There a few names for dry camping, or camping without any hookups. The word, "dry." is used to describe the fact that water and waste systems are self-contained, rather than supplied by a campground, but it usually means you have no power hookups as well. Many call it "boondocking," or even "dispersed camping," if you are parked a significant distance from civilization. Do it at a friend's or family member's house, it's "mooch-docking," and you can probably guess what "Wal-docking" and "Cracker-docking" are.
The key purpose we are discussing is to camp without hookups, usually in the wild, be it the forest, desert, plains, beach or other secluded location, and often sans other people. Any self-contained RV can handle a couple of days in the wild without any difficulty at all, but for a week or a month, or even longer, there are many obstacles to overcome. Here are nine of the most significant difficulties, as I see them, with some combining of related issues into one topic.
There are a great number of RV'ers who primarily boondock, preferring the wilderness to the community of RV resorts. Their RV's normally have been set up for long-term dry camping, so they have already managed everything I am mentioning to thrive in that lifestyle. Some of those modifications can cost thousands of dollars, such as large battery banks or solar systems, but even making smaller changes can really add up.
9. Finding a spot- As I mentioned, part of the allure of dry camping is distancing from civilization. This often means camping on land not specifically modified for RV parking. This can mean soft ground or sand to get stuck in, previously dry washes filling with rain, or rocky terrain causing damage to your tow vehicle or RV undercarriage or suspension.
Another consideration is the path to a potential campsite. You may suspect a good site exists in an area but can't see it, and it may be miles off the main road. If you simply drive to explore an area, you may end up in a dead end where you can't make a U-turn, or you may turn a corner to find a steep hole or raised mound too late to avoid.
There are also regulation and private property pitfalls. Not all private land is marked and not all public land is available for RV parking. Research is needed, and that can't always be done from the field when you've found a camping spot you love.
Some of the mystery and risk can be mitigated by the use of apps and websites that describe and rate free camping or boondocking locations, and often RV-related YouTube videos or blogs will give the GPS coordinates for a favorite spot, hopefully giving warnings for hazards or parking tips.
8. Loneliness or isolation- Yes, people do have the fantasy of camping alone in the wilderness, but this can be a double-edged sword. Not everyone is comfortable knowing that the closest human may be miles away. Long-term isolation can accentuate these feelings and can even cause panic. Make sure you can handle isolation before you subject yourself to long stretches of it.
It can also be unnerving when you consider, however unlikely, that there are people in the world that can mean you harm. For that reason, many boondockers prefer to stay in somewhat close proximity to other dry campers so they can watch each others' backs.
7. Poor or no cell signal or Internet access- Let's face it, most of us need our communications to the rest of the world. Many point to their cell booster, but like I've often repeated, you can't boost zero signal. If you can't live without your cell phone or social media, or you need to work on your trip, this will be a huge consideration for you.
6. Water rationing- Without the ability to easily resupply your water, you'll need to ration it. This can be taken to extremes, including never flushing your toilet and using dirty dishwater to clean out the bowl. This makes the composting toilet a popular item for serious boondockers. Our 52-gallon fresh water tank can supply many of our water needs plus two quick showers. By quick, I mean slightly faster than normal. If we utilize "Navy showers," limiting our time and turning off the water nozzle while sudsing up, rinsing or shampooing, we can manage four total showers. With a couple of 6-gallon water containers to supplement the fresh-water tank, this would suffice for a week. However, a longer stint would take some maneuvering, including possibly disconnecting the fifth wheel and driving to a town.
Full-time dry campers often use refillable containers or canvas bladders that can be filled will 30, 100 or even 200 gallons of potable water that can be pumped into the fresh-water tank from wherever it is being stored. This greatly extends the water supply for day-to-day living, though they still ration wisely.
5. Dumping tanks- As most RV'ers know, there is a huge difference between the waste water in a gray storage tank and in your black tank. The gray tank includes used sink and shower water and is generally safe for any wilderness environment. It differs from state to state, but most jurisdictions allow the draining of gray tanks on the ground, although nearly all forbid doing that in campgrounds. That's likely due to the possible mayhem and local contamination that may be caused with many RV's employing that option in one place. If you do decide to legally dump this water, you should try to divert the it away from the rig so it doesn't undermine your landing gear or support pads. Long-term dry campers will often capture at least some of that water for re-use, such as having a plastic tub in the sink while doing dishes or draining some gray water into bins before dumping.
The black tank is filled with human bathroom waste along with appropriate chemicals or enzymes and is a serious health concern. You are forbidden, as one would expect, from dumping black water on the ground, so it must be drained at a dump station. Usually, there are none of these stations in the back country, though many municipalities do offer free or cheap use of a dump station if you happen to be near one. Without dumping, the longest we have gone without filling the black tank to capacity was eight days. Camping longer than your tank limit requires a plan to legally dump, which could mean breaking camp and driving to a campground or other dumping location. If you have a trailer or fifth wheel you can purchase a black water tote, a large plastic bin with wheels and a drain port, and drain the tank contents into it. The tote is then towed by your truck to the dump station, rather than having to break camp. These are also popular for staying in RV parks without sewer hookups.
4. Getting supplies- Food and living essentials can and do run out, so it's important to have a plan for your re-supply. The nearest grocery store may be hours away, and if you have a motorhome without a toad or other separate vehicle (motorcycle or 4x4 ATV, for example) it probably means breaking camp to drive to one. Experienced boondockers try to stock as many non-perishible food staples as possible, even giving up basement space that would normally be used for lawn lighting or other less necessary items to make room for more food and paper stock. Since washing hands and dishes uses valuable water, dry campers often employ back country hiking methods for conserving supplies.
3. Power planning and management- Electrical power is one of those necessities that is in the eye of the beholder. Most RV's come with two deep-cycle batteries that can handle much of the interior systems of a rig but won't power air conditioning, televisions, a microwave or even a single-cup coffee maker. A generator can be a big boost, and an expensive solar system might power everything you have. Another option is to enlarge your battery bank and add a controller/inverter to run the 120v equipment with your 12v DC system. Either a solar system or a generator can recharge these batteries relatively quickly, and with both you can recharge when solar is not ideal, as in a forest, during a rainstorm or at night. Ideally, you will know your own personal comfort level for electrical equipment and make plans to power what you need to.
2. Getting emergency assistance or making repairs- This might seem intuitive, but let me remind you of Murphy's Law -- Anything that can go wrong will go wrong -- with the corollary, "At the worst possible time." Unlike a stick-and-bricks home, an RV is simply not large enough to carry everything you might need to make repairs on the road, and it's impossible to know what specific parts might need replacing. Most RV'ers carry a standard supply of hand and power tools, as well as a variety of supplies (duct tape, roof tape and nuts-and-bolts kits come to mind) for making repairs, but rely on RV repair centers or mobile repair technicians to help with breakdowns or damage. When in the wild, however, these facilities may simply not be available. Add the fact that you may not have cell reception, the danger of going without repairs is real.
Medical attention can also be difficult to summon. If a serious event were to occur, such as a hiking incident or heart attack, there is a definite risk of not being treated in time. Unfortunately this may be a risk one must accept for this lifestyle, and makes cell and Internet boosting even more valuable. A first aid kit is a vital supply, and if you spend a great deal of time in the wilderness, possibly a satellite phone or a flare gun might be appropriate.
1. Security concerns- While camping in the forest, desert, bush or badlands, personal protection and security should be of significant concern. There are risks of theft, intrusion, wildlife encroachment, accident, injury and becoming lost, and all can be somewhat lessened or alleviated to some extent.
First to plan for is communications, including informing friends and family where you are, for how long and where you are going to be and when. Checking in with ranger stations or host facilities can be very helpful when entering a large wilderness. Maximize your cell and Internet abilities, though this might not be possible due to complete lack of signal.
Beyond terrain, choosing a site with safety and security in mind can be the most important decision you can make.
Theft and human intrusion can be thwarted with custom door and compartment locks (most RV have shared standard keys) and deadbolt, good lighting and some form of personal protection, such as hand gun, rifle or shotgun, bear spray, taser, and even a perimeter trip wire alarm. I have motion-sensing LED lights in six positions around my rig and they have been invaluable. I won't comment on whether firearm protection is the best solution -- this is always a very personal choice -- but you need to have protection that will give you a chance to survive if the worst should happen.
Much of what helps against human intruders may protect you from bears and other wildlife. You probably are already aware of the potential of food drawing hungry wild animals to your campsite, so take those precautions.
Last, a first aid kit complete with diagnostic and informational booklets is vital to remote camping. Don't skimp on this, perhaps the only tool you have to survive an injury until you can get to a hospital.
I am not trying to scare people out of dry camping, but staying safe does require planning. If you have any other concerns, thousands of RV'ers are expert boondockers and are overwhelmingly eager to help a novice.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.