Boondocking 101

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Are you ready to start RVing? Did you know there is more to RV camping than just hanging out in an RV park or campground? That’s right!! You can really explore nature in your RV with a little boondocking or dry camping. It is simply RV camping without hookups (so no water, no electricity, and no sewer). Before your first boodocking trip, you will need supplies and a few strategies to make it a success.


How to Handle Lack of Water

First up, let’s tackle RVing without a continuous fresh water connection.


When you are RVing without a water connection, you’ll need to fill up your freshwater tank. The size of the tank varies greatly. We have a 26ft travel trailer and have a 45 gallon freshwater tank. We have met folks with 100 gallon tanks!! You can up your fresh water tank at a campground (usually for a fee), rest area, and many other locations.


When you first start out, you might not know how long your fresh water will last you. If possible, conduct a few trial runs before your trip to get an idea of what you water needs are and if there are ways to extend your water supply.


It’s always a good idea to keep some extra water on-hand. You can purchase reusable water jugs or collapsible water bladders and fill them up when you fill up your fresh water tank.


Next up, How do you ensure you have enough water for all your needs?


Now that you have a full fresh water tank, how do you make it last?


All the fresh water you have will be used for dishwashing, hand washing, brushing your teeth, showering, and your toilet.


Most of us already know how to conserve water in our everyday life:

  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth and washing dishes

  • Military showers - initial rinse, turn off water, lather up, turn on water, rinse, get out.

  • Or use wipes instead

  • Use dry shampoo (do it outside so you don’t set off your carbon monoxide/propane alarm!)

  • Don’t fill up that toilet bowl! Use as little water as possible

  • If you wanna get a little hippie with it, use the old adage: “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”.

If you are really concerned about water usage and plan to boondock often, a compositing toilet might be a good fit for your family. I’ll address composting toilets when I discuss RVing without a sewer connection.



RVing without Electricity

I find RV electrical systems to be overly complicated, so I’m just going to hit the basics, remember this is Boondocking 101!!


All RVs come with a 12v battery (or a series of batteries) that will run the following when you RV is NOT connected to electricity:

  • Interior and exterior lights

  • RV roof vent fan

  • Propane heater

  • 12 volt outlet(s)

  • RV range hood fan

Some RV appliances won’t work when the RV is disconnected from electricity, but can run on propane:

  • RV refrigerator

  • Water heater

Your RV outlets will not work unless you have a solar system setup or a generator (motorhomes have on-board generators). If you purchase a portable generator, make sure it is an RV ready inverter generator. You don’t want to damage your electronics or electrical system.


A typical RV battery (the one that your RV came with), will need to be recharged every day. If you are only overnighting without hookups, you will not need to run a generator to recharge your battery. When you drive it (motorhome or trailer), your batteries will recharge.


To keep your batteries from running too low and getting damaged, use the following conservation tips:

  • Only turn lights on when you need them

  • Keep that RV roof vent fan closed when you can (although you may need it to get that air moving around)

  • Only use the 12 volt outlet(s) if you need to and unplug your devices/appliances as soon as they are charged or you are done using them

  • Don’t use your water heater if you can skip it

You will want to know your electrical needs before you invest in solar or a generator. What do you need to run? For us, we only need to recharge our devices. Occasionally, we have found ourselves boondocking in hot weather and turned on our air conditioner, but we prefer not to. For our small RV with 1 AC units, a 3500 watt RV ready inverter generator does the job.


Now that we have discussed water and electrical needs, let’s talk about those grey and black tanks.


RVing without a Sewer

When you are at an RV park or campground with a sewer connection, you can dump your grey (water from your sinks, shower, washer) and black (toilet water) tanks whenever you want. Not all places have sewer connections so you really want to know how to handle your grey and black tanks when you don’t have a sewer connection.


If you are only using water from your fresh water tank, you will never overflow your grey and black tanks. RVs are set up so that you never have more fresh water holding capacity than waste water holding capacity. When you start adding water bladders and other extra holding tanks (no matter how small) you run the risk of overflowing your tanks if you aren’t careful.


The first waste water tank to fill up is always your grey water. We simply use more water to wash up than to flush. If you fill up your grey tank before you have finished your boondocking stay you have a couple of options:

  • Empty some of it into a portable waste tank

  • Find the nearest dump station and dump your tanks (might as well empty the black one too)

  • Empty some right where you are - THIS IS RARELY AN OPTION. Some places allow you to drain your grey water on the ground, you need to know this information before you get to your boondocking spot.

Dealing with your black tank.

If you decide boondocking is for you or you just don’t like the idea of flushing fresh water down the drain, you might look into a composting toilet. This will eliminate the need for a black tank and keep all your fresh water for other things. Since you no longer need your black tank, you can combine it with your grey tank and double your grey water capacity. This can come in handy for longer boondocking trips.


If you fill up your black tank before your boondocking trip is over you have 2 options:

NEVER empty your black tank on the ground. This is raw sewage. To do so is illegal.



Are you ready for your first boondocking trip now?

I hope this post provided you with some basic boondocking knowledge. I could write an entire book on the subject and still have more to tell!!


If you would like to read more, check out a few articles from our Exploring the Local Life blog.

Exploring the Local Life is a Latino Roadschooling family of four that has been on the road since October 2015. We blog and vlog all about RVing, but it's not always rainbows and campfires. It's real life every day as we navigate love, unschooling, and breaking free from the mold in our 26ft home on wheels. We participate in the Amazon affiliate program. We receive a commission for purchases made via affiliate links in this post.


You can check out our Boondocking Video series! We now have a compositing toilet, but otherwise, we are still boondocking with the same resources we had when we created the series.


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