Get Off-Grid: 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks

Ah, boondocking. Just the thought of it evokes images of camping atop a remote, desert mesa or in a cool, heavily wooded mountain forest. If you enjoy beautiful vistas, peaceful solitude, and clean air when you camp, then boondocking is for you. It’s a hundred times better than listening to a teeth-rattling generator at a crowded campground or dealing with the confines and the lack of privacy at an expensive, asphalt-laden RV park. And when it comes to the truck camper and boondocking, you’ve got it even better. There isn’t a better RV for getting you to those remote, far-away places than the go anywhere, do anything truck camper, especially when it’s mounted on a 4×4 truck. In the article, we present 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to camp off-grid. Indeed, after comparing this article to others on the same topic, you’ll quickly realize that this article is one of the most important, go-to sources on the topic on the Internet.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, boondocking is defined as wilderness, dispersed or primitive camping in the “boondocks” without water, sewer, and electrical hookups. If you’ve camped exclusively at campgrounds and RV parks in the past, then you’ll need to train yourself on this new and exciting way of camping. Unlike before, you’ll need to depend solely on the holding tanks and equipment found in your truck camper. This means you’ll not only need to rely on your camper’s 12 volt battery system for all of your electrical power, but also on your camper’s fresh water holding tank for your potable water, and on your camper’s propane system to run your refrigerator, furnace, and cooktop. This also means you won’t be able to take “Hollywood showers” or leave the lights on when they’re not being used. You can certainly do these things, of course, but you’ll quickly run out of fresh water and rapidly drain your 12 volt batteries.

In an effort to avoid boondocking mistake’s like these and others from happening, I present these nine, easily learned tips and tricks. This article is intended for newbies, but experienced boondockers can benefit from the principles and tips taught in this article as well. So without further adieu, here are 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to get off-grid:

1. Know Where to Boondock

The best boondocking is found west of the Mississippi on federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can also boondock on state and national wildlife preserves, properties owned by timber companies, state forests, state trust land, county parks, and on private property (with the owner’s permission, of course). Pinpoint campsites using maps, blogs, boondocking forums, your Jeep toad, and Google Earth. Talk to park rangers to determine which roads are open for overnight camping. Look for BLM and USFS roads with numbered signs. As long as the gate to the road is open and there are no signs that prohibit camping, then you can boondock along that road, generally within 150 feet.

2. Conserve Water

Easily one of our Top 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to camp off-grid. Water is your most precious resource when you boondock. Use it wisely. Never leave your faucet running while using the tap. Use a half cup of water or bottled water to brush your teeth. Buy an Oxygenics Shower Head and take “Navy Showers,” get wet, turn off the water, soap up, then rinse off. Use baby wipes for personal hygiene. For meals, use paper plates and plastic cups, bowls, and eating utensils that way you won’t need to wash dishes. When dish washing is necessary, wash them in a small tub and save the dish water for flushing the toilet. Keep in mind that limiting the amount of fresh water you use also limits the amount of waste water that you generate, which is always a good thing when you’re off-grid.

3. Potable Water Sources

Without a doubt, one of the Top 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to camp off-grid. Potable water can be obtained from numerous sources at little or no cost. These sources include county and city parks, campgrounds, and ranger stations as well as RV parks, truck stops, and gas stations. Use a Water Bandit and a hose to get potable water from non-threaded water spigots. For additional water capacity, bring along extra 7 gallon water containers and bottled water if needed. Water can also be obtained from natural sources like lakes and streams, of course, but make sure you filter out any sediments and purify it first before you put it in your holding tank and drink it. Few things can ruin a trip like a bad case of the runs. Use a funnel or a portable 12 volt water pump to ease the task of filling your fresh water holding tank from natural sources.

4. Conserve Power

Easily one of our Top 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to get off-grid. Truck campers should have a minimum of two deep cycle batteries for camping off-grid though more is better (AGM and lithium ion batteries work best for boondocking). If your camper’s battery compartment can hold only one battery, install a Torklift Hidden Power Unit to get two. Use the TV, water pump, fans, and lights only when you need them. Replace your higher wattage incandescent light bulbs with lower wattage LED lights. When boondocking in cold weather, avoid using the power-sucking furnace to keep warm and instead use either a 0-degree-rated sleeping blanket or a Wave 6 catalytic heater (catalytic heaters use propane only, no electricity). If you don’t have a battery monitor, like the Xantrex LinkLITE, buy one. They are a boondocking enthusiast’s best friend and really take the guesswork out of the state of your batteries.

5. Keep Your Batteries Charged

Avoid draining your batteries below 50 percent state of charge for wet cell and AGM batteries and below 80 percent for lithium ion batteries. Frequently doing so will damage your batteries and reduce their lifespan. Don’t rely on a basic alternator charge circuit as your primary means to keep your batteries topped-off for long-term boondocking, it’s neither efficient enough nor fast enough for the job. Employ solar and/or a generator as your primary means instead. Size your solar power system based upon your needs. For most, a 200 watt system will be more than sufficient, though more is better. For generators, avoid the noisy and cheap industrial types and go with the whisper-quiet, inverter types instead like the Honda EU2000i or the Yamaha EF2000iSv2. A portable wind turbine is another option that’s slowly gaining popularity. If you decide to go this route make sure you get a quality, high amperage unit.

6. Minimize Use of Your Toilet

Dealing with waste water will perhaps be your biggest challenge while you’re off-grid. The black water holding tank in your truck camper is limited in size, so minimize use of your toilet as much as possible (this is much easier for guys, of course). Use rest stops, restaurants, gas stations, and pit toilets as much as possible. Never fill your toilet bowl with water after flushing—use just enough water to cover the rubber seal in your toilet.

7. Know Where to Dump

An important rule for those who want to camp off-grid. Dump black water at approved locations only like RV dump stations and campgrounds (the Sanidumps.com website or app is an excellent source to find these dump sites). For truck campers equipped with cassette toilets, black water can also be dumped in toilets at county or city park restrooms, rest areas, or at campground pit toilets. Never dump your black water in the wild. It’s bad for the environment, illegal, and inconsiderate of others who might camp in your location after you.

8. Be Prepared

Boondocking will sometimes take you beyond cell phone range and help, so you’ll need to be prepared for all kinds of contingencies. Must-have preparedness items include a Ham radio, like the Yaesu FT-8900R; an emergency roadside kit with a good set of hand tools; a well-stocked first aid kit; a portable air compressor to fill flat tires, like the VIAIR 450P; a Berkefeld water purification system, and an axe or a saw-zaw to cut firewood. I also like to keep a small roll of Eternabond tape on-hand to fix tears in the roof or to repair cracked roof vents and skylights. If your boondocking includes traveling far off the beaten path a lot, you’ll also need a winch and a good folding shovel to dig you out of trouble. Emergency preparedness includes personal protection, too. This can be a firearm, bear spray, a taser, and/or your favorite four-legged friend.

9. Take Care of the Environment

Easily one of our Top 9 Boondocking Tips and Tricks for those who want to get off-grid. Apply the Golden Rule when you boondock. Be considerate of others and the environment when you boondock.  Extinguish your campfire, pick up your trash, and leave your campsite in pristine condition. Avoid burning wood pallets due to the large number of nails they leave behind. It’s unfortunate that the obvious has to be said, but you’d be shocked at the amount of trash left on public land. It’s extremely inconsiderate, unsightly, and against the law. If you get caught you can be fined (see Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart A, 261.11(d), under “Sanitation”). The best approach when boondocking is to simply leave your campsite in better condition than when you arrived. Keeping things picked up is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for the environment.

Editor’s note: This is an updated and revised version of an article we first published in Sep 2011.

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About Mello Mike 447 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently drives a 2013 Ram 3500 4x4 pickup truck with a 2016 Northstar Laredo solar powered truck camper mounted on top. He enjoys football, music, hiking, travel, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management until 2017, and now runs this website full-time. He also does some consulting and RV inspections on the side.

4 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why the Yamaha type generators aren’t original equipment–they’re cheaper and appear to have similar output to the Onan. Am I missing something?

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