In between Zion and Bryce Canyon, we tried our first proper Boondock. For those not up with the term, this means to camp somewhere off grid away from typical camping facilities, usually it’s free and typically, a little more remote than your usual site.

There’s a lot of learnings, so here’s the first few to get you started as part of a multipart series about what we learned.

Try a halfway site first

There’s nothing worse than showing up somewhere with a trailer and being unsure if you can tough out a night there. If you’ve not done a lot of trailer/RV camping before, ease yourself in and find some state parks with “primitive camping”. These are usually specific sites with no hookups, water, but usually have a vault toilet, and perhaps some fire rings.

We tried out a few nights on Lone Rock Beach on Utah/Nevada border. It’s a state park so there’s a small entrance fee, but wow what a site…

It’s a large area of increasing difficulty to get to sites. First is a gravel area just near the entrance with a dump station and a standing pipe for water. Next is a grassy plane with dirt roads overlooking the beach (where we opted for) and some vault toilets, and finally, the beach itself which we opted against for fear of getting beached.

The key advantage here is if it all goes wrong, you have basic facilities like toilets and water, and worst case you just need to spend a night in “discomfort” if it turns out this is not for you.

Know your vehicular limits

So when we were younger, we did a 5 week road trip up the West Coast of Australia in a rental RV, essentially a flatbed 4×4 truck with a trailer strapped on the back instead of towing. We were looking for some random coastal view we’d seen in a guidebook and drove down a sandy road. Needless to say, we beached the truck and had to bribe some locals with a bottle of wine to tow us out.

This has made us a little more cautious about heading through soft sand (wet is great fun though) and made us a bit more aware of the need to make sure you know your cars limits. Just because you’ve got a 4×4, doesn’t mean you can pull a trailer anywhere.

S loved the mud puddles in the desert

Be cautious of sandy locations or loose soil that will turn to mud if it rains. Whilst it may sound east to get a tow, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, a tow truck will struggle to get in too, and if it does, it’ll be costly. Better to drop your trailer a bit more conservative and walk to the amazing site, than end up ditching your trailer because it’s stuck.

We stayed on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land near Hurricane which was normally hard baked desert. However, the week before, a heavy storm had turned the entire location to mud, and the previous occupier of the site had panicked and got a tow. You can see from the picture the mess they made (S loved the mud puddles). By the time we arrived two days later, most of the site was hard packed again.

Lesson for that person, if you do get bogged in and the weather’s meant to get hot again, wait around and let things firm up before leaving. Sometimes it’s better to phone you’re next stop up and say your delayed, than dig yourself into an almighty hole.

Many boondocking locations are not easily accessible (otherwise everyone would go there), and you’ll likely at least need to navigate a potholed road, a dirt track or some form of “soft land”, so make sure you’re comfortable with driving off-road, and be aware of the incoming weather when a passable dirt track can quickly become a mud slide.

Preparation prevents unnecessary journeys

Nothing’s worse than unpacking and setting up at a site, only to realize you’re missing something. When off grid, there’s a couple of essentials that you’re going to want to make sure you’re well provisioned for before you arrive.

First, and probably most important, fill your water tank and any spare containers you have. When there’s no mains water, you’re only option is to drink what you bring, or to head out for expensive bottles of water. Better for your wallet and the environment to fill from a tap before.

Second, ensure your toilet is empty. We made the mistake of arriving at the site in hurricane with our pee container on the compossible toilet nearly full. This necessitated a precarious drive to a dump station with an open container of pee. Fortunately, we had a plastic bag and a hair band to cover the top, but you can imagine my concern…

Our site in Hurricane, check out that view!

Third, enough food, especially tinned and long life to see you through your stay. On sunny days, we can run the fridge in Red all day long without an issue, but if it’s cold at night and we need the heater, it can get a little dicey. Better to not rely on artificial cooling to keep your food fresh if you can help it.

Finally, make sure you have some way to cook, not needing a power source. We’re lucky with Ref to have a convection hob inside, but we use a propone stove when power is tight. Making sure you have a main bottle and a spare saves you an expensive dash to somewhere overpriced.

More to come

Having started on this article, I’ve realized we’ve learned a lot about off-grid and it’s a bit too much for one read, so I’m going to do a couple to break it up. Check back later for more articles on boon docking.

Camping off-grid is an incredible experience, you can see so much more of nature when nobodies around, and it’s so peaceful. However, being alone means there’s nobody to help when something goes wrong, and you need to be self sufficient. It’s not for everybody, but everyone should try it at least once.

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