Dry Camping for Beginners

Chelsea GonzalesApril 19, 2024

Dry Camping for Beginners

There’s nothing quite like escaping into nature in your RV. Dry camping makes it possible to escape into the wilderness, set up camp in the middle of a parking lot, get cozy in a friend’s driveway, or explore places you may not have ever realized existed. 

That said, you really need to know the ins and outs of this self-reliant form of camping before you dive in. That’s why we’re here today.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about dry camping so you can head out into the great unknown with confidence. 

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What is Dry Camping?

First, let’s take a minute to define dry camping. In short, dry camping refers to camping in areas without access to amenities such as water, electricity, or sewer hookups. Instead of relying on infrastructure provided by campgrounds, dry campers must be self-sufficient, bringing their own water, power sources, and waste disposal solutions. 

This might sound like a lot of work, but once you know what you need to know, it is totally doable and 100% worth it. 

What’s the Difference Between Dry Camping and Boondocking?

You may have heard the term boondocking before and might be wondering what exactly the difference is between dry camping and boondocking. The answer? Boondocking is always dry camping, but dry camping is not always boondocking. 

You see, boondocking refers to dry camping in the wilderness with no hookups or amenities of any kind, and often no roads to speak of. When boondocking, you are in the middle of nowhere—or in the boonies, hence the name. Boondocking is also called “dispersed camping” in some instances. 

Meanwhile, dry camping is a more all-encompassing term that simply means camping without hookups. This means you could be set up in a Walmart parking lot (sometimes called “wallydocking”), in an established campground without hookups, or in the middle of a vast desert—and all would qualify as dry camping. 

Dry camping at a hot spring

Finding the Best Dry Camping Spot

Okay, so dry camping is camping without hookups. But how do you find places to do that? Surprisingly, there are many ways to seek out dry camping spots. Here are some of our favorite options.

Dry Camping on Public Lands

Dry camping (also referred to as boondocking or dispersed camping) is often permitted on public lands such as national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas unless otherwise posted. Not only that, but this type of dry camping is often free or very low-cost. However, it’s essential to check local regulations and obtain any necessary permits or passes before setting up camp.

We recommend finding these kinds of dry camping spots using tools such as Campendium and iOverlander. Additionally, contacting local ranger stations or land management agencies can yield valuable information about available camping areas. Be sure to read reviews and ask questions to determine whether your rig will be able to access the spot.

Dispersed Campsite Selection 

When dispersed camping, it is important that you choose your campsite wisely. Consider factors such as terrain, weather conditions, and proximity to water sources (remembering to always park at least 200 feet away from water). Look for level ground to park your RV—watching out for large rocks and cacti—and be mindful of local regulations and land-use policies.

Dry Camping on Private Property

You can also find a dry camping spot on private property. Obviously, you can’t just drive into someone’s yard and claim it as your campsite, but there are people who offer their yards and driveways as dry camping spots. 

To find such sites, you will need to join a service such as Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts. Both are platforms that feature a collection of hosts who are willing to host RV campers on their land for free or for a small fee. This is a really fun way to find interesting campsites and meet new people while you’re at it. 

Dry Camping at Primitive Campgrounds

Lastly, it is possible to find primitive campgrounds that offer opportunities for camping sans hookups while still offering designated campsites and very basic amenities (such as picnic tables). These campgrounds are often run by the Forest Service or BLM. Some state park systems also offer dry camping spots and there are a few private campgrounds that have dry camping options. 

To find these kinds of campgrounds, use a site such as Campendium and employ the included filters to find exactly what you’re looking for. Just know that while primitive campgrounds are typically cheaper than other campgrounds, they do come with a fee attached. 

Must-Have Dry Camping Supplies

The next thing to know is how to pack for a dry camping trip. You will of course need all of the usual camping gear and equipment, but there are a few other important things you should pack, as well as some optional things you might want to consider. 

Must-Have Items

Fresh Water

Obviously, good drinking water is crucial to have wherever you roam, and if you’re dry camping you won’t necessarily have easy access to a water source. Be sure to fill your freshwater tank completely before you go, and if you’ll be out for a while, consider bringing some five-gallon jugs of water as well. 


Unless you’re only dry camping for one night, you will need a way to recharge your RV’s battery. A simple portable inverter generator will do the job just fine. We recommend a 2000-watt generator, as this will run pretty much anything in your RV with the exception of the air conditioner and might even be able to handle the AC in some cases. 

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is an incredibly important thing to pack on all RV camping adventures, but is especially important if you’re headed out into the wilderness. Make sure you get a good kit with all of the things you might need in case of an emergency. 

Navigation Tools

GPS on our phones is amazing when it works. Unfortunately, depending on where you plan on dry camping, there is a chance you won’t have cell service. For this reason, we always recommend having a physical map and a compass on hand. This will ensure you can get where you’re going, whether or not your phone can lead the way. 

Appropriate Clothing

Camping in the wilderness usually means spending a lot of time outside, which means you will want to pack clothes that will keep you comfortable. Also, keep in mind that while it’s possible to keep an RV pretty warm using a propane furnace while dry camping, camping without hookups during the summer will likely mean camping in the heat without an air conditioner. 

Full Propane Tanks

Speaking of the furnace, it’s also important that you head out on any dry camping trip with full propane tanks. Not only does your furnace use propane as a fuel source, but so do your stove and oven. Your water heater and RV fridge will also be running in gas mode.

So yeah, propane is extremely important for dry camping in comfort. 

Plenty of Food

Obviously, you will need to eat while dry camping. Make sure to hit the grocery store before heading out. We recommend planning meals that are easy to prepare on the stove or on a grill outside and easy to clean up with minimal water usage. (More on this later.)

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Optional Items

Wastewater Tote

If you think you will fill your black and/or gray tank before it’s time to break camp, you might want to consider a wastewater tote of some sort. This will allow you to dump your tanks into the tote and carry the water to the nearest dump station without moving your RV.

Note: Some people find that using a macerator pump to move the wastewater into a tote in the bed of their truck is ideal. 

Water Bladder

On this subject, if you think you’ll fill the wastewater tanks, then there is a pretty good chance you’ll also empty your freshwater tank. A potable water bladder is the perfect thing for toting large amounts of water from the nearest water source back to your RV. 

Composting Toilet

If you plan to spend much time dry camping, you might consider trading your traditional RV toilet for a composting toilet. Composting toilets are perfect for camping without hookups, because they remove the need for a black tank—meaning you can use the black tank to hold gray water—and they make removing bathroom waste possible, even when a dump station is nowhere to be found. 

Solar Panels, Battery Bank, Inverter

A generator is fine for keeping a battery charged and running some basic things. That said, if you plan to do a lot of dry camping, you might want to invest in a solar power system with solar panels, a charge controller, a nice-sized battery bank, and an inverter. This will allow you to keep your batteries charged without running a generator most of the time.

Depending on the specific items you choose, it could also mean you have plenty of power to run everything in your rig just as you would at a full-hookup campsite. 


If you have a solar power setup or if you don’t mind running a generator anytime you want to get online, you might also find Starlink helpful. This RV internet option is popular with dry campers because it allows you to have internet virtually anywhere, whether or not there are cell towers around. This is a game changer for people who like to set up camp in the middle of nowhere but need internet access for work or school. 

MaxxAir Vent Fan

We mentioned above that running your A/C while dry camping is not always possible. This is where a MaxxAir vent fan can help. These incredible fans can be installed in your RV roof vents and do an amazing job of pulling air through the rig. One of these fans and some open windows can make an enormous difference when you’re trying to sleep on a hot night. 

Mr. Buddy Heater

Your RV propane furnace will do a fine job of heating your rig without an outside power source. That said, these furnaces are notoriously inefficient. If you’re looking for a way to heat your RV with propane while saving fuel, look into the Mr. Heater portable buddy heater. Just ensure you know how to use these heaters safely before setting one up! (Cracking a nearby window is essential.)

Retro RV dry camping in the desert

Essential Tips for Dry Camping

Okay, you have your dry camping campsite picked out and all the required gear gathered. What now? Well, you’ll want to know how to make your limited resources last for the entirety of your trip. That’s where the tips below come into play. Employ these tips, and you can camp comfortably, no matter where you are. 

Water Management

Since there are no water hookups, it’s crucial to bring an adequate water supply for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. You’ll also need to take steps to conserve the water you bring and avoid filling your wastewater tanks too quickly.

Here are our top water and waste tank conservation tips:

  • Shower less often. Invest in Venture Wipes and dry shampoo to use between showers. When you do shower, stick to quick “navy” showers and take them outside when possible to avoid filling your gray tank. 
  • Collect shower water and dishwater and save it for flushing the toilet. Turn off the water pump, dump the gray water into the toilet, and then use the pedal to flush everything down. 
  • Plan meals that can be cleaned up easily without much water. One-pot meals and foods that are cooked on a grill are good examples. It also helps to use paper plates and bowls when possible and wipe all dishes with wet wipes or paper towels before washing. 

Conserving Power

Without electrical hookups, you’ll need alternative power sources such as generators, solar panels, or batteries. Unless you have a really robust solar power system, you’ll probably also need to conserve electricity. 

Here are some of our top tips for conserving power while boondocking:

  • Change all lightbulbs to LED bulbs. These use far less energy and also produce less heat, meaning it’ll be easier to keep your rig cool in summer. 
  • If you head out during the day, charge devices using the car charger to avoid using battery power for phone charging. 
  • Avoid using electronics for entertainment. Instead, pack board games, lawn games, and outdoor adventure gear.
  • Use the RV furnace as little as possible. A Mr. Buddy Heater can be a good alternative, as mentioned above. 
  • Turn your water heater off between uses. Even in gas mode, it uses electricity and there’s no reason to waste fuel heating water unnecessarily anyway.
  • Only run your Starlink when you’re actively using it. 
  • Turn off all fans, heaters, and lights when you leave the RV. 

Disposing of Waste

Many dry camping spots do not have trash cans available, so make sure you pack out whatever you pack in.

Some people like to keep a plastic bin in a storage bay just to hold onto bags of trash until they can get them to a dumpster. Using smaller bags for trash will make it easier to find places to toss them when you head into town (gas station garbage cans are a good bet). Some people do choose to burn their trash, which is fine as long as it isn’t harmful when burned.

Keeping Cool

Staying cool while dry camping in summer can be tricky. That said, there are a few things you can do to make it easier:

  • Head north. Generally, the further north you go, the less intense the heat will be. 
  • Head up. It’s also possible to find cooler weather by driving up into the mountains. That said, camping at higher elevations presents a new set of problems, so make sure you’re properly educated. 
  • Park in the shade. This is surprisingly effective. Putting out your awning is also helpful if you can’t find a shade tree. 
  • Use a MaxxAir vent fan. We mentioned these above. Get one. Use it. 
  • Invest in cooling towels. These towels feel cool to the touch when wet. You can wet them and put them on your forehead or neck to help keep you cool. 

Dry Camping Safety

While dry camping can be safe when practiced responsibly, it’s essential to be prepared for potential hazards such as extreme weather, wildlife encounters, and navigation challenges. Prioritize safety by 1) researching your destination, 2) informing others of your plans, and 3) being equipped with appropriate gear and emergency supplies.

Below are some other safety considerations to keep in mind while dry camping. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

As mentioned above, it’s always a good idea to let your family and friends know where you plan to go and when you plan to return. Planning a solo hike or paddle? This is another instance when you’ll want to share your plans with others. Communicating ensures someone will know to send help if you don’t return when you’d planned to. 

Pack Wisely

We mentioned packing navigational tools and a first aid kit in our list above. Having these things on hand could save your life. It’s also a good idea to have some basic tools on hand, and if you’re going somewhere without cell service, packing a satellite phone can be a good safety precaution. 

Vet Private Landowners

Planning on dry camping on someone else’s land? Make sure you go through a platform like Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts so you can vet them beforehand. Always read reviews and go with your gut when deciding whether someone is trustworthy. If something doesn’t feel right, skip that stop and head elsewhere instead. 

Camp Near Others

When boondocking, consider parking near others. No, we aren’t saying you should park right next to someone else, but setting up camp within sight of another RV will ensure you have help from another camper should an emergency arise. 

Put Food Away

Never ever leave food or trash outside. Bears and other wild animals are likely to visit your campsite when such things are left out and within reach, and they may associate you and your campsite with food afterward, making for a dangerous situation for all involved. 

Pay Attention to the Weather

Pay attention to the weather forecast. If severe weather is on the way, skip the camping trip. If it is headed your way while you’re out camping, break camp and get out of the way of the storm. 

Know Campfire Rules

Campfire regulations vary depending on the location and time of year. In many dry camping areas, campfires are allowed only in designated fire rings or during specified times when fire danger is low. Always check local fire restrictions and guidelines before starting a campfire.

Leave No Trace

Practice “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize your impact on the environment. This includes packing out all trash, minimizing campfire impacts, and respecting wildlife and natural habitats.

Yes, dry camping offers a wonderful opportunity to find some unique camping opportunities and embrace the freedom of RV camping. Use these tips to plan your first dry camping trip and see what you think of this off-grid camping style!

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