How to Boondock in an RV Rental

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el monte rv rental boondocking on the beach
Lone Rock Beach | Glen Canyon National Recreation Area – Photo by: cintia

When dreaming of hitting the open road in an RV rental, most folks aren’t picturing a commercial RV park with units packed in on top of each other. Many of the best-rated Campendium campsites are off the grid boondocking sites that offer vast views, seclusion, and free camping. 

While boondocking means different things to different people, Campendium’s Boondocking 101 frames boondocking as “…dry camping (i.e., no electric, water or sewer hookups), typically outside of a developed campground.” These locations are often on public lands of the National Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management and offer little to no services. 

Can you boondock in an RV Rental?

The short answer is “yes…with permission. ” I once returned a rental trailer covered in the red dirt from the Southwest, and the outfit I rented from proclaimed, “We love when folks get them dirty!” Another (less fun!) rental company said we couldn’t leave paved roads. Boondocking is often allowed in RV rentals, but you need to ensure everyone is aligned on how and where the unit will be used. 

RV rental marketplaces Outdoorsy and RV Share both allow boondocking. While boondocking is allowed, you still need to clear your intentions with the RV owner, who has the final say before you make to take the unit into the wild. 

Questions to ask the owner of the unit:

  • Is it ok if I take the rental unit boondocking?

    Rough roads commonly found at boondocking locations can shake cabinet doors loose, and dips in the dirt roads can make clearance an issue. Make sure the owner is comfortable with where you’re going and the path to get there. 

  • What’s the longest you ever had the unit off the grid? If the owner is ok with you taking the rental boondocking, you want to make sure you can last without hookups for the length of your planned trip. Does the owner commonly go for a week at a time without hookups? Did the battery go dead when they were without power for a single night? 
  • Does your unit have solar or a generator available to extend my time off the grid? Can the unit recharge power without heading to an electrical connection? Both Outdoorsy and RV Share allow you to filter by units with generators, and Outdoorsy even lets you filter by rentals equipped with solar panels. 

Planning a rental RV trip with boondocking stops

Once you have a route on paper, you must consider how long you will stay in each location. 

  1. Will I have enough water and tank space to be off-grid for the time I’ve planned?
  2. Where will I dump the tanks when I move sites?
  3. If I’m going to a second boondocking site, how will I recharge the power?
Rental Camper Van
Forest Road 306 Dispersed Camping | Kaibab National Forest – Photo by: meagandanker

Extending your time off-grid

How long you can stay away from hookups is dependent on how you plan to use the RV and the temperatures in your location. 

Batteries / Power

The most significant drain on your unit’s power will be climate control. Many rigs can’t power the air conditioning from the batteries and require a generator if the temperatures call for air conditioning. Generators are noisy for yourself and fellow campers, and you will have to pay for fuel and any generator fees charged on the rental platform. 

Cold temperatures can present a different problem. Many RVs can power the furnace via propane, but the blower on the furnace can be a major drag on your battery power. Beyond climate, it’s helpful to bring lanterns, headlamps, and other off-grid devices that aren’t dependent on the RV’s battery. 

Fresh Water

Do you plan on using the RV as a nicer version of a tent? Will you be washing tons of dishes or using disposable plates to cut down on water usage? Did you rent an RV because you can’t imagine not showering every day? Or are you ok to use bathing wipes and save your freshwater and grey tank space? These choices will determine how long your freshwater tank will last you. 

It’s possible to add water to the freshwater tank while at your campsite. Fresh water can be poured or pumped from any size water container into the freshwater tank fill without moving the unit. This is helpful for RVs that have fresh, grey, and black water tanks that are the same size. I usually travel with extra gallons of fresh water in the back of my tow vehicle for drinking and backup to keep the tank topped off. 

Grey and Black Water Tanks

While you can generate more power or refill your freshwater tank at your campsite, you can’t dump your grey and black water tanks without moving. Waste tanks are the limiting factor that most commonly requires you to leave your site. 

Campendium’s Dump Station locator makes it easy to find a place to dump your tanks. Many dump station reviews also mention if freshwater is available to replenish the freshwater tank. If you can’t find a dump station nearby or on your route, many RV parks will allow you to use their dump station and fill fresh water for a fee. It’s best to call ahead and ask.

What if I damage the rental rig? 

A washboard road to a boondocking spot can rattle a rig. Televisions can pop off walls and cabinet doors can fall to the floor. Renters are responsible for any damage to the rental unit and should thoroughly study the insurance policies and expectations of the rental platforms they research. Outdoorsy offers multiple coverage levels and has additional add-ons for Interior Damage and Windshield Coverage that are a great addition for off-road travel. 

What if I get stuck?

Both Outdoorsy and RV Share offer tow services if you’re within 100 feet of a maintained road. To avoid getting stuck, use Campendium’s “Access” ratings and read recent reviews to determine if a campsite can be accessed without too much stress. 

Heading out

Boondocking in an RV rental requires more planning and more permissions than a normal RV rental, but the extra effort will absolutely be worth it when you are camped at a beautiful boondocking site with few others around and you’re able to head off on a hike from your campsite. Both Outdoorsy and RV Share allow and encourage you to dive in and find the right rental for the adventure that you’re looking for and Campendium will make it easy to plan your campsites (and dump stations!).