By Bob Difley
In last week’s post I clarified the difference between dry-camping and boondocking. But to be a boondocker, you have to learn dry-camping first–surviving overnight without water, sewage, or electrical hookups.
So, the first thing you need to understand about your rig, assuming it was built within the last 30 or 40 years, is that it was built to dry-camp. You already have a tank for fresh water, two waste tanks to hold your gray water (shower, sinks) and sewage (toilet), a propane tank and delivery system for heating water (hot water tank), cooking, and running your refrigerator, as well as an electrical system (house battery/ies in addition to your engine starting battery).
Now what you need to know to dry-camp is how to use these self-contained systems. First: Unplug all hookups currently attached to your rig–water hose, dump hose, electrical cord. Turn on the faucet. Voila! Water! Watch the water drain into–yes—the gray water holding tank. Flip a switch. Light! If you can accomplish all this the next morning, you have successfully dry-camped. Even if you are in your own driveway.
You have discovered that dry-camping is not hard. But–and it is a big but–spending one night without appendages does not a boondocker make. The trick is how to line up successive nights dry-camping, without having to press the reset button (i.e. retreat to a campground to recharge, dump, and fill). And that trick takes only three skills: (1) Understanding how your support systems work and their resource capacities, (2) Monitoring your rate of usage of these resources, and (3) A combination of conserving those resources and altering wasteful habits. Your capacities in (1) will be in your owner’s manual. Perfecting (2) and (3) just takes practice.
So, just how do these RV systems enable you to camp without hookups? First, the water from your sinks and shower flow directly into your gray water waste tank, whether you are hooked up with a dump hose or not. The dump hose just empties your tank. So without a dump hose connected, you just leave the dump valve closed until you are ready to dump. Same with the black water waste tank from your toilet. For extended dry-camping or boondocking, knowing your tank capacities and reading the levels determines how many days it will take to fill your tanks. In a coming blog post I will go into the details and tips of how to control and conserve how much water you use and how to extend the fill limit of your waste tanks.
You are unlikely to use all the water in your fresh tank, fill either of your waste water tanks, or drain your propane tank with just a night or two of dry-camping–unless your family likes practicing their operatic arias while taking lengthy hot showers. But you can use up all the electricity in your house battery in one night if you leave your forced air furnace on all night, fall asleep with the TV and all the lights on, or have a series of high octane AC appliances plugged into your inverter sucking up 120-volt amps from your 12-volt battery.
Since electricity can be the most critical limiter to extended boondocking, that will be the subject of next Saturday’s post: how to get the most out of your electrical system, how to upgrade, and how to use alternate power sources.
Check out my website for more RVing tips, road trips, and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.