Complete RV Off Grid Camping Guide
Breaking out of your daily routine and leaving the hustle and noise of the city in favor of some peaceful time in nature is a great way to help your mental health and lower your stress levels.
But camping no longer needs to be rugged or primitive. When camping off the grid, you can still enjoy all the comforts of home, only in a much more natural setting with beautiful views and no sounds of traffic.
Sounds great, but what is off grid camping?
Off grid camping or boondocking is RV camping without any hookups. In other words, you must rely on the supplies and amenities within your RV as you won’t be hooked up to any electricity or water the way you would be in an RV park.
In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about RV camping off the grid, so you’ll be prepared to set out for an extended stay in the backcountry without giving up your comfort or risking your safety.
What Is Off the Grid RV Camping Called?
Off the grid camping goes by many names, so you may have heard it called:
- Dry docking
- Dry camping
- Wild camping
- Free camping
- Dispersed camping
No matter the terminology, these all represent the same type of RV camping, devoid of any hookups for water, electric, or sewer.
An Overview of RV Off Grid Camping
You wake up and open the curtains. A breathtaking panorama of pine trees and soaring mountain vistas surrounds you, and you’re filled with a deep sense of calm and happiness. With a smile, you flip the light switch, illuminating the inside of your RV.
If this sounds like the ideal morning to you, then you may have found your perfect match with off grid RV camping.
Instead of all the noise you inevitably end up dealing with in a populated campground, off grid camping means you’ll be away from people and get a purer camping experience.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to be without the modern creature comforts of home though. With the proper setup and equipment, you’ll still have electricity, running water, cooking appliances, entertainment, and more.
What Is Needed for RV Camping Off the Grid?
Everyone’s dry camping setup will be different, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Still, there are a few basic problems that you’ll need to be able to solve when camping.
Without electricity, even the most elaborate RV will feel like it’s stuck in the stone age. Electricity provides many of the basic amenities that we often take for granted, such as lights!
In an RV, electricity also runs the water pump and other vital appliances, and it will be your only means of keeping electronic devices charged, including your phone!
There are two primary means of getting electricity for your off grid camp: solar panels and generators.
Solar panels charge a battery bank via a charge controller that harnesses the electricity they generate from the sun. So long as your panels get sunlight, you have an essentially endless supply of electricity with enough solar panels and a large enough battery bank. A solar setup can start to get pretty pricey when you factor in the batteries. They also tend to be problematic when you park anywhere without sun. A few days with no sunlight can leave your battery bank drained.
Generators are simple to use and aren’t going to run out of energy because they can’t see the sun, which means you can park in shady areas or regions with less than stellar weather. They do rely on gas though, which means you’ll have to factor in the additional cost. Plus, they’re pretty noisy, detracting from the peace you were camping to find in the first place. But you can get an inverter generator that’s safe for electronics without spending too much, and there’s no installation process to worry about.
Neither choice is necessarily better. Solar panels are more of an investment of time and money to get started with, but there’s no cost or noise once they’re installed. Generators are quick, easy, and relatively cheap to get started with, but you must keep buying gas and it is a bit annoying when the peace in your off grid camp is broken by the constant noise!
Water is one of the most essential human needs, so, naturally, you’ll have to make sure to carry plenty with you when you’re off grid camping.
Luckily, RVs are almost universally fitted with large water holding tanks, so all you have to do is make sure you fill up before you head out on your trip! The last thing you want is to arrive at your drydocking destination only to find that you’ll really be dry because you forgot to fill your water tank!
There is a bit of an art form to conserving water though, and when you’re camping off the grid, you’ll have to conserve your water as much as possible to ensure it lasts for your entire trip!
Heating and Cooling
Even if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where the climate is ideal for off grid camping, chances are good that it won’t stay that way year-round. During the harshest months of winter and summer especially, you’ll want to bring along some manner of heating and/or cooling to keep comfortable.
There are lots of different routes to take here. RVs are usually equipped with air conditioners, but these take lots of electricity and will most likely require you to run a rather sizable and boisterous generator. Ceiling vent fans are another option that tend to be quieter and use far less electricity. Vent fans will easily run on your solar system, but the air conditioner would require a much more substantial set of solar panels and batteries.
When it comes to keeping warm, your RV is likely fitted with a propane heating system. Of course, that might not be the case if your rig is converted. Smaller propane heaters like the Mr. Buddy heaters are small, portable, and powerful, providing plenty of heat from a small one-pound propane cylinder. You’ll go through a lot of one-pound cylinders this way though.
Another option is to run a small electric heater, though these tend to eat up quite a bit of electricity and may require a generator for use, similar to an air conditioner.
Even with ample water on board, you won’t be able to camp off grid for long if you don’t have some way to cook while you’re camping!
If your RV has a stovetop and oven built-in, then you’ve got nothing to worry about, other than ensuring your propane cannister is full before heading out.
For those who are traveling in vans, converted vehicles, or any other RV without built-in propane appliances, you’ll have to find other ways to cook. Portable propane cooktops are affordable, and many will use the same one-pound cannisters that portable propane heaters utilize. Butane burners are another option, though you must be aware that they do not function well when temperatures get low.
For RVs that have ample electricity thanks to a solar setup or generator, a microwave is perfectly applicable. There are even RV microwaves that feature low power consumption, making them easier to run on an inverter and battery bank.
Electric burners are another option that’s particularly applicable for those with substantial solar power and large battery banks. You can find electric burners that use 1000-1500 watts, which most inverters can handle.
For those that prefer to cook and eat outside (you’re camping for the nature experience anyway!), you can certainly bring along a small grill. Be aware that many areas you’re likely to camp off grid might have fire restrictions limiting the use of charcoal grills, so make sure you check before you light up if you’re using charcoal.
There’s no way for you to cook that gourmet camping meal if you don’t have any groceries with you, which is why food storage is a necessity when you’re dry docking.
If you want to keep things simple, you can forego the perishables and opt for dry storage only, purchasing canned foods, pastas, rice, beans, and anything that else that doesn’t require refrigeration.
Of course, that severely limits the types of foods you can eat while you’re camping, and the point of RV boondocking is to maintain your quality of life while enjoying the backcountry. A refrigerator offers the perfect solution.
Many refrigerators that come standard in RVs can run on electricity or propane. These tend to be a bit hungry on electricity when compared to cooler-style portable fridges, but offer the option to use propane instead, which is great if you don’t have a large battery bank.
A bathroom isn’t absolutely necessary when you’re boondocking, but it sure makes life much easier!
At minimum, you’ll want a toilet of some type. Otherwise, you’ll end up digging a lot of catholes to hide your waste.
Cassette toilets are removable and offer a great option for van lifers and those with converted RVs. The big advantage of cassette toilets is that they’re very easy to empty in a campground toilet, a hole you dug, or even at a rest stop. You will have to empty a cassette toilet pretty often though since they have a small waste capacity, usually five gallons or less.
Most factory RVs will be equipped with a black tank for waste and a toilet. On the bright side, your black tank will hold quite a bit of waste and won’t need to be dumped too frequently. Unfortunately, when it’s time to dump, you’ll need to find an RV dumping station, and it might cost you a few bucks.
Repair Tools and Extra Fluids
When you’re camping off the grid, help can be hard to come by. If you do manage to get help, it might be very expensive!
So, it pays to be self-sufficient when you’re camping off grid.
Bringing a set of repair tools can mean the difference between being stuck for days, and only being inconvenienced for an afternoon.
A decent set of mechanic’s tools should be sufficient to cover the most likely situations you could encounter. This will include wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and all the basic tools to fix your vehicle or trailer without calling for backup.
I also recommend bringing along a can of Fix-a-Flat and a 12-volt inflator to fill your tires. Tire emergencies are one of the most common incidents when you’re camping off grid, and most of them can be remedied with these two simple items.
Make sure you bring all the fluids you may potentially need as well. If you suddenly have transmission issues while off the grid on a camping trip, you’ll be glad to have some extra transmission fluid. The same thing goes for any other type of fluid problem. I never head off grid without extra of all the essential fluids.
Where to Camp Off the Grid
Once your rig is prepared and you have taken care of all the necessities we just discussed, it’s time to put some thought into where you plan on camping.
Dry camping provides more freedom than staying in campgrounds since you’re not as limited regarding where you can park. You won’t usually have to worry about being bothered by other campers who park too close.
However, you will have to put more thought into finding a good camp site since they’re not clearly designated for you.
The first step is locating a good area for camping off grid. There are tons of places available but locating them can be tricky if you don’t know where to look.
One good place to start is google maps. You can first search for “dispersed camping” and you’re likely to see some areas pop up. Also, try searching for “campgrounds.” Using satellite view, you can scout the areas near campgrounds since they’re commonly placed in or near national forests, wilderness areas, and other places where you’re free to camp off the grid.
In addition to national forests and wilderness areas, you can also boondock on BLM land and state trust land, though you need a very affordable permit to camp on state trust land. Searching for any of these in google maps should help you find some areas that are good candidates for dry docking.
Google maps isn’t the only app that can help you locate a good spot for an off grid camp. You can try other apps like Dyrt or Campendium that highlight good places for RVers to camp.
Once you find a place that seems suitable, it’s time to head out and find a spot to park. You’ll want to find somewhere that’s as close to flat as possible. If you’re relying on solar for electricity, you’ll also have to ensure that there’s not too much tree coverage blocking the sunlight from reaching your solar panels.
Be careful when you’re looking for a camping spot. Don’t pull anywhere that appears too small to turn your rig around. You can always get out and walk an area before pulling in, just to make sure that you won’t risk getting stuck.
Things to Consider When Camping Off Grid
When dry docking, you can never prepare for every possibility, but preparing for the most common problems that can plague your camping trip and ruin a potentially great time is the best way to ensure you can have a great trip no matter what happens.
Do You Have Enough Supplies?
Your first consideration should be the essentials, such as food, water, and toiletries. Ensure you have more than what you think you’ll need to cover the length of your planned trip. You want enough supplies on hand for several extra days in case of some unforeseen problem that leaves you stranded longer than expected, such as a mechanical issue or unexpected catastrophic weather.
How Much Electricity Is Available?
Think about how many electronic devices you use and consider whether you’ll have enough electricity for everything. If you plan on running your fridge, lights, fans, and phone chargers on a small battery bank, then you won’t want to plan on using an electric burner.
Is There Ample Fuel?
If you’re relying on a generator, you’ll need to make sure you have a gas can with enough gas to last the duration of your outing. Even more important, make sure you have plenty of gas in your RV! As a general rule of thumb, you should always fill up right before heading off grid for your trip. The last thing you want to happen is running out of fuel far from civilization where there’s potentially no cell service!
Are There Places to Resupply Nearby?
What happens if you miscalculated and realize too late that you don’t have enough supplies? Is there somewhere within a short drive for resupplying? Make sure you know where the closest resupply stations are, which can be anything from a grocery store to a gas station.
What Is the Weather Going to Be Like?
You’ll never be able to predict the weather with perfect accuracy, but in the backcountry where most off grid camping occurs, it’s possible to get trapped in bad weather. So, you’ll want to at least check the forecast and see if any bad weather is expected. Conditions may change, so if you have service where you set up camp, then you should continue to monitor conditions throughout your trip.
Don’t forget that the weather can affect your electricity if you’re using solar. While there might not be any thunderstorms in the forecast, a few consecutive cloudy days could diminish your battery reserves. A small backup generator can save the day in such situations, keeping the lights on when the sun doesn’t.
Staying Safe While Off the Grid Camping
For the most part, off grid camping is perfectly safe, but there are some potential risks to look out for so you can avoid the possibility of your camping trip taking a turn for the worst.
Wildlife in Your Off Grid Camp
One of the greatest things about camping off grid is that you get to be so close to nature, waking up in the wild, surrounded by the serene beauty of forests, mountains, lakes, and of course, wildlife.
Much of the wildlife you’ll encounter on your camping trips will be harmless, like the many birds cheerfully chirping out their songs in the early morning when you first awake. But there’s always the possibility of a different sort of encounter with the type of wildlife you’d rather view from afar.
Inside of your RV, you’re still pretty safe from bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and other predators that could show up on your campsite. You can help prevent meeting these unwanted guests by keeping your campsite clean, avoiding cooking outside, and camping away from water sources.
Of course, we love to grill outside while camping by the lake, so that advice isn’t always easy to follow.
Instead, do your best to keep yourself protected. If you have a firearm, keep it within reach if you know you’re in bear country or somewhere with a high predator population. Avoid leaving any food items outside of your RV where the smell can attract them.
Don’t forget about the much smaller forms of wildlife that could be a potential hazard. They’re not as obvious as the bears and mountain lions, but a rattlesnake or black widow can ruin your weekend just the same!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every time you planned a camping trip the weather turned out to be perfect?
As we all know, that’s simply not the reality we live in. You can expect that if you camp off grid with any type of regularity, you’ll encounter inclement weather at some point.
Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you need to cancel your trip, but you might need to take extra precautions that you don’t normally, such as checking for mud so you don’t get stuck, and avoiding parking under large trees and branches that could fall and destroy your RV.
And if the forecast (which you should have checked before heading out) is calling for flooding, tornadoes, or other life-threatening weather conditions, it’s best to just postpone your trip until better weather permits.
For the most part, the people you meet while camping off grid will be wonderful, friendly, decent people. At least, that’s been my experience.
Even so, it’s always possible to run into unsavory folks that you’d rather not be associated with.
Additionally, thefts do happen, although they’re not common when off grid camping.
Still, you should use common sense, such as keeping your RV and any other vehicles locked if you’re not with them at the campsite and keeping any valuable items locked away as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Extra Items Do You Need for Off Grid Camping?
The primary items you need for off grid camping include a generator or solar panels with a battery bank, lights, a toilet, beds for everyone coming along, heating and cooling, cooking appliances, drinking water, food, and food storage. Make sure to bring levelers for leveling out your RV as it’s difficult to find a completely level camp site when you’re off grid. Backup flashlights and lanterns are a good idea too, just in case something goes wrong with the electricity in your RV.
Is Off-Grid RV Camping the Best Way to Camp?
While it doesn’t provide the same primitive experience you’d get from tent camping, off grid RV camping provides the best of both worlds, allowing you to camp without forgoing the comfort of modern amenities. This can be one of the most enjoyable ways to experience nature since you’ll still have access to the many luxuries that make our lives so comfortable, such as running water, a toilet, and electricity. For many, this makes off grid RV camping the best way to camp.
What Is the Best RV for Off Grid Camping?
The best RV for off grid camping is the one that fits your needs best without breaking your budget or being too big for you to comfortably drive. It should have electricity from a solar setup with ample battery storage, running water, sink, toilet, shower, cooking appliances, heating, cooling, and sufficient storage for your favorite outdoor gear. You must also ensure it’s large enough to comfortably seat and sleep your family, but if it’s too large, heating and cooling will become more difficult.
Is Wild Camping Legal in USA?
Wild camping is absolutely legal in the USA. There are many places that permit wild camping, and you’ll often see signs at the entrances to such areas, outlining guidelines and safety procedures for campers. In some places, wild camping might be legal with a permit.
Where Can You Camp Off Grid?
You can camp off grid almost anywhere on public land that doesn’t strictly prohibit camping. Some of the best places where it’s safe and legal to camp off grid include state trust land, wilderness areas, BLM land, national forests. You cannot off grid camp on private property, unless you have permission from the property owner.
The Final Word
Off the grid camping in your RV can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences you ever have in nature. You get the best of both worlds: modern luxury in the serene beauty of nature. If a dose of off grid RV camping wasn’t enough to sate your appetite and you’re considering a more permanent move off grid, then check out my article the RV off grid living guide so you can learn more about what it takes to adopt the full-time off grid RV lifestyle.