The Zen of Boondocking II: Boondocking vs. dry-camping

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February 11, 2011

By Bob Difley

camper_streamThe activity we RVers refer to as boondocking is made pleasurable by a combination of learned skills, adjusted or changed habits, a desire to stay out in the wilderness as long as comfortably possible, and a curiosity about out-of-the-way places, nature, wildlife, and what is around the next bend.

But not all boondockers match this profile. Some of the differences can be attributed to the semantics of the words “boondocking” and “dry-camping.” They are the same in that both refer to camping without any hook-ups–water, electricity, or sewage. With even one of these appendages, we would have partial hook-ups. But the difference is in where we do it.

Dry-camping can be at an RV rally, Wal-mart parking lot, highway rest stop, or a primitive campground where there are no hook-ups. True boondocking is camping away from civilization, out in the boonies, where no camping amenities exist. The word “boondock” comes from the Tagalog “bundok” meaning “mountain.” gives the definition “rural country; the backwoods” while MSN Encarta also includes “place remote from civilization.” A reader suggests that the word boondocking has become synonymous with dry-camping and there should be a new term “wilderness camping” for camping in the boonies.

Whatever you want to call camping without hookups, where you do it and why is the driving force for practicing boondocking skills. For instance if your style is “blacktop boondocking” in Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots, you will have little need to perfect skills and change old habits in order to stretch your stay for an extra two or three days. Every modern RV has enough house battery power and waste storage tanks to camp without hook-ups for a night or two.

Fortunately, you break the bond to tethers by starting with trying a night or two blacktop boondocking and graduate through myriad steps to the extreme boondocker with a 4WD truck camper with a roof full of solar panels miles back an old jeep trail or logging road where you can go for days without seeing another human being, what I sometimes call “coyote camping.”

Somewhere in the middle you will find the perfect fit for your style of boondocking. And that will be determined by your likes and dislikes–whether you like to be on the go and only spend one or two nights at a time in any location, or you like to venture beyond the interstates staying in one location long enough to to explore the area. And each step you move beyond blacktop boondocking requires new or improved skills and tips to make it enjoyable. And that’s where we’re going to next week–what you need to know about one-night blacktop boondocking and progressing through rallies, primitive campgrounds, dispersed camping areas, to coyote camping.

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

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  1. Mike

    I have read recently staying at Walmart referred to as ‘Wallydocking’.

  2. Phil

    Camping “without hookups” is real camping. Taking an RV out into the woods is not camping. Why would you need electricity out in the woods? Why do you need a bathroom when you can just dig a hole and go in it? Why do you need a multi-thousand dollar camper when all you need is a tent? Real camping requires you to go back to nature, to get out of your comfort zone, to get away from our crazy civilization. How is sitting in a giant metal box that simulates being inside of a normal house any of these? People are going out in the woods, saying they are “camping” but in reality they’re just sitting in their RVs watching television like they would be at home. It sickens me that people are so far removed from nature that they feel they need all these fancy gadgets to reconnect with the outdoors.

  3. William Fincher

    Oh yea, coyote camping is such a blast. A good inverter, and a cheap satallite finder to dial in the dish, run the generator to use for a/c volts.This is hw we roll when we want to really unwind. Happy camping.

  4. Jim G

    Excellent introduction. I will look forward to each and every forthcoming article which I know will be informative and superbly composed.

  5. We started with a tent while in grad school and camped from TN to WA in a 69 Mustang. Our preferred campgrounds were Corps of Engineering sites some of which had manual water pumps. Move thru popups and trailers to current ’95 Mountain Aire. It may be 38 feet long but manages gravel roads into Nat. Forest camps. We often overnight with the tractor trailers (and have thanked Walmart managers a few times). So I was surprised to find out we’ve been sorta boondocking our whole RVing life! Your criteria of camping “…where you can go for days without seeing another human being…” describes where we live in rural SD. I guess we do “coyote living”! Our “neighbors” go camping to socialize and be around other people.

  6. Gary

    Hi BoB. You have been describing the most satisfying form of RVing that there is. We have BDed in all forms from class a’s to tents. (much easier when you have a toilet and water) But probably our best BDing was in Europe for a period of about 11 years. The biggest problem was the black water disposal. Fresh water was everywhere and no (read: NO) place was restricted to our BDing. We were careful about private property and at one place we thought we were in trouble.A car pulled up and politely asked if we were staying the night. We quietly said “yes” He asked if we could watch out for his car for him as he was going to work. He also said that there was a better spot about 1 mile up the road. Good times !!

  7. w6pea

    You have a few good points there. I believe in boondocking. I do not have a 4×4 truck camper. I have a 26Q Fleetwood Jamboree, equipped with a battery bank a Pro-Sine 2.0 inverter. and 3 100w solar panels. My wife and I have boondocked in Quartzite no hook ups nothing. We were there for a week. We boondock at Tuttle Creek in Lone Pine, We have also boondocked off of Mount Watson Rd. off Brokway Summit (hwy 267) between Lake Tahoe & Truckee Ca..
    We have also parking lot boondocked in WalMart Parking lots in Pahrump NV. Ridgecrest CA.
    We have camped in Joshua Tree National Park in Belle Campground, Big Rock Campground, to name a few.
    Thanks Bob for posting, another great article .