Boondocking for Beginners
John and I have been on the road for one year now, and during that time we’ve covered 25 states. Part of that time has been spent #boondocking (camping without full or partial hookups).
Today is our last day of a four-day boondocking adventure in #Bryce Canyon National Park and I thought it might be helpful to share a typical day of boondocking, as well as tips on how we get by without the typical services of sewer, electricity, and water.
First, let me just say that we are not fully set up to boondock as efficiently as possible. It’s a work in progress, and within a month we hope to be much more self-sufficient with solar and a better battery bank. But for now, we are on the road with what Jayco provided in our Seismic 4113, a 45-foot 5th wheel toy hauler.
We currently have a converter and inverter, two 12-volt deep cycle batteries, 146 gallon fresh water tank and two sets of gray and black water tanks, with 87 gallons of black water capacity and 87 gallons of gray water capacity. Black water tanks are for the toilets and gray handle the water used in sinks, showers, and washing machine. Our second gray and black water tanks are for the toy hauler area of our RV—the second bath (a 1/2 bath) and the washing machine. We have a washer but no dryer. A dryer vent wasn’t run because the hookups are on an inside wall. John could drill a hole through the floor, but instead we use a drying rack or the camp’s laundry facilities if the prices are reasonable. Using the washer while boondocking isn’t cost effective. You have to run the generator, plus use your limited water supply. So we space out our boon docking with a few days at a full hookup campsite where we can thoroughly flush our tanks, clean the RV, and do laundry.
We also have a 5,500 generator (with a 20-gallon fuel tank), two 5-gallon containers (one diesel and one premium) of gas in the back of the truck for emergencies, a 60-gallon water bladder that lets us bring water to the RV and fill our tanks, and a 65-gallon honey wagon that can be attached to our truck’s trailer hitch and hauled to a dump site. Honey wagons hook up to the gray and black tanks, allowing you to empty them. When we add solar panels, a more energy-efficient refrigerator, and more battery power, we will be a boon docking machine!
But for now, boondocking (also called dry camping) is a bit of a challenge, especially when we don’t plan ahead. We showed up at Bryce Canyon with our fresh water tank only one-third full. RVs are lighter if you don’t travel with your tanks full. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon, and we were climbing mountains to get here. Bryce has drinking water available, so we planned to fill up upon arrival. However, Bryce has cut off the threads to the spigots so people don’t hog the water (that’s supposed to be shared) with their hoses. Despite the fact that we have both a water bladder and several lengths of hoses, we have no way to fill up here in the camp. So, we make do and economize on the water. And, yes, I know we could drive somewhere and fill up our water bladder, but we’re being lazy this week.
It’s day four and we’re doing ok with our short water supply. We shower at the general store (not really IN the store). It costs $3 for 8 minutes. You buy a token for a machine. We use a bucket in our sink to wash dishes and our hands so we don’t fill up the gray water tank. They have bathrooms nearby, so the water can be poured down the toilet. They also have a wash station, but I prefer our sinks because I know they’re clean.
We run our generator for two hours in the morning as soon as we are allowed to turn them on. Here it is 8 a.m. and they must be off by 8 p.m. This allows us to charge up our deep cycle batteries, our cell phones and computers, and most importantly, turn on the coffee pot. We have a French Press for desperate times, but we prefer our Mr. Coffee (no free plug intended). We can also use our microwave with the generator, so a fast breakfast can be prepared.
After an hour or two, the generator goes off and the inverter takes over. This is a good time to leave, turn everything off, and let the inverter run the refrigerator. Due to not having the proper battery set-up, we try to save the inverter power for the refrigerator, so while using the inverter, we try to turn everything else off—except for the lights directly over our chairs. We like to see while reading or on our computer.
We run the generator again in the afternoon, for about the same time, and again at night while preparing dinner or if we want to watch a bit of television (if any channels are available or we can pick up the internet or Wi-Fi). With the generator, we can run the microwaves, tv, water pump, and air conditioners or heaters, so we time our cooking and even when we brush our teeth. Oh, and the recliner legs won’t go up if the generator is off. RVing isn’t easy. You can’t take things for granted—like electricity.
The inverter runs during the night, keeping our refrigerator functioning properly, and when the batteries get too low we turn off the inverter and just don’t open the refrigerator. We keep a thermometer in the refrigerator so we know our temps and that our food is safe. We also place three large bowls of ice in the refrigerator to help keep the temperature down.
At night, our RV gives us the option of propane heat, so we stay warm. With the generator we can run electric heat or a combination of the two. We try to avoid super hot areas of the country. Our motto isn’t “It’s 70 Degrees Somewhere” for nothin’.
In the four days we’ve been here, John has had to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go outside to plug in a power cord that runs from the truck and uses the truck’s batteries to jump start our generator. We’ve used these two RV batteries for a year and they drain too far in the overnight hours while powering the residential refrigerator. The generator will start on its own in the afternoon when it’s warm, but it hates the mornings.
When we’re not out in the middle of nowhere, we will eat out once a day to save on dishwater—plus it’s nice to pamper ourselves. Otherwise, we must plan meals ahead of time and make sure we have all the ingredients. Vegetables should be pre-washed prior to boondocking.
Don’t feel like cooking? No calling out for pizza. Keep bread and peanut butter and jelly handy, as well as canned tuna and other “no-cook” meals. Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup can fill in for any of your planning errors.
We stay connected with a cellular booster as well as one for the Wi-Fi, and we have both Verizon and AT&T plans so that one of us usually has a viable cell phone. That doesn’t mean that we don’t find ourselves occasionally cut off from communication. We’ve had some fun times in parking lots of bars or in scenic overlooks where we have stopped to print, send emails, or make bank transfers. Our hotspot has come in handy on a regular basis.
Our gray and black tanks take about a week to fill up, so we won’t have to empty them until we leave Bryce Canyon. Their dump station is currently closed, but there’s a private RV park nearby that charges $10 to dump (a pretty standard price).
Why boondocks? It seems so labor intensive, right? Well, we have more elbow room when we boondock, no neighbor right up against our window, so close we can’t put our deck down or we can’t sleep due to their snoring (that happened in Traverse City, Michigan). Instead, we have unbeatable scenery, space to breathe and commune with nature—without having to drive to find it. We have parked along the Colorado River—literally on its banks. We have settled down on a buffalo ranch and gotten up close and personal with the furry beasts, and today I am looking for a Steller’s Jay (a beautiful crested blue bird) as I sit on our side deck overlooking an unobstructed view of Bryce Cannon National Park.
I just found two Steller’s Jays. Life can’t get any better.