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This Is All You Need To Know To Get Started Boondocking Right Now

PublishedDecember 19, 2019

Dome Rock Mountain boondocking

Boondocking is one of the most incredible ways to camp. It gives you scenic views, freedom from the day to day rat-race, and best of all, it's almost always FREE camping.

If you never tried RV boondocking, it's a lot different than staying at a campground. Therefore, there is a lot to learn.

This is a very detailed post about primitive camping. Take a deep breath, get some coffee and settle in because you have some learning to do!

No matter how much research you do, you will make mistakes.

Even myself- the very first time I boondocked, I did it wrong, LOL! In Quartzsite, Arizona, I accidentally parked in an LTVA (long-term visitor area).

You aren't allowed to stay without a paid permit. I only knew because I got a warning sticker on my RV. Oops! So, I moved and successfully landed on BLM land.

This is everything you need to know to boondock comfortably, including unique insider tips!

Of course, I eventually got the hang of things, and I've been boondocking full-time ever since!

So, I created this article to provide you with all the ammunition you need so you can have an educated and enjoyable first boondocking experience!

Here you will learn everything you need to know to boondock, including unique insider tips. Let's dive in.

Why Not Just Stay At A Campground?

Sedona Arizona boondocking

What is boondocking camping?

It's camping without hookups on public land. If you ask me, boondocking is WAY better than campground camping.

I may be slightly biased since I love it and I do it full-time, but here's my reasoning plus some facts.

It's free camping. It's freedom. It offers the best views. You get serenity. You get wildlife/nature with dispersed camping/boondocking.

But for you skeptics, let's go over in detail why boondocking is so rad.

Boondocking Pros

I (and Marshall) ONLY boondock. There have been infrequent occasions when we have had to (or chose to for SOME dumb reason, heh) stay in a campground.

The last time I paid for a site was in 2017 when visiting Olympic National Park.

You virtually can't stay anywhere in that park for free. So I had no choice.

Here are some RV boondocking pros:

  • Views: Boondocking offers you the most beautiful views available in the country. You're going to get MUCH better views boondocking than you will in a campground.
  • Savings: Boondocking is free camping! You can't beat that price.
  • Privacy: With nobody around you in many spots, you have the option to wear only your birthday suit or to let your dogs (or cats) run around off-leash (while supervised, please).
  • Hiking: Often, there's a trailhead close by. Or you can start walking from camp for an incredible hike or walk.
  • Quiet: Boondocking isn't always totally peaceful, but odds are it will be MUCH quieter than a campground.
  • Nature Abounds: Well, getting into nature is pretty easy as you're usually in the middle of it when boondocking.
  • Conservation: Boondocking helps teach conservation as you have to conserve your power, water and deal with your trash. It opens your eyes to how much we waste in the world, which IS a good thing.
  • Beneficial For Kids: Get your kiddos away from the city and (hopefully) off the devices and introduce them to more nature.
  • Freedom: You don't have to make reservations to stay, so your plans can be totally Jell-O.

Boondocking Cons

Ok, ok, so it's not ALL rainbows and kittens. (Just mostly, heh.)

  • Terrain may not allow your RV to go there
  • Can be dirty/dusty
  • Usually at least 30 min from towns
  • Must be self-sufficient
  • Need to be able to charge your batteries and understand your 12-volt system
  • Muddy/dirty when raining
  • Sometimes challenging to stay climate-comfortable
  • Can't stay over the stay limit in the area
  • Some spots may not be big enough for RV boondocking

Stuff like that. Let's look at the good parts of park stays.

Campground Pros

Kelly's rig in campground

Even though I am a serial boondocker, I'm reasonable. I'll admit that campgrounds have their pros as well.

(Though not NEARLY enough for me to go there willingly.)

  • Hookups: Many campgrounds have power, water, and sewer hookups which is  easier than camping without any.
  • Proximity to Town: If you want to camp but still do things in town, campgrounds win. (This one is a massive plus in my eyes, but only because I am full-time.)
  • Cleanliness: It's much easier to keep your RV (and yourselves) clean when living in town on a concrete pad. Dispersed camping can be dusty. (But you're complaining?? Come on- It's smaller than one of the rooms in your house!)
  • Amenities: Some campgrounds offer amenities such as hot tubs, pools, laundry, playgrounds, etc.
  • Sense of Security: This one is a reach IMHO. That's all it is- a 'sense' of security. You're safer out on public land by far.
  • Length of Stay: You can stay much longer than you can in most boondocking locations. (Boondocking = 2 weeks maximum stay on average.)

Campground Cons

I could go nuts here. I'll try to hold back. Just for you.

  • Loud
  • (Often) can't pick your site
  • Views of other RVs (yay!)
  • So many rules
  • Having to check in/deal with reception
  • Karen's (lol)
  • Not free camping
  • Loud children
  • Annoying neighbors
  • Dogs barking all day
  • Bright lights at night
  • Needing to have reservations/to plan ahead on dates of arrival and departure
  • Possibly can't get a reservation if you don't plan in enough time.

In essence, you're PAYING for noise, neighbors, rules, and power (none of which you don't need if you're self sufficient)!

Where Can I Find RV Boondocking?

You can find most boondocking/dispersed camping on our public lands. The majority of these lands are in the West.

(What is dispersed camping? It's the same as boondocking.)

You can find spots in the East, but choices don't even come close to matching the availability in the West.

Be aware that most RV boondocking out West will be at least 20 minutes from any decent city or town. And much of it will be BLM boondocking.

What Website/Apps Can I Use To Find Boondocking?

I use primarily one app for finding spots. That app is Campendium and currently only available for iOS devices. (They have a website too: Campendium.com)

Campendium logo

Why is it so good? It's a crowd-sourced site.

The personal reviews and photos users provide make it superior to any other site/app out there.

There is simply no better resource for finding boondocking locations than Campendium.

Users review the spots and upload photos and other information (including cellular service) about the area.

You get to read the good and the bad about wherever you are considering camping before you go.

It's the most complete, comprehensive resource we have seen to find as MUCH information as possible about potential dispersed camping sites.

They review campgrounds and RV parks as well.

If you want to find boondocking spots, just hit 'free' on their price filter.

More recently, they have started giving 360-degree tours of spots (via YouTube 360º videos), so you can literally 'drive-in' online and see the sites, the road in, etc.

There is simply no better resource for finding boondocking than Campendium. Others sometimes have info on spots that aren't on Campendium. 

Often they lack details of the ins and outs of the spots.  (Such as can RVs fit there or turn around, etc.)

Use at your own risk, LOL:

  • AllStays Camp And RV (app)
  • FreeCampsites.net (website and app)
  • Google Maps Satellite View (You can look for campsites along dirt roads that are on public land.)
  • iOverlander (app)

Differences Between RV Boondocking On Public Land And Boondocking At A Long Term Visitor Area

Government Wash Lake Mead

Free camping public land. Lake Meade, Nevada

  • What Is Boondocking? It's free camping on public land and always has a duration limit.
  • LTVA- (Long-Term Visitors Area) this is also public land, but you must pay. Paying allows you to stay for a MUCH longer time. (7 months.)

LTVAs only exist in southern Arizona and southern California. RV boondocking on public land can be found almost all around the USA, but primarily out West.

Both free public land camping and LTVA's are dry camping experiences. An LTVA will more than likely be crowded.

When boondocking, you can find places where there's hardly anyone else around, or there is much more space for people to park away from each other.

For example (free boondocking), see the photo above.

What's The Difference Between Boondocking, Dispersed Camping, and Dry Camping?

These three terms are kind of interchangeable but also not. What is boondocking versus dry camping versus dispersed camping?

What is Boondocking? Usually, is a term saved for camping in remote places. But it also implies camping without hookups.

It's true off-grid camping.

What is Dry Camping? Technically, this means 'camping without hookups'.

If you are staying in a campground and there are no hookups, you are still RV 'dry camping'.

What Is Dispersed Camping? This means pretty much the same thing as boondocking.

Not in a campground, no utilities. It is the term the US Forest Service uses for 'boondocking.'

Kanab Utah boondocking

Boondocking- camping out in the wild. No utilities ever.

Navajo National Monument campground

Dry Camping- in a campground without utilities.

It's not 'correct' to say you are boondocking or dispersed camping if you are in a campground without hookups.

But you COULD be boondocking and also call it dry camping (though it's implied) because there is no boondocking WITH external hookups. 

(Your generator doesn't count as a 'hookup' here.) 'Cause ya know, nature doesn't provide spigots or outlets.

Primitive camping and wild camping are other terms often used for RV boondocking.

Where Exactly Can You Boondock On Public Land?

So you see that there's a lot of BLM (Bureau of Land Management)land out West. How do you know where you are allowed to camp?

First, use Campendium for reference to find the road into an area. The coordinates Campendium gives for a location is often the entrance to that particular spot.

It's up to you to find a legit camping spot.

Stick to existing roads. The reality of it is that there's lots of lands out there. But not so many places to RV camp.

Can you park wherever you want? Absolutely not.

Public land has rules. Yes, there's a lot of land. No, you can't park just anywhere.

Sadly, if that were allowed, humans would quickly destroy the landscape.

Instead, you are only allowed to park in areas that have been previously used for camping.

This means apparent tracks/road, a fire pit, and any other reasonable/obvious sign people have parked there.

Stick to existing roads. The reality is that there's lots of land out there, but not so many places to camp. 

Moving Day Considerations

There are things you need to plan (ahead of time) for moving day.

Failing to plan these things can mean a very aggravating day.

Moving Day Planning:

  • Check the weather
  • Plan where to dump your tanks, get fresh water and buy propane (if necessary)
  • Figure out where you'll get gas. (Use Google Satellite to see how big a station is and Street View for potential access issues.)
  • Plan your route
  • Figure out drive time
  • Find out if there are any route height restrictions
  • Look for road closures
  • Determine the sunset time at your destination keeping potential time zone changes in mind. (You do NOT want to arrive at a dispersed camping location after dark!)
Yuma Arizona weather

Check Weather

Yuma Arizona sunrise sunset times

Check Sunset Time

Google Maps Kingman to Yuma AZ

Plan Your Route

Scout Your Spot

I HIGHLY recommend scouting your spot. That is unless you're coming into a wide-open area like Quartzsite, Arizona.

You CAN use Google Maps satellite view to at least preview the road in. With it, you can sometimes see if there are places to turn around or not and how many spots are in the area.

Even if there are many dispersed camping spots, you could arrive, and they are ALL taken.

This is often the case on Forest Road 525 in Sedona. The spots are small, they are often full, and you don't have a good place to turn around but in one of these spots.

(There's usually enough room to do so, though.)

Just be aware that you DON'T want to get caught in a place where you have to back up for a mile or more (or less) to get out of where you just drove in.

NO FUN.

It's best to have a toad if you are driving a motorhome. Or a motorbike or even a bicycle. If you are pulling a trailer, you can unhitch somewhere safe and then go scout.

Insider Boondocking Rules/Etiquette

Ok, now you have scouted a primitive camping spot, and you're ready to drive in.

Before you go and park, there may seem to be no rules 'out there' when camping on public land.

Of course, there ARE rules, but there are also 'unspoken' boondocking rules. We won't cover the written rules that a ranger can enforce.

We are talking about the unspoken rules you may not be aware of:

How Not To Be 'That Jerk' When Boondocking

  • DO NOT bring your contractor generator. Only the quietest RV generators while boondocking. Seriously.
  • Don't park right next to someone (or even mildly close) when there is PLENTY of room elsewhere. Nobody wants close neighbors when boondocking. It's called personal space, and yes, it exists on public land. (Your personal body bubble doesn't disappear because you are on public land, does it? Of course not.) Often when you see a cluster, the people in that group know each other already.
  • No blaring your music. Unless you're deaf, that's not necessary. It's a bit rude. Also, sound tends to travel in open spaces. Also, watch what you are saying!
  • Don't leave barking dogs at home in your RV all day. If they are going to bark while you are away, don't bring them.
  • Nobody wants your dogs running up into their camp, peeing and pooping all over the place. (Yes, this happens.) It's OK for them to be off-leash, but please keep them in YOUR camp at all times.  Your dog(s), your responsibility.
  • Generators off at a reasonable night-time and don't start them at 6 am, please. Give people considerate "quiet hours".  Even inverter generator noise will carry a surprising distance.
  • This one should go without saying, but people are doing it all over the place, and it's disgusting. DO NOT crap outside without digging a cathole at least 6 inches deep. Bury that s*** deep IF it is allowed in the area. And take your used TP with you (pack it out) in a plastic bag.

That's a good starter package for you on ways not to be 'that guy/gal'.

Parking/Angling Considerations

There are more things to consider when parking other than not parking on top of someone.

Here are more things you should consider when positioning your RV while primitive camping.

Things To Consider When You're About To Park:

  • Views- If possible, it's nice to park to have the best views out the window you use the most.
  • Be considerate- if there's an obvious gorgeous view people are parked to see, don't park right in front of them, blocking their view. That's not cool.
  • Watch the slope- You may not be able to park for the best view. If you have an absorption refrigerator (most RVs do), you have to be level. This may determine precisely where and the angle of where you park.
  • Solar- if your solar panels tilt or get blocked by shade from various utilities on your roof, angle so you get the best solar for most of the day. This may trump your view.
  • Summertime- you may need to park so that your awning gives you the most shade during the day to help keep temps down. During the summer, this might trump views and solar needs.
  • Give Space- Again, if there is plenty of room, do NOT park right next to, or even fairly close to other people. They don't want neighbors. You're safe out there 'alone.' You're likely safer NOT parking on top of someone.
  • Washes- Don't park in a wash. In the event of rain, even if it doesn't rain right where you are, the wash could flood.
  • Cellular- If you need cellular service, test it when you are scouting. Or test it before you get all set up. It may be way better, just 1/2 mile down the road.

Two Of The Best Boondocking Tips Ever

You don't see these two mentioned often. However, they each can save your life or hours of frustration when primitive camping!

1. If you aren't already sharing your location with someone you trust, share your location, ESPECIALLY if you are remote camping in the middle of nowhere.

2. If you are in an unlit area, and you VERY likely are if you are RV boondocking, listen very, very carefully:

DROP A GOOGLE MAPS PIN WHERE YOUR RV IS PARKED!

I repeat:

DROP A FREAKING PIN WHERE YOUR RV IS PARKED!!!

If you fail to do this and you leave and come back after dark, well, you may have a tough time finding where your RV is.

It may be obvious where you are parked, depending on the area.

But if you are in a wide-open area with little to no roads showing you in, you could be in trouble. Just do it.

RV Power Needs (Recharging Your Batteries)

You can get power in one of two ways when boondocking:

  • Solar
  • Generator
Las Cienegas Boondocking

My single 100-watt solar panel did the job OK for my first year on the road. Barely.

Without one or both of these, you cannot keep your batteries charged (batteries are your power) while boondocking.

If you have a motorhome, there's an excellent chance your RV comes with a built-in generator.

If you have a trailer or don't have a built-in generator, you will need a portable generator or plenty of solar.

What size generator or solar+battery bank you will need is outside the scope of this article. Google will help you there.

You don't want to have to depend on having your generator on ALL DAY for power needs. This is no fun for those around you, not to mention for YOU.

Dispersed camping is half about getting out there in nature and enjoying the peace and serenity.

Having a generator drone on the whole time defeats that purpose.

It would be best if you had a battery bank that can sustain you for at LEAST a day before going below 50% charge. (For typical lead-acid batteries.)

You might be able to get away with portable solar power.

How Long Can I Stay?

This is a great question.

Once again, the availability of online resources makes finding the answer to this question much easier than before.

If you are using Campendium, it most likely will list how many days you can stay in a particular primitive camping area.

Which is VERY nice, and it's what I mostly use. If Campendium doesn't list the stay limit, look around the entry road for signs.

Often the BLM/National Forest/State Trust Land signposts will declare the stay limit.

If they don't have a stay limit listed, you need to find out what type of land you are on.

Is it National Forest, BLM, State Trust Land, or what? (Usually, there is SOME sign around with this info.)

Then hit the Internet. Look for a ranger station if you are in a National Forest, and look for a BLM office if you are on BLM.

You can search for them by doing a Google maps search around where you are. Then call or visit the station and ask.

Finding, Conserving, And Refilling Water

Water is a resource you can go through VERY quickly when primitive camping.

To save, you have to be very diligent and change how you usually consume water.

Conserving Water

You're going to have to learn to do things a bit differently. (Even if they seem to go against everything society has taught you about 'cleanliness'.)

Trust me.  You can get away with using WAY less water than you normally do.

Cooking/dishes and showering are the two biggest water hogs.

No need to fret. We are going to give you tips on how to use less.

Kelly's kitchen faucet running

Here are some ways to conserve water:

  • Lick your plates. I'm serious. No one is watching! Or let your dog lick your plates.
  • Use a dish bowl full of water to keep dirty dishes in so food doesn't dry on them.
  • Shower once every few days. In the West, this is not an issue. No humidity = no sweat.
  • You can sponge clean the 'dirty' areas. (Pits and bits.)
  • NEVER let water run when it's not performing a 'job.'
  • When showering, catch the water that hasn't warmed up. You can use it for dishwater or flushing the toilet, etc.
  • Get a composting toilet.
  • Get water bags or a large bladder and fill them up when you fill your RV. This way, you can replenish your supply without moving your RV.
  • Make meals and freeze before you hit the road. Saves tons of dishwater. Just heat and eat!

Showering

Ok, so I mentioned not showering every day. And I mentioned sponge-bath type bathing for your pits and 'bits.' 

Most full-time boondockers only shower about once or twice a week, on average. No, we don't smell. And guess what?

My skin is in better shape than it has ever been.

Soap strips you of your natural oils. My face is not NEARLY as oily now that I don't wash it every day.

So, here's what you need to do when showering.

To conserve water, you should get a very low flow RV shower head. Also, get a shut-off switch.

OTHER THAN the one that comes with your new shower head. (These products are listed at the very bottom of this post for your convenience.)

The on-off valves that come with showerheads will dribble when in the 'off' position.  This causes the water to turn cold or hot when you turn it back on.

We recommend you get an actual shut-off switch. No more annoying dribble. No more temperature changes.

When taking a shower, you can't let the water run unless it's rinsing something. It wastes too much water.

That's about it for showering.

Doing Dishes

We also touched on this a bit earlier.

Lick your plate. Let your dog lick the plate. (But YES, wash it after, LOL!)

Heck, I will even lick a plate in a restaurant if the food was good enough.

OR, get paper plates and utensils that don't need washing. However, this does increase the amount of trash you create and manage.

Kelly licking plate

 I'm shameless.

(I actually sometimes even lick my paper plate and re-use it. Not kidding.)

Did I say that out loud? Oh well. I do, so... (And yes, Marshall is suspicious of the paper plates when he comes over for a meal.)

Keep your dishes in a water-filled container in the sink if possible. Dried-on food takes a lot longer to clean.

Line what you can with tin foil or wax paper when cooking. Then remove the tin foil/paper when done and throw it away, leaving your cooking container clean!

Finding Water

There are multiple places you can go to refill your tank or water containers.

Here are a few places you are likely to find sources of water:

  • Gas station spigot (ask before using)
  • Campgrounds
  • Dump stations that have potable water
  • City parks
  • Fairgrounds (ask before using)
  • Rest stops
  • If you boondock a lot, you will get good at keeping an eye out for spigots that may be available for use

Refilling Water

You may stay longer than your water supply can last any time you are remote camping. It can happen even with the best of conservation methods.

Sure, you can drive your RV to the nearest water spigot, but who wants to do that? You have to break your entire camp to do so.

Instead, if you have a toad with cargo space, get yourself a large water bladder.   Fill it at the water spigot and bring it back to camp. Using a portable pump, you can pump it right into your RV.

If you have a smaller vehicle without ample cargo space, you can also use collapsible water bags or jugs.

Fill the 5-gallon bag(s) or hard-sided containers at a potable water source. 

Bring them back to camp and fill by using a water pump or by simply dumping the water right into your rig.

Again, you can bring the water with you to camp if you don't have a toad. Fill the bags when you fill your RV.

(Given that you have a place to put them while on your way to your dispersed camping spot. The bags are notorious for eventually leaking.)

Dumping Your Holding Tanks

Well, this is something you mostly can't get around unless you have a composting toilet and don't put water down into a grey tank.

So you're going to have to get over it! If you have a regular RV toilet, you're making sewage.

You can't just dump raw sewage anywhere. (Gross, people!) It must be dumped into a proper receptacle.

Finding Dump Stations

  • Call nearby campgrounds - both private and public
  • Use Campendium (Filter for dump stations)
  • Sanidumps website
  • AllStays App- shows mostly campground dumps though
  • Truck Stop Apps (Lowe's, Flying J, etc)
  • City parks (some have dump stations)
  • Rest areas (certain states will have RV dump stations at rest areas)

When dumping your tanks, dump the black tank first. Then the grey tank.

This way, the grey water 'rinses' out the black tank 'residue'. Sure, the grey water is still gross, but which is worse?

If you said black (sewage), you are correct. If you said grey (dish/shower water), what is wrong with you??

RV Boondocking Safety

Let's stop this madness and concern about 'bad people' when you're camping on public land once and for all.

YOU'RE SAFER FROM PEOPLE 'OUT THERE' BOONDOCKING THAN YOU ARE IN ANY TOWN/CITY/CAMPGROUND.

It's true.

Kelly running scared Quartzsite

LOOK OUT! That bush totally looks suspicious.

You probably think that you will be out of range of help and that people 'out there' will want to get you or rob you. This is 100% not accurate. How do I know? Read on...

No criminals will drive miles and miles to look for some camper people are likely just vacationing in.

What are they going to get? Clothes? Food? Maybe a computer if they are lucky? Think about it. Not worth it.

Criminals are lazy, and they need a lot of low-lying fruit. That means lots of people and lots of opportunities, which means cities.

I often don't lock my RV when I go for a walk. Or I may leave my truck unlocked all night.

This is unheard of in a city. There I don't dare leave my truck unlocked.

Case in point - recently, friends of ours stayed in an urban RV park after spending a month out in the middle of nowhere.

They didn't lock their truck because they were so used to not locking it while staying out in the boonies.

The first night in the RV park, someone rifled through the truck. This is an extremely rare event when you are boondocking.

As far as safety goes, don't worry about other people. Worry about real fears such as getting hurt or stuck somewhere without anyone around to help.

You're probably still afraid of dispersed camping if you have never done it. This is perfectly natural. You can stop worrying about 'bad people.'

Worry about YOU doing something dumb that could injure you or even cost you your life like this accident could have done to Marshall.

That's a much more realistic scenario.

RV Boondocking Safety Measures:

  • Let someone know where you are going to be and when you will be back.
  • If you are going to park TOTALLY remote and there are NO other people around, be sure to keep your phone on you at ALL TIMES, especially if you are solo. Share your location with friends/loved ones if you are in an area with cell reception.
  • If you are going to go alone on hikes or park alone with no cell service, get yourself a satellite tracker. One that doesn't need cellular service to track you, get one that uses satellite. It might just save your life.
  • Bear spray- get this and keep it handy in bear country.
  • Never leave food outside overnight.
  • Enjoy! Don't be paranoid. It will ruin your trip. There's nothing to be worried about as far as other people go. However, YOU could be your worst enemy if you don't do your due diligence. (But you're doing it now, so congrats on that!)
  • Again, PIN the location of your RV in Google Maps, so that you can find it at night.

Boondocking With Pets

One thing that can make your boondocking experience even more fulfilling is to bring along man's best friend. (Or your cat.)

While it can be a fantastic time for you and your pet, some concerns go along with having your pet with you.

Here are some things you need to think about for their safety.

Temperature Issues

Gizmo at Utah Lake

With pets, the biggest concern when primitive camping is usually heat. Full-timing boondockers chase elevation in the summer to get out of the hottest areas.

Still, there can be days hot enough to put your pet in danger in an enclosed RV if it starts rising above 70 degrees or so.

Even if you have the ability to run your air conditioner while boondocking, don't rely on it while you are away unless you have a temperature monitor such as the MarCELL.

This way, you will be alerted if the temperature goes above your set temperature so you can come home immediately. (Your A/C could fail while you're away.)

Keep vents open and turn the roof vent fan on. Crack windows if you can. Know how hot your RV gets at 'X' outside temperature before leaving pets inside on a hot day.

Either bring them with you if you have to leave during hot hours or don't leave your RV and leave it wide open. 

Traveling With Your Pets

Do not leave your pet in the trailer while you travel. Bring them into the tow vehicle with you, so you know how they are doing.

Know how your pets do while traveling and make your travel days as comfortable for them as possible.

Kelly at Muley Point Utah

Other Pet Considerations:

  • Make sure you bring your pets' essential medications and any prescription foods they eat.
  • Keep a close watch on your pets when boondocking. They can get lost, and the coyotes are ready for an easy meal.
  • Get your pets used to your RV at home before you take your trip. This way, they are less likely to get separation anxiety while you are away from the RV when you can't bring them with you.
  • Certain areas do not allow dogs (Hikes, etc.). It's up to you to do your due diligence and know if you are allowed to bring Fido or not.
  • Oh, and PICK UP or BURY your dog's poop!!!! Don't be that jerk trashing up sites, please.
  • This should go without saying, but get your pets microchipped and have your contact info on their collar.

Heat And Air Conditioning

Heat is pretty easy to get in an RV. You likely have a propane furnace.

You can supplement it or replace it with a portable propane heater such as a Buddy Heater or Wave Heater.

You don't want to use an electric heater. Why? Because you will have to run the generator the whole time you are using it.

You likely aren't going to be able to your rig's air conditioning. Why?

Again, because you will have to be running your onboard generator to use it. Maybe you CAN, but if it's scorching, do you want to run the genny all day long?

Almost NO-ONE has enough of a battery bank to run an A/C for any meaningful amount of time.

Your portable generator also may not be able to produce enough power to turn on and run your A/C.

This is why it's best to go up in elevation in the summertime. Cooler during the day and while you are trying to sleep.

Try to park so your awning faces South or West to help reduce the heat. Or only go camping during Spring and Fall when the temps are milder.

Especially if you want to bring pets along.

Cellular Service

Working and staying connected while boondocking/primitive camping is very doable.

I have been boondocking full-time since January of 2016. I ONLY park where I have service.

Kelly hiking in Colorado

This is just an example of the many stunning places you can see when boondocking. This is Colorado.

If I can do it this long, you can find a place for a few weeks.

It's not a bad idea to have more than one cellular provider if you are going to boondock full-time.

If you want to do it for a week or weekend, you are probably fine having just your phone and possibly using it as a hotspot.

There are service maps (apps) out there, but are they reliable? Not from my nor Marshall's experience. Not 100%.

Campendium now has a coverage map overlay on their website (not the app) for those who support the site with donations. This helps save you a step of looking at another site.

Even better than using a coverage map, Campendium users often report how good reception was at any particular primitive camping site with any specific provider.

You can get yourself a cell booster. It may or may not help. Personally, I have been successfully full-time dispersed camping since January of 2016 without one.

For more in-depth information about getting a service provider and the tools you may need for getting service while boondocking, check out the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.

Mobile Internet Resource Center

Disposing Of Your Trash

You might think that you won't make much trash while camping. Think again. You will.

Here are some ways to reduce trash and information on where you put the trash you do have.

Utah Lake trash pickup pile

Minimize Your Trash

Trash is an unfortunate side effect of being a human in our society. The more you boondock, the more aware you will be of how much waste we create as a society.

Much of the trash produced when RV boondocking comes from food packaging.

There are things you can do to minimize your trash.

Minimizing Ideas:

  • Buy mostly fresh foods. Bring reusable bags to put it in.
  • Bring your reusable grocery bags for carrying items.
  • Take processed foods that you can out of the packaging and throw it away at the grocery store while you're still there. This also saves room in your pantry/fridge.
  • Burn the trash that will burn (and isn't toxic to burn).

Trash Storage

If you are staying long enough to accumulate more than one trash can full, I recommend having a place outside your living area to store it.

I use a foldable/pop-up trash can in my truck bed. You should store it somewhere that bears/coyotes can't smell it or get into it.

You might have room in your motorhome basement. Or, if you have a toad, you can put it in a sealed container in there.

Where To Dump Your Trash

Line of dumpsters Quartzsite

Finding places to dump your trash is challenging.

The most proper way to do so is to find the local dump/transfer station. If you can find it, by all means, head there.

Some people dump their SMALL trash bags at a gas station when they fill up. Others find open dumpsters.

Some go to nearby campgrounds and use the dumpsters there.

There are garbage cans everywhere in towns and cities. Or, keep your trash and throw it in your trash bins when you get home.

If you stay out long enough, be sure you have somewhere to put your trash in the meantime, so it doesn't stink up your living quarters!

Does Size Matter?

Bayfield Colorado boondocking

The simple answer is yes - Your RV size matters when it comes to dispersed camping.

The larger your rig is, the more limited you will be in choices of remote camping locations.

The longer you are and the heavier you are, the more likely you are to get stuck or not fit. Taller RVs such as Class A motorhomes will sometimes have height issues.

Check boondocking location reviews for evidence of whether you will or won't fit. Some camping spots are limited to vans and tent sizes.

It just depends on where you want to go. But always check ahead of time by reading reviews carefully if you are a large rig.

I have a 24-foot travel trailer. In total length (including truck) I am pretty long. Unfortunately, I've been limited before.

Sometimes by lack of power (before I had four-wheel drive and a bigger engine), sometimes by height, sometimes by length.

Each boondocking spot is different.

So if you are still in the market for an RV and you know you want to boondock a lot, stay as small as you can.

How small is small? As a rule of thumb,  try to keep your trailer under 25' or so, and with a motorhome, under 30'.

Larger rigs won't have as many options. You will limit yourself somewhat the larger you go.

It's all about compromise.

Leave No Trace

Hiking Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area Kingman AZ

We should strive to make the places we stay better than we found them.

With this principle in mind, here are some actual rules as well as unspoken words of advice:

  • Pack it in and out
  • Use existing roads only
  • Don't dump your grey tank (it goes without saying, NEVER dump your black tank!)
  • Fires- put them out COMPLETELY
  • Pick up your dog's poo (AND your own, or bury it 6 inches deep)
  • If you dig a hole to help get your rig level, fill it back in before you leave
  • In general, leave the area better than you found it when possible
  • Pick up trash around your site. EVEN if it's not yours.

Great RV Boondocking Tools

Here are some things that are very helpful when boondocking. Heck, a lot of them are also great for when you're in a campground, sure.

But dispersed camping? Even better.

Mr. Heater Buddy Heater

THIS is one of my all-time favorite purchases. My Buddy (just replaced with a Wave 8 heater for testing) was plumbed into my RV's propane system.

This saves you time and money on buying and possibly refilling the small green propane bottles.

The heat this sucker puts out is TREMENDOUS. It's great for quickly heating your place.

You can get the Big Buddy (pictured) or the regular Buddy. They come in various sizes.


Wave Heater

The Wave Heater comes in three sizes, the 3, 6, and 8.

I now have a Wave 8 in my 24' RV.It's overkill for my RV. So far, I think I prefer my Big Buddy.

I like it to get warm FAST, and I like being able to stand in front of my heater and feel the heat rising to warm my front.

The Wave is a radiant heater, so it heats objects, not the air.


Andersen Levelers

There are no other levelers that can make leveling your RV so easy. 

Combined with the Level Mate Pro, even if you are solo, you can get set up and level without getting in and out, in and out, again and again, to see if you're level.


Level Mate Pro

This makes leveling a dream. If you aren't solo, you can have your partner help you know when you are level. But if you tend to rip each other's heads off when setting up, this can help.

It tells you when you are level by simply looking at the app on your phone.

No more in and out of your vehicle  to check for level. Perfection.


CGear Sand Mat

Want a mat that sand doesn't stay on AND can double as a shade? Here you go.

It has two colors to choose from, but each one has different colors on each side, so you can choose based on your mood that day what color you want showing.

Also, no goofy patterns with this mat.


Rubber Wheel Chocks

You need to make sure your RV doesn't roll when you're primitive camping.

I have one set of these chocks, and Marshall got himself two, just for extra protection.

You pretty much cannot move your RV with these under the tires. 

The little yellow chocks? Girl, please.


MarCELL and Trixie

Discount Code: CAMP20

MarCELL Temperature Reader

For you pet owners... this can be a lifesaver for your pet.

For $20 off, enter discount code= CAMP20

Click here to shop MarCELL.

It uses its own cellular connection to keep you informed about what the temps are in your RV.

This gives you TOTAL piece of mind that your pets won't overheat.


Oxygenics Body Spa Shower Head

You're going to need to save water.

The Oxygenics brand has one of the lowest GPM (gallon per minute) showerheads out there.

They also have a more expensive model called the Fury that allows you to change the spray pattern.

This, combined with the shut-off valve below, are non-negotiable for boondocking.


Water Shut-Off Valve

Sure, the shower head that came stock  in your RV and even your Oxygenics showerhead have 'low flow' buttons.

But they don't stop the water totally, which is SO annoying, as well as wasteful.

Not to mention when you turn the water back on, it is often freezing or scalding.

Get this valve which will TOTALLY stop the flow.

RV life-changing.


Instant Pot

Y'all, I don't cook much.

But ALL of my friends who do love this thing. It makes meals quickly and with very little electricity, so it's great for energy conservation when cooking.

Get one and make me something.


Yamaha Inverter Generator

I have this and now also a WEN generator, so I can use them in parallel and use my air conditioner.

But often, I only need to use one generator. It's good to have one to charge your batteries or to use your 120-volt appliances.


Refrigerator Bars

If you are going down dirt roads, TRUST me... your stuff will go flying.

Stuff that stayed when you were on the pavement will jump out of your fridge when you open it if you don't restrain it with some bars.

Easy to put in, easy to get out. No clean-up necessary.


Portable Solar Panel(s)

If you don't have rooftop solar yet, portable solar panels may be for you. Especially if you have a smaller setup, like me.

You can connect a panel directly to your battery bank and put it to work. 

It saves you from using your generator, keeps the peace, and you're not wasting gas.


Headlamp

After tripping over my solar panel one night in 2016, I made a new rule.

No going out into the dark without a light source!!!

I have stuck to it and haven't had an accident since. This is especially useful because it's hands-off.


LED Lights

This was one of the very first mods I did in my trailer.

I heard SO much about how much less power they use than the traditional bulbs, so it was non-negotiable.

Replacing them all will be a bit costly upfront, but your batteries will thank you.


In REACH Tracker

If you like to hike solo, or if you are just primitive camping solo in a rural area, this thing indeed could save your life.

Marshall got his finger stuck in between a tire and the leveler under it once. If no one was around, he 100% could have died there.

Get one of these if you have any doubts. Expensive, but what's your life worth?


Luci Lights

These are fun and useful solar lights.

They last a long time, and some change colors for a fun, festive look around the campfire.

I'd recommend getting this or some other solar light source.


UV Sleeves

If you need to stay out of the sun (i.e. skin cancer + aging) then these sleeves are a huge help.

I am out hiking quite often, and if it's summer, I do not want to wear long sleeves. So, I use my UV sleeves.

I don't go anywhere without them!

I've bought some off of Amazon before, but they didn't fit quite right.

The ones I got from O'Neill were the best. But I don't see them on the site anymore. They are pretty cheap on Amazon. 

Conclusion

Marshall Rig Quartzsite Sunset

There is much to know to boondock successfully. You should be armed with some basic knowledge about primitive camping before you try it.

This guide is an excellent start in getting you safely out there for the first time. Much of what you need to learn will be self-taught.

No website article can tell you precisely how many hours of full sun you need to re-charge your batteries.

No one can tell you just how hot it has to get outside for your RV temperature to rise above 90 degrees.

These are things you will learn with experience and are personal to your situation.

The best I can recommend that you do is find a place that is boondocker-friendly (an area such as Quartzsite, Arizona) and get out there and do it.

There are also many people boondocking in Q, so if you have questions or need help, you can easily find someone willing to help.

Have fun, enjoy it and say hi if you see me! (But don't park too close, LOL!)

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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  • Thanks! It’s good to read this again and refresh some of the tips from guru Kelly. We take a GPS tracker with us for use when we’re no longer have a cell signal.

    A conversation with our adult children:

    “Mom! Dad! We don’t like it when we don’t know where you are. We worry. We call one another asking if any of us have heard from you. You shouldn’t be doing that at your age.”

    “Ha!” I reply. “Now it’s your turn. Just think of it as payback for those years when you caused similar concern for your mother and me.”

    • Oh, I LOVE the payback angle!!! LOL!!

      And heck, I get nervous when my mom doesn’t answer the phone for one day. I go calling my sister to see if she’s talked to her!

      Anyway, at the same time, we’re very glad to hear you have a GPS tracker to use when you’re out of cell service range. You NEVER KNOW what can happen.

      Not fear mongering… just better to be safe than sorry.

      Cheers!

  • Kelly,
    You continue to provide good content and you are an excellent writer. I’m glad I had a chance to meet you and Marshall.
    Steve

    • Hi Steve,

      Well, thank you so much! Hopefully you picked up a tip or two from this one.

      And thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • I have just started boondocking and using all the awesome information I have gotten from you. Having such a great time! My dog loves it too lol. Thank you so much!

    • Hi Kathy!

      We are so excited for you just starting your boondocking experiences! And thank you so much for your kind words. They go a long way!

  • Important boondocking tips and resources that I wouldn’t have thought of. Your blogs are invaluable, thank you!

    • Hi Greg,

      You are more than welcome! We just appreciate you taking the time to make the nice comment. Well, and we hope you learned some good stuff from the article, too! Cheers!

  • On those smelly bits. Just as you’ve found your skin does better not showering every day, soap and water seems to be a great growing medium for bacteria, which is the cause of the odor. Within 12 hours of when I do shower my pits start to smell. Maybe this is why people ended up showering every day. So, as soon as any odor starts put isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a cotton pad and wipe down the pits and bitd.it kills the bacteria. I now find I can go 7 days without stinking.
    Poop. I poop directly into a plastic bag held open in the typical small wastebasket if not in an area where you can dig the 6″ hole. The reason for 6″ instead of deep is because the bacteria that breaks it down is mostly found in that top layer. One bag one poop. Stored outside until going somewhere to get rid of my trash. An additional benefit is it’s good exercise as you really can’t put all your weight on those flimsy wastebasket. LOL! I’m 72 and I can do it so get trying your core and glutes and thighs.

    • Hi Bob,

      Great tips- I cannot agree more on the exercise part! As an ex-personal trainer, I love to hear about your squatting. Knees out! Back flat! Sit back in your heels! Hee hee.

      Keep it up, thanks for the tips, and happy boondocking!

  • hi kelly…
    my friend Buzz suggested i park in Quartzsite for the winter 2019/20, and i did, i stayed at Quail Run. i was hoping to set up solar and try staying out in the desert this coming season, however, i just dont have enough confidence that I’ll be able to have a successful experience in doing so. i worry about heat, cooling, hauling propane tanks, the crazy weather that comes thru the area… etc.
    its more cost effective for the rent/fee, but sacrificing the security of a park might win. anyways, we’ll see what happens.

    • Hi Monique,

      Well, boondocking full-time is definitely a lot more work. It’s more cost effective, but at what price? Personally, I have loved it for about 5 years now. But it’s also getting old in a way. Staying cool in the heat, staying warm when it’s cold, trying to find a place that isn’t super crowded… it’s all a challenge for sure.

      I am looking at properties to be able to hunker down in, especially given that now we have a pandemic on our hands, and EVERYTHING has changed. Places have shut down, people aren’t welcome in certain places if they are out of state, etc.

      To do it or not do it is totally up to you. But keep in mind that the pandemic isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Or, ever.

  • Great guide! We’re full-time and boondock about 85% of the time, so we’ve encountered just about everything looking for that perfect free campsite. Trash removal probably is our biggest pain. Once we boondocked for 3 straight weeks and built up quite the garbage pile in the back of our truck. I tried to throw it away bit by bit at gas stations but finally bit the bullet and got a campground for 1 night just to use their dumpster!

    • Hey Bryan,

      Yes, trash removal is always a challenge for us boondockers! That’s a great idea to get a campsite for a night. Most of the boondockers I know do this not just for trash, but also to do laundry, take long showers, etc. It’s a great idea if it suits you! Thank you for the extra tip. : )

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