Pop-Up Campers and RV Boondocking: Wilderness Survival Tactics

Camping in a forest with a pop-up camper

Pop-up campers, being such small RVs, are great for a few days of backcountry boondocking. When hitched up to a four-wheel drive vehicle, this is one RV that can go just about anywhere. Bring along some extra jugs of water and plenty of food and it’s possible to get away to the wilderness for a week or more. But do you have the skills to survive?

In case you’re not familiar with the term “boondocking”, it means camping without hookups. You’ll be relying on your RV’s onboard systems. It’s a great feeling, to be free, camping off the grid and on your own patch of wild paradise.

You do have to plan ahead when relying on nothing but your pop-up camper’s onboard systems. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask yourself…before you get lost in paradise.

Pop-up camper in forest with a couple riding mountain bikes in foreground

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Battery Power

Do you have enough battery power to last the duration of your outing? If not, do you have a way to recharge the batteries? Methods for recharging the batteries while boondocking include:

  • RV solar panels – The best way to charge RV batteries. It’s safe, silent, virtually maintenance free, best for the health of your batteries, and completely automatic. Solar panels can be mounted on the RV roof, or kept portable and placed in the sun, while you camp in the shade.
  • Portable generator – Noisy, smelly, requires maintenance, and is a possible fire hazard, but it will charge your batteries and is a good backup charging method.
  • Your tow vehicle’s engine alternator – By far the least efficient method, as you may have to run the engine for several hours to get a full charge.

You can conserve battery power by turning off or unplugging any devices that constantly consumes power. Avoid using the furnace, as it will quickly drain your batteries. Replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent or LED lights will greatly prolong battery life.


How much freshwater can the tank on your pop-up camper hold, and is it enough? The average city dweller uses around 70 gallons of water a day! Finding a pop-up trailer that can hold more than 30 gallons is rare. Obviously you’ll need to cut back on water consumption while boondocking. Bringing a few extra jugs of water can extend your camping adventure.

Ways to conserve water include:

  • Taking navy showers (if you’re lucky enough to have a shower!)
  • Wiping dishes clean with paper towels and a vinegar/water solution, before washing with soap and water
  • Using paper plates and foam bowls to reduce dishwashing


What goes down the drain, must eventually be emptied at the dump station. Of course, conserving water with the tips above will help in this department too.

How large are your wastewater holding tanks? Experience will teach you how long you can camp, before the tanks become full. Leaving a jug of water outside for washing the hands and face will cut down on the amount of water going down your drains. Another trick is to shower outside with a portable camp shower, or if you have one, the built in exterior shower.

Toy Hauler Pop-Up Camper in forest with 2 fishermen


Got the propane cylinders topped off? Great! Unless you’re using propane to heat the pop-up camper, you shouldn’t have a problem running out. One 20 pound cylinder can last 2-3 weeks or longer, if propane is only used for cooking and running a hot water heater. If the refrigerator uses propane, this time could be cut in half.

Need a little heat? Unfortunately your pop-up trailer’s furnace may not be very efficient with propane use. You might be much better off using a catalytic heater or open-flame propane heater, as these are far more efficient. Another bonus is that these heaters use no electricity.

More Pop-Up Camper Articles

Hope you learned a tactic or two about pop-up wilderness survival. Before trekking off into the bush, click a link below to continue the pop-up tour…

Featured image by Gary Meulemans

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