Our First Time Dry Camping

A rainbow sunset over a Toy Hauler RV that's glowing from within with light.

We bought our first RV ten years ago, just a simple pop up camper that felt like the height of luxury to our young family. It had air conditioning, a two-burner propane stove, a sink, a bathroom and heated mattresses. We couldn’t wait to head out on a camping trip with our new purchase.

So we booked a spot at a nearby state park, loaded up our eleven-month-old twin boys, and took our very first family camping trip. 

We hadn’t done very much research in advance. What we knew about RV batteries, cassette toilets and propane systems could have fit on a Post It note. We didn’t even know what we didn’t know.

We were completely geeked out about our brand new pop up camper, but when we rolled up to the campground, there were no hookups for the amenities we were so excited to use. Without realizing it, we’d gone dry camping–and we were totally unprepared. 

What’s a campground hookup?

There are three different types of hookups that might be available at a campsite: electric, sewer and water. Some campsites have all three, and those are referred to as “full hookups.” Others might have just one or two. Many state or national parks might offer water and electric, or just electric hook ups. 

Then there are the campsites that offer no hook ups at all. That’s dry camping, which can also be known as boondocking, dry docking or dispersed camping. 

Without being able to plug in to water and electric, we couldn’t use our camper’s features. I stocked the camper refrigerator full, only to find our food had gone bad when our house battery died halfway through the very first night. I couldn’t run the sink, shower the boys or flush the toilet because we didn’t have a city water connection and we hadn’t filled up the water tank. And of course, we couldn’t use the air conditioning without a 30-amp connection to plug into.

So, as I brushed my teeth in a dark, dingy and spider-filled restroom building, I vowed to never repeat the same mistakes. We chalked it up to a very important learning experience, one of many we had in our first year of RVing. 

Now we dry camp on a regular basis, boondocking single nights on the way to a destination, or camping in state and national parks. But now we know how to prepare. We plan and pack differently for a dry camping trip to just as comfortable as we would be with hook-ups.

Buying the right rig for dry camping

Many people prefer to stay in campgrounds with full hook up sites, but some of the most beautiful and rustic places in America only allow dry camping. If camping off-grid is part of your RV dream, look for features that will make dry camping more comfortable. 

Here are our tips for finding an ideal rig for dry camping:

  1. Pay attention to tank size. We never understood how important tank size is for comfortable dry camping. You’ll want a large fresh water tank to use for drinking, showering and cleaning up. Good-sized gray and black tanks are necessary to hold waste. Our toy hauler has huge tanks and we can camp off-grid for a week without having to empty them.

  2. Look for appliances that can run on propane. Propane gas is a great energy source when you’re dry camping, so you’ll want to make sure your refrigerator, water heater, and oven can run on propane. Some new RVs have residential style electric refrigerators and convection ovens. These are great options, but not for campers looking to unplug. 

  3. Shop for solar-prepped rigs. This is becoming more prevalent in the RV industry, and solar power is a great option when dry camping. We had panels installed on our roof, but a simple portable solar kit can keep your batteries charged as long as the sun is shining.

  4. Look for 12-volt plugs and appliances. Some rigs are designed for off grid comfort and have a range of 12-volt plugs and appliances like refrigerators and TVs that will run off the RV house battery without an inverter. 

And here are our best tips for prepping before a dry camping trip:

  1. Fill up the propane tanks. We may have run out of propane a time or two in the past, but we have finally learned our lesson and we make sure both our tanks are full before arriving at the campground. 

  2. Fill up the fresh water tanks before you go. Having enough fresh water for cooking and bathing is key to dry camping in comfort.

  3. Look into solar power options, like roof-mount panels or portable kits. We also installed an inverter so now we can use all our 110-V plugs and appliances while dry camping, and it’s heaven!

  4. Research generator rules in advance. Most campgrounds have strict rules about generators and limit their use to certain hours. Also be aware that generator noise is a frequent complaint from campers, so make sure you’re not using a loud, open-framed model.

  5. Find a dump station in advance. Many dry camping campgrounds have dump stations on site. But some don’t. If the campground doesn’t have one, find a dump station to empty your black and gray tanks on the way home.

After that first dry camping disaster, it took us awhile to find the courage to break away from campground hookups. But dry camping allows us to step outside our busy everyday lives. We truly unplug and focus on spending time with our kids in the beautiful world around us. 

And we still take hot showers.

The Puglisi Family RVs in a Jayco Octane SL 272.