Nearly two years of keeping up this RV travel blog and it dawns on me that we’ve really only written this one boondocking tip, for conserving water.
Well, considering we have now gone as many as 45 days without hookups – not too recently, mind you – it seems appropriate to provide some tips for making the most of your boondocking days.
First, we refer to boondocking here as anytime we’re not hooked into the grid for the night. Ergo, any night spent without hookups is boondocking to us – whether it be out in the boonies or in a WalMart parking lot. Technically though, according to a “Disconnected RVing” article in the Escapees magazine we now get; if your staying in a campground without hookups, that is considered Dry Camping.
But this post isn’t about linguistics. It’s about seeing how long you can go without hookups, comfortably. And comfort is the key here. It takes a certain level of which to truly enjoy long term boondocking. Which we do, so keep that in mind as we share our methods, or madness depending on how you look at it …
Go Solar – A basic system including solar panel, charge controller and inverter will help keep your batteries charged and provide AC power when not plugged in. As with anything of course, the more you spend the more you get. A large bank of 6v batteries and multiple solar panels may enable you to go longer before re-charging, if you have to at all. But this can quickly drain the pocketbook. We get by with one 120w solar panel, a 2400w inverter and the two 12v RV batteries that came with our trailer.
Stay Charged Up – To keep your batteries healthy, never let them drain completely. Many recommend charging batteries if they fall below 12 volts. Our inverter will automatically shut off if voltage drops below 11.7 volts. Get yourself an accurate voltmeter and run your generator to charge batteries as often as necessary.
Maintain those Batteriers – Be sure to check your batteries regularly. We learned the hard way. If they are not the sealed maintenance free type, keep distilled water on hand and top them off as necessary. Boondocking often means bumpy roads, so ensure all battery connections are tight, and no wires may be causing shorts in the system.
Use the Sun – Solar power is best suited for “float” charging which is basically keeping batteries topped off when they are about 90% charged. So take breaks during the day to let the sun do its work. A generator is better suited for “absorbtion” when battery power is further depleted. The best time to fully charge batteries with your generator is in the morning when they are at rest.
Consider Your Position – You know your rig. If you have solar panels, park so they get maximum exposure to the sun throughout the day. For us, it is best to park facing the northwest. That way our satellite dish will not cast a shadow on our solar panel.
Go in the Woods – Use vault toilets whenever available, or a tree if not, to conserve water from flushing.
Bundle up – In cold weather, put on a sweater or grab another blanket before considering wasting battery power and propane by running the furnace.
Strip Down – If it’s hot, put on your shorts or consider moving on to where it’s not. Your air conditioner will quickly drain your batteries, if your solar power system is capable of running it.
Stock Up – Before heading out to the Boonies, always ensure your fresh water tanks are full and you have plenty of gas for your generator and propane in your tanks. It helps to have empty waste water tanks too!
Stock Up Some More – Carry extra fresh water with you when planning extended stays without hookups. We use three collapsible 5 gallon water jugs and various other containers for topping off our tank.
Conserve – Sounds simple, but it is the most important thing to consider when boondocking. And it relates to both power and water. Use headlamps or battery powered lanterns rather than your house lights. Never leave lights on when not needed. We go so far as to remove the LP leak detector fuse so its LED light doesn’t glow.
Conserve More – Never let the water run when doing dishes. Clean pots and utensils using a bowl of soapy water then rinse all at once under dripping water. Using paper plates and disposable cups will eliminate the water needed to wash them. And remember, cast iron pans don’t need scrubbing and can usually just be wiped clean.
Conserve Even More – When taking a shower, run the water into a tea kettle or other container while it heats up so none is wasted. Take short bird baths with as little water as possible, or consider skipping daily showers. Use body wipes to stay feeling fresh.
Play The Shower Game – Try to see how little water you can actually use. Wet down within a few seconds. Soap up, then rinse off quickly. Shower immediately after one another so you don’t have to wait for the water from the faucet to warm up again.
Fill Your Black Tank – Grey water tanks often fill up quicker than your black water. So wash dishes using a tub and pour the dishwater down the toilet. Turn the water pump off when doing this so the toilet will not flush.
Make One Pot Meals – Plan meals you can make using one pan to reduce dish washing. We find that grilling uses the least amount of dishes and is much more enjoyable anyway.
Wipe Before Cleaning – Wipe out all dirty pans and dishes with a paper towel before washing to reduce the amount of water required.
Work Offline – Our biggest electrical draw is our network. With two laptops, a wireless router, MotoSat dish controller, HughesNet modem and network storage, we can drain our batteries within a few hours on a busy cloudy day. So, we do whatever work we can offline before booting up the network. Leaving the network drive unplugged helps, and once we are locked onto our satellite we also turn off the dish controller since there is no need for that again until we have to put the dish down.
Enjoy it – Boondocking is meant to be fun. It’s the best way to get out and away from it all. When your tanks are empty and full, and you need to recharge yourself, head for hookups to give the rig a good cleaning and enjoy the luxury of lights at night. Then dump and fill up so you can go do it again!
If you have any helpful off-grid RVing, “dry-camping” or boondocking tips of your own please share them by leaving a comment. And let us know how long you have gone without hookups or if you just abhor the idea.