What You Need to Know Before Boondocking
But first, my two cents:
1. Do a Dry Run
Our very first RV camping trip was in a newly restored Airstream. We went to Cinder Hills OHV in Flagstaff and had to leave after one night because our batteries were wired wrong and our generator couldn’t recharge them.
I recommend doing a dry-run of your systems while you’re close to amenities. If you’re nervous about boondocking, unplugging your RV at a full-hookup campsite is a great way to test the waters. This way, you’ll know what to expect from your rig when you finally head out to the boonies.
2. Maximize Your Solar and Battery Bank
You need more solar and battery capacity than you think. Like many RV boondockers, I underestimated the amount of power I would need to boondock and my RV electrical system today is the result of a patchwork of improvements made over time as I gained experience. Fortunately, prices for solar electric components have come down significantly in recent years. My advice to newbies setting up their rig for boondocking is to go big on solar, battery and inverter at the outset: it’s much easier and cheaper in the long run.
My favorite all-time boondocking spot is Abraham Lake in Alberta, Canada off the Icefields parkway between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Offering gorgeous turquoise water, good cell signal and excellent river kayaking, it is super popular and crowded in summer. Instead, go in the shoulder season May-June and Sept-Oct and you will almost have this gem entirely to yourself.
3. Choose the Right RV
Post retirement, my spouse and I travel in a 37 ft. fifth wheel. Our passion is affordable RV travel and adventure, and free camping and boondocking without hookups is our favorite way to enjoy some of the best camping destinations in the USA. In our opinion, RV selection is the most important factor in meeting your camping needs. Everything is a trade-off in selecting and then outfitting your RV. We spent three years carefully tallying what was important to us. An 80 gallon fresh water tank, a professional 680 watt solar install with inverter coupled with a 300 amp hour lithium battery bank, and high ground clearance allows us to stay comfortably at big rig friendly off grid destinations. Add in two portable power generators, a cell phone booster and a 4X4 tow vehicle and we were set for extended travel away from home.
King Road BLM just outside the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona was our favorite free boondocking location for 2020. The adventure continues.
4. Prioritize Security
Not all boondocking locations are created equal, and when I consider staying overnight in any spot, I always ask myself: Am I going to get a good night’s sleep here and feel relaxed, or am I likely to feel uncomfortable or worried in this location? If the latter, sometimes it’s just a matter of repositioning my rig so that it faces a different direction or occupies a new spot in the same general location. Sometimes it’s a matter of moving on to a different place altogether — even if it’s late! Pay close attention to what your intuition tells you and make sure to prioritize your feelings of security and comfort. You’ll never go wrong when you do.
My favorite place to boondock is Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. I feel so much joy whenever I’m there. The Porcupine Falls area is my favorite and I love to be there in late fall (along with all the hunters!). Porcupine Campground is right next to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, and it becomes an “upscale” boondocking spot late in the season — there are no hookups or services, but it’s free and you can find yourself a designated site and a picnic table under the tall, beautiful spruces. On an October morning there, I woke up to a light cover of snow, and it’s one of my favorite memories.
Pictured: Reva Gap, a close second favorite.
5. Tow with a 4WD Truck
For all the newbies out there… if you’re towing, you REALLY want to have a 4wd truck. And don’t push your towing capacity. If you have a lift on your trailer, even better. You need traction and clearance when you are towing down dirt roads. The more, the better. I started off with a 2wd truck and I did once get stuck. There were a few places I couldn’t get to, either. Had I had 4wd at those times, I would have made it.
Favorite spot? Las Cienegas.
6. Have a Plan B
We have come a long way from our first boondocking experience (when there were no cell phones, google maps or the internet in the way back time machine) to our boondocking experiences of today.
I am a planner, so here are my steps in the search of a plausible boondocking site. I always first consult Campedium, read reviews of others and rely on satellite views of the area. I like to know if there are trees versus wide open areas, whether there are turn around places, does it seem suitable for a big and tall rig and ther road conditions. Although I usually trust reviews, I always have a Plan B and usually a Plan C and D. I check the weather forecast, we arrive before dark, we park and we scout. I suggest you download or take screen shots of maps, reviews and directions in advance in case you lose cell service. Be prepared, have the proper equipment. For example, we always carry tire deflators, tire inflators and traction boards if there is a chance of getting stuck in soft sand. Sometimes we take a chance on an unreviewed area and have found some awesome places. If you do so, please share your finds with the Campedium community.
Recently, I have discovered the power of the Avenza Map App, which allows you in many cases, to download maps that use your phone’s GPS even when there is no cell signal.
7. Connect with Other Campers
The thought of boondocking both excited me and made me a little apprehensive when I thought about being alone, in the middle of nowhere. As a single traveler I often considered security first, even when the view, skyline or water drew me to that non-campground location.
I traveled to the BLM land north of Moab in southern Utah, this is where I realized it didn’t have to be alone; boondocking doesn’t mean you have to sequester yourself, it means being free and disconnected from the strict areas of campgrounds. I discovered that I liked the comfort of having others close but at the same time staying in a more private location. I really enjoyed the first “pot luck” dinner our group had, I was surprised by how kind and willing to share other campers were. Moab will always be my favorite boondocking location because that’s where I discovered the beauty of boodocking without having to be concerned about being “too” alone.