12 Helpful Tips for Boondocking


Ever dreamed of escaping the crowds and camping under a starry sky, far from the din of RV generators and crowded campgrounds? Welcome to the world of boondocking – your ticket to true wilderness freedom. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about this exciting form of off-grid camping.

1. What is Boondocking?

Boondocking, also known as dispersed camping or dry camping, refers to camping outside of designated campgrounds without hookups for water, electricity, or sewage. The term likely originated from the Filipino word “bundok,” meaning mountain, and was adopted by American soldiers to describe remote or isolated places.

Today, boondocking has captured the hearts of outdoor enthusiasts seeking a more authentic, immersive camping experience. It’s not just about saving money (though that’s a nice perk); it’s about reconnecting with nature, testing your self-reliance, and discovering hidden gems off the beaten path.

2. Why Boondocking?

Why are more and more campers turning to boondocking? Let’s break it down:

  1. Freedom: You’re not bound by campground rules or reservations. Want to sleep in? Go ahead. Fancy a midnight hike? The trail’s all yours.
  2. Flexibility: Found a perfect spot? Stay as long as regulations allow. No need to pack up because your reservation’s up.
  3. Cost savings: Most boondocking sites are free or very low-cost, saving you hundreds on campground fees.
  4. Solitude: Enjoy peace without noisy neighbors or crowded facilities.
  5. Connection to nature: Experience the wilderness up close, from dawn chorus to starlit nights.

As John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” For many boondockers, this call of the wild is irresistible.

3. Essential Gear for Successful Boondocking

Boondocking requires some specialized gear to ensure a comfortable and safe experience. Let’s dive into the essentials:

RVs and Vehicles for Boondocking

While you can boondock with just about any vehicle, some are better suited than others. Options include vans, travel trailers, motorhomes, and truck campers. Each has its pros and cons in terms of maneuverability, living space, and off-road capability.

Whichever you choose, consider these modifications for better boondocking:

  • Upgraded suspension for rough roads
  • Larger freshwater tanks
  • Solar panel installation
  • Composting toilets to reduce black water needs

Power Solutions for Boondocking

When you’re off the grid, you’ll need to bring your power. Solar is king in the boondocking world, but let’s look at the options:

  1. Solar Panels: Clean, quiet, and free once installed. Pair with deep-cycle batteries for 24/7 power.
  2. Generators: Provide reliable power but can be noisy and require fuel.
  3. Portable Power Stations: Great for small electronics, can be charged via solar.

Pro Tip: A combination of solar and a small, efficient generator offers the best of both worlds.

Water Management

Water is precious when boondocking. Here’s how to make it last:

  • Install a large freshwater tank or carry extra containers
  • Use water-saving fixtures like low-flow showerheads
  • Collect rainwater for non-potable uses
  • Use biodegradable soaps and dish detergents
  • Consider a composting toilet to eliminate black water

Camping Equipment

Don’t forget these boondocking-specific items:

  • Leveling blocks: For uneven terrain
  • Extended hoses and cords: To reach distant water sources or dump stations
  • Portable waste tanks: For longer stays without dumping
  • Off-grid cooking gear: Propane stoves, solar ovens, etc.
  • LED lighting: Energy-efficient and long-lasting

4. Finding the Perfect Boondocking Spot

Half the fun of boondocking is discovering your slice of paradise. Here’s where to look:

Public Lands for Boondocking

  1. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas: Vast tracts of public land, often with 14-day stay limits.
  2. National Forests: Usually allow dispersed camping, check local regulations.
  3. State Trust Lands: Varies by state, and may require permits.

Apps and Resources for Locating Sites

  • Campendium
  • FreeCampsites.net
  • iOverlander
  • US Public Lands App

Case Study: The Coconino National Forest in Arizona is a boondocking paradise. With over 1.8 million acres of diverse landscapes, from desert to alpine forests, it offers countless free camping spots. Just remember to obtain a free dispersed camping permit and follow Leave No Trace principles.

Scouting Tips and Etiquette

When you find a potential spot:

  1. Look for level ground with a solid surface
  2. Check for signs prohibiting camping
  3. Ensure you’re at least 200 feet from water sources
  4. Look for existing fire rings or disturbed areas to minimize the impact
  5. Respect other campers’ privacy – if you can see them, you’re too close

Remember, good boondocking etiquette means leaving your site better than you found it.

5. Boondocking Safety and Preparedness

Safety should always be your top priority when boondocking. Here’s how to stay safe in the backcountry:

Emergency Planning

  1. First Aid: Carry a comprehensive first aid kit and know how to use it.
  2. Vehicle Maintenance: Keep your rig in top shape and carry basic spare parts.
  3. Communication: Have a way to call for help, like a satellite messenger.
  4. Emergency Plan: Always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

Weather Awareness

Boondocking often means being far from a shelter in case of severe weather. Stay safe by:

  • Checking weather forecasts before and during your trip
  • Having a plan for extreme conditions (heat, cold, storms)
  • Carrying appropriate gear for the season

Wildlife Encounters

Sharing the wilderness with wildlife is part of the boondocking experience, but it requires caution:

  • Store food in airtight containers away from your sleeping area
  • Never feed wildlife
  • Make noise when hiking to avoid surprising animals
  • Carry bear spray in bear country

6. Eco-Friendly Boondocking Practices

As boondockers, we have a responsibility to protect the wild places we love. Follow these principles:

  1. Leave No Trace: Pack out all trash, including biodegradable items
  2. Minimize Impact: Use existing campsites and fire rings when possible
  3. Respect Wildlife: Observe from a distance, don’t feed or approach animals
  4. Be Fire Wise: Check fire regulations and never leave a fire unattended
  5. Conserve Resources: Use water and energy efficiently

By following these guidelines, we can ensure that future generations can enjoy the same pristine wilderness we do today.

7. Boondocking with Pets

Your furry friends can make great boondocking companions, but they need special consideration:

  • Ensure vaccinations are up-to-date
  • Carry a pet first-aid kit
  • Keep pets leashed or under control
  • Clean up after your pet
  • Be aware of local wildlife that might pose a threat

8. Staying Connected While Boondocking

While getting away from it all is part of Boondocking’s appeal, sometimes you need to stay connected. Here’s how:

  1. Mobile Hotspots: Great for areas with cellular coverage
  2. Signal Boosters: Can improve weak cell signals
  3. Satellite Internet: For truly remote areas, but can be expensive
  4. Public Wi-Fi: Plan trips to libraries or cafes for occasional internet access

Remember, part of the joy of boondocking is disconnecting. Use these tools sparingly and enjoy the digital detox!

9. Boondocking Challenges

Boondocking isn’t always easy, but overcoming challenges is part of the adventure. Here are some common issues and solutions:

  1. Limited Resources: Conserve water and power, plan meals carefully
  2. Waste Management: Use public facilities when possible, consider a composting toilet
  3. Isolation: Join boondocking groups for the community, carry emergency communication devices
  4. Weather: Be prepared with appropriate gear and shelter
  5. Vehicle Issues: Learn basic maintenance, carry essential tools and spare parts

10. Legal Considerations for Boondocking

Stay on the right side of the law with these tips:

  • Research local regulations before camping
  • Respect posted signs and private property
  • Adhere to stay limits (typically 14 days in one spot)
  • Obtain necessary permits (some areas require them)

11. Boondocking on a Budget

One of boondocking’s biggest appeals is its low cost. Maximize your savings with these tips:

  1. Invest in quality gear upfront to avoid costly replacements
  2. Use free camping apps to find no-cost sites
  3. Cook your meals instead of eating out
  4. Use solar power instead of relying on generators and fuel
  5. Travel slowly to reduce fuel costs

12. Seasonal Boondocking: What to Expect

Each season brings its joys and challenges to boondocking:

Summer Boondocking

  • Seek higher elevations or shaded areas to beat the heat
  • Carry extra water for hydration and cooling
  • Use awnings or tarps for shade
  • Be aware of fire restrictions during dry periods

Winter Boondocking

  • Insulate your rig with skirting and window coverings
  • Use a small, efficient heater (be aware of carbon monoxide risks)
  • Keep your water system from freezing with heat tape or by draining when not in use
  • Carry chains and emergency winter gear

Conclusion: Is Boondocking Right for You?

Boondocking offers unparalleled freedom, stunning natural beauty, and a chance to test your self-reliance. It’s not without challenges, but for many, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. If you crave adventure, love nature, and don’t mind trading some conveniences for breathtaking experiences, boondocking might just be your new favorite way to camp.

Ready to give it a try? Start small with a weekend trip close to home. As you gain experience and confidence, you can venture further afield and stay longer. Remember, the boondocking community is friendly and always willing to share advice and tips.