8 Things To Know About Dispersed Camping

dispersed camping
dispersed camping

Have you ever dreamed of escaping the crowds and immersing yourself in nature’s untamed beauty? If so, dispersed camping might be your perfect adventure. This comprehensive guide will take you through everything you need to know about this exhilarating form of outdoor recreation.

1. What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping is the practice of camping outside designated campgrounds, typically on public lands such as national forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. It’s a way to experience the wilderness in its raw form, free from the amenities and constraints of developed campsites.

Unlike traditional campgrounds, dispersed camping areas don’t offer:

  • Restroom facilities
  • Picnic tables
  • Fire rings
  • Trash services
  • Potable water

This lack of amenities is part of the appeal for many outdoor enthusiasts. It offers a chance to test your self-reliance skills and connect more deeply with nature.

2. The Basics of Dispersed Camping

When you opt for dispersed camping, you’re choosing to venture into less-developed areas. This form of camping is often free and doesn’t require reservations, but it comes with its own set of rules and responsibilities.

Legal Considerations

Before you head out, it’s crucial to understand the legal landscape of dispersed camping:

  • Most national forests and BLM lands allow dispersed camping, but rules vary.
  • Some areas require permits, even for dispersed camping.
  • Stay limits typically range from 14 to 16 days in 30 days.
  • Always check local regulations before your trip.

“With freedom comes responsibility. Dispersed camping offers unparalleled access to nature, but it’s up to us to protect these wild spaces for future generations.” – Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

3. Finding the Perfect Spot

Choosing the right location for your dispersed campsite is both an art and a science. It requires research, planning, and a keen eye for the landscape. After looking at the map to find free places to camp, it’s time to look at the lay of the land to pick your campsite.

Researching Dispersed Camping Areas

Start your search with these resources:

  1. U.S. Forest Service website
  2. BLM’s interactive maps
  3. State-specific outdoor recreation websites
  4. Hiking and camping forums
  5. Mobile apps like FreeRoam or iOverlander

Choosing Your Campsite

When you arrive in a dispersed camping area, keep these factors in mind:

  • Distance from water: Camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams to protect water sources.
  • Terrain: Look for flat, well-drained areas to set up your tent.
  • Accessibility: Consider how far you’re willing to hike or drive from main roads.
  • Leave No Trace: Choose spots where you won’t damage vegetation or disturb wildlife.

4. Essential Gear for Dispersed Camping

Packing the right gear can make or break your dispersed camping experience. Here’s a comprehensive list to get you started:

  • Shelter: Tent, tarp, or hammock with rainfly
  • Sleep System: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow
  • Cooking: Camp stove, fuel, cookware, utensils
  • Water: Water filter or purifier, water containers
  • Navigation: Map, compass, GPS device (with extra batteries)
  • Safety: First aid kit, emergency communication device
  • Lighting: Headlamp, lantern, extra batteries
  • Clothing: Weather-appropriate layers, rain gear
  • Food: Non-perishable meals, snacks, bear canister (if required)
  • Tools: Multi-tool, knife, fire starter

Remember, when dispersed camping, you’ll need to be self-sufficient. There won’t be nearby stores or rangers to help if you forget something crucial.

5. Preparing for Your Dispersed Camping Trip

Thorough preparation is key to a successful dispersed camping experience. Let’s break down some essential steps:

Planning and Research

  1. Weather forecasts: Check short-term and long-term forecasts for your chosen area.
  2. Local wildlife: Research what animals you might encounter and how to stay safe.
  3. Plant life: Familiarize yourself with any poisonous plants in the region.
  4. Emergency procedures: Know how to contact local authorities if needed.

Food and Water

When planning meals for dispersed camping, focus on:

  • Non-perishable items
  • High-energy foods
  • Meals that require minimal preparation

For water, always:

  • Bring more than you think you’ll need
  • Know where your water sources are located
  • Have multiple methods of water purification

6. Setting Up Camp

Choosing the ideal spot for your dispersed campsite requires careful consideration of several factors:

  1. Flat ground: Look for a level area to ensure comfort and prevent water from pooling around your tent.
  2. Natural windbreaks: Use terrain features or vegetation to shield your camp from strong winds.
  3. Sun exposure: Consider how the sun’s path will affect your site throughout the day.

Campfire Safety

If campfires are allowed in your chosen area, follow these guidelines:

  • Check for fire bans or restrictions before your trip.
  • Use existing fire rings if available.
  • If you must create a new fire pit, clear a 10-foot diameter area down to bare soil.
  • Keep your fire small and manageable.
  • Never leave your fire unattended.
  • Fully extinguish your fire before leaving camp or going to sleep.

“A fire is never safe. You can only make it as safe as possible.” – U.S. Forest Service

7. Environmental Impact and Conservation

As dispersed campers, we have a responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment. The Leave No Trace principles provide an excellent framework for responsible camping:

  1. Plan and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

By following these principles, we can help preserve the natural beauty of our wild spaces for future generations of dispersed campers. Ensure that future generations get to enjoy the land as much as you did.

8. Challenges and Solutions in Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping comes with its own set of challenges. Here are some common issues and how to handle them:

Weather-related Issues

  • Unexpected storms: Always bring appropriate rain gear and know how to quickly secure your campsite.
  • Temperature extremes: Layer your clothing and be prepared for both hot and cold conditions.

Wildlife Encounters

  • Bear safety: Store food in bear canisters or hang food bags at least 10 feet high and 4 feet from the trunk of a tree.
  • Insects and pests: Bring insect repellent and consider treated clothing for tick-prone areas.

Navigation and Getting Lost

  • Use a map and compass: Don’t rely solely on electronic devices.
  • If you get lost: Stay calm, stay put, and signal for help.


Dispersed camping offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature in its most raw and beautiful form. It challenges us to be self-reliant, respectful of our environment, and mindful of our impact. While it requires more preparation and skill than developed campground camping, the rewards are immeasurable.

As you venture into the world of dispersed camping, remember that each trip is a chance to learn and grow as an outdoor enthusiast. Embrace the challenges, respect the wilderness, and most importantly, enjoy the unparalleled freedom that comes with camping in the wild.

So pack your gear, do your research, and set out to create your own unforgettable dispersed camping adventure. The wilderness is calling – will you answer?