Boondocking in an RV can be cheaper than staying at an RV park depending on how frugal you approach boondocking and how expensive (or how cheap) the RV park you’re comparing it to.
Consider the following…
- The cost of gasoline to run a generator
- The cost of propane to run a furnace or refrigerator
- The cost of dumping sewage tanks and refilling fresh water
- Outfitting an RV for boondocking
The cost of gasoline in running a gasoline generator varies depending on the generator.
Onan Generators (made by Cummins), tend to be gas hogs. Their popular 5,500 watt (5.5kw) generators will drink up about 5 gallons in about 8-10 hours of use. Onan generators are always built into the RV itself, and are not portable.
Meanwhile, a Yamaha 4,500 watt portable generator will consume about 4.5 gallons of gas in about 14.5 hours. Yamaha’s popular 2,000 watt portable generator will consume 1 gallon of gas in about 10 hours.
Honda’s 2,200 watt portable generator will consume about 1 gallon of gas in about 8.5 hours.
For further reading…
- What Kind of Generator Do I Need for Boondocking?
- Do I Need a Generator for Boondocking?
The cost of propane tends to remain more stable over time, and doesn’t rise and fall as frequently as gasoline does. As of this writing (March 2019), propane generally costs about $3.00 a gallon. A typical 5 gallon tank (20 pound tank) will cost about $15.00 to fill initially, and then about $13.00 to refill each time.
During the warmer months of the year, expect to deplete a 5 gallon tank in about two to three weeks if only using propane for the refrigerator, cook top, and occasional heating. During the colder months of the year, expect to go through a 5 gallon tank in about 5-7 days, due to heavier heating use.
The smaller 1 gallon canisters (green Coleman bottles) generally cost about $4.00 to $5.00 at retail outlets. Some boondockers have found them even cheaper online through Amazon.
For further reading…
- How to Refill 1 Pound Propane Canisters
RV Dumping and Water
The cost of dumping black and gray tanks, as well as refilling your fresh water tank, can vary from $5.00 to $20.00. Some gas stations and travel centers will offer it for free.
Most boondockers find that it’s the black tank that generally dictates how long they can remain in the same site. The larger your black tank, the longer you can stay. Many boondockers will dump their gray tank on the ground when it gets full, and will even refill their fresh water tank with 5-gallon jugs of water they filled elsewhere.
Most RVs are plumbed in such a way that only the toilet dumps into the black tank. But some RVs will also plumb the bathroom sink or kitchen sink to dump into the black tank too.
Generally speaking, without respect to your RV make and model, you can expect 1-3 trips to the dump station every month.
For further reading…
- Is it OK to Dump Gray Water on the Ground?
- How Do I Know if the Water at an RV Dump Station is Safe?
- Using Water Filters at an RV Dump Station
The Cost of Outfitting an RV for Boondocking
Most RVs sold off the lot are not equipped for long term boondocking. At best, they’re capable of getting you through the night at a Walmart or Rest Area when traveling from one RV park to the next.
- Most RVs come with either no solar capabilities or very little solar capability. Those that do have some solar capability come only equipped with a single solar panel, generally ranging from 100 watts to 160 watts. When you consider it’s rare for a solar panel to actually deliver the full wattage it’s rated for, a single solar panel can barely keep up with how much battery power you’re consuming. If you want enough solar power to maintain lights, run the refrigerator, power the furnace, and operate vent fans, look to get about 600 watts of solar panels (give or take a 100).
- Most RVs come with only a single 12 volt battery at 80 to 100 amp hours. Boondockers will need a minimum of 200 amp hours of battery power, preferably 400.
- Most RVs come with inadequate battery charging systems. Most RVs are equipped with an AC-to-DC converter that sends only a trickle charge of power (2 to 10 amps) to the battery, with AC power coming from either shore cord or generator. A few RVs come with “smart converters” that can send as much as 60-90 amps on bulk charging, and then drop down to 10 amps or even 2 amps, to top off.
- Most boondockers have some kind of generator to produce AC power. A built-in Onan Generator can be very expensive ($6,000 to $8,000) for the generator itself and the installation. Portable generators like those made by Honda, Yamaha, Champion, etc, are more popular choices. Most boondockers opt for portable generators in the 2,000 watt range.
What’s your total?
- It’s common to spend $2,000 to $12,000 just to outfit an RV for long term boondocking use, when you factor in items like solar panels, solar charge controller, battery bank, battery charger (or converter), battery monitor, power inverter, and portable generator, and that does not include professional service time if you hire a shop to install parts for you.