This Is How Dry Camping Will Make You A Better RVer (And Maybe A Better Human)

PublishedMarch 17, 2020

Warning: This blog post (learning to dry camp) might make you a better human.

Yes, you read right. And dry camping can make you a better RVer.

How? Because when you dry camp, you will have to know/learn a lot of things that you didn't pay attention to or realize when you were at a campground using full hook-ups.

Glacier Montana dry camping

This will make you more knowledgeable about your RV and how to use it. At the same time, you will also learn to conserve your resources.

If you ask us, this can help us become better humans as a whole. At least it has the potential to do so. We will get to that.

First, let's find out what dry camping is all about!

What Is Dry Camping?

Dry camping at SKP park

If you have done any RVing research, surely you've seen the term 'dry camping'.

Some people are confused about the definition.

So what does dry camping mean?

RV dry camping means camping anywhere without being connected to any utilities.

Utilities can be cable, a fresh water source, sewer, or electricity from an outlet.

You can be dry camping while parked in a campground. This simply means you are camping in a campground that doesn't offer utilities, or you aren't using them.

You can also be dry camping out on the beauty of public land, trying to avoid neighbors.

You could be dry camping in a driveway.

It doesn't matter WHERE you are, it just means you are camping without using any hookups.

Become A Better Human Through Dry Camping

It's quite possible that nothing else will open your eyes to how wasteful we are as a nation than dry camping will.

Why does this happen? Because depending on yourself for your utilities is an eye-opening game.

It brings to light how wasteful we are with our resources.

My experience of being a full-time boondocker has opened my eyes to how much we waste as a society.

Our comfort zone is one of waste. We are a throw-away nation.

If X doesn't work or doesn't look good,  we throw it away without a second thought.

Water flows endlessly out of a faucet, so we just consume it like it magically appears from there with no cost or challenges.

Dry camping garbage cleanup

Group of RVers who filled the back of this pickup truck with trash in no time at a Lake Meade boondocking spot

When you have to save and collect your trash and carry it around with you, you become VERY aware of how much accumulates from every single purchase you make.

This shows up not just with trash, but with electricity and water usage, too.

We tend to take these resources for granted in the 'regular' world we live in.

Dry camping helps not only make us better RVers, but potentially better people. 

At least, it can if you're open to it.

What's wrong with learning to use less because you can?

Why not waste less because you've learned how much we waste?

Nothing at all.

I'm not saying that boondocking and/or dry camping WILL change you, but it sure has the ability to open your eyes and teach you to be a better human.

It will also help you to better understand your camper systems and teach you how to utilize them more efficiently.

Let's take a look at what dry camping is and the reasons why learning to do it well will help you be a better RVer.

How Will Dry Camping Make Me A Better RVer?

When you dry camp, you are forced to get to know (and to conserve) your utilities.

This means knowing important facts about your RV in particular.

You must learn the capacity of your grey tank, fresh water tank, and you should know if your batteries can take you through a day and get fully charged again for the next day.

You should know how long you can go without needing a dump station as well.

You usually can't count on your black tank sensors to read true so don't depend on those.

Why not?

Because of struvites. Struvites are like a scale. They form in all sewers without proper treatment.

It takes no time for struvites to block your black tank sensors unless you have treated your brand-new never-before-used septic holding tank with the proper chemicals from the start.

Getting to know your batteries, solar power usage (if applicable), and both of your tank capacity sizes figured out will make things easier for you down the road when you do boondock.

You will also learn to conserve your water.

When you only camp with full hook-ups and you connect to everything right away, you don't have to learn much about how your RV works.

Once And For All, What's The Difference Between Boondocking And Dry Camping?

Dry Camping Bear Creek Campground Washington

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

People are often confused about this so let's get it straight.

  • Dry camping = camping without being connected to any public utilities
  • Boondocking = camping remotely

Both boondocking and dry camping have in common that you are not connecting to 'the grid' in any way.

Even if you are using a portable generator, you are still considered dry camping because you are not connected to a power grid.

Boondocking is considered a remote dry camping situation.

Remote being the key word here.

In both cases, you must provide for yourself. You must provide your own water, power, and you need sewage management, be it a composting toilet or a black tank.

No surge protector dry camping

This won't be available if you are dry camping!

To help you understand, here are a few examples of whether a situation can be called boondocking or not:

  • Not boondocking= Staying in a Walmart parking lot
  • Not boondocking= At a state park without hookups
  • Boondocking= Parking off of a dirt road on public land out West with friends
  • Boondocking= camping on public land in places that have obviously been used before for camping

ALL of the above situations are also considered dry camping.

Getting To Know Your Fresh Water Tank

BLM camping Miners Canyon Utah Lake

Water everywhere but none to use!

When you hook up to a water supply, you don't have to know anything about your fresh water holding tank capacity or your RV water pump.

You simply connect the hose to your RV and you have an endless water capacity.

When dry camping, your water supply is limited to your RV fresh water tank capacity.

Water conservation suddenly becomes very important when you are dry camping.

Learning how to be frugal with it is very eye-opening when it comes to learning not to be wasteful.

There are plenty of tips and tricks to use less water. Here are a few:

  • Take navy showers
  • Use a low-flow RV shower head
  • Turn off the flow when nothing is rinsing
  • Recycle water that comes out when you are waiting for the hot water to start
  • Bring drinking water in a separate container
  • Soak dirty dishes in a dishpan
  • Bathe in a river. Just kidding. Well, some do it. Not for me LOL!

All of the water that goes down your sinks and your shower ends up in your gray water tank.

This gray water tank size must be taken into consideration as well. Some fresh tanks are larger than the onboard gray water tank.

Look up your gray water tank size as well as your fresh water tank size so you have an idea of what to expect.

Practice conservation while in a campground without hooking up.

See how long you can make your water last.

Black Tank Limitations

Your RV septic tank is, um, gross.

But it must be talked about.

For many, the black tank is the most limiting of the tanks. Getting more freshwater is easier (and not gross) than dumping your black tank into a blueboy and carting it off.

Therefore, if you are not wanting to deal with a portable waste tank, your black tank is likely your biggest limitation on how long you can dry camp in one spot.

How do you know how long you can go without needing to dump? Simple. Use it in campgrounds and don't connect to sewer. See how long it takes to fill up!

This will also help you to know if you have a clog when you ARE connected to sewer. (If it gets 'full' way sooner than it should, you know it's actually a clog.)

There are a few things you can do to try to extend your toilet tank timeline:

  • DON'T put your TP down the toilet. Throw it into a garbage can dedicated for that waste.
  • Men, if you can go number 1 outside, go ahead. Be one with nature!
  • If you aren't putting TP down the toilet, there's no need to use a ton of water when flushing. This saves black tank space and also conserves your fresh water
  • Use public facilities when possible

Chemicals aren't necessary unless you are trying to keep struvites from forming, or if you are trying to keep odor down.

Insider tip: Odors rarely occur in cooler weather.

Power Considerations And Solar

Dry Camping McCall Idaho

When you aren't connected to an outlet, you are going to have to rely on one of two things:

  • Battery power
  • Generator power

If you are going to rely solely on battery power, you must know some things about your particular setup before you hit the road.

If you are relying on a generator, you have less to worry about.

Still, there are some things to know about your electricity usage that you will have to keep in mind when dry camping.

Battery Power Must-Knows

Battery and multimeter in road

There are a few different types of batteries out there. The most common type of battery that comes with an RV is lead-acid.

However, you could have either of these:

  • Lead-acid (three types: wet cell, AGM, and gel cell)
  • Lithium-ion

Almost all RVs come with lead-acid batteries. The only time you will likely find lithium batteries in an RV is an aftermarket upgrade.

Very high-end RV brands may come with lithium as well.

There is one main difference you should know about the two types of batteries.

Lead-acid batteries only allow you to use HALF of the available amp-hours while lithium batteries have virtually all of the amp-hours available.

For the sake of the simplicity of this article, we are going to assume you have lead-acid batteries.

If you only have one or two batteries, you will not be able to use much power at all without draining them below the 50% threshold. (Which you should not do with lead-acid.)

If you have a generator or ample solar, you can re-charge them back up. 

But if you have neither, how do you know how long you can go using just your batteries?

The best way to do this is to do a 'test' run while in a campground with hookups.

DON'T hook up to any of the utilities.

Use the RV as you would naturally. Monitor the battery levels. When you get close to 50%, count how many hours it took.

You may have 5 hours, you may have four days. It depends on how much power you use and how many amp-hours you have available to use.

Though, you really SHOULD charge your lead-acid batteries up to 100% every night or day. Not doing so will shorten their life in no time.

So you must have a way to re-charge your batteries. 

If you're dry camping, it's going to either be solar panels or a generator.

Using Your Generator For Electricity And Battery Charging

Wen generators running in parallel

If you have an on-board generator, keeping your batteries charged is easy. You turn it on and you're charging.

With your generator on you also can use appliances that won't work off of your 12-volt system (your batteries).

I.E. you can't run your AC or microwave on 12-volt power (batteries). You must use a generator (120-volt power) for this.

If you don't have an on-board generator, you can buy a stand-alone generator. Simply plug your RV into it using your shore power cord.

If you have a generator, your stay isn't limited by how long your batteries will last.

You can keep them healthy and over 50% just by charging them with your generator.

Be aware that you should charge them up FULLY to 100% at least once a day if possible.

Not doing so will quickly destroy them.

Using Solar For Power And Battery Charging

Solar panels

Solar is the bomb! It's free, it's silent, it's easy once it's set up.

The only limitations are roof space, shading, and time of year.

Cloudiness and/or shading will lessen your solar, and also, wintertime offers a lower and shorter sun.

Here again, when you aren't connected to amenities such as power, you will need to know how much power you can consume in a day without taking your batteries below 50%.

Back in the day when I only had one 100-watt solar panel and one battery, I could barely keep my MacBook Pro charged without taking my batteries below 50%.

I soon got another 100-watt panel, so that I was using two portable solar panels.

As consumption needs have grown, I finally invested in lithium and a 600-watt solar array.

I couldn't be happier with it!

It wasn't cheap, but I am a full-time boondocker and dry camper. For my situation, it was worth it.

You would want to do the same thing you did for testing your batteries... use the RV as you normally would when in a full hook-up camping location, but don't use their electricity.

Find out if you can make it through a day without pulling below 50%.

If not, you need a generator, or more solar and/or more batteries.

Trash Build-Up

Dry Camping Sultan Camping Area Silverton Colorado

This area needs management.

Access to a trash can is not often close by when dry camping.

Your options are to store it yourself or to store it yourself.

Heh.

Make sure you have a place available to store your trash.

When possible, unpackage as many of your food items as possible before your trip and dispose of the excess to help save space.

I store my trash in the bed of my truck in a special collapsible can. Some people store it in the basement of their motorhome.

There are a variety of ways you can store it.

You will really see/feel how much waste you product when you don't have a giant city trash can outside your door to throw everything into.

You really see the effects of EVERYTHING we buy. It all becomes trash.

Every last bit of it.

Well, it becomes trash or poop!

Funny, but also, it's serious. Go look at the inside of any retail store. 

Every single object in there is just a certain timeline away from being trash. It's incredibly sad when you finally see it that way.

I don't look at stores or shopping in general the same whatsoever anymore. These days, I try not to buy things unless they are absolutely essential.

But I'm not perfect.

When boondocking, It goes without saying that you should NEVER leave your trash at your site. 

Escapees RV Club has developed a boondocking policy you should follow.

Conclusion

Getting to know the requirements your RV has for camping off-the-grid has many benefits.

One of them is that you will quickly get to know your RV much better than ever.

Anyone experiencing camping in a destination that's wild and free is likely benefitting from getting away from civilization.

Doing so means not having amenities and knowing how long one can stay away without using amenities.

Things like preserving propane, using lights in moderation, and just figuring out your energy consumption are all vital to having a fun trip.

The bonus to this is that you may realize how much we waste in this world. Conservation starts to become second nature.

And it feels good. How can that be a bad thing?

Kelly Headshot

He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona. 

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  • 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: margom4531@gmail.com .. 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!!!!!!

  • 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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