Boondocking. What in the world is boondocking? Is there a dock involved?
Boondocking, which stems from the word boondocks, is actually a Tagalog word. Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken on the Philippine island of Luzon and neighboring islands. This language is the standardized national language of the Philippines.
Back to boondocking. The word boondocks comes from the Tagalog word, “bundók” which means “mountain”. Throughout the Philippine-American War spanning the years of 1899 to 1902, American soldiers returned and brought this unique word with them. The soldiers most likely learned this word from communicating with the Filipino people who used the word as a colloquial for rural inland areas. And if you are familiar with the Philippine islands, they are generally mountainous with difficult to reach areas. Bundók areas!
Boondocking today is a word used to refer to simply living without much. No fresh water, no municipal electricity, and definitely no sewer utilities. All while camping in an RV, or camper van, or in the case of our family, a mini 18-foot school bus.
Boondocking Must Haves
Since boondocking means no plugs to utilities and no ability to take endlessly long and hot showers you need to make yourself pretty independent. RVs can be little hotels on wheels but realistically they are dependent on hook-ups at campgrounds or generators to be functioning homes. If you want to go boondocking and not feel like an upgraded tent situation, here’s what you need:
- Batteries: I am not talking about AA or AAA batteries. No, I mean heavy duty golf cart size batteries. These will become your utility plug in for all your electrical needs. Many opt to purchase lead/acid batteries, I highly recommend looking into lithium-ion versions. Although more expensive they are lighter, hold more electricity per size, and are better for the environment.
- Solar Panel System: This is my most favorite aspect of boondocking in our home. The solar power system that keeps our fridge, electronics, and more going. Solar panels are environmentally-friendly, do not require fuel and you can even start with a small roof-mounted setup or a portable panel.
- Generator: I know I just said solar is king, but on cloudy days you’ll most likely need help. That’s where a small portable generator will be great to have on hand. Brands such as Honda and Yamaha offer quiet, lightweight units.
- Water Tanks: Depending on your set up you will want at least one large fresh water tank. This is your source of water for all things. If you are washing dishes consider getting what is called a grey tank and if you have a toilet that flushes a black water tank is vital. These tanks will supply all your indoor plumbing needs while boondocking.
- Outdoor Solar Lights and Lanterns: When you are in the wild the only source of light is the moon and stars. Beautiful to stare at but not so helpful if you actually need to do something. Small, solar powered lanterns are helpful and efficient for nighttime hangouts.
- Propane Heater: Even if you are boondocking in warmer months, mountain nighttime temperatures can sometimes get pretty cool. Cool enough for a little heat. Having an all propane fueled heating option that requires no extra power is a game changer. The one we use is a simple portable heater Mr. Heater Buddy that runs off small propane bottles. We ended up creating a system that hooks it to a larger propane tank which keeps us toasty all winter long.
- Propane Stove: I highly recommend having a two burner camp stove that you can either permanently have installed in your rig or use outdoors. The ability to have a home cooked meal saves money and maintains a healthy diet. Plus if it’s able to move around, you will enjoy cooking outside on those hot sunny days.
- Plastic Tub: Random. I get it. But our little plastic pop up tub has been a great multi tool. Try to buy a plastic tub that fits in your sink. This way you can wash your dishes in it which saves water! And on the road water is vital. If you are super swanky you can use the dishwater for other purposes such as flushing the toilet. Another great purpose for the tub is quick and easy bucket baths. Or just to clean those toes from all the wild dirt living.
Where to Boondock
This truly may be one of the biggest motivators to go out to the boonies. Location. Location. Location. When you boondock you do not have to make reservations. And that usually means you get to stay for free! But where do travelers mainly boondock?
- Forest Lands: U.S. Forest Lands are simply magical places to boondock. Dispersed camping is allowed on all National Forest lands unless otherwise noted. You can find pull-offs on dirt forest roads. Or follow gravel roads to remote places among the pines.
- BLM Lands: The Bureau of Land Management is the youngest agency, yet controls more of the public lands than any other entity. General rules are you may camp for up to 14 days free in dispersed camping areas. One of my favorite BLM lands are the ones east of Zion National Park near the small town of La Verkin. Here you can sleep in the red sand under the giants of Zion.
- Parking Lots: I agree this is not a picturesque place to sleep. However on longer travel days having a quick and easy place to sleep is truly needed. Businesses such as Walmart, Cabela’s, and Cracker Barrel are very RV friendly. Just make sure you check with that particular location before staying. Rest Areas and truck stops such as Flying J and Love’s are nice one night stays. Most locations even have showers and laundry available for a fee.
One really helpful way to find these boondocking locations is through community apps where fellow travelers add location spots, updates on any changes and if there may be any water or dump stations nearby. My go to are:
Now why would anyone want to boondock verses stay in a traditional RV resort or campground? Scratch that. I think the real question is why would anyone pay to camp again? Please remember to honor and respect wherever you plan to boondock by practicing Leave No Trace principles. I hope after reading this article you have all the information and motivation to go out on your own boondocking adventure in some rural mountains and even parking lots near you.
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus.