What is Dry Camping?

May 30, 2020

pelican consumer blog what is dry camping

One of the main benefits of trading up your tent for an RV or camper van is that, well… everywhere you go, you’re home. Self-contained camping units come equipped with many of the same comforts as your permanent residence — a roomy bed with a real mattress, a full-scale kitchen and, in some cases, a bathroom. Another big advantage? With all of these amenities, you may not need the ones you’d get at a standard campground. Enter dry camping.

The Definition of Dry Camping

Dry camping, also known as boondocking, involves camping in an RV, van or motorhome with no hookups (no electricity or water) outside of a traditional campground. Dry campers set up camp on public lands as well as private places (with the permission of the owner), usually for free. In the national parks and forests, this activity may be referred to as “dispersed camping.”

Boondocking is also closely associated with camping on private lands, and it often involves setting up camp in the parking lots of big box stores — Walmart and Cabela’s parking lots are among the most popular — but many dry campers prefer this style of camping because it allows them to get deeper into natural landscapes and further from civilization. In short, it can be both a necessity (such as when all the other campgrounds are full) and a choice.

boondocking camping benefits

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dry Camping

Mainstream campers may not understand why anyone would want to camp this way. At standard campgrounds, you get access to great amenities like flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, a camp store and maybe even Wi-Fi. Off the grid, you’re left to figure it out on your own. But there are two sides to every coin.


  • It’s free. Standard RV camping costs between $25 and $80 a night on average, with private and more popular campgrounds ringing up for more.
  • It’s less restricted. There are no designated campsites, so you can, in theory, park wherever you can get the best access to water or the best view. Bonus: There are no reservations or lotteries to enter. You always have a site..
  • It’s more private. If your dream camping trip involves just you and your camping companions in a pristine natural landscape, this may be the way to go..


  • It can be legally murky. Unfortunately, you can’t just park and camp wherever you wish. You must know all laws before choosing a spot..
  • It’s more work. With no running water or electricity, you’re limited to campfires, propane generators, solar power, etc. for your basic needs..
  • You have to carry more cargo. You’ll need everything from a large supply of water to an emergency kit to off-grid power, all of which can weigh you down..

Is Dry Camping Legal?

Dry camping is legal as long as you have permission from whoever owns or manages the land. In public spaces, that often means getting permission from the national or state parks service. We probably don’t have to say it, but always make sure to follow all rules and leave no trace when camping off the grid!

is dry camping legal

The Basics of Dry Camping

Want to give it a go? You should know a few of the basics before you head off road and put her in park somewhere deep in the woods. Here are the things you need to head out:

  • An RV or van. Your vehicle is everything when you’re dry camping. It serves as your transportation and shelter, so it needs to be in good working order.
  • Food. Keeping food cold off the grid is easier than ever since the latest and greatest hard coolers can keep food cold for up to 10 days. Learn how to pack a cooler for maximum efficiency and stock up on compact dry goods for backup.
  • Water. You need to have multiple redundancies in place for your water source. In addition to fresh water by the jug, off-gridders always need to keep on hand a water filtration pump or straw as well as water purification tablets.
  • Power. From solar-powered phone chargers and radios to full-scale onboard generators, there are a number of ways you can get power to your RV off-grid.
  • Emergency supplies.Never attempt to camp far from civilization without basic emergency supplies, including a durable tactical flashlight, backup batteries, matches, fire-starter, an emergency radio and a first-aid kit.

rv van food water supplies

For Seasoned Campers Only

Undoubtedly, camping off the beaten path brings some amazing experiences and unique access you wouldn’t otherwise get in the family campground. But it’s not for everyone. If you’re new to camping, we recommend starting at a standard campground before advancing to this style of camping. At its core, dry camping is about survival, and you never want to put yourself in a position where yours is at risk!