If you’re new to the RV world, you might have heard the term “dry camping” but aren’t sure what people are referring to when they talk about it. Is this camping in the dry, hot desert of Southern California? Is this camping without alcohol? The answer to both of these questions is no.
Let’s dive in and learn more about dry camping, and then you can decide if it’s right for you!
What Is Dry Camping?
You’re dry camping when you camp in your RV without electric, water, or sewer hookups. You’re relying on your own self-contained unit to provide everything you need. The fresh tank and water pump will provide water, while your RV batteries and an off-grid power source provide power. There’s no pedestal to provide access to electricity and water.
Dry camping is technically camping off-the-grid in your camper. It is one of our favorite ways to camp, and over the years we’ve learned so much about being off-grid that we now play games of “how long can we go without hookups?” Once learned, you’ll probably find that dry camping is actually a lot easier than originally thought.
Is Dry Camping and Boondocking the Same Thing?
Although many RVers use these terms interchangeably, there is a slight difference. Both are camping without hookups. But boondocking refers to camping away from developed campgrounds. Dry camping is just the act of camping without hookups, and this can be done in a developed campground.
People will boondock on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, in Cracker Barrel parking lots, casino parking lots, and other locations. Dry camping can happen at a campground and is quite common in state and national park campgrounds. For instance, you may book and pay for a campsite at a state park in New Mexico that offers no hookups. This wouldn’t be considered boondocking, but it would be called dry camping.
Why Do People Like Dry Camping?
Dry camping provides more freedom for many RVers. More options for camping are available if you don’t have to have hookups. Many national and state parks offer campsites for RVs but don’t provide hookups. If you’re not willing to dry camp or don’t enjoy dry camping, then you have more limited options for camping in these locations.
Dry camping while boondocking also opens the door to many more camping locations. Whether it’s just for a quick overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot or a week-long boondocking adventure in a dispersed camping location out west, the ability to dry camp opens up a whole other world of camping.
How Do You Get Power When Dry Camping?
One consideration when dry camping is how you’re going to get power. If you’re only planning on doing a couple of overnight stops in parking lots, investing in a more expensive solution like solar panels and lithium batteries is probably not worth it. You can get by with a night’s stay using a standard lead acid battery.
You can’t use the microwave or electrical outlets, but you’ll be able to use a few lights and keep a 12-volt or propane fridge operating.
On the other hand, if you want to use Harvest Hosts locations regularly or plan on dry camping for weeks at a time, you’ll need a stronger power source. One option is buying an RV generator. There are many different types of generators, and their capabilities vary. Some will allow you to use the microwave, power an air conditioning unit, and have access to the electrical outlets to plug in laptops, watch television, or run a coffee maker.
Not all dry camping locations will allow generators, so make sure to do your research first.
Another option is investing in a solar panel kit. Those who dry camp most often have multiple solar panels, multiple batteries, an inverter, and a charge controller. Because of the amount of equipment you need to generate enough power to live off-grid for days or weeks, this is a significant investment that could cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $10,000.
If you have a large enough solar power kit, you can run practically anything just as if you were hooked up to electricity.
Pro Tip: First time boondocking? We uncovered the Important Things To Know Before You Go.
Top Tips for RV Newbies When Dry Camping
There’s a learning curve when first starting to dry camp. If you aren’t prepared, your experience could end miserably. So let’s look at a few tips for RV newbies who want to wake up to beautiful sunrises on the beach or enjoy endless sunsets over deep canyons.
Practice With Short Trips
Start with short trips. Don’t plan a week-long adventure into the backwoods of Maine as your first dry camping experience. Practice one night at a time. A nearby Walmart parking lot would be a great place to practice. Or you can join Harvest Hosts and stay a night in a beautiful vineyard or farm.
Determine what you want to be able to do when you dry camp, and then you can decide how best to get power. You’ll also discover how much water you use and learn how to conserve. You can figure out how to best cook or prepare meals and learn the ins and outs of dry camping as you practice with short trips.
Arrive With Full Fresh Tank and Empty Waste Tanks
To get the most out of your dry camping experience, part of the learning curve is figuring out how to use and conserve water. Before you arrive, you’ll want to stop somewhere to fill up your fresh tank with potable water.
You want to do this as close to your destination as possible so you’re not driving hundreds of miles with a full fresh tank. Apps like Campendium and AllStays can help you find potable water locations.
You also want to make sure your waste tanks are empty. You won’t have a way to empty them when dry camping. So to save you from having to drive out to a dump station during your dry camping experience, arrive with empty tanks. You can also find a dump station nearby with Campendium or AllStays to dump them before getting to your destination.
Stock Up on Propane
If you have a refrigerator that runs on propane, it’s essential to stock up on propane. You’ll also use propane to heat your water, operate the stove, and run the RV furnace. Fuel centers, Tractor Supply, stores like Costco or BJ’s, U-haul locations, and propane suppliers like AmeriGas and Suburban will offer propane refill stations. So do your research to know where you can fill up before you hit the road.
Conserve Water and Electricity
One of the hardest things to learn as an RV newbie about dry camping is how to conserve water and electricity. Know your fresh water tank capacity, so you know how much water you have to work with before you run out. But it’s also important to know your gray tank capacity because this tank is generally smaller than your freshwater tank. If you max out the gray tank, you won’t have anywhere to empty it.
To conserve water, wash dishes with just a trickle of water or in a bucket. Don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth. You might want to consider turning the water off when you shower or sometimes not taking a shower at all.
Solar panels, vehicle engines, and generators slowly recharge your RV batteries. So you’ll want to conserve as much electricity as you can. LED lights require less energy than standard RV lights, so if you can replace your lights before you head out on a dry camping trip, you’ll conserve power.
If it’s hot outside, use battery-powered fans rather than those that require electricity. This is also true for cold nights. Sporadically use the RV furnace if you need heat because even though it runs off or propane, the fan that circulates the heat uses electricity.
If you need to charge a phone or laptop, do so in your vehicle instead of in your RV. You might not have access to outlets depending on your power source anyway. Because of this, you’ll also have to skip using the coffee maker or electric skillet. Try to get by using as few appliances as possible to conserve energy.
Research If Generators Are Allowed
As mentioned earlier, generators aren’t always allowed. If you’re planning on using a generator as your power source, make sure they’re allowed in the locations you want to dry camp. If you want to stay at breweries, museums, and golf courses with Harvest Hosts, send a message to the host before arriving to ask about generator use.
Read the facility information on Recreation.gov if you’re booking a national park or Army Corp of Engineers park. Sometimes they’ll specifically write that generators aren’t allowed or permitted during certain hours.
Can You Shower While Dry Camping?
It’s possible to shower while dry camping as long as you fill up your freshwater tank. You don’t have to give up a shower just because you don’t have hookups. But you do have to shower differently. It’s a good idea to turn off the water instead of just letting it run.
Wash and then turn the water back on to rinse off. Keep showers to less than five minutes if you want to let the water run continuously. These tips will help you conserve water and prevent your gray tank from filling up.
Where Can You Find Dry Camping Locations?
Just like Campendium and AllStays will provide dump station locations and portable water fill-up locations, they’ll also help you find dry camping locations. The Dyrt, FreeCampsites.net, iOverlander, and BLM.gov also help you find dry camping locations. These are usually boondocking locations that aren’t in developed campgrounds.
If you’d rather stay in a campground for the security and proximity to other attractions and amenities, Recreation.gov is a great place to search for state parks, county parks, and other places that offer campsites but no hookups.
Pro Tip: Download these Best Boondocking Apps and Websites for Amazing Free Camping before you give dry camping a try.
Is Dry Camping Worth It?
Dry camping is often free. Sometimes, developed campgrounds like Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park or Hodgdon Meadow Campground in Yosemite National Park won’t be free. You’re paying for great access to a national park even though you don’t have hookups. However, dry camping campgrounds are often much cheaper due to the lack of hookups.
But other locations, like dispersed camping along scenic highways or on BLM land, will be free. In addition, overnight stays in church parking lots or Cabela’s parking lots will also be free. So you can save a lot of money by dry camping, depending on the locations you choose.
Dry camping can be just as safe as camping with hookups. Just be sure to practice first and take care not to run out of water or power. Worst-case scenario, though, you can just drive yourself to a campground if needed!
So is dry camping worth it? Depending on your camping style, you’ll have to decide for yourself. But if you’ve never tried it, consider venturing out for a night without hookups.
Have you ever been dry camping? What are your top tips? Tell us in the comments!
Become A Mortons On The Move Insider
Join 10,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!