How To Go Boondocking With Internet
Even though boondocking for many of us is mainly about getting off-grid and back to nature, we still want internet access, whether watching a movie or running a business. Developing a good boondock internet approach can certainly be a challenge. Most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites or forested areas don’t have excellent connectivity.
But with just a little bit of knowledge, you can certainly boost your boondocking internet capabilities. We’re here to help you through it without breaking the bank!
Pro Tip: After reading this article, we recommend checking out the online course called “Mobile Internet Explained.“
Does boondocking with internet exist?
Yes, boondock internet does exist. That is if you bring it with you. You aren’t going to find a WiFi signal when boondocking unless you are surfing the Walmart parking lots or somehow landed near a Starbucks.
We’re talking about boondocking on BLM land, in National Forests, or other dispersed camping areas for our purposes. When you’re doing this type of boondocking, your internet signal is primarily going to come from your cellular service.
Boondocking with internet using your mobile data plan
These days, nearly all cellular service subscriptions come with some sort of mobile data plan, otherwise known as cellular internet access. You can try to get by with one plan or the other, but if you want the best odds of being able to watch Netflix or host a video conference call while boondocking, you’ll have to move beyond relying on one provider and using your phone as a hotspot.
If your needs are more recreational – you occasionally want to watch a streaming service, check email, or surf the web – a cell phone with a singular cellular service like Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile might fit the bill. But for people that want a more robust experience, you’ll likely have to up your game a bit.
Whether you want to stay connected for work or pleasure, investing in two cellular services is almost a must. Coverage continues to expand, particularly for the big three services mentioned. But none currently cover every inch of the places we want to explore.
There are vast areas of overlap between the services. There will be other areas where only one of the big three provides a usable signal. Suppose you have a primary service with a larger amount of data and a secondary service with a more limited data plan. In that case, you’ll likely be able to get some sort of coverage in a large percentage of the places you want to boondock.
Camp in places with cellular coverage
If you must have internet access, one of the first things you’ll want to do beyond having a good data plan (or two) is scouting out locations. Read reviews and listen to what other campers are saying.
Getting good at scouting ahead can save you hours and hours of headache, as well as keeping some dollars in your wallet. This is an excellent skill to develop if you need to stay connected. There are still a few other options that you can invest in to improve your boondocking internet experience.
Use a cell booster to boost weak signal
Many cell boosters on the market can help increase the odds of getting connected when off the grid. A cell booster is typically a combination of antennas and an amplifier that grabs a weak signal, boosts its strength, and then sends it out to your devices. Sounds like magic, right? You will typically pay $300 to $500 for a good booster.
Use your cell phone as a hotspot or tether
If your boondocking internet needs are on the lower end of the spectrum, often using your cell phone as a wireless hotspot or tethering a device to it can be sufficient. Most phones these days can be set up as a personal hotspot, which allows your laptop or other devices (such as tablets) to tap into its cellular data (or internet signal) wirelessly. Some devices can also be tethered or connected via a USB cable to have a physical connection to your phone.
If you haven’t added a booster to the mix in this scenario, you are still limited to whatever signal your phone can access. But if you have a booster, you can benefit from its ability to capture and amplify a cellular signal to your phone while using it as a hotspot.
Get a dedicated hotspot device for boondocking with internet
Using your phone as a hotspot usually has some pretty steep limitations. Most cellular plans allow for hotspot connections but severely limit how much data can be used.
Here is where you might want to purchase a separate hotspot device for your boondocking internet needs. You can set up devices such as Verizon and T-Mobile’s MiFi devices or AT&T’s Nighthawk (made by Netgear) with their own data plans. Most providers offer specific hotspot plans for these types of devices that can have varying limits, depending upon how much you are willing to pay.
The advantage here is that you can have higher data limits. It is easier to connect multiple devices, and the hotspot’s speed may be better than your phone—dedicated hotspots are manufactured for the specific purpose of providing data connectivity.
Satellite internet for RVers
There is another option for boondockers to acquire an internet signal… a satellite dish. When there is no cellular signal insight, a satellite dish could come to your rescue. But be forewarned, until Elon Musk gets his StarLink technology fully fleshed out, satellite internet technology isn’t for the faint of heart.
How it works
If you are familiar with satellite TV, you get it. You can mount a satellite dish on your RV roof, or you could manually set up a satellite dish on a tripod mount on the ground. The satellite dish captures a data signal beamed down from space, delivering an internet signal to a modem in your RV.
Satellite internet speed and price
That all sounds great. Get the internet anywhere! Just realize that it comes with a price, and it generally isn’t a robust connection. The equipment alone can run into thousands of dollars. Monthly service plans will likely clock in at $100 or sometimes significantly more. The kicker, however, is that the speed usually isn’t very good. Often, the connection is only enough to check email or load some light web pages.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution
The right boondock internet plan for you depends on your needs, budget, and travel style. If your needs aren’t significant and you’re on a tighter budget, simply having a good cellular plan may be all you need.
Remember, if you’re taking a summer road trip and are serious about staying connected, take a look at the course Mobile Internet Explained. The course is offered on RV Masterclass and is presented by full-time RVers who know the struggles and solutions to get great mobile internet.
8 thoughts on “How To Go Boondocking With Internet”
Good article and summary of options. Looks like location dictates a lot of this but I am going to go with a hotspot device. Thank you!
I don’t know where you got your information regarding Starlink (my wife and I are signed up to start with them this summer), but our information from Starlink is vastly different than what you are stating. The equipment cost to us is only a few hundred dollars, the monthly subscription is $100, and the download speeds will start at around 10 GB/sec during the beta phase, but within a year or so will go up to over 100 GB/sec. In addition, the satellite equipment is portable and Starlink has already stated that it can be taken with you anywhere you travel.
Isn’t starlink still locked to one area and not recommended for camping or long distance travelling?
I my favorite boondocking site the nearest tower is 6.2 miles away in mountainous terrain. The tower is owned by a private company and Verizon leases use of it. Over the years the service has gotten progressively poorer and I kept improving my system to compensate. I eventually upgraded to a Surecall Home booster with two cross polarized yagis mounted 50 feet above the receiver site and a Verizon Hub Wi-Fi converter. When that system was first installed I was getting solid 3 to 4 bar 4G service. Today I find that I am showing 3 bars of 4G/LTE service until I connect and begin downloading data. Within one minute service drops to 3G and the Hub, which is 4G only, stops working. If I use my iPhone as a Wi-Fi source I continue to get 3G data service. If I take a Mi-Fi outdoors near the antennas, with no booster, it will get useable 4G service but if I use the booster service drops to 3G. I think that Verizon is throttling service through the booster. Verizon has been of no help but since they are the only service available I am stuck with what I have.
I go Go Boon docking to get away from the internet.
Do you have information for Canadian RVers? Our choices in data providers is way more expensive than American providers. We have a cell booster but it doesn’t always work.
Starlink is awesome! Better than all rural America options as of 2021.