We love boondocking and sharing our knowledge and excitement for it with others! I know that there are a lot of people who don’t know much about boondocking so I wanted to write a complete guide to boondocking for beginners.
I have a lot of information to cover in this boondocking for beginners guide, but I hope this post is helpful and encourages you to try boondocking! Let’s jump right in!
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What is boondocking?
In case you are completely new to boondocking and what it is, I wanted to take a quick second to explain it to you.
The word “boondocking” comes from the word “boondocks” which refers to a rural or remote area. It is also referred to as “dry camping” and usually just means that you are camping in a remote area with little to no amenities.
You usually don’t have any hookups (which separates boondocking from developed campgrounds) and it is most often free campsites.
You may have also heard of the term “moochdocking” which is similar to boondocking. Moochdocking is more commonly used to refer to parking on a friend’s or family’s land. We always moochdock when we visit my family’s farm in Illinois.
Moochdocking usually means you don’t have hookups as well, but sometimes a family member will install electric hookups and more often than not, there is water available nearby.
I also consider staying in parking lots like Walmart and Cabela’s as moochdocking. We’ll talk more about this in a minute.
How can you prepare for boondocking?
You definitely need to be prepared before you go boondocking, especially if it is your first time. Here’s a few things you can do to prepare.
Make sure you have the essential items you’ll need for boondocking
I actually wrote an entire blog post on this subject called 11 Essential Items for Boondocking for Beginners in an RV. You can check that out for the full list and details on each item and what camping gear you’ll need.
Make sure you have a water supply or a plan for how to get water
We generally like to fill our water tanks before we head to a boondocking location. You can fill up at your RV park (if you’re staying at one) or you can find somewhere to fill up.
City parks and truck stops have been good places for us to get water when needed in the past. Just make sure that the water you’re getting is potable and safe. We have a 66-gallon tank on our 5th wheel that will last us for a while.
If you don’t want to fill your tanks in advance, you can use something to haul water. Our favorite thing to use for this is our water bladder which holds roughly 30 gallons of water. You can read more about it in this post.
Have a reliable power supply
Stock up on food
Boondocking locations are often pretty remote and far away from towns. We try to stock up on whatever food we will need before we reach our boondocking location so that we have everything we need.
We have a pretty large pantry that allows us to stock up on dry goods, and we stock our refrigerator and freezer before we leave as well. Side note – you can read about how I organized our RV pantry here.
Prep as much food in advance as you can
Not only do I like to stock up on food, but I also like to prep it. This saves water when we’re boondocking because we can wash fruits and veggies and also wash whatever dishes we use to do so.
I like to wash and cut up vegetables and fruit, trim chicken or whatever meat we have, and sometimes even make meals to put in the fridge or freezer to easily pull out and cook.
I also make sure that all dishes are washed, but I do this before every travel day anyways.
Scout out the area you plan to boondock in advance when you can
If you’re close enough to scout out the area in advance without your RV, that’s always best. We have found ourselves in some tight situations when we didn’t scout in advance.
Reading reviews online helps, but there are sometimes things that you can’t foresee. Popular boondocking locations can also fill up quickly so it’s always best to have a backup plan in case there’s not room for you or it’s not a good fit.
Obviously this isn’t always possible, but just keep it in mind and check the area in advance when you’re able. It’s also important to check your route as well.
Check the weather
Be sure and check the weather for where you’ll be camping and make sure there won’t be any issues. Most of the time you are going to be parking on dirt or sand and the last thing you want to happen is for you to get stuck!
If you’re parking right next to a river then you also need to be aware of possible flash floods during heavy rain and storms. Be prepared. Have a plan for what to do in bad weather situations and discuss it with the whole family so everyone knows what to do in advance.
Catch up on laundry in advance
Even if you have a washing machine in your rig, doing laundry uses a lot of precious water. It also fills up your grey tanks quickly so you want to avoid it when you can.
We like to stay at RV parks in-between boondocking locations to do laundry, dump our tanks, and be able to do a deep clean of the rig without worrying about water.
Check the cell service
Many digital nomads rely on cell service or internet for work. Be sure and check the coverage in the area where you plan to boondock and make sure that it’s strong enough for what you need.
Many people leave reviews including cell coverage for different carriers that can be helpful. We like to check the coverage on the Campendium app.
Many people also like to have a cell booster to help in areas where service is less than ideal. We don’t personally have one, but many RVers we know use and recommend the King booster.
Where can you go boondocking?
There are a lot of different places where boondocking is permitted. I will list some of the most common ones here.
Public lands are probably the most common and also our favorite locations for boondocking for beginners. They are usually dispersed camping. Sometimes sites will be large enough to hold several big rigs, and other sites are only big enough for van campers.
There is usually a 14-day limit for camping on public lands. Be sure and check the rules for the area you plan to stay in and don’t stay too long.
National forest service land
Unless there is a sign saying otherwise, you can usually camp anywhere in a national forest. We recommend checking at the local ranger station to find out where primitive camping is and isn’t allowed.
Rangers are also usually able to point out the best spots and let you know what forest access roads are ok for the size of your rig. You don’t want to get stuck if you have a big rig!
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land
BLM land is where we have probably done more boondocking than anywhere else. These lands are most commonly found in the west and are primarily in 12 states. Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Wildlife management areas
Another great option is wildlife management areas. One of our favorite boondocking spots in New Mexico is Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.
Obviously not all wildlife refuges are open to campers, to be sure and check before you go.
There are also boondocking memberships that you can be a part of. These are sometimes more like moochdocking, but they’re great options anyways. There are two that are the most common.
I have a ton of friends who use Harvest Hosts and I would guess that they are probably the most common boondocking for beginners membership. We haven’t tried them yet personally, but we are planning to soon. There usually aren’t any amenities but it’s a free and safe place to park and there are some neat locations!
Harvest Hosts currently has over 2,500 locations all across the United States. They are most commonly farms, wineries, museums, golf courses, etc., and allow you to stay for one night at each location unless the owner personally offers for you to stay longer.
A Harvest Hosts membership starts at $99/year without any discounts, but they offer discounts frequently. Staying at each location is free with your membership, but you are asked to purchase something from the locations that you stay at as a thank you for allowing you to stay.
Boondockers Welcome is a similar concept to Harvest Hosts, but it consists more of private property. You aren’t guaranteed to have any amenities, but 3 out of 4 Boondockers Welcome hosts usually have water and electric hookups.
A membership to Boondockers Welcome costs $50/year. Once again though, staying at each location is free with your membership. If you use electricity you are encouraged to leave a tip for your host but it is not required.
Always check with each store before you park for the night, but there’s a few locations that are usually welcoming to overnight parking.
- Truck stops
- Rest areas
- Bass Pro Shops
- Cracker Barrel
- Camping World
- Sam’s Club
- Home Depot
As I already mentioned, make sure to get permission from each location in advance. I usually call and ask before we get there. If a parking lot has “no overnight parking” signs posted, please follow them and find another place.
How can you find boondocking locations?
We get asked this question all the time and no boondocking for beginners guide would be complete without answering it! There’s a few different ways that we find the locations we boondock at.
The Campendium app
We use the Campendium app to find 80% of the places that we stay at. It’s our favorite boondocking for beginners app! There are thousands of free camping spots listed on the app. It shows RV parks and campgrounds as well but you can use filters to view just the free camping.
We love to check the reviews that people leave to find helpful information about each site. As mentioned above, there are also reviews letting you know what the cell coverage is for each location. It currently mentions Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
It’s also helpful for obtaining other information like what amenities are offered (if any), activities to do in the area, if the location is big rig friendly, if pets are allowed, and if there are any facilities like trash bins or restrooms on-site.
Word of mouth
One of my favorite ways to learn about new boondocking locations is by word of mouth! Stop by a local ranger station and they can usually provide you with a map and show you the best spots to camp around them.
Asking other local RVers if they know of any good boondocking spots is a great idea too. Sometimes they show you the best places that aren’t as popular and overrun!
I am honestly leery of even mentioning Facebook here because there are so many unkind people! But, being honest, it’s a good place to find boondocking spots as well.
There are several boondocking groups on facebook where people recommend locations and ask questions. Just be careful of all the crazies haha!
I love asking for boondocking recommendations on Instagram! Sometimes I will ask in a post but more commonly I do so in my Instagram stories.
If I have an IG friend who I know does a lot of boondocking then I will sometimes message them and ask if they have any recommendations for a particular area. I have also received quite a few messages like that myself and I’m always happy to pass on locations when we have them!
How do you manage not having hookups or amenities while boondocking?
This is what holds most people back from trying boondocking…the lack of comforting amenities. If you prepare in advance it’s really not bad!
As I mentioned earlier, we usually start with our 66-gallon freshwater tank filled. We haul water in our water bladder when needed and transfer it to our rig with a pump. Because of being able to haul water, it is our least concerning element when we’re boondocking.
You will want to make sure and always filter the water that you put into your RV. We use our Clearsource Ultra to purify and clean our water in both RV parks, and while we’re boondocking.
If you are near a river, lake, or other similar water source, you can also use the Clearsource Nomad to filter and pump water from nature right into your rig!
I am planning to write an entire blog post about how to save water while boondocking but for now here are a few small tips about how to save water.
- Use a water saving showerhead
- Use wet wipes in-between showers
- Rinse and wash dishes immediately to prevent food from getting stuck and needing more water
- Use disposable plates, bowls, and eating utensils
An important part of boondocking for beginners is to consider your power needs before you head out. There are usually 3 main components to consider with regards to boondocking and power.
We have a total of 8 solar panels on the roof of our rig that equal a total of 2,320 watts of power. Read our detailed blog post about our complete solar setup here.
Most RVs come with cheap deep-cycle RV batteries from the factory. These are ok if you’re planning to stay at RV parks all of the time but if you are wanting to boondock a lot you should consider upgrading.
They aren’t a cheap upgrade, but we recommend Battleborn batteries which are high-quality LiFePO4 lithium batteries. We added 4 of these to our rig and plan to add 2-4 more down the road.
Most boondockers carry a generator with them to recharge their batteries when needed or have backup power. We use ours when it’s been raining for several days or overcast and our solar isn’t pickup up enough sun.
You can use whatever generator you choose, but we use the Honda EU3000IS generator.
Managing your tanks
Our holding tanks are probably our biggest concern and what we are most conscious about when we are boondocking. If you’re not careful, your black and grey tanks can fill up fast!
Finding places to dump your tanks
Once again, we use the Campendium app for this. You can set the filters to show you nearby dump stations. Usually, these are at rest stops, gas stations, and roadside parks. We also have just waited and dumped our tanks at the next RV park before.
Be careful what you allow to go down the drain
If you’re worried about your black tank filling up too fast, consider putting your used toilet paper in a trash bin instead of putting it down in the tank. This will save some room and you also won’t need to flush as much water to break up the toilet paper as you usually would.
Some people chose to use portable outdoor showers to keep that water from ending up in their grey tank. We aren’t that extreme but it is an option. You could also stand in a bucket in the shower to catch some of the extra water. Some people even use that water to flush their toilet with.
I also like to wash dishes in my collapsible dish bucket. Whatever water is left in the bucket when I’m finished can easily be dumped outside.
What about boondocking with your pets?
Our 2 dogs love boondocking with us! They generally have more freedom when we’re boondocking than when we are at an RV park because there aren’t as many rules for them.
As long as there are no rules against it, we generally allow our dogs to be off-leash when there aren’t other campers close by. They love playing fetch and running to get the zoomies out!
If your dog is well-behaved and won’t run off, you can do the same. If there is a family camping close by with children, consider leashing your dog. Just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean that the kids won’t be scared of them.
Be mindful of extreme temperatures
If you’re boondocking in either extremely hot or cold temperatures, be extra mindful of your pet and their needs. If it’s very hot, then especially make sure they have access to all the water they want. We even like to give our dogs an ice cube for them to play with sometimes.
Don’t leave your pets alone in your RV for very long and be mindful when you do. A lot of National Parks don’t allow dogs so we try to explore those early in the day before it gets too hot for the dogs to be left alone.
Considering getting a dog in your RV? Check out this post with tips for raising a puppy in an RV.
Is boondocking safe?
Generally speaking, yes. We have only had one time when we felt unsafe and it was due to some teenagers messing around in the middle of the night.
Don’t stay in an unsafe area
This one seems like common sense, but if an area feels unsafe, just stay somewhere else. This is another reason why we like to read reviews…if someone felt unsafe in an area they will generally leave a review about it. Use your best judgment.
Keep your doors locked
Sometimes being alone out in nature feels peaceful and safe but it’s still best to always lock your doors. We upgraded our locks to Latch.It RV keyless entry locks which give me even more peace of mind.
Don’t forget to also lock your cargo bay area and secure bikes at night. We have friends who’s bikes have been stolen overnight. You can never be too careful!
Keep food locked up away from animals
Depending on where you’re at, the wildlife can be a concern. Bears and other wild animals can come searching for food, especially at night. Make sure to lock up any food you have in an area where it won’t attract wild animals.
Have some form of protection
This is obviously up to you and what you are most comfortable with. Do you research on different protection options and decide what’s best for you.
Stay in an area with cell service when possible
If you have a problem and need to make a call, having cell service will be very important. There are times when we chose to stay somewhere without cell service for a weekend or so but we always make a backup plan in case something goes wrong.
Have an emergency first aid kit
If you are staying in a more remote area then getting help during an emergency can take a while. Always keep a good first aid kit on hand to treat minor injuries as needed.
What is proper boondocking etiquette?
There’s a few things to keep in mind and follow to help make your boondocking experience better and also those camping around you.
Take your trash with you
There’s nothing that can ruin a boondocking spot faster than a ton of trash lying around. No one enjoys it so don’t do it! Be sure and take everything out with you that you brought in.
Also, please don’t just throw your trash in a fire pit. We often see empty cans, broken glass, and wires in fire pits. When you do that it just means that the people camping there next are going to have to clean up after you. Please be considerate!
Check the local fire rules and always put your fire completely out
Don’t be responsible for starting a wildfire! Please always check the local conditions and make sure there isn’t a fire ban before lighting a campfire or using a grill. If you do start a campfire, make sure it is 100% out before stepping away from it.
Sadly many wildfires are started every year from people ignoring fire bans or leaving their campfires before they’re completely out. Please don’t let this happen because of you!
Don’t be destructive
Once again, this should be common sense, but please don’t be destructive. Don’t chop down trees or pick wildflowers. Stay on the main roads and don’t go off-roading unless it’s posted that it is allowed.
Be considerate of other campers – especially at night
No one likes noisy campers at night haha! Be mindful of how late you run your generator. If you have neighbors close to you, don’t be loud at night. This is especially frustrating for those with small kids trying to sleep.
Anything else you should know about boondocking for beginners before you should go?
I’m glad you asked haha! Here’s a few final tips for you to consider.
Don’t arrive at your boondocking location after dark
This one is really important! There’s nothing quite as stressful as trying to set up camp in the dark, but especially when you’re boondocking. You need to arrive during daylight for your safety so you can see all of your surroundings and avoid any dangerous situations.
If you are too far away to make it before dark, consider stopping somewhere else along the route and finish the trip the next day. I really can’t stress this one enough, but please take my word for it!
Getting a spot at a popular location
Some locations are definitely more popular than others. Weekends usually fill up faster and sometimes it can be impossible to find a place to park!
Our best tip for avoiding this is to get to a popular location midmorning on a weekday. This is usually when most people leave and you’ll have the best chance of snagging an open spot.
You can also ask people if they will allow you to share their spot if you feel comfortable doing so and there’s enough room for two rigs.
I hope that you have found this guide to boondocking for beginners helpful! If you have any additional questions, drop a comment down below or shoot me an email.