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Dry Camping

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If you do a lot of travelling with your RV you will more than likely wind up somewhere where you don't have hookups like water or electric. These situations are affectionately referred to in RV lingo as dry camping or boondocking.

Dry camping is common at places like national parks, some state parks, festivals, fishing and hunting, and proximity to natural resources the like lakes, rivers and mountains.

Getting off the grid allows you to go places and see things you would otherwise miss. A lot of the great places in America and Canada just aren't around convenient RV campgrounds.

One option which a lot of RV-ers take is to leave the rig at a campground and take backpacking or camping gear with you. Lightweight gear can be found at any good camping store.

Note that during our recent trip to the Canadian Maritimes we saw lots and lots of folks boondocking at almost any place they could find to pull over. It is also worth mentioning that "the system" does not discourage this type of stopover. If you decide to pursue this option, rest assurred that you will be unlikely to be hassled by anyone, even the law.


Before you get there..

Before you arrive at your destination, there are a few things you will need to do. These are items you may not be able to address once you are at the site.

  • Before you get to your destination, be sure to fill up your vehicle with fuel. Unless you plan to go through Desert Valley you probably won't have to stock up on extra fuel.However, if you have a generator you may want to go ahead and fill up a spare container or two.
  • Fill your holding tank with water. If you will be staying more than a couple days you will likely want to also fill up some large water jugs.
  • Fill your propane tanks. You will need it for your stove, fridge and water heater.
  • Empty the gray and back water tanks. Unless you have a large family you may be surprised how long you can go without having to drain them.
  • Collect or buy firewood and tinder if you think there won't be much where you're going. Newspapers and lighter fuel are handy for starting fires.

Necessary items

These are items you will likely need while dry camping for any length of time. Plan well in advance so you don't spoil your trip.

  • Large water containers. They can usually be found at backpacking stores or on the internet.
  • Iodine pills for water purification. Use these especially if you will be relying on local lake or stream water. They can also at found at backpacking store.
  • A "honey wagon" for taking black and gray water to a dump station
  • Coolers
  • Wheel chocks, especially if there is a chance you may be parking in inclined area.
  • Outdoor grill and fuel. We prefer the type of grill that can be hooked up to one of our propane tanks. This eliminates the need to run get charcoal.
  • A 110 volt adapter for your electric line. This is so you can hook up to a generator. If you think you may fairly near a 110 v power source, you may also want to consider a heavy duty extension cord. See here for an example of a highly rated cord. But if weight is an issue for you, be in mind that heavy duty 10-guage wires can be heavy.
  • Toilet paper
  • Extra AA, AAA, C, D batteries. These should also be changed out your before trip
  • Charcoal and starter, if you will be using a charcoal grill.
  • Lanterns, flashlights and batteries.

Optional items

These items aren't necessary by any means, but experienced dry campers will tell you that they can make life quite a bit easier if your stay is more than just a few days.

  • A generator. Our generator runs on either gas or propane. Note that if you use a generator in an area where there are others, please observe quiet or sleeping hours.
  • An inverter can be somewhat expensive but it makes life nicer if you don't have a generator. Inverters convert 12 v battery current into 110 v current.
  • Extra propane containers.
  • A fan or heater if the climate suggests.
  • An extra fridge and/or freezer, depending on the climate. We usually leave ours outdoors stowed next to or under the trailer.
  • Wheel levelers. These are great for uneven parking areas. Few thing are worse than living in a trailer where things tend to roll downhill.
  • A battery charger can be valuable if you have access to 110.
  • If you have a large group, a tent or screen room is nice, especially if you anticipate bugs or moslquitoes.
  • camp gear [cook stuff, camping bag, hammock, etc]
  • A scrub board for washing clothes.
  • A multimeter for researching voltage problems.
  • Extra fuses for your breaker panel.

Luxury items

  • Solar panels. This isn't as crazy as it sounds. I am starting to see use of panels in more and more campgrounds.
  • Compressor
  • Ice maker
  • A second 12 v battery may be a good idea, but be aware that they are heavy!
  • Sewer hose, water hose or elec line extensions, if you know that there may be hookups close by.

  • Battery Saving Tips

    When you're out boondocking off the grid without the benefit of a generator, you have to stretch your battery life as long as possible. Here a few tips for squeezing the life of your 12v. If you use an inverter then it is even more imperative that you practice frugality since 12v battery power converted to 120v runs down a battery even faster.

    Use low-wattage LED internal lights rather than 120v ones. Battery operated lights would be even better. Not only will this save energy but the amount of light you get will likely go up also.

    We love coffee, and Phyllis has used a French press for many years. If you've never heard of one, it's a cylindrical container, usually made of glass, with a plunger. You put the coffee grounds at the bottom and fill with water. Let the grounds steep. Then push down the plunger which forces the grounds down under the plunger so they don't get into the coffee. We both think the coffee is actually better than that of drip makers but, importantly, you can heat water over a campfire to make the coffee. French presses also require less storage than drip makers. Here is a picture of the type of press you can get on Amazon for around $15-$20.  

    If the weather is hot, use as small a fan as you can get away with, preferably a 12v one. A small battery fan would be even better. Note that oscillating fans require more juice to operate.

    Keep your shades drawn whenever possible. Window tinting may also help. Try to park your rig where it's out of the sun, like under trees or in a shaded area.

    Consider solar or wind power to supply your 12v devices. Solar power isn't cheap but it can extend your stay considerably.

    Before you go, pre-prepare as many meals as you can.

    Some notes

    • A rope tied between your canopy arms canopy can act as a convenient clothesline.
    • Here is a nice little blog from a family about their first dry camping experience.
    • Here is an interesting blog about boondocking.
    • And here is the Gone With The Wynns website. They have a lot of RV-ing experiences and some good tips to offer.
    • Here is a pretty good dissertation on finding free RV campsites in the US, especially out west.
    • Here is as discussion of some tips for RV camping in national parks.

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