Question Of The Week

67 Reader Tips For Off-Grid Boondocking

Next time you’re having dinner out, imagine putting your fork down, getting up on your table, waving your hands to get everyone’s attention, and saying, “By show of hands, how many people here would be willing to go without a shower for a few days to enjoy the natural wonders of Yellowstone National Park?”

This is a trick question because (a) most folks wouldn’t be able to peel their attention away from their smartphones to notice the crazy guy waving his arms and (b) you’re standing on a perfectly fine cheeseburger.  What are you doing?  Get down before someone calls the cops or worse, puts you on YouTube.

My point is this; most folks would never for a second consider not taking a domestic shower every morning to see stunningly beautiful landscapes, or an Elk, or to get away from the incessant hustle and never ending noise of modern society.  But here we are, truck campers us all, ready to forgo five minute hot showers to do exactly that.

We greatly enjoyed reading all the responses and look forward to trying a few of the techniques mentioned.  In the meantime, here’s to off-grid boondocking!

This week’s Question of the Week was, “How long can you boondock off-the-grid with your truck camper before you need to dump your tanks or replenish your supplies?”

“I went on a three week fishing trip this May.  I had ten gallons of water when I got home.  I shower everyday.  I have a shower head with an on/off switch.  I get wet, soap up, and rinse, so I use half a gallon at the most.  I’ve always used the camper’s fresh water for drinking with no problems.  The Eagle Cap holds over eighty gallons of fresh water.” – Bruce Ostermann, 2015 Ram 5500, 2015 Eagle Cap 1165

“I loved this article.  I just built my truck and camper package and I’m ready to start camping.  I am heading to the Overland Expo East in Asheville, North Carolina in October for my first time out.  I don’t have solar panels, but I am purchasing the Honda EU2000i this weekend.  Hopefully that will address keeping the battery charged and handling the air conditioner unit.  I have a lot to learn and these articles are my new Bible.  I just wanted to say thanks.” – Joe Tatosky, 2005 Dodge Ram 3500, 2008 Northstar 850SC

“It depends if we are on a lake or river.  If we are, we can last three weeks.  If we are not on the water, two weeks is the limit.” – Joe Munn, 2001 3500, 1999 Bigfoot 2500 9-6

“Three weeks!  And it was fun.  National Forests or National Parks are great for your first long term boondocking experience.  With a lake, a creek or river slowly passing by, it’s peaceful and full of beauty.

First, we use baby wipes for daily use.  Second, a hat for days five through seven.  And third, a cup for cleaning the dishes.  Do not dump anything in the river, lake, or creek, please.  If you swim, keep dressed.  It refreshes your clothing, but they will smell worse then you will!

Eat well out of your freezer or refrigerator the first week.  We have a two gallon shower bag that we use per day to help us control our water use.  We have two 80-watt solar panels and four batteries for power.  Please read my article with TCM for more tips; Doing More and Spendling Less in a Truck Camper.” – Jake and Sylvie Mathis, 1994 Dodge Ram 2500, Northern Lite 9CQ

“On our winter trip from New York to Quartzite, Arizona it’s generally really cold, so we use our heater for the four or five day trip out.  We dry camp all the way at Walmart or Cracker Barrel.  When we arrive in Quartzite, we stay out at least another week on BLM land until we need to fill LP and dump waste water.  We usually cannot fill up with water in the tanks until it gets warmer, but we take five one gallon jugs for the trip across.  The Arctic Fox has two 30 pound propane tanks and we have a 2500 watt Onan generator.” – David and Lila Weinstein, 1999 Ram 3500, 2005 Arctic Fox 1150

“The whole reason for owning our truck camper over tent camping is for us to be able to enjoy a shower every night.  We can go five nights before needing to dump the holding tanks and fill with fresh water.” – Bruce Allison, 2000 Ford F350, 2012 Adventurer 910 FBS

“My vacations never last long enough to test my endurance.  They are usually only a week or two, and then I have to return to the grind.  I’ll let you know in two years, seven months, one week, and three days, when I retire.  Not that I’m counting.” – Carl Ragland, 2002 Chevy 2500HD, 1992 K-Z Sportsmen

“I have used the camper when I’m at a my worksite.  I have thirty-six gallons of fresh water (including the water heater), eight gallons of grey, and five gallons of black.  I also have two Group 27 batteries, and two 20-pound propane tanks.

In moderate weather I can easily spend five consecutive nights in the camper before servicing.  I have a white collar job, so I do need daily showers to fully clean up.  The grey tank sometimes gets full after just three to four days, even with Navy showers and careful conservation.  When needed, I sheepishly dump just the grey on the grass at a nearby pull-off at the work site, knowing that I’ve been careful to use environment-friendly shampoo and soap.  I don’t know if this violates any regulations, but I’m comfortable that it is not harmful to anyone.

I can usually make a five day week with the fresh water, and two weeks with the black tank.  I work in an office with restroom facilities, so I only use the camper head for the twelve hours per day when I’m in the camper.

The tightest limit is the battery during cold nights.  When it gets below 40-degrees outside, my camper requires twenty to thirty minutes per hour of furnace operation.  The furnace blower pretty much runs both batteries down in one to two nights.  The small gauge internal 12 volt wiring restricts the charging current available to the batteries from running the truck so, on cold nights, I need to find shore power for a couple of hours to recharge the batteries, even if I’ll be driving a bit.

I don’t have solar panels but, since this is a late fall and winter problem, I’m really not sure how much they’d help with the limited sunlight available.  The bottom line is that battery power for the furnace fan is the limiting factor for boondocking in cold weather, and the grey water tank is limiting at other times.

Like you, I don’t have a microwave (no need).  I only need shore power very rarely for the rooftop air conditioner, since I’m not in the camper during the daytime when it may be hot.” – Reed Prior, 2007 GMC 2500 HD, 2000 Travel Lite

“We only have a twenty gallon fresh water tank on our camper.  We bring an extra ten gallons of water, which we keep in the rear of our crew cab.

Our Four Wheel Camper Hawk is equipped with an outdoor shower, which we use sparingly to freshen up after a hike, or bike riding.  We bring enough food for three plus days, and bring some flavoring to add to the water if wanted.

We don’t have a grey tank, so we drain our sink waste into plastic jugs.  We also buy body wipes from Camping World, which are treated, and help keep the “schtink” factor under control.

Our limit for boondocking with dual heavy duty batteries is three full days.  Then we  head to a campground to get shower and laundry facilities, restock at the local supermarket, and find a do-it-yourself car wash.” – Mike Kolinski, 2012 GMC Sierra 2500HD, 2012 Four Wheel Camper Hawk

“This was not a test, but it just happened.  We left Colorado for about three months for Arizona.  We filled up with our good well water.  We traveled to Yuma and back to Phoenix for twelve to thirteen days before running out of water.  We use it to drink, for coffee, showering every other day, etc.  If we hadn’t used it to drink we could have gone fifteen to sixteen days.  We dumped the tanks after about fifteen to sixteen days and they weren’t completely full.  We were close to a place to dump so went ahead and dumped.  We used BLM, casinos, Walmart or wherever we didn’t have to pay to park.

I made solar panels from scratch buying cells and doing all the soldering and making the frames.  I use one 130 watt on the camper and put two six volt batteries in series in the left front wheel well before sliding the camper in.  Otherwise that’s wasted space because it’s unusable after the camper is loaded.  They are wired in parallel to the two existing camper batteries.  With four batteries, we have never needed extra power.  We have a generator but only use it to nuke potatoes or thaw out something in the microwave.

In eighty nights we paid a total of $62 to park, or dump, mostly at National parks which have dumps and are half price to camp.  I don’t know why people pay $45 a night at KOAs (the worst place to stay) when there are so many places to stay for free in a truck camper.  I don’t want to be anywhere near a snoring neighbor.  We love our Arctic Fox 1150!” – Frank and Lynn Niehus, 2007 Ford F350, 2007 Arctic Fox 1150

“Seven days is comfortable for me as a single man with dog.  I could do more, but haven’t.  I have frozen prepared food I make when I’m at a RV park with hookups, so no cooking while boondocking.  I take rinse shower every other day or less depending on activity level.  I carry enough clothes for more then a week.  I use the woods or other facilities for number 1 if available.

I have forty-five gallons of fresh water, twenty-six gallons of grey water, and twenty gallons in my black tank.  I use bottled water for drinking, lots of body wipes and lots of Clorox wipes along with paper plates.  I also take an extra propane cylinder.  I have an onboard Onan generator that I use for the air conditioner and microwave as needed.  I full time in my Eagle Cap so I have all my provisions with me always.” – Mike Cianci, 2004 Ford F-350, 2010 Eagle Cap 850

“Being a backpacker on treks for ten plus days, I’ve learned that showers are not necessary when in the backcountry.  I apply this philosophy when truck camping in remote areas.  I only do light wash-ups in critical areas.

To save space in the thirteen gallon black tank, I also use the backpacking technique of digging a cat hole somewhere in the bush.  A stream is normally nearby, so I can use my SteriPen to make drinking water safe to save on fresh water.  After about eight or nine days, we need to return to civilization to restock on food.” – Larry Routt, 2004 Ford F-350, Lance 850

“We reviewed all challenges and solved one at a time.  For electric, I use a Yamaha 2400 generator.  For soiled clothing, I have installed a 24-inch by 60-inch front receiver carrier for the Yamaha 2400 and two large rubber maid containers for soiled clothes.  For water we have 25 gallon on board tank, extra containers, and a large roof bladder gravity water carrier.

For showering, we designed an outside shower stall 36-inch by 36-inch with three-quarter inch PVC framing.  The PVC framing is unglued pipe that connects to the camper with long cotter pins.  These pins are inserted into a split T that’s held in place with two small rods that hook into the kitchen window awning frame.  This holds the PVC level with the camper wall.

Joanne Fabrics had a gray nylon shower material that gives privacy and dries fast.  The material is hemmed-weighted with glass decorative pieces from Dollar Tree and mounted a 4-inch tube folding stainless towel bracket from Ikea and vertical soap holder from Camping World.  All showers are outside with the wildlife.  We also share our urine with the wildlife and only utilize the black tank for stool.

For dry food storage, we have custom Ikea and Camping World containers that fit.  We have a 5.0 cubic foot refrigerator that sacrificed some overhead cabinets but is a great trade off.  Our meals are prepared and frozen.  We also cook outdoors.

We have two 20-pound propane tanks.  For gasoline, I have invented a transfer system for $125.  The transfer system moves the gasoline from my thirty-five gallon truck tank to my generator.  We only use the generator to charge phones or for the air conditioner.  We carry a separate battery charger which charges faster than the converter while the generator is running.  Entertainment is mainly walks and card playing, sunsets, and bird watching.” – Bob and Linda Robinson, 2002 Chevy 2500, 2010 Travel Lite 960RX

“We’ve gone ten days.  We limit our showers to every third day.  We use face cloth sink baths in between shower days so neither one of us is uncomfortable.  I also need to shave daily and electric shavers don’t work for me.

When we shower we capture the first cold water in our tea pot for later consumption.  We can each have about a one gallon shower.  We only run our hot water heater before the shower.

We have gas grill for barbecuing.  We watch satellite TV by using a 12 volt 17-inch flat screen television and a 200-watt inverter for the satellite receiver.  With a 135 watt solar panel and two Group 27 AGM batteries, we don’t have to run our 2.5 KW generator very much.

We don’t stay in one place very long, so we’re always looking for good overnight camping places.  I bet we’ve got fifty good spots saved in our GPS.  We only stay in RV parks if there’s no other way to dump.  On our last ten day trip we avoided parks altogether.  I like the truck camper way of traveling because we can get away from the crowds and not have to be packed in ten feet from my neighbor in an RV park.” – Jim Cornwell, 2011 Chevy 3500 HD, 2012 Lance 1191

“With 300 watts of solar, three Group 31 batteries, and all LED lights, power needs are met indefinitely.  I also have a 1,500 watt inverter and a microwave that works great off of the solar power and batteries.

Holding tanks are a different story.  The camper has a full shower and we like it!  That said, just using the camper’s tanks we can go four days before the gray tank is full.  Our record to date, pulling a small trailer with extra fresh water and a gray water holding tank, is two weeks!” – Richard Sullivan, 2010 Chevrolet 1500, 2007 Lance

“Our specifications are 50 gallon fresh, 24 gallon grey, 19 gallon black, and a 6 gallon water heater.  We also have a 2.5 KW generator, 160 watts of solar, two Group 27 AGM batteries, and a 6 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer.

We carry at least five gallons of Arrowhead Mountain Spring water in a jug and pump it in from the truck’s extended cab.  That’s our sole drinking and cooking water.  We use a portable water softener and don’t trust local water.  Sandee also deleted the microwave for extra galley storage.

We would run out of organic vegetables and salad fixings in five days unless we also carried a cooler in the extended cab for the first few days.  Space is getting tight in the rear cab with the dirty clothes hamper, water, DEF, bulky coats, etc.

There are two scenarios:

1. Grubby Joe solo.  I could boondock alone for three weeks, but would probably come in earlier for a good meal.  This hasn’t happened yet.

2. Add Mrs. Clean (Sandee), with her long hair and twice daily showers, and fresh water capacity becomes critical.  That gives us about the same limit as the five day vegetable cycle.

Grey water is not a problem.  As backpackers and others know, by using only biodegradable soaps you can let grey water out in many safe places.  Just don’t do this near waterways.  Ladies need more black water capacity than gentlemen who help Mother Nature by watering nearby bushes and trees.

We spec’d our truck and camper to reduce our need for hookups to an every five day schedule and it’s been hit or miss on our long trips.” – Joe and Sandee Sesto, 2015 Silverado 3500, 2015 Bigfoot 2500 10.6E

“We usually dry camp for four days.  The black water gets us every time.  We don’t use the shower to conserve water, but take sink baths.  If there is a shower available at the campground we will shower there.

After four days and sink bathing, it’s time to go home.  We do have a solar system with two six volt batteries, and a built in generator if needed.  So our weak point is the darn black tank.” – Mick and Andrea Vancas, 2012 Chevy Silverado, 2013 Lance 855S

“We have only camped off-grid for three days at a time, although we could have gone longer.  We just chose to move to a different location.  As far as dumping the tanks, we go out five weeks and only dump when we get home.

We have backpack camped for years before we bought our truck camper.  So, we use the same principles as we did before, conservation!  As far as a shower goes, when boondocking in the wilderness, we use the outside shower.  There’s nothing better!” – Linda Rearick, 2002 Ford F-350, 2001 Arctic Fox 1150

“I can go about a month if I’m very careful and by myself.  I use a sponge bath and lots of paper eating/drinking products.  Also, being a guy, I don’t need the toilet for all purposes.  Drinking entails coffee, making orange juice from a frozen container, and other beverages.

All cooking is done with teflon pans that are wiped out with a paper towel.  Vegetables are eaten fresh or steamed, neither of which result in dirty pans.

I use a Honda EU2000i, but also have a solar panel.  When I’m out in the boondocks for a month, I have a cargo trailer and use a 7.2 cubic freezer for more frozen foods, hence a generator.  I also have a nearby water source (five miles) so I can almost last as long as my food holds out.” – Steve Cilenti, 1999 Ford F-350, 2012 Arctic Fox 990

“I can go about three days with water.  I have solar to build my batteries back up.  As for a shower?  I shower one night, maybe two, but that’s it!” – Jeff Hagberg, 2002 Ford F250, 2006 Travel Lite 800SBX

“Due to the fact that we have a small black holding tank and my husband has had cancer and uses the bathroom more than normal, we can only boondock for about three days before we need to empty.  Great article though!” – Clifford DeVine, 2004 Dodge, 1995 Lance Squire

“We go for about seven days comfortably.  I have a solar panel that recharges the two AGM deep cycle batteries.  The Lance also has a 3,600 watt LPG Onan onboard generator.  We have LED lights inside.  The holding tanks and forty gallon fresh water are what limit us to seven days.  We have an outside shower so that helps the holding tanks.” – Erwin Greven, 2002 Chevrolet 2500HD, 2002 Lance 921

“Five days is the max for me without a shower and about max for my holding tanks.” – Mark Larson, 2014 Ram 3500, 2013 Lance 865

“Okay, to be very graphic, we use “tinkle cups” during the night and forest service or national park service bathrooms for more “serious business” when they are available.  This helps us to extend the lives of our small tanks.

Using baby diaper wipes for quick, mini body clean-ups allows us to go longer between showers.  While hiking, we carry bio-degradable, non-phosphate soap for quick river and lake dips and hair washing.  It all helps.  Every once in a while, springing for an RV park or campground with a real shower and laundry is a luxury.  Be creative!  Have fun!” – Heather Peacock, Ford F250, 2003 Lance 835

“For me, to boondock for extended periods of time is easier than most.  Why?  Because I planned from the onset for multi-month long boondocking periods.  I love being out in the middle of nowhere and not needing to go into a town, which might be 45 to 70 miles away.

Once I get out in an area, I often don’t wish to leave.  I’ve never stayed in one place more than ten days and often travel maybe thirty miles in a month in my truck.  But hundreds of miles on my motorcycles, kayaks, bicycles and, of course, boots to the ground.

To accomplish this, I needed to identify many things that would limit my plans.  Those things could be tank sizes, propane, food, groceries, fuel, and power.  With that, I set my truck up, from the beginning, with oversized tanks and storage for all of these needs.  As well as multi-season needs, such as clothes and hobbies.  Planning and preparation is the key.  Plus a dose of problem solving skills and ingenuity.

I have enough power to run my air conditioner off of my battery bank.  The longest I have ran my air conditioner is three hours at a time.  Mostly, I plan to be in areas where I don’t need a lot of heat or cooling, and basically use the Goldilocks approach.  I head south for the winter and then north for the summer.  While full-timing seven years now, I have now gone five years without plugging into outside power supply/electricity.

For my tanks, I use composting techniques for solid waste and my onboard black tank easily holds my other human waste, with developed techniques for multiple months. Laundry is done out in the field, with bucket techniques.  Using outdoor showers, when possible.  Having an oversized potable water and propane tanks allows, so far, unlimited time between refillings.

While some might consider my use and techniques extreme, so be it.  But for those that wish to extend their weekend use, for a week or more, might find my practices beneficial.  For those that go to the areas of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and far reaches of the canyons of Utah, might decide that they might never want to leave there.  They then will understand my desire to stay another night, then another, and forget all about the land I once knew as the land of; Telephone Poles and Sidewalks.” – Bryan Appleby, 2008 Ford F550, 2009 Lance 1191

To read more of Bryan’s awesome boondocking tips, read his article in TCM called, “Extreme Boondocking and the TP Factor“.

“Depending on the weather, we are good for approximately two weeks.  With two propane tanks, a generator, and one battery, the cold weather is our limiting factor.  With 30 gallons fresh water, 15 gallons grey, and 15 gallons black, we are very water and power frugal.

We capture water from the galley sink to flush the toilet and shower (every third or fourth day) with a tub on the shower floor to capture water for future flushing.  We use a water saving shower head (1.3 gpm) and, though we haven’t been in the Navy, we take “Navy” showers.

We clean up between showers with sponge baths and baby wipes.  Drinking/coffee water is from bottled water.  We always have too much food.  I think we could go thirty days without restocking.

Clothes are limited to storage space.  I pack enough for the planned trip plus three days.  I try to get two days per pair of undies and socks when boondocking, but if it’s less than a week, fresh skivvies and socks every day!  We have washed our clothes while boondocking, but only if there’s an alternate water source.” – Trekker Hill, 2002 Dodge 2500, 2004 Lance 920

“We can go probably six days.  We have plenty of fresh water at 49 gallons.  However, our 26 gallon grey and 22 gallon black tanks are our weak point. A 150 watt solar panel and four Trojan 27TMH twelve volt batteries keep us going fine.  We also have an Onan 2500 watt propane generator if all else fails.

We beach camp exclusively and have a four night, five day limit.  We then have to be off for forty-eight hours, and then return/repeat.  So we have never pushed the envelope. There’s a state campground about six miles from the beach where we could spend two nights, empty tanks and re-load with fresh water, but we have not tried that as of yet.  We live sixty miles away, so just about an hour.  We spend a couple of days at home, get a real shower, and sleep in a real bed.  That works better for us.” – Jim Duarte, 2015 Ford F350, 2013 Eagle Cap 850

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