So I heard you wanted to be a boondocking pro. Sure it seems very free and exciting to be living out in nature. But do you have what it takes to sustain a long stay? Anyone can find a patch of dirt on BLM land and spend a night. But only the seasoned boondocker pros know how to be comfortable and stay out there for weeks at a time.
Your camper most likely comes with the basics to allow you to overnight without hookups. All the modern RV manufacturers know that having the ability to boondock (wild camp, free camp, off-grid camp, whatever you want to call it) is what many new buyers are looking for in a rig. But since they also have to build them to a cost, you will definitely need to do some upgrading to make it the perfect setup for your next boondocking adventure.
Here are 12 items we use to make every boondocking stay as comfortable as the Ritz-Carlton. OK, I’ve actually never stayed at the Ritz-Carlton but you know what I mean. This list focuses on items that do not usually come equipped from the factory in a modern RV but can also be easily integrated into your camp setup.
1. Water Jugs
Your RV comes with a complete water system. But once you have set up your camp and got comfortable, the last thing you want to do is having to pack up your camp and go find a place to fill up water when you run out. That is why having good quality drinking-safe water jugs are super handy for those trips into town to top off your tanks. Figuring out how much water you go through each day will help in deciding how big the jugs need to be and how many you need to limit the number of refilling trips. Here are some of our favorite BPA-Free water jugs.
2. Portable Lithium Battery Packs
In today’s world, everything needs electricity for it to run. Phones, tablets, bluetooth speakers are all gadgets that you need to make your outdoor a bit more civilized and comfortable. The batteries that came with your camper are most likely sized just enough to run your lights and small appliances for a couple of days. When you add a couple power hungry iPhones and iPads into the mix, it quickly starts to feel inadequate. Of course, you can always upgrade those stock batteries to lithium and install USB ports all over the camper. But that is a very costly and time consuming upgrade. Even if you have already done that, having a few of these portable battery packs will free you up to not be tethered to the wall and keep your devices juiced up. These are some of our favorite portable packs. They range pretty widely in capacity and plug-type so make sure you pick the ones that work for your devices.
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If you have bigger and more power hungry devices you’d like to charge but don’t want to run down your house batteries, some of these newer and bigger power banks can really be handy. Some of these have been called solar generators but they really are just big lithium batteries that have integrated electrical components for charging and outputting clean power.
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Another really great feature of these power banks is that even if you are running into several overcast or rainy days, you can simply carry them with you on your next trip into town. Pop into a coffee shop and plug it in while you enjoy a couple hours of free wifi and your latte. Lithium batteries can soak up power really quickly and in no time you will be able to head back to camp with a fully charge pack.
3. Photo-voltaic Suitcases
Perhaps the biggest concern for a boondocker is how they will charge up their house batteries. Whether it is lead acid or lithium, you will come a point when you run out of juice if you stay out long enough. I am a big proponent of roof top solar systems. They are always working when the sun is out and even when you don’t use the camper, it is out there to keep your batteries topped off which prolongs the life of your pack. However, they can be expensive to have installed and intimidating if you try to do it yourself. Even if you already have a solar setup on the roof, a portable solar suitcase can be immensely useful to be able to easily tilt for the low winter sun or to allow you to set up camp under trees during a hot summer but still charge from the sun using an appropriately-sized charging cable.
4. Gas/Propane Inverter Generators
If it was up to me, everyone would have solar panels on their roof and a ground deploy solar suitcase on the ground. We all should be harnessing the power of the sun to live a clean and sustainable life while camping in the wild. But I understand that there are many people who are still use to getting practically unlimited power from the AC outlet to run things like high-powered blenders, hair dryers, espresso machines, etc.. I know, I know, I am suppose to help people simplify and live sustainable lives. I hope you all do eventually but until then, a fossil-fuel powered generator might be what you need as a stepping stone to get there. It is the easiest way to take your rig off the grid and camp in the wild. Just make sure you are not running it when people are trying to relax. Even the quietest of gas generators are noisy little suckers. You might also find yourself boondocking during the summer or in the midst of a heat wave. To take the edge off during the hottest part of the day, you might just need to carry one of these noise and air polluters in the summer season. Here are some of the quietest and most efficient fossil-fuel generators money can buy.
5. LED Flashlights, String Lights and Lanterns
Lighting is what makes boondocking fun when you want to spend time out after the sun goes beyond the horizon. There is nothing better than the cool evening breeze in the summer or the brisk desert air in the winter. We carry several LED lanterns, flashlights and string lights with us so we can either light an area or just create some mood lighting around camp. But of course since you are boondocking, there probably aren’t gonna be any streetlights to help you see if you decide to take that after dinner stroll. An LED flashlight or headlamp is an essential piece of gear you should always have when you are out in the boondocks. I always look for rechargeable options when it is available. Even better, if I can find one that charges via USB, I can use my portable power banks to recharge them so I don’t need a separate plug to top them off.
6. DC-Powered Portable Fan
Whenever you have a choice, you should always look for 12-volt DC versions of the appliances that you buy. Of course unless the 12-volt options do not perform as their AC counterparts or if it has quality assurance issues. A portable fan is a must when it comes to comfortably living in a small space like a RV. Sometimes getting some good airflow is all you need to go from feeling confined and claustrophobic to relaxed and comfortable. Most campers will have some sort of roof vent from the factory to provide some airflow. Many of those vents are also electric fans. Depending on the position of these fans and the make and model, a portable fan can be a lifesaver to plug in and run from an outlet or run off of a built-in battery. We have spent many summer nights with all of our fans running to circulate the air around us. It is an essential part of boondocking in warmer seasons. Here are a few 12-volt powered and battery-powered fans for you to consider.
If you wanted to build your own, keep in mind that computer cooling fans are native 12-volt devices and for the DIY, savvy boondocker, you can wire them up to your 12-volt battery and run them wherever you need one
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7. Cell Boosters
We are always surprised at how good cell phone coverage has gotten over the last few years. When we first started full time traveling, I remember entire states that didn’t have any coverage. But of course that was before the days of high quality cell signal boosters. Now with all of the networks competing on quality of service and price, it is a great time to get fast and reliable phone and internet service from the road. Sometimes all you need is to boost that 1 bar of signal to 3 or 4 usable bars when you come around that corner at your magical boondocking spot you found on the BLM map. We have been using them for years now and swear by just how amazing they can be when we are on the fringe of our coverage area. Our favorite brand of cell boosters is WeBoost, formerly Wilson. They make a great line of cell boosters for your RV, car and house.
8. Catalytic Propane Heaters
Winter camping is not for everyone but unavoidable when you are a full timer. Of course, you can chase good weather by going south but even in the desert, the temps can drop quite drastically when the sun goes down. You RV’s propane furnace is great at getting hot air to circulate but they are notoriously power hungry. If you don’t have a huge battery bank, you are likely to be running pretty low on power by running the furnace all night long before the sun can come up to replenish it. We have always kept a small catalytic propane heater for those really cold nights when the furnace just might not be enough or when you hit a string of overcast or rainy days and can’t afford to run down your house battery and risk permanent damage.
Catalytic heaters that are made to be used indoors like the Camco Olympian Wave series are the perfect product for this situation. They are nearly 100% efficient and use no electricity to operate. There produce a ton of heat and make practically no noise. The down side is they are not thermostatically controlled and for safety reasons should only run them while you are awake. Depending on the size of your camper, they offer several sizes ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 BTUs. If you want something even smaller and convenient, the popular Mr. Heater Buddy is also a great choice.
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9. Composting or Cassette Toilets
When you are boondocking, your limits on how long you can stay before needing to pack up your camp and move out is usually based on when you have to refresh your supplies and empty your tanks. With portable fresh water jugs to refill your water, the only thing that requires you to haul the camper out of your spot is the need to empty your gray and black tanks. By using biodegradable soaps for showers and dishes, many BLM sites allow the disposal of gray water right on the ground. But emptying your black tank is a big no-no. If you fill up your black tank, your only option is to go find a dump station with the camper. That is unless you are using a composting toilet or a portable cassette toilet. A composting toilet separates the dry waste from the wet waste. You wet waste is basically urine diverted into a jug that can be disposed of at the base of a mature tree near your camp away from other campers. Your dry waste is covered in the container using composting medium like saw dust or ground coconut husks and can be composted or simply tossed in a garbage can. If a composting toilet is too expensive or complicated, a cassette toilet can also be a good alternative. Cassette toilets have removable tanks than you can simply take with you and empty at any dump station or even a household toilet. They have smaller capacity than your built-in black tank but the added convenient might make it worth while using. If you are really desperate, you can even use your shovel to dig a hole at least 3 feet deep and empty your cassette toilet in the hole and bury it. Just be sure that if you ever plan on ever doing that, DO NOT use any chemicals in the tank as it will pollute the soil. Here are a few options for you to consider.
10. Air Compressors
If you are like us, there is nothing better than camping right on the beach. We have spent countless nights on the beaches of Baja, Mexico. But there is always the fear of getting stuck in the sand miles down the coast from anyone. Not just for sand, airing down your tires is also tremendously helpful in navigating off-road trails in the mountains. By dropping the PSI in your tires an appropriate amount, you are increasing the surface area of your tires making contact with the ground to spread out the weight of you vehicle and adding traction. We have driven our heavy truck camper on extremely loose sand at around 10 PSI with no problems. But the hard part is to getting 4 giant 35 inch tires to air back up to safe highway pressures when you are ready to head back out. Cheap air compressors are not made to handle big jobs like this. Our load range E tires run at between 55-75 PSI and bringing 4 of them up from 10 PSI can literally take hours. Unless you have a 100% duty cycle compressor, it will need to rest and cool down so you don’t risk burning up the motor. Here are a few air compressors we have used and would recommend.
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11. Shovels and Axes
When you get off the beaten path enough times, you might need some some basic tools to keep clear of trouble. Shovels and axes are always handy for those situation when you have gone a bit too far down a trail or perhaps the weather has made what was once a nice dirt path on the way in a muddy one going out. A good quality shovel is also a must for those of you wanting your private time to be a little closer to nature. Some campers prefer to go to the bathroom outside when they are camping in the wild but always make sure you are digging a large and deep enough hole in the ground to bury your waste. Don’t ruin a campsite for everyone by carelessly littering your waste everywhere. Axes can also come in handy for obvious reason if your campsite allows fires and there isn’t a fire ban. An afternoon spent splitting wood can be great exercise and therapy for the soul. Here are some of my favorite bushcrafting tools for RV boondocking.
12. Sand Ladders
If you got this far down this post, I want to first thank you for sticking around. Secondly, you are probably serious enough about boondocking that this item might just come in handy for you sooner than later.
Sand ladders are also called traction mats and all the cool kids in fancy overland rigs are carrying them on their trucks these days. But aside from looking cool dangling outside your vehicle when you drive down the interstate, they can be a life saver and serve multiple purposes when you are boondocking. A good quality sand ladder can provide just the right amount of traction for your tires in all types of soft or loose terrain. It can often mean being stuck for minutes when you have them versus for hours without them.
They are also very handy to use as a makeshift leveling pad when you need just an extra inch or two to make your RV just right. But don’t be surprised when you end up using them to save other less prepared people than yourselves. Chances are, if you are the type to carry sand ladders with you, you are probably much more prepared and careful and are less likely to need to use them. Here are some options for you to choose from.
I hope these 12 items will make your next boondocking adventure much more sustainable, exciting and comfortable. Of course you don’t really need any of these to head out there but hopefully this list gave you some insight into why and how they might be useful. I know for me these items are always in my van when we turn our wheels away from and off of the pavement.