Last updated: 12/24/2016

Boondocking Made Easier

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Copyright 2002-2017 John Mayer. All rights reserved. For reuse policy see Reuse Policy

Boondocking, or "dry camping", is generally thought of as camping without any hookups. Some would argue that true "boondocking" means camping in a secluded area, like the desert or forest, whereas "dry camping" could be in a Wal-Mart parking lot, at a truck stop or an RV Rally. In any case, what is important for this discussion is that you have no hookups available to you. You are "on your own".

Besides power management issues, covered extensively in other areas, effective boondocking requires potable water management, waste management, and more effective heating than a standard RV is equipped for. These items are covered lightly here.
Water Management
When boondocking you have have a finite amount of water. One of the biggest issues is getting more fresh water. Besides conservation methods people use many techniques to fetch fresh water, depending on how avid they are about boondocking. Long-term boondockers usually have large (over 55 gallon) fresh water storage containers for getting water. Often, several drums. Sometimes these are permanently built into their tow vehicles - other times they are temporarily used. Some avid boondockers build in plastic tanks to their tow vehicles. These tanks may be found most readily at farm supply stores, and come in various sizes and shapes.


We prefer using a flexible plastic water bladder. When not in use this bladder takes up little room, yet it hold 45 gallons of water. The picture shows this on the roof of a truck, which we have done. But with the Volvo tractor we carry it on the bed. We have driven 5-6 miles with it on the pickup roof, though (but slowly). We generally gravity feed this into our water tank, but if necessary we can pump it with a spare water pump for the RV. Carrying the extra water pump allows us to pump water, and also is the backup pump for the RV, in case our primary pump breaks. Some people use boat bilge pumps for this purpose. We got our water bladder at Camping World, and have been using it for years. It costs about $85, but we feel it is well worth it for the convenience. We supplement the 45 gallon bladder with two collapsible five gallon carriers. You can find these at Wal-Mart or most outdoor stores for under $10. We like them because we can easily carry them in the back of the Jeep, and whenever in town we pick up 10 gallons of water. They are easy to handle, and take up little room when not in use. We are not making special trips for water - simply picking up 10 gallons when doing other things. This greatly extends our water supply, and in many cases means we do not have to make a special trip with the large bladder.

Waste Management
Waste management falls into grey and black water management. Often, grey water can be dumped on the ground, and we do not hesitate to do this, where it is appropriate. Our grey water is screened for food particles and is pretty "clean". In our opinion this causes no harm, but we leave that determination to you. We don't do this in campgrounds or parking lots, but in dispersed boondocking situations it is an effective way to dispose of gray water. Where it is not appropriate to dump grey water we use our "blue boy" to take the grey to the dump station, along with the black water. There are many discussions of dumping grey water on the various camping forums - with some very radical opinions on both sides of the issue. Read them and form your own opinion, but please don't dump grey where it causes a nuisance.
Black water has to be removed to a dump site. We either pull our trailer out, or use a "blue boy", depending on the circumstances and how far the dump site is from our location. Our blue boy is the 25 gallon model with 4 wheels. We can easily pull it behind the truck/Jeep, or by hand. We also have a macerator pump, which allows us to pump waste water into the blue boy. We place the blue boy in the truck bed and pump the waste into it. This makes transport more convenient and saves us from pulling the rig out. To dump, you use the standard 3" sewer hose. With our current trailer we can easily go 25 days on our black tank so black tank dumping is not a big issue.
Your furnace wastes a lot of heat, and uses a lot of 12-volt power doing it. The standard RV furnace is only about 50% efficient. If you doubt this go outside and place your hand near the furnace vent when it is running. Using a catalytic heater or blue flame/ceramic brick propane heater is more efficient, and also uses no power. We used a catalytic heater for many years and there is no smell at all with it. Some people are affected by the blue flame/brick heaters, although we cannot smell them. Check it out for yourself...all work well.


For seven years we used an Olympian Wave 6 catalytic heater with a freestanding kit. That way we could move it around as we choose. We used this heater all winter, even if we have hookups. It put out infrared heat and is much nicer than the furnace. We tapped into the gas line that feeds the stove and have a 12' hose with a quick connect fitting on it (and a shutoff valve). The furnace still needs to run a little to make sure your plumbing lines remain unfrozen in really cold weather (to heat your storage bays). At night we set our furnace to about 58 degrees. This keeps the pipes from freezing. Make sure you read and heed the safety warnings when using a cat heater. You need some ventilation in the RV, since the cat heater uses oxygen. You also want to ventilate the extra moisture that burning propane puts into the air. If using a cat heater you must have a good CO detector designed for RV use, with a CO level readout on it.  The only unit UL listed for RV use is the Atwood CO detector with display. It is available online for about $55.


Our Wave 6 has the following characteristics:

  • 3200-5800 BTU adjustable output
  • 1/4 lb./hr. fuel consumption
  • 230 square feet of heated comfort (approx.)
  • Size: 17 7/8" H x 12 13/16" W x 4" D
  • Weight: 12 lbs
  • Can be wall mounted vertically or horizontally
  • Can be mounted recessed with optional kit.

After using our first Wave 6 for six years it was time to replace the pad. Catalytic heaters do not burn with an open flame, but depend on a chemical reaction that occurs in the pad to supply the heat. When the pad ages, or is contaminated with dust or "bad" propane it needs to be replaced. For this reason it is important to keep a cat heater covered when not in use - a pillow case does a good job, or you can buy a special cover. A pad that needs replacing will not provide for clean combustion which will result in increased levels of CO. If you watch your detector display you will see this increase over time. A properly vented heater, with a good pad, should show no CO on the detector.

Rather than send our original unit into the factory for refurnishing we bought a new Wave 6 on sale at Camping World. This new unit operated properly for a couple of weeks, but then we started smelling propane. We contacted the manufacturer and returned the unit for repair. Shipping cost $45, which was not covered under warranty. The diagnosis was a "bad pad due to contamination". On return of the unit we again used it for a couple of weeks and the same thing happened again. We were NOT impressed with this new cat heater and rather than put money into it again we replaced it with a non-catalytic heater.

In researching heaters and talking to vendors we discovered that many of the Wave catalytic heaters were having similar problems with the pads. Some vendors were discontinuing sales of the Waves because of the service issues. We don't know why this is occurring, but I suspect that the pads being used are not of the same quality as in the past. Hopefully, Olympian will fix this issue, but we are soured on catalytic heaters for awhile (this occurred in the winter of 2007/2008, things may be different now).