First, boondocking means different things to different people. For some it is any “dry camping” whether in a Walmart or Casino parking lot or the middle of the Mojave Desert. Most of the principles are the same, so let’s carry on…
What does it take to “live off of the grid”?
1. Fresh Water — The amount of fresh water you can carry and how carefully you use it will determine how long you can stay during any boondocking outing. When you run out of fresh water, you’re done! (Google “boondocking water usage” for tips and hints on managing your fresh water usage.) You can carry extra water in separate containers or a large ‘bladder’. With this, you can obtain additional water and extend your stay at your beautiful site.
2. Waste Water Storage — You need to be able to store all of the waste water you generate, whether from the shower, kitchen sink, toilet, etc. All rigs have separate storage for “black water” (toilet water) vs. “gray water” (soapy sink and shower water); some have more than one gray water tank. Your fresh water tank is usually larger than any one of these waste water tanks — so you can end up with your bathroom gray tank full and overflowing before you use up your fresh water. (We have eliminated the need for a black water tank by installing a Composting Toilet – follow link for more info.)
3. Electrical Power — Many of us grew up tent camping and the only light we had was the evening campfire, or maybe a Coleman lantern if we were really fancy. We scoffed at those folks who had to have electrical hookups to run their air conditioner and TV. Well, most of us have probably moved to the “dark side” (or should I say, the light side?), especially if we are full-time travelers.
The primary source of electrical power for most rigs are 12 volt batteries — one or more to run the 12 v lights, water pump, and other systems of the rig. If you want your microwave, TV, or other 120 V items, you will need an Inverter — more on that later. Of course, 12 v batteries have to be re-charged regularly which requires either solar panels, a generator, or a city hook-up.
4. Propane — Many RVers use Propane for their cooking and heating. If your unit uses removable tanks, having a spare can be very useful. (“Honey, it’s cold in here! Are we out of propane?” is not a pleasant conversation at 2:00 AM.) The propane furnace in an RV can also be a huge consumer of electricity (more precisely, its fan). Some/many Boondockers use a propane catalytic heater to heat just the area where they are (use reasonable precautions regarding carbon dioxide if you do the!), and avoid the big fan and higher propane usage of the propane furnace. However, if you are in sub-freezing temperatures, this will not heat your holding tanks, and a frozen tank full of toilet sludge can be really ugly.
5. A Boondocking Location — as was mentioned earlier, many parking lots allow overnight parking. Some Walmarts, some casinos, some truck stops, etc. But if you are looking to “get away from it all” then these are not what you are looking for. How do you find these spots?
A. www.Campendium.com is a treasure trove of camping options. You can select “free” in the drop-down filter to show only free campsites, or select a very low price, such as $10. Campendium is always my first “go-to” when looking for a site.
C. If you are looking at a National Forest, download the forest’s “Vehicle Use Map”. That shows all areas where “dispersed camping” (their term for boondocking) is permitted.
D. http://www.rv-camping.org/boondocking/ has a good discussion of finding locations
Whenever I think I have found a location, I always do a Google Maps with Satellite view to see what the place looks like.
When boondocking always “Leave No Trace” — use existing fire rings, pick up any litter or trash (whether you left it or not), travel and camp on durable surfaces – use existing sites, leave what you find (don’t pick the flowers), respect the wildlife, be considerate of other visitors. (see: https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles)
If you are “Wally-docking” follow the “Good Neighbor Policy” so that future visitors will also be welcome:
1. Stay one night only!
2. Obtain permission from a qualified individual.
3. Obey posted regulations.
4.No awnings, chairs, or barbecue grills.
5.Do not use hydraulic jacks on soft surfaces (including asphalt).
6.Always leave an area cleaner than you found it.
7. Purchase gas, food, or supplies as a form of thank you, when feasible.
8. Be safe! Always be aware of your surroundings and leave if you feel unsafe.
MORE ABOUT ELECTRICITY!
1. As mentioned above, your primary source of electricity when boondocking is your battery bank. You will use power from your batteries to run your lights or to power your inverter; of course this depletes the charge in the batteries. You will charge the batteries using solar or generator power. (also see my Solar Power section)
2. What is an Inverter, and why do we need one? Most RVs have TWO electrical systems:
(1) — 12 v for lights, water pump, and other such systems.
(2) — 110 V (household current) for the microwave, TV, and similar items. If you plug into a regular two prong (or two plus ground) outlet, then it is 110 V. These items will not run directly from your batteries, you need to Invert the power to change it from 12v DC to 110 V AC so that the power is compatible with these appliances requirements.
2. How big should my inverter be? Look at the appliances you intend to use when boondocking to see their wattage rating, add up the watts for each appliance you expect to run AT THE SAME TIME. If you plan to run the microwave, coffee pot, and hair dryer all at the same time, your inverter will have to be much bigger than if you can wait until one is finished before you start the next one.
3. What kind of inverter? There are two kinds of inverters: MODIFIED sine-wave and PURE sine-wave. Pure sine-wave is just like what you get from the electric company, maybe better; Modified sine-wave attempts to approximate the plus & minus cycles of 120 volt power with steps (sometimes very crude steps). Pure sine-wave will run your computer, TV, microwave, etc. just like you were connected to the electric company; sometimes, computers, TVs, microwaves do not work well on modified sine-wave, or they fail prematurely. Many people use modified sine-wave successfully, but I personally will only use a pure sine-wave inverter.
4. Should I use Solar or a Generator?
(1) – First, remember that most people are boondocking for the seclusion, peace and quiet they can experience when “off the grid”; either you or they may not appreciate the noise of a running generator. If you use a generator, please be considerate of your neighbors!!! Limit usage to only a couple short periods at times that will be the least disruptive to others.
(2) – Solar is silent and free (once installed), but not inexpensive to install. And camping under trees is a problem. (For a more thorough discussion of solar, see: http://yourpcgeek.com/blog/technical-details/solar-power/ )
(3) – Possibly a combination — solar to provide basic power and a generator as a backup.
5. How many batteries? How big? What kind? First, determine how much power you will be using. I have discussed this in detail on my solar discussion. see: http://yourpcgeek.com/blog/technical-details/solar-power/
Let me know your thoughts and comments or other considerations I have not covered.
General Boondocking Information: http://www.rv-camping.org/boondocking/
Tools for locating Boondocking opportunities:
For other aspects of making your decisions about RV Living, here are other posts on the subject: RV Life & Technical Details