I guess we put the spoiler in the article title…sorry about that. Before I get into the dramatic story of our first full week of RV dry camping, I should make a few things clear:
- If you dry camp regularly, this article will make you laugh at us. So please stop reading now.
- Eric and I are not mechanically-inclined.
- We like our creature comforts. When we’re comfortable, we’re more productive during the work week and have fewer distractions. That’s what we tell ourselves. In our minds, comfort has always been inextricably linked to full hookups. Anything else is just complicated.
- I wish someone had written this article a year and a half ago when we were going on the road. My FOMO has kicked in–how many beautiful places have I missed because I didn’t know I could survive dry camping?
Whew, enough confessions.
Before this month, Eric and I had only ever “dry camped” overnight. Not even 24 hours, people. We knew that didn’t count, just as much as you do.
When we heard that Xscapers was organizing their first-ever convergence at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and that a ton of our friends were going to be there, we adjusted our travel plans to join the fun. Heck, we even signed up for Xscapers so we could camp alongside everyone else.
As I was making our reservation online, Eric dropped a bombshell: “You know it’s dry camping…right?”
After a moment of silence, I mustered my courage and said, “So?”
After some conversation, we figured that if we were ever going to dry camp for more than one night, where better to do it than surrounded by experienced friends? If we screamed in panic, there would be somewhere there to hear us.
What’s Dry Camping?
Dry camping, also referred to as boondocking, is camping in your RV without hookups. No electricity, water or sewer connections.
Why Would Anyone Dry Camp?
For a long time, Eric and I didn’t think dry camping was “worth it.” But experience on the road, conversation with friends and amazing photos we’ve seen on social media have made us think twice. Here are the main reasons people choose to dry camp:
- Proximity to natural beauty and outdoor wonders you wouldn’t see otherwise.
- Cost savings. Many dry camping locations are completely free.
- Social opportunities. Many RVers gather at events and locations like the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta or Quartzsite in Arizona. If you want to meet up with friends in similar places, you’ll have to leave the hookups behind.
Our First Full Week of Dry Camping: Preparation
The preparations we made for a week without hookups were pretty intuitive:
- Fill up with diesel–the fuel for our generator.
- Fill up with propane–the fuel for our stove and fridge (when we’re not connected to electricity). Propane is also an alternate fuel source for our hot water heater.
- Fill up with fresh water.
- Empty gray and black water tanks.
Depending on your dry camping location, you may also need to grocery shop and get other supplies before leaving civilization.
Know Your Limits
Before you commit to a long stretch of dry camping, you should know your tank capacity and have a rough idea of how long you can last on that capacity. This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give because every RV and RVer is different.
As a 40-foot diesel, we have generous tank sizes:
- 100 gal. diesel
- 30 gal. propane
- 90 gal. fresh water
- 70 gal. gray water
- 45 gal. black water
To find out how long we could last on our tank capacities, we did a few experiments. We went without a sewer connection and found out that we could go almost two weeks without dumping, with regular use. We went without a water connection and found out that we could go a week with one load of laundry, limited showers and normal dish washing. At that level of water use, we were totally fine for fresh water and gray water capacity.
You can refine your experiments as much as you want to. I’d encourage you to, if dry camping is something you’re seriously interested in. If you’re gun-shy like us, do it at a campground where you have full hookups. That way, if you run out of fresh water or fill a tank to the max, the solution is as simple as hooking up. Once you perform your experiments and record the results, you’ll be confident about how long you can dry camp within your comfort zone.
Our First Full Week of Dry Camping: Daily Routine
Equipped with a working understanding of how much capacity our RV has, and what that means for our water and power usage, we settled into a daily routine during our week of dry camping.
We were conscious of how much diesel we were using because there’s a real cost associated with it. To avoid waste, we wanted to run our generator as little as possible. Plus, I hate the noise and fumes!
- We turned on the generator when we got up in the morning and ran it for two hours (6:30-8:30 AM). This was usually enough to recharge our batteries.
- We turned on our inverter to pull power from our four coach batteries for the rest of the morning as we worked.
- More often than not, we ran our generator for two hours in the afternoon to recharge our batteries. Then we went back to battery power.
- We ran our generator for two hours before bed (8-10 PM).
Don’t forget to keep quiet hours in mind. They change from location to location (ours were 10 PM-5 AM). Even when no quiet hours are posted, it’s common courtesy to keep your generator off during sleeping hours if you have anyone near you.
One last note where power is concerned. I turned on the electric water heater when the generator was running if we were going to take shower. I kept it on for anywhere from 20-60 minutes, with 20 minutes being too little and 60 minutes being more than was needed! I didn’t worry about heating water for dishes.
We didn’t have any issues with water during our week of dry camping. These were some of the changes to what we’d do normally with full hookups:
- I didn’t run the washer or dryer.
- I was careful when washing dishes and used as little water as possible.
- We took “sailor showers,” basically using water to get wet and rinse.
- I was generally conscious of water usage when washing my hands or doing chores. I avoided activities that would require a lot of water.
Our First Full Week of Dry Camping: Usage Results
- We ran our generator for 36.75 hours over seven days, which averages out to 5.25 hours at day.
- We’re still completing our calculation of how much fuel we consumed, but we think it was about a quarter of a tank, or 25 gallons. That’s 3.6 gal/day.
- Since we filled up with diesel at $2.25 prior to arriving at the Balloon Fiesta, that puts our daily power cost at $8.10/day.
That figure brings home the cost savings potential of dry camping. Of course, we were paying $24/night to camp at Balloon Fiesta, so we didn’t experience any cost savings there!
If we did indeed use 25 gallons of diesel total, that puts our consumption at 0.7 gal/hour. Keep in mind that we weren’t running our AC at all (we did run heat for maybe two hours total in the early mornings) and we didn’t run the washer or dryer. At the same time, we didn’t unplug unused devices. If we had, we may have been able to drop our diesel consumption slightly.
We came out of the week with 1/3 tank of fresh water left (approx. 30 gallons), and we didn’t fill the black or gray water tanks. We know from experience that we can go two weeks with our black water tank. We don’t know for sure how long we can go with our gray water tank, but with our level of water usage during Balloon Fiesta, I’m confident we could make it two weeks. That said, I’d prefer a more generous water allowance!
Bottom line: Our limiting factor is our fresh water tank. Without making ourselves really uncomfortable, it would probably last us a week and a half.
But Would We Do It Again?
Our first full week of dry camping was empowering. We had some idea of what we could do, but we had never done it. Now we have, and we will absolutely do it again! I’m most excited about the prospect of accessing beautiful and remote places we would never see if we insisted on full hookups.
I want you to know that you can do it, too! I encourage you to experiment and test your personal limits. Don’t feel like you have to be as wild as others if that isn’t your thing. But don’t miss out on amazing experiences due to ignorance. Equip yourself with knowledge about your rig and how it meshes with your individual habits and lifestyle. That way, you can keep your options open and jump on dry camping opportunities as they present themselves.
Why Haven’t You Mentioned Solar?
Solar opens up a whole other slate of possibilities when it comes to dry camping. Eric and I are considering a small setup we can build on. But I’m sure we won’t invest in an extensive system until we prove to ourselves that we’re going to dry camp regularly. Until then, it’s just not worth it.
But didn’t I mention that we’re not mechanically-inclined? You’re better off learning from those who have a lot more experience in this area than we do! Check out advice and tutorials from our friends:
- Gone With The Wynns: “Solar Power”
- Tales From the Mutiny: “How Solar Revitilized Our Fulltime Lifestyle”
- Technomadia: “Solar Electrical Systems for RVs”
Please comment if you have an article about RV solar to share (no spam).