Many of my customers ask me, “what is boondocking or dry camping”, and “will I like it”? My first question back to them is, “If you can’t use a hair dryer on your trip, is this a deal breaker?” When planning a camping trip, it is best to determine the absolute need of a hair dryer, because if the lack of one will make grumpy campers, then it’s time to change plans.
Boondocking/Dry Camping- This is RV camping in a roughing it sort of way. Basically, it means that you park the RV somewhere in the north 40 with no water, electrical, or sewer hook ups. You camp with what you brought with you. Most RV’s are capable of short term boondocking or also known as “dry camping”. Generally, what makes it short term it the capacities of the RV in water storage, sewage storage, and battery charging.
- Most RV’s, including tent trailers, allow for some sort of water storage. Tent trailers start at 10 gallons and your larger RV’s can store over 100 gallons. One may think that more is better, but carrying water with you while you drive vs getting it at the campground is how much weight is involved. At around 8lbs per gallon, the weight can quickly add up and may overload the RV axles/tires.
- Sewage in comes in two flavors. Gray and black. Most RV’s will have a gray tank to hold all waste water that is not from the toilet, and a black tank to hold anything from the toilet. The gray tanks tend to fill up faster from showers, dishes, sinks, etc. Fortunately, you can empty each tank independently and many people will drain the gray tanks into nearby bushes with the thought of “if I was tent camping, I would dump the dish water in the bushes anyways” (you will have to check for any regulations regarding this). You can then find a dump station to empty the black tank at the end of the camping trip.
- Battery storage is the weakest point in RV boondocking. Typically, RV’s come with one or two deep cycle RV batteries. Problem is that they can drain quickly from running the furnace at night (it needs electricity to run the blower motor), lights, televisions, CO2 detectors, water pumps, fans, etc. It’s not unusual to drain the batteries from one night of using the furnace to where there is not enough juice to run the furnace the next night, but still enough to run a few lights. Ways to increase battery life is to install 6v golf cart batteries and add more batteries. However, you won’t see many RV rental operators investing in this kind of expense. You can also bring along a generator to recharge the batteries during the day.
- Hair dyers- They will not work when dry camping. This is often the killing blow when planning a vacation. When the females in your party discover they can’t use their blow dryers, the whole plan is often scrapped. You may feel that you provided them a dry bed, showers, toilet, convenient meal preparation, climate control, and bug protection, but none of this matters if the hair dryer won’t work. Remember, all RV’s come with two types of electrical supplies, AC and 12vDC. AC is what you have in your home and it is what makes the hair dryers work. AC also runs the Air conditioner, the fridge (in AC mode, however it can operate in propane mode), all the wall plugs, and the televisions. 12vDC is like your car battery. In an RV, most of the lights are DC, the furnace requires DC to run the blower motor, the water pump is DC, and some vent fans are DC. If you have a generator, then maybe you might be in luck. A small 1,000 watt generator is sufficient to recharge the batteries, but it doesn’t provide enough power to operate a common 1800 watt hair dryer or a 2500 watt air conditioner. If you want to operate any known hair dryer and the air conditioner then you would need a generator with a constant wattage of 3,000 watts or more. These generators are big and fuel hungry, so now you have to transport several gasoline cans as well. UNLESS, your rented RV comes with an on board generator that either operates on propane or gasoline. You simply press a button from the comfort of the inside of the trailer to start the generator and live life as if you didn’t have a care.
Boondocking or dry camping offers the best in privacy and seclusion and an opportunity to really connect with mother nature.
Shawn Stockford is an avid lover of the outdoors and all things RV. He and his wife, Kelli, operate Dream Catcher Outdoor Recreational Rentals providing tent trailer and ATV rentals in the Eugene and Springfield Oregon area.