Camping popularity is growing every year, but available camping spots aren't keeping pace. In many states, campgrounds have turned to using reservations to help manage the problem.
For the foreseeable future, as demand for camping spots increase, the cost of camping spots is also going to rise. Reserving a camping spot in advance is an option, and so is staying home on a “staycation” at home.
One way to avoid the crowds and find a more secluded camping experience is to boondock camp. Boondocking is camping in a remote area without any amenities, such as water, electricity, or hookups. It can be a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with nature.
What is boondocking?
Boondock camping is also known as dispersed camping, dry camping, camping off-grid, and other terms. Whatever you call it, boondocking is camping in a remote area without any amenities: no water or hookups.
Thinking of camping on your own and being self-sufficient for a week or more can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. Armed with the information we’re providing you, you’ll be anxious to head out on your first boondock camping adventure.
What are the basics of Boondocking?
There are three elements to dispersed camping: self sufficiency; preparation; and leave no trace.
Being self sufficient is a fundamental rule of boondocking. In areas where boondock camping is allowed, there is no water, power, or garbage pickup. And there are no Park Rangers to make sure you are safe.
Being prepared. Before leaving your home, make sure your RV or travel trailer are in working condition. A grocery store usually isn’t nearby, so make sure you have stocked all the food, water, fuel, and other essentials for the length of time you’ll be camping. This is a good time to check on fire restrictions where you plan to camp.
Leave no trace. This is the easiest thing to do, and it is the thing most often not done. If you bring something with you into where you camp, take it with you when you leave. Boondock areas have been closed primarily because people leave the area where they camped a mess.
As part of your planning, here are some additional tips:
- Choose your camping location carefully. You want to check on how accessible the area is, what is the terrain like, is there water nearby, and how close will people camp to you.
- If you want to see wildlife, do a little research about what animals live in the area.
- Hiking and exploring is a good reason for boondocking. Research hiking trails and areas of historical interest.
- Find out how far it is to the nearest campground. If you need to dump your tanks or get fresh water, having a campground nearby makes it a lot easier.
To help you get started, here is a list of essential supplies you will need for boondocking:
- Water: Bring enough water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
- Food: Bring plenty of food that does not require refrigeration.
- Power: Bring a generator or solar panels to generate electricity. If you don’t need to run your air conditioner, consider a solar generator.
- Waste disposal: Bring a portable toilet or waste disposal system.
- Other supplies: First-aid kit, flashlight, insect repellent, sunscreen, tools, etc.
How do you find Boondocking locations?
- Check websites. There are several good websites: FreeCampsites.net and Campendium have a lot of resources. And the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land website is an excellent resource.
- Use apps. iOverlander and AllStays are two apps that are great for finding places to camp.
- Call or email the BLM or Forest Service. The BLM and Forest Service manage millions of acres of public land. They are the best source to find out where boondocking is allowed.
- Network with other RVers and campers. Other RVers and campers are a great resource for finding boondocking locations. A word of caution: verify what friends and family tell you. Sometimes their information isn’t up-to-date.
When choosing a boondocking location, you need to consider the following factors:
- Accessibility: Is the location accessible to your RV or trailer?
- Terrain: Is there an area that is firm enough to support your RV or trailer?
- Proximity to water: How far will you have to travel to get fresh drinking water?
- Proximity to other campers: Just because you are boondocking doesn’t mean you won’t have company. Do you want to be close to other campers or more secluded?
- Fire restrictions: If you enjoy a campfire, you need to find out if there are any fire restrictions in the area?
Once you've found the perfect boondocking location, be sure to check with the local authorities. Some areas require a permit to camp or have a fire.
Here are some additional tips for finding boondocking locations:
- Look for areas that are away from main roads and developed areas. These areas are more likely to be remote and secluded.
- Check maps and satellite imagery to look for potential boondocking locations. If you find an area that looks good, use a second source to verify that it hasn’t changed. Satellite imagery may be out of date.
- Read online reviews and forums to see what other campers have said about different boondocking locations. You can also register with forums and leave questions. Most people are happy to give you their opinion or even suggest better areas to boondock.
Is boondocking legal?
You can legally boondock on most public land in the United States, but there are some restrictions. It is important that you check with the local land management agency before boondocking to make sure that it is allowed.
Because national parks and state parks are fee based, they do not allow boondocking.
Here are some additional tips for staying safe and legal while boondocking:
- Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for wildlife and other hazards.
- Don't leave valuables unattended in or around your RV or trailer.
- Be respectful of other campers and avoid noise pollution.
- Pack out all of your trash and leave the campsite as you found it.
Is a permit required to boondock?
As a general rule, boondock camping on public land in the United States does not require a permit. However, there are some exceptions.
Here are some examples of when a permit may be required for boondocking:
- Boondocking on BLM land for more than 14 days
- Boondocking in a group of more than 25 people
- Boondocking in a national park or state park
- Boondocking in a designated wilderness area
How do you prepare for Boondocking?
Because you will be self-sufficient while you boondock camp, there is some additional preparation over campground camping.
Before you leave:
- Check the weather forecast and road conditions. The more you are off the highway, the more you need to watch weather conditions.
- Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Because you may be camping alone, it’s important that people know where you will camp and when you’ll be back. This is for your safety, and should there be an emergency at home, people will know where to find you.
- Make sure your vehicle and camping gear are in good condition. You don’t want to boondock in a questionable vehicle.
What to pack:
- Food and water. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, you will need to bring enough food and water for your entire trip.
- Camping gear. If you are taking a travel trailer or RV, you’ll have the gear you need. But if you’ll be roughing it in a tent, you’ll want to bring sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a lantern, flashlight, camping chairs, and a camp table. You should also bring a basic first aid kit. When camping it’s almost guaranteed someone is going to get a scrape or cut.
- Extra supplies. A solar charger for your phone is a good idea. Fuel for lanterns and a cook stove is a must have. A small solar generator is a great way to power small electronics and fans. If you plan on fishing, don’t forget poles and tackle.
Is it safe to leave your trailer when Boondocking?
Generally speaking, people who go to a boondock camp don’t have a problem with theft or vandalism. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Here are a few tips:
- Choose your campsite carefully. Avoid camping in areas so isolated that you might think you're on another planet. On the other extreme, camping near busy roads or trails where people can easily get away with stealing your belongings is also something to consider.
- Lock up your trailer and camping gear. A hitch lock and wheel locks are good deterrents. And when you leave make sure all of the doors and windows on your trailer are closed and locked.
- Don't leave valuables in plain sight. If it is light enough to carry away, think about stowing them in a locked compartment or taking them with you. Highly desirable items like generators and solar panels are especially vulnerable to thieves.
- Consider using a trail camera. Unless you put a camera out in the open where a thief will steal it then take whatever is available, a trail camera is good for “after the fact” investigation. It isn’t a good deterrent, but it can help law enforcement find and prosecute whoever stole your stuff.
When it comes to people stealing, there is only so much that can be done to stop them. Trust your gut applies here. If you arrive at your chosen location and feel uneasy about staying or leaving your trailer or gear unattended, you should consider moving to another location or to a developed campground instead.
How long will a battery last while Boondocking?
How long batteries last depends upon many factors:
- The type of batteries you have
- The size of your battery bank
- How much power you are using
- The weather conditions
Lead-acid batteries are the most common type of battery used for boondock camping, but they are also the least efficient. A pair of 6-volt batteries are more efficient and last longer than standard 12-volt vehicle batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are more expensive, but they are also more efficient and can last longer on a single charge.
How you use power is an important factor. To extend the life between battery charges you have to think of conservation. Here are a few tips that will dramatically increase your battery time:
- Use LED lights instead of incandescent lights. LED lights use much less power.
- Turn off lights and appliances when you are not using them.
- Take short showers. And rather than shower every day, shower every other day.
- Cook over a campfire instead of using a stove whenever possible.
- Use solar panels to keep your batteries charged.
- Use a generator to charge your batteries if you need to.
- A solar generator is a good investment.
In general, you can expect to get 2-7 days of boondock camping out of a single battery bank.
How much water do you need for Boondock?
When talking about conservation, we can’t leave without talking about water.
Water is heavy, difficult to transport, and you can only carry a limited amount. And in remote areas there are limited sources of water. When boondocking, food and water will determine how long you camp.
Here is a general guideline of how much water you might use per day:
- Drinking: an active person is a warm climate will consume up to 1 gallon of water per day
- Cooking: 1-2 gallons for a small family. Using prepackaged food will cut down on the water used for cooking.
- Showering: 5-7 gallons per person. Showering every other day is a good way to conserve a lot of water.
- Sponge baths: Between showers a sponge bath is a great way to feel clean and refreshed without using a lot of water.
- Washing dishes: 1-2 gallons for a small family.
- Brushing teeth: 1/2 cup per person per day
- Flushing the toilet: 1/2 gallon per flush
These are rough estimates. Being conscious of how much water you use, you can make your water stretch without a noticeable impact on your life.
With camping becoming more popular every year, finding available campground camping is also becoming challenging. Boondock camping is a great alternative to campground camping. But it does require more planning and preparation.
In this guide we’ve covered everything you need to know to get started on a boondock camping adventure.
Boondock camping is a great way to experience the wonderful outdoors. It offers seclusion and privacy that is hard to find in a campground. But boondocking also carries the responsibility of leaving no trace of your camping once you leave.