What is ‘Dry Camping’ or ‘Boondocking’?

Unplugged Adventures in your RV!

photo of a fisherman who is boondocking with his rv
Boondocking brings a whole new meaning to ‘sleeping with the fishes’.

Boondocking, or Dry camping (as I like to refer to it), is a great way to get out and enjoy your RV ownership without having to limit yourself to specific locations with RV hookups.

Dry Camping Basics

These are the basics when it comes to dry camping (AKA boondocking). The major benefit to dry camping is being able to use your RV without hookups.

You can go almost anywhere and don’t have to solely pick campsites with hookups like water and power.

Exploring With Your RV!

Dry camping can also be a great way to explore and go off the unbeaten path where a lot of RVers don’t go. Maybe they don’t go there because their RV is not properly set up for dry camping, or they simply don’t understand what they need in order to successfully accomplish dry camping without being frustrated.

First you need to understand what your RV can do, as each model has unique features. You should also take time to get a true feeling of what you want to accomplish and get out of RVing.

Size Matters!

The size of your RV can dictate what you can and can’t do. Smaller travel trailers or truck campers have the advantage of being able to go almost anywhere.

Photo of Kodiak 253RBSL living room fully extended
The Kodiak 253RBSL has a massive living room that might not fit a narrow space.

Trailers can often fit small trails or tight camping spots that wouldn’t easily accommodate larger vehicles. With trailers comes the disadvantage of capacity. Your fresh water holding tank, grey water tank, and black water tanks might be a little smaller than a normal RV or motorhome.

Your trailer might have also smaller propane cylinders, less cargo space and carrying capacity (weight matters more than volume). Some small trailers don’t have enough space for a larger battery bank for a reliable 12 volt system.

On the other hand, a large A class bus or 5th Wheel will give you more space for all those items but you are limited with where you can easily travel. Are you comfortable enough with your RV to back into a tight spot, or are pull through and larger spots a better option for you?

Once you understand you and your RV you can start to make a checklist of the basics you need in order to dry camp successfully.

Water is Essential

Water is a major luxury and you want to treat it as such. Always make sure your freshwater holding tank is full before setting out where you know you won’t be able to fill it!

Kodiak Cub 185MB interior
Drinks, washing, cooking, showers, etc., it adds up to a lot of water!

If you feel your RV fresh water tank is not large enough for what you need, try bringing separate large jugs full of water with you. You can either top up your water tank with it or just use the water out of the jugs.

Water Tank Management

A way campers tend to use up a lot of water is with showers. Your average 6 gallon hot water tank won’t last that long if you are used to having those long 30 min showers at home. In fact, you might want to take a tip from the US Navy, a ‘navy shower’ typically uses less than 2 minutes of water flow with massive reductions in the overall water used.

Remember all the fresh water you use has to go into your grey water holding tank. Your sinks and bathtub/shower will also need to drain into the grey water holding tank. You really don’t want that grey water tank backing up into the tub or shower!

The grey water is usually relatively clean water, as long as you use biodegradable soaps and detergents. You can empty some of it into a bucket, or carrying tote, and give nearby bushes some much needed water.

Managing Potty Time

You will also want to be aware of how much you use the toilet, as each flush leads to the black water holding tank. Those nearby bushes won’t appreciate your spare ‘personal’ water that much, but if you avoid leaking in the same spot it shouldn’t cause any harmful buildup.

If the campsite you are at has out houses, try and take advantage of those. This will limit the amount of waste, and also the build up of smell in your RV.

Most RVs have tank level gauges to help keep track on how full they are for easy monitoring.

Power Management

The biggest issue I hear from RVers when it comes to dry camping is their 12 Volt battery. Since you won’t have any 120 volt hook ups you will be relying on your 12 volt battery for items like the water pump, lights, radio and other appliances that need 12 volt in order to run.

Power management panel in a Dutchmen Voltage Epic 3970
Some Dutchmen RVs have sophisticated systems to help with power management.

Try and only use one light at a time, and in older trailers it really pays off to upgrade your light bulbs to LED. Things like flash lights and reading lights are also a great idea for illumination that won’t drain your RV power system.

Multiple Batteries

Think of the battery like one of your holding tanks. The larger the battery bank, the more room you have for reserve capacity.

If you have just a single 12 volt battery, it can be a good idea to trade that in for 2 x 6 volt batteries. This will increase your reserve capacity by a large amount and you will be able to worry a little less compared to only having just a single 12 volt battery.

Just remember, having a larger battery bank can also mean it takes more to recharge, so you’ll want to plan for extra charge times if you do an upgrade.

Solar Power

Solar can be a major secret weapon when it comes to dry camping. Adding solar will help charge your batteries during the day whether you are driving down the road or sitting in an unshaded campsite.

Having even a 160 watt solar panel can be enough to put a charge back into those batteries.

There a few different ways to size the solar system you need for your lifestyle. Solar can also help as a great battery maintainer when your unit is not being used.

Making Do on 12 volts

Remember when I said you won’t have 120V hook ups? Yes, that means no microwave, no air conditioning, no outlet plug-ins, or any other system that requires 120V.

photo of a portable AC generatorPortable power options, like AC generators, are getting much better.

If giving up 120 volt appliances is something you think you can’t live without, and that always stopped you from dry camping, there are a couple ways around it.

Portable AC Generators

A generator is an option, and while people tend to not like them because of the noise, newer models are surprisingly easy to forget about. If you are camping in a spot where you feel the generator won’t annoy other campers or yourself, I would recommend one.

You will need to know the correct size generator in order to run all the systems you require. The generator will charge your batteries and let you use the 120V side of your RV.

DC to AC Inverter

The other option is an inverter system. A much quieter option than the generator as it turns the 12 volt DC power from the batteries to 120 volt AC you can now use.

The only drawback to an inverter is exactly that, its draws a lot of your 12 volt power in order to use 120 volt devices.

You still might not be able to run any large systems unless you have a large battery bank and a heavy duty inverter.

Many large A class buses have inverter systems because they are able to carry half a dozen batteries, but you might not be able to do the same with a small camper or trailer.

Liquid Propane Gas

The last basic item you need to consider when dry camping is the Propane system.

20 lb propane tankIf your LPG tanks are big enough you’ll be able to enjoy dry camping a lot more.

If you only have 1 small cylinder or 2 x 20 lb cylinders, upgrading to 2 x 30 lb cylinders might be a great option to get you more Propane.

Gas Appliances

The appliances in your RV, including the fridge, furnace, hot water heater and stove top/oven all use Propane.

Keep in mind, fridge, furnace and water heater (with the exception of pilot model water heaters) also use 12 volt and that will also draw from the battery system.

Once again, just be mindful and keep track of how much Propane you use. There are many different items on the market to help you keep track.

Galaxy RV is here for you!

Now you have a basic idea of items to think about when it comes to getting out there and dry camping.

Galaxy RV is here to help you with the style of camping you are trying to achieve.

Let Galaxy RV help you! If that means installing these listed options above, providing you with the necessary parts to DIY, or getting you into the dream RV you have been thinking about with our easy RV financing.

Galaxy RV can handle ALL of your RV needs on Vancouver Island.