How to Boon-dock or Dry camp

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Marsha/CA

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I was thinking of putting this in the Quartzsite 2013 thread, but decided maybe it should go here.  We have boon-docked/dry-camped lots of time.  We have some friends who are thinking of accompanying us to Quartzsite this year and they are petrified of dry camping to the point of thinking they will just come out for one day. 

I was going to put together a list for them of some ideas of how we make it for long periods of time without hook-ups; but then I though maybe others here might have even better ideas and suggestion.  So, how do you boon-dock and make it a pleasant event?

I'll start off, we take several gallons of water with us so that we don't use as much of our tank water.

Marsha~



 
Successful boondocking requires extreme conservation of utilities.

To conserve water take very short Navy showers, drink bottled water, use paper plates and wash your hands with a touch of liquid soap.

To conserve electricity don't watch TV, don't use lights unless you have to, run the refer on propane, and don't do any welding.

To conserve propane turn the water heater off, pile on lots of extra blankets and don't turn the heater on at night, cook outside on the grill and don't roast any turkeys in the oven.

To conserve waste use public restrooms for showering and an often as you can for #1 and #2.

I like to eat a lot of snacks that require no preparation and use virtually no dishes. Things like fruit cups, pudding cups, and cookies.

When you live in a stick and brick you usually don't even think twice about using gas, electricity or water. When you are boondocking you must think of conservation every time you use gas, electricity or water.
 
Think wash cloths for bathing, think of hats instead of shampooing hair, think of lots of paper plates and paper towels. Use deodorant.  Catch water when it is warming up for  the once a week dishes. Blankets. Think of it as the camping experience it really is.  Enjoy the friends, think of your lack of amenities as an adventure.  Be grateful when you do have full hook ups.  Eat out at the local  restaurants, save left overs. Turn off the lights at night. Run the generator.
Enjoy the sunsets.  Avoid complaining!  Have fun, it does not  last forever. 
 
We live a little freer than has been pictured.  We do take Navy showers, use the restroom, watch TV, use the computer  and stay up late at night.  We run the generator, the furnace and generally live fairly normally. 
We do use paper plates, take showers as though water was gold and practice good conservation of  resources but not to the extent that we are uncomfortable.  Generally we can go a week without dumping and can go longer if we don't shower daily, we do use the wash cloth routine if showers are not taken.  Upon occasion we have even had a guest for a few days and still no significant impact to our stay.
We do take advantage of the "unique" dining experiences in QZ and the area.
The bottom line is we do enjoy the stay for a week to 10 days but do not stay an extended time in the area as we have other things to do and other people to see.
Love the stay at QZ and the visit with the Framily.  We are really missing the time in AZ this year as we have missed too many lately
 
We only have a week off from work but this plan would work staying two, three even four weeks.....we'd just have to dump once in awhile (or take advantage of the honey bucket truck) and fill up the propane tanks.

We changed out all of our interior lighting to LED to conserve on the batteries.  However, we will be bringing one of the generators and a can of gas for it.  We'll be reading at night.

We're also bringing six gallons of water for drinking and cooking so the fresh water tank is strictly for showers, washing, washing dishes, etc.  But we'll also use paper plates, bottled juies, soda, etc.  Both propane tanks are full. 

Like Jim Godward posted, we'll conserve but we'll also be comfortable.
 
By the way Marsha, you can tell your friends this is our first time of boondocking for more than three days.  We're excited and looking forward to it.  Of course we are kind of adventurous.

I don't think it's like being on the edge of the earth.......there are plenty of resources in the immediate area and plenty of people to help should they need help.  I think about the worse would be if their heater went out in the middle of the night and as long as they have flannel sheets and plenty of blankets, they'll make it till morning.

What's there concern Marsha?  Is it just the "unknown".....not having done it before?  That's the part that's exciting. :)
 
There is no need to be afraid of boondocking. As mentioned above, a bit of conservetion is the key.
Now, if you feel the need for lavish conditions maybe its best you go find a resort hotel, but you're gonna miss a damn good time with lots of great folks.
 
You can go crazy but you don't have to. We find the size of the holding tanks is the determining factor. Take Navy showers every 2 or 3 days and use baby wipes on the other days (Big Lots sells some very nice green tea and aloe wipes for $1 for a package of 30). We don't use paper plates because it doesn't take that much water to wash the dishes (don't leave the water running).  One-pot suppers and dinner on the Barbie are great helps. Use public restrooms when you're away from the RV. And remember, it's not that hard to drive over to the dump station. You'll even meet some interesting people in line.

Most important, HAVE FUN!

Wendy
 
An easy way to gain confidence about boondocking is to pull into a full service campsite but don't hook up to any of the utilities.  Voila, you're boondocking!

Go about your normal activities, and see what runs out or fills up first.  Then all you have to do is connect the appropriate hose(s) and replenish or drain as needed.

Same thing for battery life.  When your battery runs down, note how long it lasted and plug into electricity.  The converter will recharge the battery.

Now that you have a rough idea of how long things last, you can start planning how to conserve.  Shorter showers?  Paper plates so you don't have to do as many dishes?  Fewer lights?  Run the generator every once in a while to recharge the batteries? etc.

And I can't think of a better place to get your feet wet than at the RV Forum Rally.  No matter what happens, there's lots of friendly folks more than willing to help a newbie (or anyone else, for that matter).

That's really all there is to it.
 
All great replies.  We boondock almost every weekend throughout the camping season for almost 20 years now.  You learn as you go.  But definitely nothing to be scared of.

Marsha,
Tell your friends with a little preparation and a few tips, they will be just fine.  And once they get the hang of it, they will be able to go anywhere at anytime!  How much fun will that be?!
 
Lou hit the nail on the head, one of the best ways to find out exactly how long things last is to go to a local RV park and set up for how ever long you want.  Instead of running a genset the breaker on the shore post will be your genset when the batteries get low.  We had some acquaintances a few years ago that tried this method and didn't make through the first afternoon!!  Boondocking ain't fer everybody!!

We boondock as often as we can, this summer we spent 2 1/2 months off the grid in the woods of northern Idaho and had a blast.  Most RV's/5th wheels really aren't designed for boondocking though, they aren't near as energy efficient as they could be.  Keep in mind that your 12v incandescent lights are power pigs, turn off lights when not in use.  The other determining factor will be your fresh water supply.  Our rig happens to have a 100 gallon fresh tank so we've got quite a bit of wiggle room on that but non-toy haulers don't tend to have that large of a fresh tank.

The biggest hazard to boondocking is that it can get addicting and that means some serious expense to convert a rig over to a boondock friendly RV.
 
Boondocking isn't about doing without, it's about doing it differently.

By that I don't mean you have to use your RV like a hard sided tent, cold, dirty and fumbling around in the dark. Then again it also doesn't mean long hot showers or running the incandescent lights all night with the thermostat set at 80 either. There is a comfortable point in between those two for every camper. It is usually a mix of both behavior as well as changes to your rig. The more you change your behavior, the less you need to change the rig

Conserving yet filling your needs is much easier than adding abilities and wasting resources.  Others have mentioned navy showers, LEDS, Turning down or off the furnace, paper plates/ cups, so I'll try to add other things.

When we are getting ready to take a navy shower and running the water to get it hot, we stick a pot under the tap and catch the excess instead of allowing it to go down the drain.
That pot goes on the stove later to wash dishes. We put the all to be washed in a bin starting with the cook pot on the bottom, then dishes and glasses on top. Put the flatware in one of the glasses, add a few drops of dish soap and fill glass with hot water. Wash the flatware and glass, pour the soapy water into the next glass. rinse the flatware in the clean glass and it in turn is used to rinse the next glass. We rinse over the bin so any water loss is added to the soapy water and by the time we get to the pot, there is a good amount of water in there for scrubbing it out.  That water doesn't go down the drain to fill the grey tank, it goes in a bucket that can be used to flush the toilet or out by the fire in case the worst happens. So far we have been lucky and it is used to put out the fire at the end of the night.

When we wash our hands, we use just a trickle of water to wet them, a small amount of soap to lather up, wipe the soap and dirt onto the "dirty towel". after that it takes just a trickle again to rinse and wipe on the "clean towel" (this water too is added to the fire bucket)

Before we had LEDs, solar and a generator, we still could go out for a week on our single 95 ah battery. That battery ran the essentials, fridge, hot water heater and pump when needed and yes even the furnace set to 50 if it was going to be in the 30s or lower at night. Should the battery get low, I turned the truck around and with a heavy set of jumper cables charged up for a hour or so as needed. The colder it got, the more often I had to do this. No furnace needed and I didn't charge for a week but we still can go 3 days with furnace and no charging.
None essentials like lighting and entertainment were on separate systems. Phones, laptops, portable DVD players and small TVs all go into the truck at night to be charged for the next day. $3 Harbor freight LED puck lights were our lighting. The can be hung by their hook, stuck to metal with their magnet or just set on a shelf pointing up to light up the trailer and the 3 AAA batteries they use last forever. We still keep a small 35 ah gel cell in the trailer for running things during the day like a small inverter, fans etc.

Our trailer has a 30 gal fresh water tank and for us that's good for a week with showers for both every other day. We augment that with up to six 5 gal water jugs that fit in a dispenser or can be dumped into the tank as needed. The dispenser allows us to get water for small things like making coffee with out running the pump and using the battery. More importantly I can get water at 5 am and not wake Honey with the pump that sits 18 inches below our pillows. :)

The first thing I do at 5 am is fill the pot from the dispenser and start heating it on the stove for coffee. That alone will start warming up the TT.  After that I use a Melita cone filter to make drip coffee. If you have a auto drip instead, put the filter and grounds in as usual, open the top and slowly pour the hot water over the grounds. It will drip into the pot just as if it had been plugged in. After that I start breakfast which adds more heat to the trailer. A rack of ribs in the over set to low for hours doesn't use a lot of propane yet adds heat and the ribs are incredible. ( stove is propane so ventilate) Want more free heat? Cut some cardboard or tin pieces that will fit in the windows with a inch on top and bottom. The sun will hit these and they will radiate a fair amount of heat.

These are all behavior changes that cost little or nothing yet can have a big impact. It is how we have done it for 25 years but we never knew it was called boondocking, It was just camping and it was how everyone did it.

Now if they like boondocking and wish to make changes to their rig, it still doesn't have to cost a fortune.

The LEDs we use are cheapies from ebay. They ran $3 for the bigger panels and under $2 for the smaller cob styles. I replaced all of ours for $50 and still have spares left over. You don't really need to change them all out, just the lights you tend to use a lot. Momentarily turning on a incandescent to go wee or look in a cabinet isn't going to drain your battery. Turning on a few overhead double fixtures and leaving them on for hours will have a much larger impact. We found that four small LED cob style lights with 9 LEDs each on the ceiling will nicely light the whole trailer for less than a sixth of the power used by one incandescent. We use larger 48 LED panels in task areas like the stove or where we read, those use less than a fifth of the power of a incandescent each.

Via craigslist and ebay I created a smallish 230w portable solar set up for about $200. The panel travels on the bed and once set out will keep us charged up daily as long as we get decent sunlight. I point it at the sun when I walk the dogs in the morning and adjust it through out the day until the charge controller shows float. After that it gets set near flat for the rest of the day. I will add a second battery not so I can party and use power at will but rather as a buffer when the sun isn't optimal for a few days.

We do have a older used generator  ($62) that is used to charge us up if it's too overcast for the solar or we need AC. When it's cold, I run it in the morning while I make breakfast on a dual hot plate or use a small electric heater to warm the trailer. Both saving on propane while the battery charges. When it's hot I wait till the heat of the day and charge while running the AC.  Personally I prefer letting the solar do it's thing and leaving the noisy stinky generator chained to the tongue.

So these are some of the things we do to go boondocking without sacrificing comfort. As set up we are clean, warm, lighted and entertained. We did our time sleeping on the ground, being cold and only being able to wash up for decades, this way is much much better.
 
Thanks everyone for your suggestions.  I plan to make a list for our friends so they can have some idea on how to comfortably do this.  Plus we will be among RV friends so that may help them with their confidence level.

One of the things I have done that I haven't seen mentioned is to use a small dish pan for the kitchen sink.  I wash my dishes in a small amount of water then pour the water into the black tank. 

I know there will be those who disagree with me; but sometimes I pour the dishwater from my little pan out on plants or trees.  However that water is free of food particles.

We too use "baby wipes" for daily cleaning, then take a navy shower every other day or so.  Our coach has large tanks, so when we are frugal we can go a very long time.  We also watch TV, play the radio, get on the internet and do everything we normally do by using the inverter and running the generator a couple of times during the day.

My biggest problem is my darling husband who lets the water run when he brushes his teeth or washes his hands.  That I need to get fixed..... ;)

One a side note, are the flouresent (spelling?) lights more energy efficient than the LED lighting many of you are talking about? 

Marsha~
 
Marsha/CA said:
My biggest problem is my darling husband who lets the water run when he brushes his teeth or washes his hands.  That I need to get fixed..... ;)

One a side note, are the flouresent (spelling?) lights more energy efficient than the LED lighting many of you are talking about? 
You could turn the water pump off once he starts to brush...

LEDs would be more energy efficient. The problem with changing to LEDs is that they would take about 50 years to pay for themselves. Their effect on battery usage would be too minimal to even calculate. I have ran the numbers and decided they just aren't worth it from an economic standpoint or from an energy saving standpoint. If you turn on all your lights and leave them on all the time you might save a tiny bit of battery. But normally people just don't use the lights in their RV enough to make a difference.
 
I do use a dishpan in the sink. I don't dump it in the black tank, tho, because we fill our black tank before we fill the grey tank. Our bathroom sink drains into the black tank. At Quartzsite, I make some of the cactus very happy with the clean dishwater.

We've watched the difference in the energy draw with LED vs regular lights and there is a dramatic savings with the LEDs. Plus we turn off lights that we're not using and only turn on the ones we need. But we do use at least a couple of lights a lot, from dusk till bedtime. We calculated a couple of years for them to pay for themselves. It's not just the battery savings, they also last longer.
 
SeilerBird said:
You could turn the water pump off once he starts to brush...

LEDs would be more energy efficient. The problem with changing to LEDs is that they would take about 50 years to pay for themselves. Their effect on battery usage would be too minimal to even calculate. I have ran the numbers and decided they just aren't worth it from an economic standpoint or from an energy saving standpoint. If you turn on all your lights and leave them on all the time you might save a tiny bit of battery. But normally people just don't use the lights in their RV enough to make a difference.

In my sticks and brick house I switched over completely and cut my electric bill in half.  In my neighborhood, most have electric bills over $300 a month, mine averages under $100 a month.  It was around $200 before I switched over.  They save a lot more power than most people realize.
 
99WinAdventurer37G said:
In my sticks and brick house I switched over completely and cut my electric bill in half.  In my neighborhood, most have electric bills over $300 a month, mine averages under $100 a month.  It was around $200 before I switched over.  They save a lot more power than most people realize.
You are comparing apples and oranges. Houses use 100 watt bulbs and sometimes more. RVs use 24 watt bulbs. There are a lot more bulbs in a house and they are used a lot more often. Even with all that I find it hard to believe you are using half your household electricity for lighting light bulbs. Your dryer, refer and washer usually use the majority of power.
 
I've been experimenting with a bit of winter camping here in Central Alberta, Canada where timperatures have probably averaged -10 deg C (About 12 deg F) so far this winter. Coldest night seems like was about -22 deg C.  I am using "SECURITY" as a mobile office and test bed for my mobile internet business - I no longer care if a restaurant, coffee shop, campground has wifi.  I bring my own.  Four bars 200 ft away from inside.

I find that the first thing to go is my house battery.  Battery quits=furnace quits; regardless of how much propane is available.

I am in the process of building a small 12 vdc only generator using a 3 hp gas engine and an alternator identical to the one under the hood.  This gives me a spare alternator.  I will limit the field current for a  maximum output of probably about 10 amps, provide it with a limitless (main gas tank) supply of fuel and just let it run all day and night when stopped.  My furnace draws something like 9 amps and believe it or not actually cycles off some even at -22 deg C.  I'm actually looking for some -30 deg C just to see how that goes.  I have winterized nothing.  Under these conditions you pay real close attention to your systems. 

Say: "Good luck Dan", thank you.

Dan

PS: Tom; next up, Welding. ;)
 
Hey Marsha,

How about having your friends come here to read these suggestions and offer up some of their own concerns. It might bolster their confidence to see how friendly and helpful folks are in the RV community.
 
My biggest problem is my darling husband who lets the water run when he brushes his teeth or washes his hands.  That I need to get fixed....

Marsha, when you're at Quartzsite or even before at Home Depot's plumbing department get yourself a little device called a Water Saver.  It screws onto the bathroom faucet and a little doohickey hangs down toward the sink.  You turn on the faucet and no water appears until you move the doohickey to the side.  We've used them for years and they save tons of water.  Well, maybe in our case, just gallons, but our water never runs while we brush our teeth or wash our hands.

Tell your friends that boondocking really is easy, even though it may not sound like it when we talk about conserving.  We have all our luxuries just like at home.  We use everything, just a little more sparingly and carefully, such as taking navy showers and using paper plates.  I use a lot of paper towels because I wipe off dishes that need to be washed but not immediately.  I stack things up until I run out of something, usually spoons or coffee cups (no paper cups for us).  Another thing that helps is a 12 volt mattress warmer pad.  You turn it on a while before going to bed and it makes getting into bed warmer and more comfortable.  We have our computers and charge them.  We have our TVs and DVRs and CD players, etc.  Solar panels help trickle charge batteries.  Most of us run our generator once or twice a day to keep the batteries up.  The main thing is to watch tank levels and battery levels.  It isn't all that hard to boondock and your friends shouldn't be intimidated by the prospect.  In fact, they might be pleasantly surprised at how long they can boondock using care about turning things off.  They've got to come to Quartzsite for more than a day because they'll need longer than that to meet us all and ask questions and LEARN about RVing and boondocking.  We've all been where they are now so we understand their trepidation.

Marsha, I think a list you compile on boondocking would make a wonderful addition to our library.

ArdraF
 

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