Boondocking: A Guide to Truly Wild Camping

Camping, Outdoor Activities, Overlanding -

Boondocking: A Guide to Truly Wild Camping

If you’ve ever heard terms like 'dry camping,' ‘dispersed camping,’ or 'wild camping' being tossed around by your outdoorsy friends and wondered what they meant, then you're in the right place. We're here to shed some light on this unique camping experience, called boondocking, exploring what it entails and what it doesn't

What is Boondocking? 

Boondocking combines two essential elements: the style of camping and the location where you set up camp. First, boondocking refers to a style of camper/RV camping. Typically, one can expect boondocking to be a bit more rugged than setting up at the nearest KOA campground. What sets it apart is the absence of the usual campground facilities such as water, electricity, and sewer hookups, not to mention restrooms, water taps, or neatly arranged picnic tables. It's a return to the basics of camping: just you, your camper, and a secluded piece of nature to call home for a night or two. The icing on the cake? Boondocking is often free, though an occasional permit might be necessary. 

The 'Where' of Boondocking: Dispersion Matters 

In the realm of boondocking, 'dispersed camping' is the name of the game. It's all about setting up camp on public lands, away from the confines of traditional campgrounds. Dispersed camping refers to camping on public lands that aren’t specifically designated as a campsite. While you'll find a suitable spot to park your rig or pitch your tent, don't expect much else in the way of amenities. 

Agencies like the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Department of Fish and Wildlife are your go-to sources for information on public lands that permit dispersed camping. Tools like Campendium or direct contact with these agencies will help you pinpoint your ideal boondocking location. Just remember, good campsites are discovered, not created! 

Evolving Into Designated Dispersed Camping 

Given the growing popularity of dispersed camping, some beloved destinations have faced challenges like haphazard campsite creation, litter problems, and overcrowding. In a bid to preserve these areas, the Forest Service and BLM have started to designate certain dispersed camping spots. 

In these designated areas, campsites are clearly marked, and spending the night is only permitted at these established spots. Some areas are also imposing shorter stay limits to accommodate more campers. Remember to verify the specific regulations with the managing agency before settling in for the night.  

How to Find Boondocking Sites 

Finding the perfect boondocking site is a cinch. Simply start by browsing Campendium, a popular site for RV camping, and filter your search for free public land. There are literally hundreds of spots to choose from, though there are many places across the country that are accessible to any offroad capable vehicle and perfectly legal camping destinations. So whether you’re more of a planner, or more of the spontaneous type, there’s a solution out there for you.  

Not Quite Boondocking: Dry Camping Variations 

Not all forms of dry camping capture the quintessence of boondocking. Let's examine some alternatives that, although similar in some respects, don't quite live up to the full boondocking experience. 

1. Dry Camping in a Developed Campground

If you're in a developed campground without the luxury of hookups, you're technically dry camping. But keep your eyes peeled for telltale signs like camp hosts, vault toilets, picnic tables, and, yes, the overnight fee that often accompanies these amenities. 

2. Parking Lot Camping

Overnighting in parking lots, be it at Walmart, a casino, a truck stop, or a rest area, falls under the umbrella of dry camping. However, since these aren't public lands, they don't qualify as boondocking. Parking lot camping is a unique beast unto itself; some even call it 'Wally-docking' or 'casino camping.' 

3. Mooch-Docking

Here's a fun one! While there's a website dedicated to welcoming boondockers to private driveways, it doesn't quite count as boondocking. When you're not shelling out money for the overnight stay, you can playfully refer to it as 'mooch-docking.' If there's a fee involved, it's more accurately labeled 'driveway camping.' 

4. Rural Dry Camping

Camping in rural areas where you're away from traditional campgrounds but not necessarily in a remote wilderness setting can be termed rural dry camping. It's a bit of a hybrid, offering a more serene and natural experience than urban dry camping, yet not quite reaching the level of true boondocking. Just make sure you’re either on public land or have the express permission of the landowner to stay for the night.  

5. Urban Dry Camping

In the heart of the city, you can discover urban dry camping opportunities, such as camping in designated city lots or urban boondocking. This is for those who want a taste of the nomadic lifestyle but can't escape the hustle and bustle of urban living. While it's a form of dry camping, it's quite distinct from the rugged, remote boondocking experience in the wild. Again, you’ll just want to be sure you understand the rules and regulations in your particular city before you go sleeping on the streets!  

Preparation Makes Perfect  

If you're intrigued by the concept of boondocking but not quite ready to take the plunge, dry camping in an RV park or your own driveway can serve as an excellent stepping stone. Test your camping mettle by stowing away the power cable, water hose, and sewer connection and seeing how long you can go in a controlled environment. Once you're feeling confident, move on to an actual dry camping spot. Organized campgrounds offer clearly marked sites and accessible roads for your rig, easing you into the world of boondocking. 

When you're researching your inaugural boondocking location, reviews are your best friend. Look for places that are easily accessible (road condition reports in reviews are worth their weight in gold). Arrive during the day to ensure enough light to find your spot, and always scout the road ahead before venturing down a dirt path. You don't want to get stuck! Trust us; the rewards of boondocking are vast, offering boundless open spaces and the sweet sounds of chirping birds, all without costing a dime. You might just find it hard to return to an RV park (except for when it's time to empty those holding tanks).  

However, don't forget that boondocking on public lands is a privilege. To ensure everyone can enjoy the experience for years to come, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and adhere to any posted stay limits. Respect and care for the land, and you'll keep the boondocking spirit alive. 
If you’re interested in giving boondocking a try, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for every eventuality. That’s why we created our own Ultimate RV Camping Checklist. With 15 extensive lists including over 700 checkable items, we’ve literally thought of everything so you don’t have to. Pick up your very own digital copy below!