Some camping terms and jargon are self-explanatory. Others are not. Case in point: dry camping. It’d be reasonable to assume the term refers to: A) camping without alcohol or B) camping in a desert. It could also mean C) camping in a weatherproof tent. But it doesn’t refer to any of these things. So what is dry camping?
Dry camping means to camp without electrical hookups and drinking water access either at a designated campground or—more likely—at a location that’s not in a designated campground. (Such as a rest stop, backcountry campsite, private land, or a dispersed camping area.)
You can go dry camping with a tent or an RV. (If you go dry camping with an RV in a place that’s not in a designated campground, it’s called “boondocking.”)
Interested in giving dry camping a try? Here are some things to consider and advice on how to do it right. First up? The pros and cons:
- It’s cheap—or free. Dispersed camping areas and campsites without hookups are often inexpensive, if not free.
- More privacy and more access to nature. When you’re not dependent on amenities like water and electrical hookups, you can camp in less crowded, more remote locations.
- Convenience. If you’re dry camping with RV, you can stop for the night wherever it’s convenient instead of having to reach a specific destination.
- It’s adventurous. Dry camping is a great option for campers looking for adventure—or a challenge.
- You can truly unplug. Dry camping forces you to go off the grid—and not just literally. With limited power sources (and potentially spotty cell service), you may end up taking a break from your phone, computer, and other tech.
- It’s BYOW: bring your own water. You have to pack and haul your own water for drinking, cooking, and showering.
- Less reliable power sources. You have to bring your own power sources—or go without. If you’re dry camping with an RV, your sole power source will be the RV’s battery. This means you’ll have only 12-volt power instead of the typical 120 volts, and you won’t be able to use appliances like microwaves and air-conditioners.
- You need to conserve your water and electricity use. With limited water and electricity, you have to monitor your usage and could potentially run out.
- No access to public toilets. You have to bring your own toilet or find alternative methods.
Dry Camping Basics for Tents and RVs
Whether you’re dry camping with a tent or with an RV, your basic needs are the same, but the solutions may differ. Dry camping with a tent is more straightforward. If you’re a tent camper, you might already be used to camping without water and electrical hookups because tent sites at campgrounds often don’t have these amenities anyway. (The main difference with dry camping is that you’ll have to provide your own water and you won’t have access to a toilet.)
If you’re dry camping with an RV, there will be some special considerations that we’ll cover below.
Water should be at the top of your packing list. At the minimum, plan on bringing 1 gallon of drinking water per person, per day. (Increase the amount if you’re camping in hot weather or doing activities like hiking.)
Yet drinking water is just one part of your overall water needs. You’ll also need to bring additional potable water for cooking, washing dishes, and (possibly) showering. If you’re tent camping with a vehicle, one of the best ways to carry water is in a collapsible water cube. (One of these water cubes holds about 5 gallons of water. You’ll need several for a multi-day trip.)
If you’re camping in an RV, figure out the capacity of your potable water tank before you go. (Here are some helpful tips for how to do that.) Depending on the length of your trip, number of people, and the size of your water tank, you may need to bring additional containers of drinking water. Whether you’re using a tent or RV, pack a water filtration system for backup if you run out of drinking water.
If your RV has a toilet, you may be able to use it for dry camping as long as you have a large enough black water tank. (If the black water tank fills up while you’re camping, you have to wait until you reach a dump station to dispose of it. Never empty it on the ground or anywhere else.)
If you don’t have a toilet—or if you’re tent camping—there are a couple options. You can make your own DIY camp toilet or follow this advice for using nature’s restroom. (Don’t forget the biodegradable toilet paper!)
When you camp in a place without public waste disposal, it’s “pack in, pack out” no matter if you’re in an RV or tent. Make sure you bring enough trash bags and either bring your trash home to dispose of it or stop at a public waste disposal site. RVers should also visit a dump station to empty their black water and gray water tanks.
RVers have an advantage over tent campers in this area. As we mentioned previously, if you’re camping with an RV, you can use the vehicle’s 12-volt battery as a power source. (Although it can’t power everything.) If you’re tent camping or simply need extra power, here are some solutions:
For off-the-grid camping, it’s best if you have at least some meal and food options that don’t rely on refrigeration. Check out our post on 22 food ideas that don’t require a cooler or refrigerator.
Where to Go
The self-sufficiency of dry camping gives you the freedom to camp in more places: campgrounds, national parks, national forests, private land (with landowner permission), backcountry areas, and rest stops. If you need some inspiration and ideas for where to go, check out our comprehensive guide to free camping in the USA or read about the 10 best national parks for camping.