What is Dry Camping: Is This the Epitome of Outdoor Freedom?

What is Dry Camping
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

The freedom of the open road is often something that we all crave, whether a simple road trip or something more complex. Vacations these days don’t have to be bricks and mortar, they can be anything you want them to be, and one of the most popular versions of getting away from it all is to go camping. Tents, motor homes, glamping, and everything in-between – camping is still in fashion, and probably will never go out of fashion either!

Despite that, there are many forms of camping, one of which is the total epitome of freedom – dry camping. So what is dry camping? You might have heard of it referred to as boondocking, independent parking, or dry camping, but they are much and the same.

Dry Camping

We’re going to explore exactly what is dry camping, and we’re going to give you plentiful advice on how to do it, and how get the most out of this true adventure in the Great Outdoors.

See also: Car Camping Checklist: Beginner’s Guide to Fun Car Camping

Whilst it is certainly difficult to camp without these amenities we often take for granted, the entire process can be enjoyable, wonderful, and can also open your mind to the things we really do need to pay more attention to in real life.

What is Dry Camping?

Firstly, we need to know what it is we’re talking about! Well, the name gives it away a little, because dry camping is when you head off in your motorhome, or RV, and you don’t have the usual access to amenities, e.g. electricity and water. Boondocking is often confused as a term with dry camping, but this is more about the actual place you are doing the camping, rather than the concept of camping itself; i.e. you are dry camping, but the location you’re camping in is boondocking. Confused? A little, but they’re much and the same!

On the other hand, independent parking is literally another name to combine the two terms we’ve already discussed.

Dry Camping Spot

Dry camping means that you are living independently, without relying on regular facilities which would be open to you at a camp ground. Having said that, you can’t just rock up and camp anywhere you please, and you will need to check out if there are any restrictions on camping in the area you’re heading to. Forewarned is forearmed!

This way of travelling and living is fun and allows you to break out of your comfort zone, but it also has its difficulties. Being away from the usual unlimited source of fresh and warm water, as well as being unable to rely on no limits in terms of your electricity supply? Challenging at best, but you can get around this if you know what to do in the first place – preparation is everything here.

What Equipment do You Need When Dry Camping?

Now we know what is dry camping, and we know that it is hard but rewarding, we need to know what equipment is required. The two main areas you need to pay attention to here, aside from the usual camping paraphernalia that we don’t really need to go into, is about water and electricity. So, for water you will need tanks, a fresh water tank, a black one and a grey one. For electricity you will need batteries.

RV Water Tank

We will talk about the various tanks shortly, when we address the big issue of water, but getting your equipment right is the first step to successful dry camping. For instance, how big is your motorhome (RV)?

The first thing you need to do is figure out how big your motorhome is, because this will really dictate where you can dry camp. If you have a large motorhome then there are less places you can camp, but you will have more space to store your batteries and water tanks. If on the other hand you have a small motorhome, then you have more choice in terms of where you can camp, but the flipside is that you won’t have the space to store the things you need for as long.

How to Get Around The Issue of Water

Obviously when we learn what is dry camping we learn that it is dry because we don’t have as much water! This is the main challenge when embarking on this type of adventure, but you can get around it by learning how it all works and learning how to conserve that precious H2O.

Water Tank on RV

First things first, let’s talk tanks.

You will need:

  • A fresh water tank
  • A black tank
  • A grey tank

A fresh water tank is literally what it says – this is where you keep your water supply, so the larger the tank, the more water you will have stored. We mentioned earlier about the size of your motorhome, or RV, and that a larger vehicle will give you more room for equipment and this is what we were talking about; if you have a larger motorhome, you will be able to store more water in your fresh water tank, and it will last you longer, meaning you can travel or stay for longer also.

A grey tank is where the water you have used ends up, and this can often be re-used for other things, such as watering the plants, washing the dishes, or for flushing the toilet. There are no restrictions on where you can get rid of this type of water, provided you have used biodegradable soap, so as not to harm the environment.

Empty Gray Tank

Now, the black water tank is something you need to pay specific attention to. This is where your toilet waste will go and that means that you can’t just dump it wherever you please. Your black water tank needs to be disposed of somewhere official, so whilst you are on the move you need to keep an eye out for the nearest disposal ground and get rid of the contents of this tank in the proper manner.

Of course, the biggest way to use up your entire water supply is by having regular showers, but you need to shower, right? Of course! A good way to get around this is by going down the solar route. If you are in a particularly sunny destination then you can just lay the solar panel down and wait for it to store up the sun that you need – instant hot shower for a considerable length of time.

RV With Solar Panels

As you can see, much of dry camping is about utilizing nature, as much as it is about staying in nature.

How to Get Around The Issue of Electricity

Aside from water, the other aspect of dry camping which can be a challenge is about electricity. Not having the instant power of plugging your items into the wall and having light, sound, or whatever else straight away can be a shock to the system if you’re not used to it. When you are at a campground you have instant access to electricity most of the time, and this is usually both types of electricity, both 120 and 12 volt, i.e. the most powerful, and the least powerful versions.

Now, when you are dry camping, you don’t usually have access to 120 volt electricity, and you’re stuck with the lesser version. For this reason, you need to make sure that your batteries are large enough to give you the power that you need, for as long as you need it. Air conditioning is out of the question, because your 12 volt battery is not enough and even if it was, it would use up all your charge instantly.

RV Conected To Power Supply

What do you do? You conserve power and you learn how to do it well ahead of time.

  • Do not leave lights on, and don’t leave any appliances on when you’re not using them
  • Use a torch wherever possible – darkness can be soothing!
  • Use battery operated appliances if you can, rather than having to plug something in to your battery charge.
  • Consider using a generator, but understand that these can be large and rather noisy, however you will have instant access to power for longer, and even 120 volt power too
  • Consider using solar power instead. As we mentioned with the water issue, solar power is free to use and gives you a huge amount of power for nothing. The initial installation will be costly however, but you need to weigh up the pros and cons and figure out whether it is worth the investment for you or not.
  • Think about installing two LP gas tanks. LP stands for liquid propane and most motorhomes these days have these already installed. If you can have two, you get more power from the get-go, and liquid propane will last you for a long time if you’re careful with how much you use. It goes without saying that you should make sure you fill up your tanks before you go anywhere with your motorhome.

The issue of electricity is complex, but as you can see, there are a few suggestions on how to get around it. Always be environmentally conscious however, to be in-keeping with the overall theme of dry camping overall.

RV With Solar Panels

For that reason, solar power may be a costly investment at the start, but it is one that will serve you over and over again, without harming the environment one iota. Here’s our review of the top portable solar panels to give you more options.

Advantages of Dry Camping

Because we have just talked about two of the most complex issues which are associated with dry camping, we need to check back in with the major plus points of this adventure, to possibly reignite that enthusiasm and excitement!

The advantages of dry camping are:

  • You are in the total belly of nature, and that is the best way to get out of the rat race and even find yourself again
  • You will save money by finding designated free camping sites
  • You will have a greater sense of self from embarking on dry camping, because suddenly the importance of water and electricity will be at the forefront of your mind, whereas in ‘real life’ we don’t tend to pay much heed to it
  • The freedom will be truly intoxicating
  • You don’t have to listen to endless noise, and you don’t have to commute – when you are in your motorhome you can go wherever you please, whenever you please

Dry Camping Advantages

As you can see, the major camping is nothing short of total and utter freedom!

Ready For an Adventure?

So, we now know exactly what is dry camping, and we know about the pitfalls, the ways to get around them, and we also know why we should be doing it right now!

The main thing to do before you begin is think about it carefully and plan your trip. Whilst freedom is an important part of dry camping, being prepared is so important. If you sidestep this part of your adventure you will probably find yourself coming home earlier than you anticipated, so a little research and planning will be the difference between a long and beautiful trip, and a short and rather troubled-filled one. For useful tips on how to plan a backpacking trip, see our must-read piece to find out.

Relaxing in Hammock By RV

We have talked about water and electricity equipment importance, but perhaps the main part of the deal is something we are overlooking – your motorhome. Whether you call it a motorhome or an RV, you need to find the right vehicle for your trip, and that means comfort, size, and also budget. Perhaps you have an RV that you have used continuously over the years, but if you’re looking to purchase your first one, this is something you need to pay serious attention to first, because it will be the make or break on your dry camping adventure.

So have you tried dry camping before? What’s your experience like? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


Bradley Page

Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!