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All about boondocking

by Don Lascar (aka 'Tahoe Don')

As I promised (threatened) in my "Manifesto" I will try to share my ideas for Boon-docking. These are my ideas and/observations and are not THE WAY, or the ONLY WAY. Just my way. A brief comment on some of my terminology. When I use the term Campground, I usually mean some type of public campground, usually without hookups. Out here in the west there are also lumber companies and Municipal Utility Districts that operate campgrounds. We all know what RV Parks are (privately owned with all or most of the amenities).

I will assume that most of the readers have done some RVing so some of what I say may be repetitious to them but I notice quite a few cries for help from those just starting out. The thought of boon-docking may be intimidating to some although they have boondocked without realizing. For the purpose of this dissertation, I think anytime you stop overnight, a weekend, or whatever without hookups, you are boondocking.

Like all RVing, boondockers come in all sizes and shapes. One of my co-workers has boondocked all the way to Cabo San Lucas at the S. end of Baja towing his pop top with a Jeep Cherokee. I met an elderly (74) gentleman in a campground that was touring the US in his PU camper. One of my fishing buddies and wife spend their 2-3 weeks in the CG in their 18 ft Chinook. When I was a CG Host I had one couple boondocking in their 40 ft Bounder (I believe HC Diehl-{say something HC} also boondocks in a 40 ft Bounder). So much for the intro.

Boondocking is not that much different from RV Park'ing it, but some extra measures are needed. When getting ready for a trip there are some things you may need over and above the regular RV items. I carry a 5 gal bucket, useful for carrying black or grey water to the pit toilets to dump. A long hose (2-50 ft sections) allow me to dump grey water out in the woods. A dishpan or small washbasin for doing dishes and washing up, then dumping the water in the bushes so I do not fill up my grey water tank. Last but not least is a percolator type coffee pot (no Mr. Coffee without electricity.

Where to go?

If you are getting started in this Bonndocking thing, as in all new things, make a test run. I recommend getting set up for a trip and then going to a CG somewhere near your house.

Living at Lake Tahoe, surrounded by Nationals Forests and BLM land I can think of at least 20 campgrounds within 5 Min to an hours drive from my driveway. Our first time out we went to Indian Creek BLM CG about 45 min from home. Spent M-F and only had to come home 3 time to get things we either forgot or did not think of.

Due to their nature, boondocking areas are not advertised or very well known. Most of the info is passed on by word of mouth. That is one reason I am happy to see the threads that talk about favorite places. Just to get a little regional, how many of you drive up & down HWY 395 here in E CA. Have you heard of or boondocked at an area known as "Dirty Socks" east of Olancha?

There are a good many guide books on the market. I am a collector of books and maps and have both for areas I will probably nver see, but I get a great amount of enjoyment out of reading and looking at them.

The usual guides such as Trailer Life and Woodalls RV Park and CG guides are just that. They have a lot of info on RV parks and throw in a few CGs and State & National Parks. Other guide books are better for the Campground data, but none of them are complete and have a few other glitches. For example one of my favorite places for fishing and camping is along the Trinity Rver between Weaverville and Willow Creek . In that stretch there are about 6 FS, BLM and city parks. In checking four different books, none lists them all, and of the 6 campgrounds, one is never mentioned. Another problem is how the campgrounds are listed.

Another favorite of mine is the USFS Cave Campground at Old Station, CA at the junction of HWY 89 & 44. Tried looking it up in my books and none of them lists Old Station. So I started thumbing thru the other CA towns and lo and behold, Cave CG is listed under Burney, CA. Directions- NE 5 on 299 to SR89 & SE 23 miles. There are about 6 CG's along the creek from 5 miles S of Old station to 5 miles N but they are all listed under Burney.

The best book I have found for Campgrounds is American PC United States Public Campgrounds Recreational Vehicle Directory. To order call 1-800-717-FREE (3733). did cost 14.95 +S&H. It is amazing how many city and county campgrounds there are that are either free of "donations accepted".

If you are a member of a fraternal organization such as the Elk, Moose etc, you have access to parking all over the country. I know the Elks even puts out a series of book, published by the Carmicheal, CA lodge on camping with the Elks. Some Elks lodges have mini RV Parks, while others allow parking in their parking lots. Retired military members have access to FAMCAMPS on many Military Installations. Last but not least, get a good collection of Forest Service and BLM maps. I just cannot pass a FS or BLM office without stopping for a few maps. Other books I have found to be of value are:

  • Camping with the Corps of Engineers
  • Don Wrights Guide to Free Campgrounds
  • Camping on a Shoestring (Western Edition). Also comes in an Eastern Edition.

The above books were purchased at Camping World. Others find the Truckstop guide to be of immense value. Last but not least, talk to other RVers and find out where the "Hidden jewels" are.


I suppose the best way to continue this dissertation would be to pack up and take a fictitious trip, so let us assume I am getting ready for my annual salmon fishing trip and plan on staying 14-26 days at the USFS Big Flat CG.

I realize I am going to get some flak from someone about the items I take and how I pack them, but remember there are three ways to doing things. The right way, the wrong way, and my (your) way. This just happens to be my way.

I guess I have the normal items inside the MH. In addition, I put my Lil Chief electric smoker in the shower, and a 105QT cooler (long enough to hold my salmon till I get a chance to clean/fillet them) on the floor between the two twin beds. I break my fishing poles down and store them in the back of the closet.

The oven holds my dishpan, wash pan and a 10 cup percolator. I also have a Melita type pot under the sink. There is a small storage compartment under the steps and I use that to store a small toolbox with a hammer, screwdrivers, pliers a box end wrench set , a utility knife, and a few other misc tools. I also store my multimeters, 12v air compressor and a 15ft 12V extension cord.

Our MH (1987 27ft Southwind) is not a basement model, but it does have a few more outside storage compartments than usual. The dealer said that was because it was a "floor" model. Any way, on the drivers side just in front of the rear wheel I have a compartment 24 in wide, 20 in deep and 10 in high. This is my water compartment. I store 2 50ft hose sections, my 10 ft sewer hose, a couple Y valves, my water thief (CW Pg 107), a short 10 ft water hose, a Hydroflush (CW pg 124) a wand for flushing the HW heater, a pair of slip joint pliers, and a 50 ft extension cord.

Above the propane tank, and just behind the drivers door is a similar size compartment. I keep a small toolbox with electrical stuff there along with a Socket set, my Makita cordless drill, the cloth tire covers, and my 4 piece See Through Solar Guard Window Covers (DR, driver, front and passenger windows).

Just behind the passenger side door is a 42in X26 in deep x 10 in hi compartment in which I store about 6-8 2x8x3 ft " and 2 4x6x2ft leveling blocks, tire chocks, antifreeze, toilet chemicals, duct tape, brake fluid, power steering fluid and few other misc items. Behind that compartment is a 26x23x10 compartment that is used for my fishing gear. I keep my tackle boxes, spare reels, and a small packsack in there.

In the rear is a 26x24x9 compartment. In back of that I keep an air mattress and a small 2 man dome tent (in case I have visitors), several spike type tent stakes for staking down the awning and the patio rug, a couple hanks of nylon cord, awning de-flappers (CW pg ii) a couple small winsocks (my wife collects them) with the various awning clips to hang them, a string of clear mini xmas lights (cheaper than regular patio lights and just as good, a collapsible rake (CW pg 38), plastic table cloth with holding clips, about 4 qts 10-30 oil and about 2 qts transmission fluid. a couple spare propane cylinders for the Coleman lamp or stove, plus a few misc items. On the rear bumper I have a 64in hose carrier to carry a 20ft HD sewer hose and a rack on the ladder for our 3 folding chairs.

Now the fun begins. My toad is a 1983 Toyota Tercel Hatchback, and does it hold a lot. I put my Sunbeam gas tabletop BEG in a plastic bag and put that on the floor by the front passenger seat. Behind the passenger seat I put my spare 5 gal propane tank and behind the drivers seat I put my small 1 gal propane tank with the poston it. Also in the back seat goes my 10x12 screened gazebo, a 2.5 gal water can, coleman latern, coleman stove and a small 3 ft folding stepstool/ladder.

I then open the hatchback and the first thing in is a Portable Platform step (CW pg 17). Sometime when I level the rig the rt side is high and it makes for a long step up. This makes it a bit easier to get in. On top of that I put a TV table and a small folding table(CW pg 53). Next I have a 4X6 aluminum topped folding table and last but not least a 6x24 ft piece of outdoor carpet I got at the local lumber yard. Makes a great patio rug and is a lot cheaper the anything CW sells.

We wont need it for this trip, but at times I will tie my 20 Gal ToteTank,(Blu-boy) on top in the luggage rack. Well, thats it. Now that we are all packed lets get a good nights sleep and get ready to take off tomorrow.

Moving out

We are all packed and ready to move out. I am sure I forgot to mention a few items in my packing, but we will pick them up as we move along.

I take HWY 50 over Spooner Summit to Carson City, 395 to Susanville and 44 to Old Station. But after my little episode last year, my wife says it is a two day trip. For those of you who were not around the forum last year I will digress a bit. On the last day of our vacation we left Lakeview OR heading south on HWY 395 for Tahoe. My front end was badly out of line but I could not find anyplace that could align a rig our size, and the front tires were getting badly worn. I decided I would stop in Alturas and get a new tire. Got to Alturas, and while I was gassing up, located a tire shop and made arrangements for a new tire. Paid for the gas, turned the key-and nothing happened. Called my ERS and shortly a mechanic showed up and had to put a new starter on. Went to the tire shop, got a new tire and eventually headed south. 9 hours after leaving Lakeview we pulled into our driveway. I got out, took two steps and had a minor stroke. Spent 3 days in the hospital.

My wife was/is convinced that the "stress" of the mechanical/tire problem, plus the "long" hours on the road was the cause of the stroke. So now, when I head to Big Flat I have to promise to stay overnight at Hat Creek and go to Big Flat the 2d day. There are several places to just park and BD overnight in the Hat Creek area, but once again, my wife insists I stay at an RV Park where she is sure other people are around and a phone is available in case I have another stroke. There is a nice RV park, Rancheria RV Park 5 miles north of Old Creek that we usually stay if we are just passing through. Can get a pull through so I do not have to unhook the toad. So, I leave Tahoe about 1000 and 5 hours later am at Hat Creek.

Have you ever noticed that most pull throughs are set up for trailers. When I pull far enough forward to get the toad off the road, I am so far from the hookup, they are almost useless. Can hook up to water and electricity. Forget about a sewer hookup. Have dinner at the restaurant at the RV Park, watch a little TV (I paid for the hookups, might as well use them). In the morning I un-hook and move out by 0800. and get to Big Flat about noon (a 3 hr trip) with a stop in Redding to gas up.

As I pull into the CG I can see that site 7, my favorite is open so I head for that. I can pull into the large area between site 7 and 8 and unhook the toad and park it. I then back up a bit so I can get to the water spigot. I pull my water thief and 50 ft freshwater hose out and fill up the freshwater tank. It is a minor chore.

Most public campgrounds do not have spigots with threads, therefore the water thief. I have had problems in the past so I have a hose clamp I use to attach the thief to the spigot. In order to conserve water, most spigots in public campgrounds are the type you have to either turn and hold open or push and hold. Now that my tank is full, I pull forward and go into site 7 head first. It has a slight uphill so leveling is interesting. I stop short, and get my leveling blocks out. Put two 2 x's in front of each rear tire and pull up on them. I then drop my leveling jacks and go back and put a 2X under each one and raise them their full limit. Put another 2X under the tires and drop the jacks. Put a 2X and the 4X6 blocks under the jacks and proceed to level the rig.

With this set up I can lower the rear enough to have the tires on the blocks. Do not like to have them dangling in the air unless absolutely necessary. That was a tough job, so lets take a break and have a cold 7- Up. Now that we are parked and leveled, I get the toad and park it behind the MH. The first thing out is my extra 5 gal propane tank, which I hook up to the MH through my extend-a-stay fitting (more about that later). Now that I have propane I go inside and turn on the fridge and the hot water heater.

Might as well enjoy life, so I plug in my 200 watt inverter, hook up the boombox and put on a Wagner CD. Next thing out is the patio rug which is spread out. If I need it, the portable step is next, and then I let the awning down. Get the tent stakes out and stake down the 4 corners of the rug, and the awning posts. Next I get the 3 chairs off the ladder rack. Time for another 7-Up and a little relaxation to listen to the music. Might as well get the TV and little folding table out, so I have something to set the drink can on. For now the large folding table, BBQ, and screen gazebo are stored under the rear of the MH along with the water can and the small 1 gal propane tank.

After a short break I pull the See-through-solar screens out and set up the small ladder. Put the screens on the dining room window, the drivers, front and passengers window. Keeps the sun out so the interior stays cool, and give a little privacy. Pull out the Smoker and ice chest from inside and store them behind the MH. Now I can get the tire covers out and put them on to protect the tires from the UV rays. I am now all set up and it only took me about 30 minutes.

My next segment will be about managing my electricity.


Fortunately HC Diehl wrote some good stuff on Solar power and he has saved me a lot of typing.

When we are in an RV, our power comes from a couple different sources. Shore power if you are plugged in. without shore power most all you power comes from your batteries, or a genset if you have one. The batteries provide the power to run all you 12v items. If you need to run 120v appliances you must use an inverter of some type. The inverter takes 12v power from you batteries, and changes it to 120v, but you are drawing down on your batteries when using an inverter.

For larger appliances a built in 1500-2500 watt inverter is usually needed. For smaller items 1 200-500 watt inverter that you plug into a 12v outlet is usually sufficient.

When boondocking there are 3 items that will determine how long you can stay in one spot. They are electricity, water and propane. The latter two do not seem to cause as much concern as electricity, but I will cover them in my next two segments.

The question is, how to keep your batteries charged. There are basically 3 ways, Solar power, a genset/inverter with built in battery charger (as per HC) or you can start your rmotor and charge the batteries using the alternator. Now it is time for a few questions of my own. My genset is a 4.0 and if I had a 1500 W inverter with say a 60 amp charger, How long would I have to run the genset to put 60 amphours back into the batteries? I believe my alternater is an 80 amp. How long would I have to run my motor at fast idle to put 60 amphours back into the batteries?

Now, is solar for you. To answer that question you have to do a little homework,, Solar Power of Scottsdale, AZ puts out an excellent book called "RVer's Guide to Solar and Inverters" an it costs about 12.00.According to my owners manual for the Southwind, my hidden power requirements are about 6 amps per day. So my normal power requirements are:

  • Hidden -- 6.0 Amp hours/day
  • Lights -- 1.5 ah/day(1 lamp tor 1 hour in the morning
    .............12.0 ah/day( a double lamp 4 hours in eve)
  • Radio/CD -- 6.0 ah/day(l Amp/hour/6 hours)
  • Furnace -- 6.0 ah/day(figure it runs 1 hour).
  • Pump -- 3.0 ah/day(draws 6 ah so figure 1/2 hour /day)
  • >TOTAL = 34.5 ah/day.

I have two M75 panels and each panel is rated at 48 watts or 3 amps which in theory should give me 60 AHs/day back into the batteries. In reality I figure 40-45 is optimal. There is also a PC 4 panel rated at 70(80) watts or 4.5 amps which would put back 90 (70) amps for a 2 panel setup.

How much does all this cost. A two panel set-up with the regulator, wiring roof racks etc lists for $700 at Solar Power. A two panel PC4 set up lists for $960. Enough has been said about batteries to allow you to make up your minds on that.

A couple more questions. I have a 13 inch color 12v TV. About how many amps does it draw? I think it uses 4 amps but am not sure. If I use a small inverter for an RCA DSS tuner, how many amps does that draw? HC-you mention using a digital meter to check your batteries. Have you compared your digital meter reading with the reading you get on the Meter/regulator that comes with the Panel Kit? Is there any difference? I usually rely on what the inside meter sap and seldom use a meter on the batteries.

A comment on lights. Most of us have the standard 12v Incandescent light fixtures. The two most common replacement bulbs are #1141 which draws 1.4 amps and the 1156 which draws 2.1 amps. The 1156 is cheaper, but does not last as long as the 1141 and as noted draws more power.

Water, Propane, etc.

I started this series in hopes giving the newcomers to RVing and Boondocking some idea of how it goes. Will wrap this up with a few typical days dry camping in my favorite USFS Campground.

In an earlier episode I got all set up and was just relaxing. Time to do something. Think I will fill up my 2.5 gal water can and use it to fill up my dishpan. Will let it set out in the sun to get some warm water. That done, it is time to head into Big Bar and visit my friends at the FS District office.

On the way back I will stop off at the Trinity River RV park & see how many of my fishing buddies are there and pick up a can of Roe so I can make some Roe Balls tonite.

Back to camp; time to fix supper. Set up my BBQ with the 1 gal gas tank and will BBQ a steak tonite. Veggies etc will be cooked on the stove in the MH.

A brief word about propane. Trailers, PU campers and poptops usually have two 5 gal propane tanks that are removable. When one gets empty, you switch over to the other tank, unhook the empty tank, and head to the nearest place that sells propane to fill up.

A Motorhome is different. The propane tank is permanently mounted and when it is empty you have to drive the whole rig to the propane dealer. Camping world used to sell an item called Extend-A-Stay. It is very similar to the Extend-A-Flow kit they now sell, but it had a fitting that allows you to hook up an auxiliary tank to the system and work off that.

The Amerigas dealer here in Tahoe sells the fitting and the hoses needed. So I hooked up my spare 5 gal propane tank and will use that during my stay. I do a bit of cooking, have the hot water heater on, run the fridge off propane and an occasional use of the furnace. All in all the 5 gal tank should last abut 2 weeks.

If it runs dry during my stay, I switch over to the main tank, take the 5 gal tank to the RV park for a fill up and hook it right back up.

Well, the steak is done, the veggies are ready, and I got a small Macaroni salad from the store. Open the bottle of wine and dinner is served, A little Tschaikowski on the CD. What more can you ask for. After dinner I get my gear out and make up the roe balls for tomorrow's fishing and make sure I have all the rigging I need. It is now about 10PM so time for bed. I get my 10 cup percolator out, fill it with water and put 3 scoops of coffee in the basket and set it on the stove, ready for morning.

5AM, time to get up, it is a little cool so I switch on the furnace for a bit. Light the burner under the coffee and get dressed. I am not a good coffee maker, so as soon as the coffee starts to perk, I turn down the flame and set my timer for 7 minutes, my sister-in-law told me that is about how long she perks her coffee and it seems to work fine.

By this time the place is fairly warm, so I turn off the furnace. It has only been on for about 20 minutes. Have a couple cups of coffee and a bagel with creme cheese and I am ready to go after putting the rest of the coffee in my thermos.

I usually leave the rig about 6 AM. If the fishing is good, I want to get to the fishing hole before too many others show up. If fishing is slow, I can usually wait till about 0630 before taking off. From the Big Flat CG I can walk down to my fishing hole. Get up on my rock, pour a cup of coffee and wait for it to get light. There are usually a couple others there so we just visit and get ready for fishing.

Lets be optimistic and assume I have gotten my two fish and it is now about 10 am. Go back to the CG put the fish in the cooler, get in the car and drive down to the Trinity river Inn and get a couple bags of ice for the cooler. While there I stop for breakfast of biscuits and gravy.

Back to camp, and time for a short nap. After I get up it is time to clean and filet my salmon. The yellowjacket hornets are bad this year so I put the Screen gazebo up over my big folding table. Now I can work in relative comfort. After I filet the fish I get out a 2 gal bucket and make up the marinade. Before I go to bed I will put the fish in the marinade and let them soak over night and take them out before I head for the fishing hole to let them air dry.

After cleaning the fish, I use the water in the dish pan to wash up and clean the work area. Then toss the water into the bushes. Time to wander around and visit the others in the CG and make arrangements with the CG host to plug my smoker into his electrical outlet.

Water, Propane (continued)

I have re-read what I have written and one thing does not appear obvious. I am basically a tent camper at heart.

When I boondock, which is most of the time, I do things much as I would do them whan tent camping, only in the convenience of an MH. Most of my waste water is used to water new plantings in the CG or thrown in the bushes. When I wash up I use a washpan in the sink, put in hot water and then add cold until it is the "right" temp. After I wash, I take the pan outside and toss it. When I do dishes I do the same thing with a dish pan. I have a double sink, so I put the clean dishes in the second sink. When done washing the dishes, I go out and dispose of the dishwater and then rinse the dishpan at the water spigot. Got back inside, fill the dishpan with hot-cold water and rinse the dishes. Go outside and dispose of the water.

My personal hygene probably also leaves a bit to be desired. I do not shower every day at home and definately do not when camping. About every other day I fill a bucket with warm water & set it in the"tub/shower. There is a small seat at the end of the tub, so I sit there and take a sponge bath. Once again, the waste water is disposed of outside. About once a week, I go down to the RV park a quarter mile down the road and for $2.00 take a shower.

To replace the water I use, I have a 2.5 gal water can, actually a 2.5 gal plastic gas can). Some people use a 5 gal can, but they are too big, heavy and awkard for me. When I am sitting around camp during the day, and the spirit moves me, I fill up the water can and dump it in the freshwater tank. 3-4 cans-full a day usually keeps the tank pretty full. The most I have ever put in during one day is about 12.5 gal. As for Black Water, I try to use the CG facilities during the day, saving the toilet in the MH for my "Nocturnal" needs.

Have gone almost a month that way without having to worry about dumping BW before leaving. Despite everything I have said, there are still times when I do drain some GW into the GW tank, but once again can usually go the full trip without having to dump. If I do, I can use the GW to water the new plantings, or dump a in the bushes like the rest of the tent campers.

If you boondock, and use a bucket or "blu-boy" to transport BW to the pit toilets please check and make sure the chemicals you use in the BW tank are formaldhyde free. Formaldhyde really messes up a septic system. That is why many free dumps at rest stops have been closed down.

Well, that is about all I can say about my way of boondocking. It is probably not for everyone. Many people like a few more luxuries and "normal" ways of doing things when boondocking, but that is the fun of it. We all have our own ways to survive. As I said at the beginning, my boondocking is usually "dry-camping" in some sort of developed CG, so the details of doing things are different than they would be if I were in the "out-back" with no facilities, but the principles are the same.

One last word of caution. 1 usually travel with about a quarter tank of fresh water and fill up at or near the CG. If you stop at a gas station or store along the way end use their hose to fill up the freshwater tank, let the water run long enough to flush out the hose. The water in the hose has been sitting there, getting warm, and soaking up a nice rubber taste. Forgot about that one time at home, ran out the garden hose, stuck it in the freshwater tank, walked back, turned it on and filled the tank. Went to a CG about 35 minutes from home for a few days fishing. Had to throw out the first pot of coffee, drain the tank, and start from scratch. Carried a lot of 2.5 gal water cans that day.