What is Dry Camping? Should You Try It?

what is dry camping

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Dry camping is pulling your SUV, RV, or old rattletrap vehicle with the tent lashed on the top into a campsite that doesn’t have any facilities. Which is to say, there’s no electrical hookup, no water line, and no sewer outlet.

You have to haul your resources in with you and haul your effluent, trash, and other items back out the same way you came in.

Dry Camping vs. Primitive Camping

Dry camping has some advantages over primitive camping. One of the biggest advantages is that you have a place where you can put things and lock them in. Even if you set up your tent and air mattress for sleeping under the stars, you can lock your cell phone, wallet, and portable charger inside your vehicle.

Your second big advantage is that having a vehicle of any kind allows you to bring more things with you. It enables things like having a portable sanitary facility, extra containers of water, and perhaps a gas-powered or solar battery charger.

However, as with primitive camping, you must take into consideration water requirements, sanitation, refrigeration or lack thereof, and possibly heating or cooling. Even with the ability to lock up, security and safety are always considerations.

What Are Some Ways to Conserve Water?

Conserving water when dry camping begins with thinking differently about how you use water. In our modern world, most of us are used to taking a shower or bathing once daily.

But as recently as fifty years ago, there were many people who were still focusing on taking a “Saturday night bath,” and perhaps 75 to 100 years ago, a full tub bath might be taken once or twice a year. That doesn’t mean you need to go around dirty.

One way to stretch your drinking water is to strain and boil “wild water” to use for bathing or cleaning floors or similar surfaces. You can stretch your bathing water by washing your hair first and conserving the soapy water from that to use as bathwater.

After bathing, your bath water could be used to mop floors or to flush the toilet if you’re using a water toilet.

What Are My Options for Sanitation and Water Conservation?

Another way to conserve water is to create an earth toilet instead of a water toilet. A good way to do this is to use an old plastic ice chest that has seen better days.

Cut the lid of the ice chest in half, making the cut across the short width. In one end of the ice chest, place a large bucket. Line the bucket with a trash bag. On the other side, place a container of sawdust or organic kitty litter.

If you want to be extra fancy, add a jug for urine and use a funnel suspended above the bucket to catch liquid output. This could be a little clunky if you sit to pee, but just be sure to put the urine funnel to one side before continuing your business.

When finished, cover the result with a scoop of litter. When the bag is about half full, tie it up tight, and place the result in a dumpster. Use the urine as a scent marker/barrier for wildlife.

Where Can I Get Water?

Dry camping where you’re not too far from a spring, stream, or pond can be ideal, but it isn’t always an option.

If you have a camper or SUV, water catchment systems are a good way to supplement your water supply. You can channel water off the roof of your shelter, or you can create a dew catchment system to obtain small amounts of water. Camp sized water filters can be used to filter most parasites and bacteria out of wild water.

Boiling or even distilling water can further clean it, and UV purifying systems properly put together can achieve drinkable water. If your area has had a major flood, a zombie apocalypse or some other sort of disaster that has disrupted normal water delivery, this could be extremely important.

Will You Need Refrigeration?

Unless you have medication that needs to be kept at a particular temperature, this is a luxury you need to learn to live without. While there are such things as battery-powered mini-fridges, a refrigerator will eat a lot of electricity.

You might need to use that electrical power for things like powering your cell phone or ham radio. If you do need a refrigerator, select a small one and use it only for items that truly must be cold.

How About Food Safety when Camping?

Plan meals so that you don’t have leftovers. Focus on individual serving packages or on dried or fresh foods that won’t require refrigeration.

Keep your food in a cabinet or chest that’s made of metal. This will help prevent vermin or larger critters from getting at your food stores. Don’t eat where you sleep. While it might be tempting to sit on your bedroll to have your meal, crumbs will attract ants and mice.

Always clean up immediately after a meal. Place cans or wrappers in a sealed container that’s separate from your unused food. Again, this is to help prevent attracting wildlife. Metal trash containers that can be placed outside your living space is a good idea. Be very sure that they have secure lids.

How Can I Keep Warm or Cool When Dry Camping?

When you have left the beaten track and plunged into the wild, you have volunteered to “rough it.” Even though you might have four walls and a roof, along with a door that can be locked, you can expect some inconvenience.

A travel trailer, especially one made of metal, can heat up very quickly during the day and will just as rapidly lose heat at night. Windows that can be opened to catch the breeze will help, as will areas outside where you can relax during the day.

By night, a good sleeping bag, layers of blankets or camping clothes can be used to help you stay warm. Good screens over the windows can help prevent invading mosquitos on warm nights.

Preparedness and good planning can help, conservation is a must when dry camping for longer than a single weekend.


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