Whether you’re traveling across the country or just out for a quick trip, there’s always a chance that you’ll be boondocking at least a night or two along the way. First, it’s a free place to stay, and second, it often allows you to get away from the crowds in busy, cramped campgrounds.
If you’ve never boondocked or dry camped before, knowing what to bring can be tricky. You will need different things than you would at a campground as you’ll essentially be self-sufficient. When you’re boondocking, there’s no access to hookups, water, or a public bathroom.
The good news is, whether you’re in a camper van, hauling an Airstream, car camping with a tent, or anything in between, there are plenty of overlapping boondocking gear essentials. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but it will go over the must-have items that you won’t want to forget.
1. Power System / Chargers
The first essential on our list is geared towards boondockers living in a camper or van of some kind. If you are car camping, a generator may not be necessary. However, it can be nice to have a few portable chargers around for charging your phone, headlamp, etc.
Having a generator, solar panel power system, or any other off-grid power source makes dry camping spots much more hospitable. It lets you still enjoy all of the creature comforts of your van or camper like the kitchen, fridge, and the lights. Full-time travelers who work while they travel will find an off-grid power system invaluable.
Some of the best options for an off-grid power setup include:
The main deciding factor in choosing your power source is the fuel type. You can use generators powered by gasoline, or invest in a solar system that charges a bank of batteries with sunlight.
No matter how you power your camping experience, chances are, you’re going to want some lights. Even if you are tent camping, having a lantern or a headlamp is a must. If you have a van or camper, your lighting may be a bit more elaborate.
Some of the best light sources are rechargeable in one way or another. For instance, the Luci Lanterns have a small solar panel on them, so while they’re out in the sun during the day, they can recharge their batteries. Or, if you want something even simpler, you can opt for a rechargeable headlamp.
For camp stays that last longer than one or two nights, stringing up LED lights around the camper door, awning, or outdoor kitchen will make camp life easier as the sun begins to set.
If you have a pet, adding a small LED light to their collar will make them easy to find around camp each night. When you just let them out to pee or head out on a late-night stroll, seeing them from a distance will bring some ease of mind.
3. Heating / Cooling
Depending on the time of year you’re traveling, packing a portable heater or a battery-powered fan can be the difference between a cozy night’s sleep or lying awake through the night.
If you don’t have a heating system in your camper, or you aren’t traveling within four walls, one of the best ways to keep your tent, van, or camper heated during cold spells is the propane heater known as Mr. Buddy. You can use one of the small, green propane tanks to power this portable heat source, and you’re good to go. Just remember that propane heaters need to be adequately ventilated. The one stand-out feature about a Mr. Buddy heater is that although it uses a flame to heat, the power is cut if the heater tips over for any reason, making it less of a fire hazard.
Even if you have air conditioning in your camper, a fan is a perfect way to keep bugs away when you’re cooking outside or cool down a pet on a hot day. Having a battery-powered fan will save some of your portable energy and make it easy to move around. Plus, it makes a perfect addition to a car camping setup and sleeping in a tent.
4. Water Containers
One of the challenges of dry camping or boondocking is that you will have limited access to water. There may be a water source nearby, but that will require a filter or purification system. That’s why packing one or two water containers is an essential gear option. Water containers for camping often range from 5-45 gallons.
Bringing a 45-gallon water container isn’t necessarily feasible unless you are staying in a camper trailer. Most van and car camping boondockers will simply pack a few 5-gallon containers for ease of use instead of having one giant tank.
The designs will vary, and you can choose a water bladder, hard-sided blue or jeep tank, or even a collapsible 5-gallon tank. Just be sure that whatever water container you choose, that it is BPA free, and it holds more than enough water to last the length of your stay.
5. Cooler or Fridge
If you’re prepared and have a cool place to store your favorite foods, making gourmet meals on the road is possible. When you are car camping in a tent, your options will be somewhat limited, but many campers with off-grid setups choose to have a fridge. In those situations, you still have to be careful not to get a fridge that sucks all of your stored power.
If you don’t have an off-grid source of power, you will likely resort to a cooler. While there are many great coolers on the market today, one of the best brands for extended camping trips is Yeti. The Yeti Tundra cooler can hold ice for an impressive amount of time, but it won’t keep things fresh forever.
Another option is to check out electric cooler, like the Dometic Electric Powered Cooler. It will save you from having to deal with ice and will keep your food and drinks chilled. There are several Dometic fridge options, but the one linked also has a separate compartment for a freezer.
Boondocking is a great way to escape the crowds, explore new areas, and stay within a budget while camping. To learn more boondocking basics, check out Boondocking 101.