Explore America's Campgrounds
Dry camping -- setting up your travel trailer in a spot with no water, electrical or sewer hookups -- requires a little extra thought if you’re heading out for a day or two, or a lot of extra thought if you plan to be off the grid for several weeks. It’s as close to extreme camping as you can get with an RV.
How Do I Prepare?
Your usual pre-trip routine should remain the same whether you’re dry camping or headed to an RV park with full hookups. Make sure all the systems are working, your battery is charged and your freshwater tanks are full. Ensure that your lights and turn signals are working properly and that your tires have the correct air pressure. Fill your propane tanks, secure travel latches and check the trailer brakes if you have them. As long as the temperatures don’t drop too low, the only thing that’s critical is water. If your battery runs down, you can use battery-powered lanterns for lighting, extra clothes for heat and coolers to store food that was in the refrigerator. If you run out of propane, you can simply cook your meals outdoors.
What Should I Take?
Since it’s wise to use your propane tanks and batteries only in an emergency if you’re dry camping, take a couple of coolers for perishable foods, or leave the perishables at home. Take extra batteries for your lanterns, a flashlight or a headlamp, sleeping bags in case it gets cold and extra water. You’ll need a gallon a day for each person just for drinking water. Double that if you’re camping where it’s hot. You also need to determine how much water you’ll need for washing dishes or bathing. If you know you’ll be camping near a creek or stream, carry a water treatment kit for drinking water, but don’t pollute the water by using soaps or detergents for washing dishes or bathing.
Where Do I Stay?
State and national parks, municipalities and national forests have thousands of campsites without hookups. Technically, you’re dry camping, but it’s just not the same for the die-hard boondocker. Established campgrounds have bathhouses or vault toilets, dump stations and other amenities, as well as the fellow campers you may be trying to avoid. If you’re in the western United States, the Bureau of Land Management allows dry camping on most of its land, and it’s free. If you’re just passing through, some state highway rest areas and big box store parking lots allow overnight parking. Don’t push your luck and unhitch your tow vehicle, and keep the barbecue grill and lawn chairs stowed. Be friendly with the locals -- they may point you to a local park or know of a landowner happy to have you set up on the “back 40.”
What About Long-Term Camping?
Dry camping for longer than a week requires extra preparation. Folks who regularly spend half the year or longer on the road modify their travel trailers with extra batteries, generators or solar power. They conserve water and electricity and are expert in adapting to changing situations. They use their dish water to flush the toilet and brush their teeth with a few tablespoons of water. In the winter, creating an impromptu skirt with snow or downed brush around the bottom of your trailer keeps warm air in. Places like Slab City, a well-known free campground in California’s desert, become communities of like-minded RVers who survive with the barest amenities, but wouldn't have it any other way.
Native New Yorker Meg Jernigan stayed in Washington, D.C. after attending the George Washington University, and worked in the tourism industry with the National Park Service for many years. She has extensive experience in tent and RV camping, hiking, backcountry exploration and cycling.