Dispersed camping or boondocking, for those you who don’t know, is camping off the grid—no water, no electricity, no sewer dump station. That means we have to use only the water we bring with us and only the electricity that our solar panels and batteries can provide. When our gray and black tanks are full, we have to find a place to empty them or move on. (FYI, gray water is the water from showers, washing dishes, etc. Black water is from the toilet. They go into separate holding tanks and must be emptied periodically.) How you handle your resources when boondocking is a practical lesson in conserving all resources, whether you’re on the grid or not.
Free Camping on Magnolia Beach
We’re parked on Magnolia Beach in Magnolia Beach, Texas. This small town has a mile long beach of hard packed sand and shell and it’s the perfect place to park an RV. It’s on Matagorda Bay, a protected place with less wind and surf than the Gulf. To make it even better, it’s free to camp here for up to two weeks. Of course, with “free” you get no hookups or other amenities. That’s not entirely correct, they do have a bathroom and a cold rinse shower, but that’s it. Sit back and watch the barges and container ships in the bay for entertainment.
We are lucky enough to have two 100 watt solar panels on the roof of our RV, a 1,000 watt inverter and two deep cell house batteries. (House batteries run the living portion of the RV and another chassis battery runs the truck engine.) That’s better than nothing but not enough to run a lot of things in the RV. AND that’s only when the sun is shining and recharging our batteries.
What the heck’s an inverter?
In layman’s terms, an inverter changes the power stored in our 12 volt house batteries to regular household current, 110 volt power, that everyday appliances can use. The power generated by the solar panels is stored in those two 12 volt house batteries.
What can we run with solar power and batteries alone?
The real question should be: Can Jim go without a cup of coffee in the morning? This could be a game changer! We have a small, one cup Keurig-type coffee maker. We plugged it in and bingo, Jim had his coffee. Now, the solar control panel beeped in protest, but it worked.
When we first turned on our inverter we checked all the outlets to see what could run on the inverter. I’m not sure why they don’t mark things like this when they build an RV, but they don’t. We have one outlet in the kitchen and one in the bedroom that work with the inverter. That’s not a lot but it’s better than nothing. We also have numerous USB ports that all work on the inverter. That means we can charge phones, etc., using those outlets.
After the coffee, our second test was charging my computer. My laptop is a few years old and, while it used to run for 6 to 8 hours on battery power, now it’s lucky to work for 2 or 3 hours. With the sun shining, I plugged my laptop into one of the inverter outlets and charged it up in about one and half hours. Not bad. No problems. Right now Jim is charging his notebook. Looking good!
All of our house lights were working last night, along with our water pump. (Without electricity, you must run a pump to have running water at your sinks.) The “spark” ignition for our propane stove worked as did our furnace and hot water. What else do you need?
Actually, even the TV worked. I don’t know how long it would work before it drained our batteries completely, but we’ll try watching the news tonight. We don’t want to be too removed from the real world.
You can forget your microwave. Most RV microwaves aren’t even hooked up to inverter power. We haven’t tried our toaster oven yet, but most heat producing appliances simply draw too much power for our little solar system to handle.
For our first two days of dry camping we had great sunny weather. No problem charging our batteries with days like this. The real test will come when the weather changes at the end of the week and it rains for two days straight. I’ll keep you posted.
No, not rain showers, people showers. RV’s always have shower nozzles that can be turned on and off as you shower, i.e., wet down, soap up, rinse off. Even when you turn the water on and off as you wash, showers use a lot of water. They use your fresh water and they fill your gray water tank.
My skin is proof that we all shower too often. Hair doesn’t need to be washed every day. It’s not necessary to shower every day. Every time you shower you’re washing away all the good bacteria and oils that your skin needs to stay healthy. Wash the important, smelly parts and let the rest of your skin recuperate. If your hair is oily, consider washing it in the sink. It takes a lot less water than a shower. And, if you really are considering RVing on a full time basis, forget the long, lovely locks. Short hair is so much easier. Remember, that if you’re dry camping you won’t be able to run power sucking appliances like hair dryers to style those long, lovely locks.
Paper plates vs. washing dishes
I’m not sure that I have a good answer for this one. If you use regular dishes you’re using precious water to wash them. If you use paper plates, you’re destroying trees and creating trash that must be taken with you when you leave a dry camping site. My personal preference is to use real dishes and be very stingy when I’m washing them.
**Note: After more dispersed camping, we’ve started using paper plates. Washing dishes uses too much of our limited water supply. Check out how we handle trash here.
What do I enjoy the most about dry camping? The peace and quiet. There is no TV blaring in the background and no radio playing. There are only a few lights on in the evening and Jim and I are reading a book or browsing our emails. The best day ends with sitting outside and enjoying each other’s company and the sounds of the waves hitting the beach.