The Complete Book of Boondock RVing: Camping off the Beaten Path

The Complete Book of Boondock RVing: Camping off the Beaten Path

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by Bill Moeller, Jan Moeller

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Here’s Your Guide to Camping Off the Beaten Path

Ever feel frustrated by crowded RV parks? Yearn to camp out in the wild beside a babbling mountain brook or before a remote panoramic vista? Bill and Jan Moeller have been doing just that for more than thirty years, and The Complete Book of Boondock RVing is their complete guide to camping

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Here’s Your Guide to Camping Off the Beaten Path

Ever feel frustrated by crowded RV parks? Yearn to camp out in the wild beside a babbling mountain brook or before a remote panoramic vista? Bill and Jan Moeller have been doing just that for more than thirty years, and The Complete Book of Boondock RVing is their complete guide to camping without hookups (aka "dry camping"). Whether you’re planning to spend an occasional overnight in a parking lot or an extended stay in the wilderness, you’ll learn how to equip your rig for boondocking, find great campsites, manage and conserve electricity and water, and camp in complete RV comfort and convenience.

  • Increase your independence by learning how to camp "off the grid"
  • Save money by finding cheap or free campsites anywhere--even in large cities
  • Ensure your comfort, convenience, and safety when camping in the boonies
  • Learn how to conserve and manage electricity, water, and waste, and to establish reliable communications
  • Enjoy the quiet, solitude, and beauty of nature by getting away from crowded RV campgrounds

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The Complete Book of Boondock RVing

Camping Off the Beaten Path

By Bill Moeller, Jan Moeller

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-149065-8



What Is Boondock RVing?

Webster's New World Compact Desk Dictionary defines boondocks as "a jungle; the back-country; or a hinterland." As Jan and I understand it, the word derives from the Tagalog word for mountain—bundok—and was picked up by U.S. soldiers after the Spanish-American War when they were sent into the jungles of the Philippines. It became more popular during the Vietnam War and has been used more and more by the general public ever since.

Boondock RVing (or camping) is, by an RVer's definition, camping with your RV in a place where there are no electrical hookups, water faucets, sewer drains, and phone or cable TV connections. This is also called dry camping or primitive camping. Boondocking RVers are people who have their RVs equipped for this type of camping.

We first started boondocking in the 1960s, and during that time, we had two different RVs. Our first rig was a rented pickup camper, which we took on a grand tour of most of the western states. It had minimal equipment aboard: an icebox, two 110-volt lights, a two-burner propane cookstove, a water tank with a hand pump at the galley sink, a Humphrey propane mantle light, and a chemical toilet, which was just a large wooden box with a seat and cover, filled partly with water and chemicals to control the smell.


The trip was boondocking at its best. Our home was always with us, and we were able to pull off the road whenever we chose to eat, sleep, and rest. Camping life was simple then—and delightful. At night we would park our camper in a forest campground. With a gas light hissing away, we had comfortable warmth with plenty of light for reading and a battery-powered, shortwave radio for entertainment. The only problem we ever encountered was the lack of a furnace or heater, which we keenly felt when an early September snowstorm in Yellowstone Park left behind 6 inches of snow.

After that trip, we bought a small Tow-Low trailer, which was a big improvement. Among other things, it had an AC/propane refrigerator, a convection furnace (although no fan), a pressure water system (using a hand pump to pump up the air pressure in the water tank), and a Porta-Potti toilet. With this RV, we traveled from New York to Nebraska, up through Canada, then into New England and down the coast to our home in Connecticut, enjoying boondock camping wherever we could find it.

Today's RVs are much different from our early rigs. All the appliances and electronics in modern RVs make them seem more like houses than vehicles, what with washing machines, dishwashers, slideouts, and the like. But with the right equipment and some thoughtful planning, you can still take off in these modern RVs and enjoy the wilderness.


Ask any number of boondockers why they boondock and you'll probably get as many different answers. For example:

* Enjoy the freedom.

* Save money.

* Experience primitive camping.

* Camp in our national parks and Forest Service campgrounds.

* Convenience.

* Visit the grandkids and other relatives and be able to park in their driveway.

* Get away from it all—cell phones, PDAs, faxes, e-mails, meetings, computers, and modern life in general—as much (or as little) as you want to; these days it's easy to stay "connected" on the road.

Fun and Freedom

First and foremost, boondocking is fun. Imagine camping by a backwoods stream and having the option of either watching a football game on your satellite TV system or doing some fishing in the stream. Or you wake up with the early morning sun pushing through dense forest leaves, step out the door of your RV and onto a hiking trail. A few hours later, you come back, turn on the coffeemaker, and e-mail your Aunt Tillie all about your morning.

With boondocking, you get to enjoy freedom of choice because you're not locked into camping in a full-hookup campground. You can choose a private campground as well as a place off the beaten path. You can live simply and rough it, or pile as many amenities into your RV as you can.

We've roughed it and enjoyed it tremendously. But we also occasionally missed some of our favorite television shows, particularly football games. So we eventually got a small, black-and-white, 12-volt DC TV with a good AM/FM radio. And with our shortwave radio, we could still listen to the BBC from London, the Voice of America, or even the Voice of the Andes even if we were really in the boonies. These gave us immeasurable pleasure. Today a satellite dish operated from an inverter does the job, giving us plenty of movies, news, and sporting events to watch.

We believe it's all worth it because many of these modern conveniences make for happier camping. Boondock camping is all about being able to do what you want, when you want. Some of our books, at least in part, have been written in the comfort of our fifth-wheel trailer while we boondocked. And we've enjoyed every minute of it.

Save Money

If the main reason for boondock camping is to enjoy the experience, the second main reason is cost. RVing is one of the least expensive ways to live or travel. Many fulltimers living on fixed incomes from Social Security or pensions have found this to be true, as have families who take vacations or spend weekends camping in their RVs. Boondock camping is a wonderful way to make this experience even more affordable.

Additionally, the cost of staying in private campgrounds is increasing, going up by a dollar or more per night each year. We recently read an article in RVBusiness magazine, written by a campground spokesman, that stated the industry envisions campground prices will eventually reach a level of 50% of the cost of a midlevel hotel or motel. Consequently, if you would normally pay $100 a night for a hotel room, you would pay $50 a night in an RV park. Even those RVers who can afford those prices may appreciate being able to average out the yearly campground fees by boondocking as much as possible. If you pay $50 for one night's camping and then boondock for the next three nights at no cost, you have reduced your average cost to only $12.50 a night for four nights of camping.

Please understand we are not advocating ripping someone off by free camping. We have seen some RVers sneak into a private campground after the office was closed, fill their water tank, dump their sewage, leave their garbage, use the electricity, and spend the night, then leave early in the morning before the owner or manager arrives. To us this is stealing pure and simple. As you'll see in Chapter 2, there are many places where you can camp for free without cheating or stealing.

Fuel Costs

In these days of high prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, doing a little boondock camping can help equalize your RVing expenses. RVers are worried about the high fuel costs and justifiably so. On a recent solo trip with our fifth- wheel trailer from Ventura, California, to Billings, Montana, and then to Albany, Oregon, Bill spent $1,035 for fuel: 326.9 gallons of diesel fuel at an average cost of $3.15 per gallon. (Our usual mileage while towing is about 10 miles per gallon.) Bill also spent $743 for campground fees and boondocked for six nights. So figuring $25 per night, Bill saved about $150. It would have been even nicer to have boon-docked throughout the whole trip. It's possible that fuel prices may come down ... but they may also keep going up. In any event, saving $150 is always a good thing!

A recent Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) news release poll discussed this issue of fuel costs in light of RVing trends. Some of the results are listed below:

* 45% of RV owners said they may stay closer to home for their camping than they have in the past.

* 52% said they will stay a week or longer at one site to save on fuel costs.

* 67% said they will still use their RVs more than in the previous year.

* 37% reported that the cost of fuel would not affect their RV travel plans.

So whether you alter your RVing habits by traveling less or make no changes at all, you still can benefit from boondocking.

Experience Nature

There are many good reasons for staying in private campgrounds. You can enjoy the convenience of electrical hookups, cable TV laundry facilities, a sewer dump at the site, and free running water. And there are times when a private campground is a necessity. In fact, we stay in them the majority of the time, particularly when we have a writing project to do or when we are in a hurry to get to a certain place.

But there are other times when we feel the need to get out in the wild and feed our psyches by being free. And being free means camping in an out-of-the-way place, so we can smell the mountain air, hear the waves crashing on an ocean beach, or enjoy a scenic view. The wilderness is our particular religion, our place of worship, our nourishment.

Sometimes the wilderness is just an adventure in the unexpected, such as the time in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada when a bull elk looking for his bride decided to bugle 20 feet away from our trailer at 2:30 in the morning. It got our attention real fast, but it has also given us something to talk about ever since.

While some people may see boondocking as a means to beat the high cost of private camping, we believe most RVers think of it as a way to be close to the environment in a natural setting. Falling asleep at night listening to an owl hooting near your rig or waking up in a beautiful location, perhaps close to special activities you like—such experiences are part of the joys of boondocking.

We are fortunate to live in a country that offers so many places to get close to nature, such as our national parks and forests and recreation areas, all of which have boon-docking campsites (see Chapter 2). Most small state and county parks are also dry camps. A few may have electricity available, but that is all, and it will most likely be an old 15 amp outlet. Some dry camps might even have a trash station, but in effect you are still boondocking. A lot of the parks in the mountains or along our beaches have nothing more than a space in which to park your rig.


Overnight convenience camping is when an RVer pulls into the parking lot of a shopping center, restaurant, or retail store for one night, strictly for convenience's sake, and resumes traveling the next day. Most RVers do it, at least occasionally, and we have frequently done this type of boondock camping. Sometimes an area has no nearby campgrounds or the local campgrounds are full, or we are just trying to save a bit of money. Any modern RV is usually equipped for overnight convenience camping, and if you're careful to conserve your battery power, you'll have no problems.

This topic, in fact, was discussed in an article in the July/August 2006 issue of Escapees magazine, the official publication of the Escapees RV Club, which promotes boondock camping. The article, "An Economist's Perspective," was written by Andrew Cornwall, who did a study for the government of Nova Scotia, Canada. The study investigated the economic effects on private campgrounds of a province-wide, overnight RV parking ban in business parking lots. The study's results apply to RVers in both Canada and the United States:

* Half of all RVers boondock in such parking lots.

* RVers stay in these lots 1.5 nights per month for each month they use their RVs, plus 0.6 night for each 1,000 miles traveled.

* Convenience was the overwhelming reason given, followed by the lack of available camping sites in the area.

* The existence of a parking ban caused one third of all RVers to boycott an area and one half to have a diminished desire to visit the area.

These results demonstrate that all RVers need to boondock occasionally, and that more and more RVers are boondocking.

Another aspect of convenience camping is being able to visit friends and family and park your RV in their driveway or backyard. You have the privacy and peace of mind of separate living quarters, yet the convenience of being able to walk across the yard to have breakfast with your grandchildren. Or you're in the reverse situation—you and your children are the ones visiting Mom and Dad. Since your RV is already stocked and prepared for children, your visit is that much more relaxed and organized.


Extended camping is when an RVer plans to stay at a site for two nights or more, perhaps even a week, a month, or a full season. This type of camping requires some specialized knowledge, equipment, and techniques to do it successfully. These are primarily electrical in nature, with the most important concern being the proper charging of your battery. (We'll cover the electrical aspects of boondocking in the latter part of the book.)

The reasons for this type of boondock camping also vary:

* Enjoy the wilderness or the away-from-it-all experience.

* Fish the rivers and streams of a particular area.

* Provide a base camp for hunting, rock climbing, hiking, skiing, or snowmobiling.

Many snowbirds go to the desert areas of the Southwest and stay for a month or even the entire season, camping without benefit of hookups. The most popular place for boondocking is the stretch of highway between Yuma and the popular center of all boondock camping—Quartzsite, Arizona. Quartzsite's population increases every January, February, and March from 2,000 people to over 500,000 RVers and rockhounds for the RV and Gem Shows held during this period. Once at Quartzsite, we met a lady who told us she had lived there for seven years without any hookups of any kind. Now that is really boondocking!


To give you an idea of what boondocking might be like, we've created the following fictional, but typical, trip. We'll follow Bob and Mary Jones as they take a two-week boondock camping trip. Their RV is a 30-foot Class A motorhome (see Chapter 3 for more on types of RVs), and they tow a vehicle (which RVers call a dinghy). As you read, please don't let the technical talk bother you; we've included cross-references to direct you to the main discussions in the book.

First let's look at the equipment installed in Bob and Mary's RV:

* A converter/charger with a 45 amp output.

* A 4-kilowatt built-in generator. (Trailers can have this same convenience with a small portable generator of at least 1,000 watts.)

* A 300-watt portable inverter wired to the batteries.

* Two 100-watt solar panels with a multistage regulator featuring maximum power point tracking (MPPT).

* Two 6-volt golf-cart wet-cell batteries, wired in series, with a total capacity of 220 amp-hours.

* A 30-wattTV satellite receiver (runs off the inverter).

* A 9-inch, 35-watt color TV set (runs off the inverter).

* A 17-inch, wide-screen, 75-watt laptop computer with a 120-volt AC power supply (runs off the inverter).

* A standard 12-volt DC/120-voltAC propane refrigerator.

* A cell phone.

* A SmoothTalker cell-phone amplifier.

* An engine alternator capable of delivering at least a 30 amp charge.

* A 50-gallon freshwater tank.

* Two 6-gallon jerry jugs for extra fresh water.

* Holding tanks: a 36-gallon gray-water tank and a 36-gallon black-water tank.

* Two 7-gallon propane tanks.

Day 1

Our couple, Bob and Mary, leave home for a two-week vacation. They spend their first day driving along the interstate highway to their first night's destination—a convenience boondock stop in a Wal-Mart parking lot (see Chapter 2). They arrive late in the afternoon, put the refrigerator on propane, and do a little shopping.

In the evening, they extend their slideouts (sections of an RV that extend about 2 to 4 feet beyond the normal width of the unit), and using the inverter, spend a few hours watching satellite TV They also have the option of answering their e-mail on the laptop by using a cell-phone PC card and amplifier (see Chapter 7). Bob decides to surf the Internet for awhile looking for places to go.

With all this electricity usage, they will closely monitor their batteries' amp-hour consumption tonight using one of the following instruments: an ammeter, an amp-hour meter (best choice), or a volt-ohm meter (VOM; see Chapter 9). They could also go low-tech and just estimate their evening's amp-hour consumption (see Table 8-3).

Day 2

Our couple decides to get an early start this morning. Since they plan to drive several hundred miles today they're confident the alternator will charge the batteries enough to replenish the previous night's discharge (see Chapter 10). If not, they can use the solar panels in conjunction with the alternator to do the job (see Chapter 12). Another option would be to charge the batteries using the generator and the converter/charger as they travel throughout the day (see Chapter 11).

Bob and Mary finally arrive at their destination, which is the first wilderness camping site they plan to visit. As they have previously visited the site before, they know exactly where they wish to park their RV—along a pretty mountain river. After setting up their camp, they drive to nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Forest Service offices to pick up some maps of the region and generally explore the area (see Chapter 2).

So far today, the only electrical appliance in use is the refrigerator. (Note: We never travel with the refrigerator in the On position. This not only conserves electrical power and propane, but more important, avoids the danger of a propane explosion or fire in the event of a highway accident; see Chapter 5.) Because it's a hot day, Bob will be sure to run the refrigerator for an hour or so when they stop for lunch. If they keep the doors closed, this should be enough time to keep the food cool until they reach their campsite. The refrigerator is the highest phantom load in the RV (see Chapter 8). It can consume up to 1 ampere per hour or 24 amp-hours per day.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Boondock RVing by Bill Moeller. Copyright © 2008 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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