A boondocker's bag of tricks

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March 11, 2012

By Bob Difley
BLM_Crowley-Lake-CampgroundCamping overnight in a Walmart parking lot, a rest stop, or a forest service campground where there are no hookups is not difficult and most RVers once they get a little familiar with their rig have done it.

But the real trick to successful boondocking is knowing how to get that third, fourth, or fifth day–or even a week or more out of a boondocking campsite–and be completely comfortable and confident doing it. The trick is in managing your resources–water, electricity, and waste.

Familiarize yourself with these resources–electricity and how fast you deplete it from your batteries, drinking water and how much you waste (and the resultant waste water filling up your gray water tank), and filling the black, or sewer, tank–and how fast you deplete them or fill your tanks, then practice ways to stretch out their use.

boonocking_quartzsiteGetting as many days in the boonies as you can squeeze in between having to pack up camp and drive off to replenish electricity (charging your batteries), fill your water tank, and dump your waste tanks, is what makes boondocking successful, and staying out longer, and doing it comfortably, is what makes a boondocker happy.

It also takes experience. Every time you boondock, you learn a new trick or two to extend your stay. Simple, common sense acts–that with experience become second nature–like not letting your faucets run, taking Navy showers, re-using the water you run when waiting for hot water to come, reducing the amount of waste water you let flow into your gray tank, turning off lights and TV when not being used–this bag of tricks, once they become habits, you will practice without a second thought.

Look at it this way. If you were just as comfortable without hookups as you were with them, where would you rather camp. With neighbors within 15 or feet on either side of you, or would you choose campsites where your nearest neighbors were 50 or 100 feet or further away? Or you had no neighbors at all.

That’s the beauty of boondocking. Once you learn the tips and tricks, your options are endless–from a crowded LTVA at Quartzsite to a solitary campsite with sweeping vistas and no sign of civilization in sight. And that becomes the next bag of tricks to collect, where to and how to find these pristine boondocking spots.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or click here for Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).

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  40. Rose

    Bird Bath: under the wings and behind the tail.


    First you wash down as far as possible, then you wash up as far as possible. Then when no one is looking you wash possible.

  41. Great advice Bob, as always. I typically don’t boondock it with the fam, but it’s a nice break every now and then – just me and the dog 🙂

  42. pat

    BTW I love boon-docking, my vanity plate on my trailer is: BOONDKR, if you see me honk and wave. I offered this tip because it is a way for those of us who love it so much to stay out longer.

  43. pat

    I recently purchased a 24 gal water tank that fits under the tool box in the back of my truck. I scrounged up a water pump, set up a power feed to my batteries, and now I have a quick and easy re-fill for my RV tank. With this addition I can easily dry camp for a week.

  44. Judie Rose

    I won’t explain what it is but for women it is P.T.A. we used this when we tent camped. You figure it out. LOL

  45. Jim G

    So true; as they say size does not matter

  46. Ford Marshall

    Here in the western region of Canada camping in the Provincial and National Parks I much prefer no hook ups. My upgraded 1978 Winniebago has a solar panel with two 12v deep cycle Btys that satisfies my requirements since installing 12v LED interior/exterior lights and using propane for the frig, stove and oven. You soon learn tricks to conserve your water. My stays in camp grounds last about 4 days which is about right for dumping and to head for another beautiful location. What browns me off is when a chap starts his generator to heat his coffee. Lordie, has he ever heard of coffee dripalator with just heating water in a small kettle (propane)
    and poring it over the coffe. Ah, yes using the kettle to heat water instead of heating the water tank- the only time I heat the tank is when I want a shower..
    The beauty travelling the high country is there is not need for a/c the lack of flies and mosquitos..Ah, the wonders of the Canadian Rockies and Kananaskis Country. You don’t need the big rigs to enjoy the great outdoors

  47. Gary

    Maybe I’m too old, don’t think so, but we used to call them “spit baths”. Now that is conserving !!!

  48. Ardis Almond

    Yep, shaving out of your steel helmet, using slit latrines, drinking water with purifier tablets, and eating C Rations, all paid for by the US Army. Now that was boondocking!

  49. Barry & Monique Zander

    The commenters above have proven that boondocking is not for everyone. If full hook-ups are the lifestyle you prefer, then so be it — park in the private campgrounds, casinos, etc., that cater to your tastes. We are still part of the same community, who cherish our life as roadrunners. By confining your stops to full-hook-ups, you are doing the same thing as traveling in a car between motels, but with the privilege of sleeping in your own bed every night and having home-cooked meals when you tire of restaurant food. Incidentally, we will be dry-camping (almost the same as boondocking) next week at the Good Sam Rally in Phoenix.

  50. Jim G

    Bob and Wayne,
    Thanks for providing me with information regarding the infamous Navy Showers. Although I am not a vet. I greatly admire and honor everyone who has ever served in our Armed Forces!
    Obviously, there are folks who disdain boondocking vs. those enjoy it so perhaps there is a message here for all to consider; the fact that as Americans we can pursue our personal preferences and follow our own path in life and with our recreational pursuits, and largely due to the the sacrifices made over the history of our country by those men and women in our military.
    Just some food for thought!

  51. Thanks Bob for a great article. Very helpful, useful. Like anything else in life.
    Different strokes for different folks. Boondocking is a matter of choice. If I don’t like to go off into the wild to be alone, that is what I choose.I was mostly raised in
    the country.We liked to go to a river sand bar, gather a lot of dry wood before dark and set out our catfish lines. the only light we had all night is the bonfire.
    People should do what ever they enjoy doing with an R.V. or what ever. You write these articles to help people. You do a great job and service in doing this. If people want to vent their bad attitude, they should do so some place else. This is my story
    and I’m sticking to it. Put only Positive output on here. Lpease.

  52. sandpirate

    I’m not a big proponent of Boondocking with the family. My wife & daughter like to take long hot showers. I’m very well aware of Navy Showers, I have 20 years in the Navy. After several deployments to Iraq, I now consider it a “Combat Shower”. In the desert , water is also a high commodity just like a navy ship. I do hunt on my leased property & I have to boondock. So I know how to stretch my water supply. But I get to run my gencet as long as I want, providing me with SAT TV. 🙂

  53. Jim Stevens

    Camping overnight in a Walmart parking lot, a rest stop, or a forest service campground where there are no hookups is not difficult but the real trick to successful boondocking is knowing how to get that third, fourth, or fifth day–or even a week or more out of a boondocking campsite–and be completely comfortable and confident doing it.. WONDERFUL LETS ALL CAMP AT WALMART

  54. My wife and I dry camped from Colorado to Maine summer before last in our 38 ft diesel pusher Class A. Took 5 days, one water refill and two dumps. (Okay, we were novices!) The first actual campground was in Saco, Maine. After a 7500 mile trip, we got pretty good in conserving. Factor in an additional three months of hospital parking lots and rehab centers with occasional 15 amp electrical service and you have certified dry campers.

    The campgrounds we have stayed at certainly have their advantages, but frugality is not one of them.

  55. Glen Jones

    better read the Forest service travel mangement plan, boondocking could become a thing of the past. My biggest complaint is they do not take into account disabled
    a power wheelchair or disabled person’s scooter is considered a motorized vehicle
    the same as a car or pickup and not allowed on closed roads.

  56. hoppe


    You weren’t maybe Boondocking so much as parking in an unimproved Parking lot?

    I always look for places where the nearest camper is out of shouting, or ‘speaker’ distance. Quite another situation.

    I don’t mean to be critical, just pointing out that at least Wally World’s lots are Paved.

    I do understand your bewilderment.

    Nice article Bob!

  57. I don’t know why everyone raves about how great boondocking is. We went to Quartzsite, AZ to boondock with some friends who have gone there the last 4 years in January. The RV’s were almost bumper to bumper, or side to side, just as close or closer than many campgrounds I have stayed in. The nights were cold, and we had to use our propane heater. We used about two- one lb. propane tanks per day. We were told we could not run our generators after a certain hour at night or until a certain hour in the morning out of respect for our neighbors. We got no tv service, even with the antenna. We took full showers every other day, with wash ups on alternate days. I like my long hot showers and missed not being able to have one.
    My friends went into town daily to Mesa RV for the free lunch, which would be great if it was close by but, it was about 8 to 10 miles into town and the same back to the rv. I figure it was at least 1/2 to 1 gallon of gas per day into town not counting all the gas we spent in getting the rig and tow car down to AZ from our town in central CA. For the $1000 or more the trip cost us, to my way of thinking was not worth it at all.
    Give me full hook ups and long showers, and electricity, and WIFI, and cable tv any day. I will gladly pay the nightly, weekly fee to have my aminities. Thank you very much. I know this is not the kind of post you were expecting, but this is the other side of the coin and I am sure there are many people just like me.

  58. Wayne B

    Jim G: RE: Navy showers. Being a 22 year Navy veteran with 11 ships under my belt, here is how I understand “Navy Showers” evolved. Of course int he sailing days, showers were few and far between, maybe when a rain storm caught them. When steam vessels came into use, and fresh water was at a premium, the first priority was to make distilled water for the use in ship’s boiler and sanitary clean ups, for cooking,etc. A shower was merely a luxury. and . Engine room and boiler room personnel closely monitor fresh water levels and report daily to the captain as to that status. In order to conserve that precious commodity, a “wet down, soap up, rinse off ” process was devised. Since this was typically common on board Navy vessels, thus the term “Navy Showers”. I will say, that a few of our Marine and Army brethren that had the honor of riding one our Gray Ladies quickly became aware of the term, and the process !!

  59. The term “Navy shower” originated on Navy ships with finite water tanks – when at sea, sailors were required to wet down, turn the water off, soap and scrub, turn the water back on, and rinse. If a swabbie was lucky enough to be on a nuclear cruiser or aircraft carrier with a desalinization plant on board, Navy showers weren’t required.

  60. Jim G

    First off; kudos once again for providing RVers with concise and useful information. Personally, I much prefer the boondock style of camping vs. full hookups at some private campground where your neighbors are within an arms length and privacy is an unknown commodity.
    Secondly; I noted the use of the term, Navy Showers, and while I understand the concept I am curious about the origin of the term. I suspect it has something to do with life aboard a Navy ship but after that I am lost. Why not Army or Marine showers? Seriously, I am not posing this as a lame attempt at humor but a sincere curiousity.

    So, if anyone can provide some insight about how this term Navy Showers came to be I would appreciate it.

    Safe travels to all!!

  61. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy guru Bob,
    Thank you, for another reminder of how to ‘boondock’ according to the ‘guru’ !!!

  62. Brian

    Bob: As always a useful article. One suggestion. I notice your e-books are set up for Kindle. I am not much of a “techie” but there are many e-books, tablets etc., beside Kindle and as a result more and more material is being published for the Android market that can be read by these devices.

    My wife and I and many of our friends for example use Kobo “Vox’s” (very comparable to the Kindle Fire which is not yet available in Canada), that can use material from th Android market thus giving us access to many, many more sources of published material. It would be nice to be able to purchase and download your material to our devices.

    Keep up the good work.