Dry Camping - Casa Rocinante

Dry Camping

AKA boondocking

At their simplest level, dry camping and boondocking are the same.  We camp in a completely self-contained mode of operation.  No hookups of any kind. The key difference between the two seems to be that dry camping is something we do in established campgrounds when we're in a site with no hookups.  Boondocking is something we'd do when camping free on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) property, NFS (National Forest Service) land or other legal places that don't offer established campgrounds and campsites.  Thus, boondocking brings an extra aura of "roughing it" to the equation while eliminating assumptions such as smooth roads, level campsites, rangers, most campground rules, and having to pay for your camping spot.

Water

When it comes to water-handling, the situation is relatively simple.  We stock up on fresh water and monitor the levels in all three of your tanks while camped.  When your grey and/or black tanks fill, or your fresh water empties, it's time to find somewhere you can dump and fill the appropriate tanks.

Boondockers who wish to extend their stay will resort to additional water management techniques such as composting toilets, large fresh water bladders in the bed of their truck and other types of fresh water containers. In concert with a composting toilet, boondockers will sometimes combine their black and grey tanks like the Wynns while they were living in their RV.

Electric Power

Power is typically a more complex issue, however.  The stock batteries that come with our Airstream (a pair of old school flooded deep cycle lead acid babies), offer only 84 amp hours per battery.  As an added limitation, we can only discharge the pair to 50% without causing damage to the battery.  This means that even with a full charge on fresh batteries at full capacity, we can use only 84 amp hours before we must recharge them.

Power solutions for dry camping include the addition of solar power, upgrading to larger batteries, adding a generator or two, and/or upgrading to more efficient lighting and appliances.

So, what's our approach?

At this point we're getting started as dry campers.  We like established campgrounds and campsites, and we don't mind the rules or prices that go along with it.  We enjoy the niceties of hookups when available, and we're also happy to camp in spots with zero hookups. Dry camping also exposes us to a different set of campers.  Most of the people around us in dry-camping spots are in tents and pop-up campers vs. giant motor homes and 5th wheels. Both are fine, but the variety is nice.

Batteries

We are still using the stock batteries that came with our trailer.  84 amp hours isn't much, but if we're stingy with usage, we can make them last a couple of days. 

We are considering replacement of those batteries with several hundred amp hours of lithium batteries, similar to those found in Tessla cars.  Lithium advantages include a huge boost in amp-hours per pound of battery and the ability to put those batteries anywhere in the trailer. Disadvantage is that the up-front cost can be intimidating.

We're also considering an upgrade to our existing converter / charger / inverter situation. We'd love to replace the lot with a Victron system, which would be a significant improvement.

Solar

We're entry-level solar users. We have a single 150 watt Zamp solar panel and a Zamp controller, both of which were installed by our dealer.  It works fine, but doesn't really bring in enough power to keep us going except in the stingiest usage scenarios and the sunniest of conditions.

We are considering equally ambitious upgrades to our solar charging capabilities, including at least 400 watts of panels on the roof, and an upgraded controller that would work with the Victron system we want to install as noted above.

Downside?

One possible down side to dry camping is that it's possible folks around you will use generators to create power.  Most motor homes come with their own built-in generators, which can be quite loud.  Some portable generators, such as Honda and Yamaha, are relatively quiet.  Others, which are also far less expensive, are relatively noisy.  So, it's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

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