive me there and then home again .. I don’t expect an answer but would really appreciate one .. lol .. thank you for your very indepth informative article and thank you for listening to my concerns here .. ‘bye

    • Hi Margo,

      Great questions! We will be answering them here though, as part of our service is to help as many people as possible. Us posting the answer here helps future readers as well.

      Heat: You are not going to find any battery operated heater that your battery bank can support enough to make it worth it. Heat is a BIG power suck. If you want to stay warm, we’d recommend using the little buddy heater in such a small space.

      Toilet: As for the bucket toilet method, simply use something like cat litter, coco coir, sawdust or peat moss to cover your solids. You can also wrap up the bag after use. Smell should not be an issue.

      You can throw it away despite what most people will tell you. But better yet, if you can, find a composting pile to dump it into (Sans the bag). THIS article by Live Small Ride Free is the most researched about the debate that I have yet seen.

      They extensively researched the subject and found that occasional bags of human waste are not hazardous.

      Enjoy your trips and thank you for reading! Glad to hear you enjoyed the article.

      • thank you, Kelly, for your prompt and informative reply .. I was hoping to avoid a propane heater as I have mentioned, I am 76, so do have limitations .. lol .. and I have three sleep disorders, so would be afraid of falling asleep while the “Little Buddy” heater (I am somewhat familiar with such) is going .. I can cope, though, and shall do so .. too bad, though, that in this day and age no one has come with a practical battery operated heater that is economically feasible as such would be the safest option, I think .. the toilet option is the one I have been considering, so I think I shall go with that .. thanks, again .. take care and all the very best to you and yours ..

        • You are most welcome! Yeah, the only other heater I can think of- there is a diesel-fed heater (Webasto) people use in their vans. Requires some modifications for sure. Is there a gas version of that? Not sure.

          I slept with my Big Buddy on quite often. Long as you have vented your vehicle properly, you’ll be fine. But maybe the propane smell gets to you?

          Good luck with it all! You’ll figure out the best option for your situation, I’m sure.

          Let us know if we can be of other help and have fun!

          • thanks again, Kelly .. I shall use the bag method toilet and dispose of the bag after each use .. I just want ease due to my health issues which affect mobility and stomach issues .. as for the heater, I shall check the Webasto heater .. the smell of propane is not a problem but, rather, the effects if one breathes in too much .. I shall get a carbon monoxide detector and do all else I need to do for safety .. I am 76 but I love living .. lol ..

          • Yes, done right, propane heater will be perfectly safe for you! Vent, vent, vent!!! And a carbon monoxide detector is an ABSOLUTE MUST when using a propane heater indoors!

            We hope you figure out the best solution for your setup!

            Keep on living hard, Chica!!!!!!

          • Yes Kelly, there are gasoline versions of those heaters as well as propane versions. I use a diesel heater in my rv , I think it’s the most economical. Check out RV with Tito on Youtube, he put a gasoline version in his motorhome

          • Kelly (and Margo),
            I’m pretty sure that the ‘Webasto diesel heater’ you are referring to used by van converters is the one in fashion in vehicles as a ‘parking heater’ and relies on a good bit of 12VDC electricity to operate (I have one and it is great). The basic one needs to be permanently installed in a vehicle and connected to the vehicle battery. They do make portable versions that put the heater, fuel tank, and controls etc. into a steel cabinet but they still need to be connected to a vehicle battery. It might be possible to run it off a ‘solar generator (a very poor term) but it still would be very involved. As such, it would not be appropriate HOWEVER, there is an alternative that does not requre electicity.

            The was a trend 30 years ago to use portable kerosene heaters to just heat a room in a house rather than run the central furnace. They are simple and relatively foolproof. Some styles are circular and others rectangular. They also provide a decent amount of light which is usually helpful. They have not been popular for some time but are still available. Search for ‘kerosene heater’ on amazon and it turns up several.

            The price of kerosene or proprietary heater fuels is EXTREMELY expensive for no practical reason (probably 5x what it should cost, just because they package and label it for heaters specifically). They can be run on diesel fuel with a bit more smell. I think a little reasearch could turn up a source locally but for the quantites involved it may not be worth the time. The best fuel to use would be ‘jet fuel’ (also called ‘Jet A’) which is almost pure kerosene. IMHO, These are much better heaters than propane heaters but are larger. Many folks don’t like dealing with liquid fuels as spills are messy. These heaters are also totally silent.

            Combustion of any fuel in an enclosed space produces both water and CO2. The amount of water can create problems as it gets everything wet so their use needs to consider a source of ventilation. Also, any combustion heater CAN produce carbon monoxide or consume a lot of oxygen in a confined space which can result in deadly side effects.

  • Wow, you gave me so much to think about! I am 55 yrs old and need to find other living arrangements. I was considering a travel trailer so I would always have a home. New vs used, training on how to live in it, figuring it all out and still not missing a day of work… while trying to extricate myself from a precarious situation. These are the things that concern me. Thank you for your article!

    • Hi Wendy,

      There is definitely a lot to consider when starting out RVing. I’m glad we could provide a bit of information for you!

      We are always adding new content to Camp Addict in order to help out RVing newbies, so stay tuned for more goodness.

      Best of luck with your current situation.

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