The Different Ways Of RV Camping Defined & Explained

The Definition Of Camping

This article is going to mostly focus on RV camping and the names of the different ways people camp in them. But I thought I’d start by simply defining camping.

Camping, according to various dictionaries, is the act of spending at least one night outdoors. It can be in some sort of shelter, natural or synthetic like a tent, or out in the open aka “under the stars.”

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Honestly, after reading a few different camping definitions it doesn’t sound like RV camping is technically camping at all. But times have changed since the old days of camping and after living and traveling in an RV for over 3 years I consider RVing to be camping.

It might be a little more comfortable than tent or outdoor camping, but you are still way more exposed to the elements than you are in a home and when you’re boondocking on BLM land out in the middle of nowhere, that’s camping.

What Is RV Camping?

An RV or “Recreational Vehicle” is a vehicle or trailer that has a living area inside of it. An area for sleeping is a must-have but depending on the size of your RV there could be anything like a kitchen, dining area, and a full bathroom inside.

Many basic small RVs like vans, Class B motorhomes, and small travel trailers often have the essentials which include a bed and a small kitchen area.

Medium sized Class C motorhomes and travel trailers will have a bed, kitchen, table, and a bathroom with a small shower.

Large RV’s like Class A motorhomes, extra long travel trailers, and 5th-wheels will have even larger kitchens, big dining room tables, couches, multiple bathrooms, multiple bedrooms, and even garage areas for OHVs.

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There’s something for everyone when it comes to RV camping and many of them co-exist in the same camping areas.

If you head out to popular BLM camping areas you will see RV campers that range from small vans to huge toy hauler 5th-wheels and Class A motorhomes that could fit 10 vans inside of them.

RV camping is taking your RV somewhere that isn’t your home and sleeping in it overnight.

Staying in RV parks is sort of pushing the envelope of RV camping and could be more on the RV living side but if you consider it to be camping, then it is camping.


What Are The Different Kinds Of RV Camping?

So we’ve defined camping as spending a night outdoors, and RV camping as spending a night in your recreational vehicle in a location that isn’t your home.

Now it’s time to talk about the different kinds of RV camping. You’ve probably heard of a few, like dry camping, dispersed camping, and full-hookup camping.

This simple guide will help you understand what they all mean so you can get a better idea of what the camping you’ll be doing will be like on your next adventure.

full hookups for rv camping in an rv park
What full hookups looks like at an RV park.

Full Hookup Camping

As you begin to research places to camp with your RV you are going to see the phrase “full-hookups” a lot. Especially if you are researching RV parks and campgrounds.

Full-hookups in a nutshell is camping with electricity, water, and a sewer connection.

It’s by far the most comfortable kind of RV camping and a great way to dip your feet into the world of camping if you aren’t used to daily life in a camper.

Campsites with full hookups are often found in RV parks and large campgrounds that aren’t too far from urban areas.

See Also: How To Set Up At An RV Park Or Campground For Dummies

What I mean by that is you aren’t always going to be able to find full-hookups in campgrounds that are in the middle of the wilderness. Full-hookup campgrounds are normally close to towns or tourist attractions like national parks.

Not every kind of RVer needs full hookups though. If you camp in a van, truck camper, or small trailer that doesn’t have a shower or toilet you won’t need the sewer and you can save a little money in a campground by choosing a partial hookup or dry campsite.

Partial Hookup Camping

Partial hookup camping is when you have an electrical source and water, but no sewer.

If you are looking at campgrounds and see partial hookups be prepared to camp a little more conservative than you would with full hookups since all of the water you use will need to be stored in the holding tanks of your RV.

A lot of times if a campground offers partial hookups they will also have an RV dump station you can dump your holding tanks in when you arrive and leave.

If you plan on camping long term in a partial hookup campsite you can get a portable black/grey tank (click to see review). You can use the portable tank to empty your RV holding tanks and transport the waste water to the nearby dump station.

Partial hookups are usually a little less expensive than full hookups and they can be found in campgrounds that are in more remote areas or privately owned campgrounds.

Dry Camping

Dry camping is RV camping without any hookups at all. That means no electrical, water, or sewer.

It doesn’t mean you won’t have any water or electricity though. You can use the water in your RVs freshwater tank and get power from batteries, solar panels, and generators.

Dry campsites are the most common kind of site offered by campgrounds and usually the cheapest.

Be aware that if you are looking at a campground that only has dry campsites there may not be any potable (drinking) water sources nearby and they might not have a dump station.

You will need to plan on showing up with empty holding tanks and a full freshwater tank to get you through the number of days you plan on camping there.

You will also need battery power to run things like the lights and water pump. For more info on what an RV battery can run check out this article here.

If you are staying for more than just a couple of nights you will need to have a way to charge your RV batteries.

Solar panel chargers are a fantastic and quiet way to keep things charged up (click to go to review) but inverter generators will also work (click to see review).

If you decide to use a generator make sure you read the rules of the campground, they are often only allowed to be run during the day.

They are also very noisy and will disturb other campers, so running them as little as possible is always the more polite thing to do.

Boondocking

Boondocking is another form of dry camping. You don’t have any hookups and you are completely self contained.

Boondocking is when you camp outside of a campground in a free or dispersed camping area.

It’s not done in a designated campsite or campground.

It’s just you and your RV out in the wild.

Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is a phrase that often shows up in large camping areas. Usually BLM or national forest land.

It’s defined as camping anywhere outside of a campground. You must be self-contained and leave no trace behind (it’s basically boondocking).

It’s usually not allowed near picnic areas, trailheads, or campgrounds.

If you are RV dispersed camping you are asked to not drive off road to make a campsite and you are supposed to stay at least 100 feet away from rivers and streams.

See Also: How To Do Laundry Efficiently When Boondocking Or RV Camping

Luckily, popular dispersed camping areas usually have a lot of pull outs that are off the main road and ok for camping.

The standard BLM and forest rules usually apply. Such as no camping for more than 14 days, no dumping, and campfires must be in fire pits.

Most areas will usually have a few other rules, make sure you look them up before camping there.

As a courtesy to other campers, you want to try and spread out as much as possible. If there’s an open site further away from another camper, take that one.

Stealth Camping

Stealth camping is something you will mostly hear about if you are a van or car camper. It’s exactly what it sounds like, camping without anyone knowing that you are camping.

Stealth camping isn’t usually done in legal camping areas, that’s why campers try to be stealthy about it.

Since it’s usually done in populated areas like cities and towns stealth camping and urban camping go hand in hand.

You can also stealth camp out in the wild if you want to be parked in a place that isn’t designated for camping, like a trailhead or in a park.

The reason people stealth camp is to be able to stay in popular areas for free or very cheap.

In cities, many stealth campers choose parking garages, public parking lots, street parking, and parks. The key to getting away with it is to try and blend in with regular vehicles and to move often.

It’s pretty obvious when a motorhome or camper trailer is parked on a street or at a park for a long time so it’s not as easy to do with that kind of RV but vans and cars can usually get away with it for a while.

The main downside to stealth camping is it can feel pretty unsafe spending the night in unprotected urban areas and you might get a knock on your door in the middle of the night. If you’re lucky it’s just a police officer asking you to move but you might get a ticket.

While I am not the kind of camper who enjoys stealth camping there are some out there who spend years stealth camping in towns while they save up for other housing options.

stealth camping outside a walmart in the parking lot with a travel trailer
It’s not 100% stealth RV camping since most Walmarts allow you to stay overnight in their parking lots but it’s a good option for RVers.

One thing you can do if you are planning on camping in a city or large town is to call the local Walmart. Walmarts are usually very friendly to RVers and many of them allow you to spend at least one night in their parking lot.

See Also: 10 Unwritten Rules When Staying Overnight At Walmart

We’ve actually camped overnight at a lot of Walmarts in safe areas and have had good experiences with it. You are normally around other campers which feels safer and it’s usually not as noisy as rest areas that are full of semi-trucks.


rv camping in a nice RV park with lots of space and grass
Nice RV park we stayed at with lots of space and green grass.

What’s A Full-Time RVers Favorite Kind Of Camping?

When we first started full-timing, our set up was a 27 foot travel trailer and a Dodge Ram 2500 truck. Our plan was to only boondock in free camping areas for 10-14 days at a time.

We had extra water in the bed of our truck and we saved as much water and resources as we could.

That worked out pretty well for about a year. It’s not the easiest way to full time in an RV but we saved a lot of money on diesel for the truck by staying for at least 10 days and we didn’t have any RV park or campground costs.

The only real fees we paid were RV dump stations that we used 2-3 times a month.

Our electricity was via 3 100 watt solar panels on the roof that charged a 1500 watt portable power station (click to see review) and a small inverter generator we used on cloudy days.

With our solar panels and power station, we were able to charge our laptops, watch tv, and have a pretty normal lifestyle even though we were boondocking 100% of the time.

I think free camping is definitely a favorite for full-time RVers, for at least the first year.

See Also: Best Free Camping For Big RVs Near Bryce Canyon Utah

Into our second year of full-timing, we realized that many RV parks we’re actually pretty cheap to stay at if you stay for at least a month. It can be especially cost effective if you travel a lot and spend a lot on fuel.

We realized that it was more comfortable to split our time between RV parks and free camping areas. Now, we boondock for about a month, then spend a month in an RV park.

It’s been a lot more comfortable and since switching our set up to a small Class C motorhome we can travel longer distances more comfortably and see places we wouldn’t have dared to take our huge travel trailer.

In conclusion, I would say a full-time RVers favorite kind of camping is probably splitting time between free camping areas and RV parks.


Frequently Asked Questions About RV Camping

What is a self contained RV?

A self contained RV has holding tanks so nothing is ever put outside of the RV. That means no grey water dripping out and no having to use the bathroom outdoors.

This is an important distinction in some campgrounds because not all RVs are self contained.

Many camper vans and some truck campers will have a sink inside that will empty onto the ground outside and no toilet.

Greywater can be pretty smelly and attract animals. It’s also not that great for the environment, especially if you are using harsh soaps.

Even if you are using environmentally friendly soaps and using your sink that empties onto the ground in a smart way many campgrounds and RV parks don’t want the mess.

That’s why pretty much all RV parks and many campgrounds require your RV to be self contained.

If you don’t have a self contained van, car, or truck camper you may be able to talk with management and ask them to make an exception if you use a portable waste water tank (click to see review) so you aren’t dumping water directly onto the ground.

You can also get a small porta potty (click to view on Amazon) for inside your camper if you are camping in very populated areas where there isn’t a place to do your business outside.

What is a primitive campsite?

Primitive campsites have no amenities like trash services, bathrooms, water, or firepits and are often fairly difficult to access.

Most dispersed camping in national and states forests will be at primitive campsites and the same with BLM camping areas.

Although some popular BLM camping areas may have a dumpster and some pit toilets at the entrance.

If you are planning on RV camping at a primitive campsite make sure the road is good enough for your rig to safely drive on.

Also, be careful when driving down any small dirt roads if you are towing or driving a large motorhome, there might not be a spot for you to turn around.

What Is The 10 Year RV Rule?

The 10 year RV rule is often associated with RV parks and resorts.

It means that they don’t allow any RV that’s older than 10 years into their campground.

With that being said there are sometimes exceptions made for older RVs that have been remodeled and look new. You can usually contact the RV Park and send them pictures of your RV so they can make a judgment based on that.

It’s just a way for higher-end RV parks or resorts to keep up a certain look as many older RVs can sometimes be a little worn out.

I know our 2010 Class C motorhome looks a little sad with its fading decals, but it still runs great and looks like new inside.

If you have an older RV make sure you look at the rules for an RV park you want to stay at. 10 year rule RV parks are normally pretty upfront when they have that rule.

What Is A 55+ RV Park?

A 55+ RV park is for people who are 55 years old or older. Sometimes if just one person is 55 that’s enough but we’ve seen a few parks that require all RVers to be over 55.

Normally children aren’t allowed in these campgrounds.

One thing we’ve noticed is that normally 55+ RV parks are pretty cheap. If you aren’t 55 and are planning a camping trip and find the perfect RV park that doesn’t cost a lot make sure you do a little research to make sure it isn’t a 55+ RV park.

For some reason, some parks aren’t straightforward about being 55+ and it doesn’t always make it clear on their websites.

Why Are RV Parks Bad?

If you usually RV camp in campgrounds or free camping areas you are used to having a lot of privacy and space. But RV parks are the complete opposite.

An RV park is a business, and they want to fit as many RVs as possible to make a decent profit.

This is great for the business but not so awesome in practice. Many RV parks have tiny campsites that barely fit the giant RVs we are seeing more and more today.

We once stayed in an RV park with our travel trailer that had the craziest layout. They put us in a campsite that was so close to our neighbor that there was only 6 inches between our slide out and theirs.

The sewer smell in cramped RV parks can be something to get used to as well. That’s probably been my biggest complaint about many of the places we’ve stayed. It just lingers in the air.

Lately, we’ve been trying to camp in RV parks that aren’t full because it’s the area’s off season. We’ve been able to find a few places that we’ve liked and normally the reviews of an RV park will tell you how people feel about the amount of space they are given.

Usually, the more spendy an RV park or campground is, the more room you are given.

Have any more questions about the different kinds of RV camping? Leave a comment below.

by Jenni
Jenni grew up in a small town in Idaho. With a family that loves camping, she has been towing trailers since a very young age.

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