Boondockers Beware: Sand Can Suck You In

Last Updated on April 21, 2023 by Jess

Some of our fondest childhood memories have to do with sand. Let’s face it, who didn’t love playing in the sandbox as a kid?

Does a trip to the beach even count if you didn’t build a sandcastle? But now that we’re adults, our fondness for sand isn’t quite as pronounced.

We’ve developed a taste for camping vacations, especially out west. Unfortunately, if you’re not careful when camping, you and your RV can get stuck in the sand.

Today we want to help you avoid or escape such situations.

Let’s get started!

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking is a special type of camping that usually takes place in RVs in remote, undeveloped areas. These campsites have no facilities or amenities, and campers must be prepared to be self-sufficient during their stay.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forestry Service (USFS) generally manage these undeveloped areas. However, some lands owned by state and local governments allow recreational camping.

Those who choose the camping style enjoy the larger space and privacy it provides. Many campers have grown tired of crowded campgrounds and expensive reservation fees.

In some areas, a low-cost permit is required, but most sites allow campers to stay for several days at no charge.

How do boondockers get stuck in the sand?

Many of the best campgrounds are in the West, where there is also plenty of sand. If you’ve ever tried to walk across a sandy beach, you probably know that weight and unpacked sand don’t mix well.

Unfortunately, many RVers don’t take the time to learn about the area or how to access it, and then drive through sand.

A heavy load, like an RV, sinks quickly in loose soil. The first reaction of an inexperienced driver will probably be to apply more throttle. However, this usually causes the wheels to spin and dig deeper into the sand.

You only have to get stuck once or find yourself in a difficult situation to learn your lesson. We regularly rode our electric bikes ahead to make sure the area was safe to ride. This allowed us to avoid several potentially tricky situations, many of which involved sand.

A recent request for help in a Boondockers Facebook group.

We recently saw an online post from a fellow Boondocker who got stuck. The pair found themselves in a potentially dangerous situation when they set up camp near Yuma, Ariz.

The couple attempted to turn their motorhome around. Unfortunately, their rear tires got caught in loose sand, leaving them with no traction. Before they knew it, they were stuck and in desperate need of help.

However, it was difficult to find a local towing company willing to come to their aid. Drivers were unwilling to move their equipment beyond the end of the sidewalk.

Fortunately, a few hours later, the user posted an update saying that they had gotten out of the predicament. They didn’t explain how they did it, but you can bet they learned a lesson.

Can you drive a motor home on sand without getting stuck?

It is possible to drive an RV on sand without getting stuck, but it requires a combination of skill, equipment and preparation. Otherwise, you could find yourself in the same situation as the Facebook users mentioned.

The first thing you need to do is get the necessary traction aids to help you if you get stuck. Special sand mats and boards can prevent your RV from sinking into the sand when you drive on it.

However, you shouldn’t wait until you get stuck to have these or other rescue tools on hand. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Also, lower your tire pressure before you hit the sand. The reduced pressure in the tires increases the traction of the rubber tires.

When driving on sand, tire pressure should generally be around 20 PSI. Make sure you plan to re-inflate the tires when you reach the road.

Drive slowly and smoothly on the sand. You don’t want to cause any sudden movements or stops that could lead to sinking. Also, avoid sharp turns or your tires could dig into the ground.

A motorhome parked in the sand on the beach

How to get a motorhome out of the sand

Even the most experienced RV and camper drivers can get stuck in the sand. We have some tips on how to get out of it.

Let off the gas

The worst thing you can do is to keep accelerating. This will only dig your tires deeper into the sand and make the situation worse. What’s more, you can seriously damage your vehicle.

You should immediately get off the gas if your tires have lost traction. Put your vehicle in park and get out to assess the situation. This can save you a lot of frustration.

If you act quickly, you can extricate yourself from the situation. Unfortunately, many drivers try to extricate themselves by hitting the gas a few times. This usually ends up with the driver needing help to get free.

Pro Tip: If you’ve never dry camped before, check out these tips for an effortless trip!

Start digging

If your tires are sinking into the sand, you need to start digging. Hopefully, you have a shovel with you. If not, you can use a variety of tools to remove the sand from your tires. Depending on the weather, you may need to take frequent turns and breaks to avoid overheating.

The goal of digging should be to create a path for the RV to travel on. Take your time when digging, and don’t try to rush it. If you do, you will likely exhaust yourself. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!

Create traction

You probably need to create traction between your tires and the sand to get free. One of the best ways to do this quickly is to let some air out of your tires. Lower the air pressure to about 20. That might give you just enough grip to get out of the situation.

Also, this would be a good time to use the traction mats you brought. Place them close in front of the tires stuck in the sand. Drive slowly but firmly on them. With any luck, they will help you get free.

Call for help

Unfortunately, there is a chance that you are in a situation that is getting on top of you. If you try to bite off more than you can chew, the situation will likely only get worse. You need to know when it’s time to throw in the towel and ask for help.

Your options depend a lot on where you’re stuck. As we learned from the Facebook users mentioned earlier, some companies may not be in a position to help. Or they may not want to put themselves or their equipment in a risky situation.

If you have roadside assistance, they may be able to help you. You can also contact local off-road groups that can be very helpful and have the equipment and expertise to save the day.

Remember: Having trouble finding a campsite? You are not alone!

Stay calm

No matter what, you need to stay calm. However, we know that this is usually easier said than done. Nevertheless, it is crucial if you want to get out of a dicey situation.

Most people don’t make the best decisions when they panic. Don’t be afraid to step away for a minute or two when no one is in danger. This can help you clear your head and process the whole situation. You may even think of a solution or option you hadn’t considered.

Preparing for sand while boondocking

Sand can sneak up on you when you least expect it. So prepare for the worst-case scenario when you’re spending the night at the campground. You don’t want to put yourself in a dangerous situation.

In some places, there is no reliable cell phone reception, and you may need to pray that someone will come to your aid.

In order to have many uneventful adventures, you should be prepared and able to take care of yourself, especially not to get stuck in the sand.

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