Anyone who’s interested in extending their boondocking capabilities should find the answers to our question of the week very, very interesting. There are a few ideas we will be trying out ourselves this camping season. Don’t miss Johnny “Pirate’s” multi-paragraph description of how they boondock, and boondock, and boondock some more. For the pirates, it’s boondock until you stink. Been there. Done that.
The 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 have not yet found out how long I can boondock. I have never had a reason to last longer than five days in my Host Yellowstone 11.5 double-slide. With 60 gallons of fresh, 45 gallons of grey, 45 gallons of black, 12.5 gallons of propane to run the generator, and a solar panel to recharge batteries, I believe I am among the larger capacities of truck campers. We do not begin to become critical yet at five days.” – Don Schwanke
“Hi Gordon! My wife and I have gone up to four days! The only problem I have is gray water. I have very little capacity and I have dumped on the ground at times (gray water only). We have a older camper and, with a good water supply and with two bottles of LPG, we’re in good shape for several days. I guess if we were in really hot weather, we would miss the air-conditioning. I am going to add a solar panel to keep the battery up without running the motor. Boondocking is great and you have some time to read and relax! Keep up the good work!” – Jim Holyfield
“If it’s just me, eight days and nights. With wife and kids, about twenty minutes.” – Brad Davis
“Gordon – The longest we have gone without any type of hook-ups was nine days. I had on-board six one-gallon jugs of water for coffee and other drinks. I took showers every other day and caught water that would run into the tanks while I was waiting for it to get hot. My fresh water tank holds forty gallons and my water heater holds six gallons. The black and gray are around thirty-eight to thirty-nine gallons each. Since the gray would fill up quicker, I would put some of the water (which would have gone into the black tank) into the gray tank. I have a solar panel and two good-size batteries, two 7.5 gallon LP tanks and a generator. My lovely bride of forty-seven years created some of the finest meals in those nine days. We emptied the tanks, filled up with water, and I believe we did another six or seven days after that. Writing this has got me excited to take off on a trip right now. I just made a decision to leave in a couple of days for the Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally and take eight days to go 700 miles. I am on my way to Virginia and after that. We will decide as we leave the campground that Sunday morning. It will be either West, South, or North – but not East. See you in a few days Gordon.” – Ed Krech
“We have a Lance model 851 and can comfortably go about four days before we run out of fresh water and have to empty the grey tank. We have gone five days but then we have to recharge the batteries. This is when we stay in one place. If we are on the move, the batteries are no problem and we can make the fresh water go a couple of extra days by taking advantage of rest areas, etc.” – jrsheldon
“Hi Ya Gordon – We have a ‘07 GMC 2500HD and a ‘07 Outfitter Apex 8 with shower and toilet. When boondocking for extended periods, we have several things we do to extend “tank” life without dumping. Of course beer always needs to be replenished, but that’s another story. Use the “loo” outside to prevent black tank from filling up (no brainer there, but my wife thinks it’s a bum idea). Use medicated wipes for a semi-wet/dry body wash instead of the shower (we also have the ‘ol solar shower with a foot pump too). The wipes are great for cleaning and smelling good after getting rid of body funk! They’re better than toilet paper too, a trick learned from backpacking. And yes, we doo pack out the wipes. Dishes are done outside with an inflatable sink and very little water. We used to use paper dishes but they make for a lot of trash. Also, you don’t want to burn them in the fire… it’s like inviting the three bears over for dinner. Lots of canned food and extra five gallons of drinking water is about all I can think off. Love my Dinty Moore! Thanks a lot Gordon, keep the TC world spinning!” – Dave & Lynn Rogers
“We have a 2008 Northstar Arrow 8.5, and can go two or maybe three days. The limiting factor is the stock black water tank of only seven gallons, and the wet bath sink empties in there too! If we are able to get a flatbed for our 2003 F250, I think there would be room for an extra tank. The Onan 2.8 generator is already mounted under the bed, so there is little room now. We do not want to add to the length with a porch. It sure is nice to be able to pull into a regular parking place. I’m very interested in hearing how others have extended their bookdocking time. For the future I’m also thinking of a variation of the WAG BAG system.” – Tom Arnold, Lincoln, Alabama
“My 2008 Hallmark UTE XS is equipped with a thirty gallon fresh tank and a fourteen gallon grey tank and a fourteen gallon black tank. My truck is a 2005 HD Dodge 2500 CTD. My Hallmark is also equipped with 135W Solar, and I have a Honda 2000iu generator. I use bio-degradable dish soap and shampoo so the grey water can be dumped on the ground. The black tank will fill in about five days with two of us, and I can go up to twn days with just myself. Solar keeps the batteries charged daily, and have never run low on juice even running lights, television, and accessories. I have actually stopped taking my Honda generator. If it were at a primitive camp area with outhouses, I probably could go two weeks with the fresh water tank with thirty gallons. If I take my portable five gallon water tanks, I could probably go for a month. Even rationing my one ice cold beer at the end of the day, I would need to go in at the end of two weeks for more rewards and talk to people rather than squirrels and wildlife!” – Gerald Kato
“Gordon – I travel alone in my Lance 845 with separate gray and black tanks of about fourteen gallons each. Taking a shower every other day, I can go for about seven days without dumping my tanks. It’s always the gray that fills up first. I have a thirty-three gallon fresh water tank, so I’d never use all of it before filling one of my holding tanks. If I was really trying to extend my time boondocking, I’d start by washing my dishes outside. Also, catch the shower water before it gets hot and dump it outside (or in the toliet). I rarely stay more than a night or two in one location. However, I’d like to try several days boondocking at one site this travel season. I think 7 days would be plenty, though. TC on.” – Ramblin’ Ralph
“Hi Gordon – In response to your question of the week about boondocking, I am fairly new to truck camping. I purchased a camper about two years ago because one in pretty good shape was for sale at a very good price. It is a 1986 Pilgrim. Anyway, I have had it out about twenty times and it has never seen a campground. I always boondock with my son’s Scout troop here in southern Utah. Most of the time it is only for a couple of nights. Last summer I went on a week long camping trip with my son’s Scout troop boondocking on BLM land. I didn’t have any problems at all. I brought two batteries, but since it was summer, I never needed to replace the first one. The only electric draw was the lights and water pump. The camper has two propane tanks, so there was plenty of propane for the water, heater, and fridge. What little cooking I did, I did inside the camper. The only concern was the fresh water and waste-water holding tanks. With the water heater, my camper holds about forty gallons of fresh water. I took five showers that week and my son took three showers. I only had to replenish once and I still went home with about half my fresh tank full. The camper has separate grey and black holding tanks. The grey water I could use to douse a campfire or such. I would never empty the black tank into anything but a dump station. With a weeks use, it still didn’t fill completely. I have found that with just a little conserving and a little planning ahead, you can boondock for quite a while. By the way, since I bought this truck camper, my older son saw how convenient it is and purchased one last month. Another truck camper convert! We both own trvel trailers. Guess which one stays home most?” – Jim Hignite from Southern Utah
“I’m sure we’re not the longest boondockers, but we do fairly well. We have a 2008 Arctic Fox 1140 with 46 gallons fresh water (including water heater), two thirty-pound propane tanks, two Trojan T-1275 12V batteries (~164 lbs and ~300 amps combined), a Honda EU2000i generator, ~4.5 gallons of LP, and LED lighting in most of the camper.
In moderate weather, propane generally lasts us around six to eight weeks running the fridge and cooking. If we’re in the freezing or below range, two weeks is about tops. We gotta keep our kitties warm even if we’re not inside. Warm means around 55 degrees. They’ve got fur coats and we’ve got blankets.
Gas is split between the scooter and the generator. Somewhere between 250 miles of exploration and forty hours of generator time. If we’re in a heavy internet using mode, we’ll be recharging laptops off the inverter and need to run the generator for about four hours every two to three days. In cold enough weather to run the furnace, we’ll typically run the generator one to two hours every evening.
And what typically runs us out is… water, or lack thereof. In nice weather, with a secluded spot next to a stream, we can do laundry, dishes, and bathe without touching the holding tanks. The rest of the time, it usually comes down to: how clean do you really need to be?
Military showers and washing hair once a week instead of with every shower will stretch the water budget quite a bit. If we’ve been out a while and are water conscious because we aren’t ready to move, I may go as far as a full blown shower and hair washing in a gallon and a half of water. There’s probably still a bit of shampoo that doesn’t get rinsed out, but the critters don’t seem to mind.
When it comes to dishes, we usually cook once or twice a day. If we don’t have guests, we usually manage to cook a one-pot meal of some sort. Plates get burned in the campfire! Most nights, cleanup consists of one pot, maybe a lid, and a couple of forks or spoons. Water glasses and coffee mugs probably aren’t up to restaurant standards. A quick swirl to knock the grinds out of a coffee cup and mostly ignoring water spots on water glasses is pretty typical.
Garbage is also a consideration. Just how much do you want to pack out and how ripe is it going to be? We use basic clay cat litter, so I feel no qualms about digging a hole to bury it in away from the camping area and any trails. Leftovers don’t exist! Unless there’s a fire ban, we’ll typically burn any paper or cardboard packaging materials. After shopping, I’ll usually un-package things like meat and repackage in freezer bags sized for the two of us. It stacks better and I can do any necessary butchering all at once. We can thaw out just what we’re going to eat that day and we get rid of those icky styrofoam containers in the store parking lot rather than have them stink up the camper later. Things like banana peels, apple cores, and coffee grounds get tossed under a bush where they rapidly degrade or feed something.
Even with all of that, we still end up with metal and plastic garbage that can’t be burned. Well, you could, but come on… who wants to breathe burning plastic or turn cans into balls of slag at the bottom of a fire pit? Normally, we just use our grocery bags for garbage collection. If we’re out long enough, the bags start overflowing or stinking. Then they go in an actual garbage bag, get tied up nice and tight, and tossed in the cab of the truck where we don’t have to smell it until we’re ready to air the cab out and leave.
So how long do we actually stay out in the middle of nowhere? Usually after a week or so, we’re ready to find a new spot and start looking for whatever we need – water, dump station, a nice big trashcan and maybe a few gallons of gasoline or propane. If we have a nice spot and plenty to do, two weeks is pretty typical. Longer than that and Jenn starts telling me I stink. With better water conservation and a stream for bathing, I’d say a month is pretty doable before we’d have to start doing things like distilling our own drinking water. After that, two months before we ran out of propane to keep the food cold. – Johnny “Pirate”