People camp for all sorts of reasons. Some want to get away from the regular routine and have an excuse to cook a hot dog over the fire. Others want a vacation without the expense of a hotel room and restaurant bills. Still others want to be near the lake, the mountains or even the sand and the surf.
Then there are those who want to get away from it all, really get away. Away from all modern conveniences and get back to nature. If leaving the hustle and bustle behind sounds appealing to you, then boondocking may be just what you’ve been looking for. So, what is boondocking? Let’s look at what it is, the appeal, and where and how it’s done.
What Is Boondocking?
Simply put, boondocking – or dispersed camping – is camping with your RV away from designated RV locations. Sometimes boondocking is referred to as dry camping. Don’t be misled, dry camping doesn’t mean that when you camp it won’t rain! It simply means you do not have access to water hookups; therefore you are camping “dry.” It also means you won’t have access to electrical or sewer hookups. You will also be separated from any kind of camp amenities, meaning there won’t be a camp store nearby if someone eats the last marshmallow for s’mores!
Why Would You Want to Boondock?
Not only do we want to know what is boondocking, we also want to know, “Why?” Getting out there to enjoy nature and our great state or national parks in solitude is the most common reason people have for boondocking.
RV campgrounds are amazing resources. They allow people the opportunity to get away for a day, a weekend or an extended period of time and relax – away from their regular responsibilities. However, some campgrounds can become so packed with other campers and attractions that it can feel more like a theme park than camping.
When you are boondocking, you are away from civilization. You can enjoy the beauty of nature and truly “get away from it all.” It allows you the opportunity to enjoy camping experiences on your own, or just with a small group of your family and friends.
Where Can You Boondock?
Another piece to the “what is boondocking” puzzle is that boondocking opens the door to camping nearly anywhere. When you locate a place you want to boondock, you need to be sure that camping is allowed. Boondocking is one thing; trespassing is another! No one wants to find out the hard way that the empty field or cozy wooded spot you found is actually private property and your presence is not welcome.
Fortunately, almost all national parks as well as state parks allow for boondocking. There are over 10,500 state and national parks in the United States. That’s nearly 100 million acres of nature waiting to be explored! Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management manages hundreds of recreation areas and offers several fee-free days to invite and encourage visitation.
There are other locations which allow a boondocking experience. Some stores, truck stops, and casinos offer temporary RV parking (overnight) to help travelers rest when they need it. This is a generous and welcome option when travelers find themselves weary and still several hours from their destination. This generosity should be respected, therefore, it is important to obtain permission. Each location’s policy differs and being a considerate guest not only benefits you, but the other campers in the future that may need a place to rest or wait out a storm.
Is Boondocking Safe?
How do you stay safe while boondocking? Essentially, the same safety rules apply as you might exercise with any other type of camping. However, by nature, boondocking does introduce a few risk factors you should take precautions against:
- There are fewer people nearby for assistance. Because you are generally far away from populated areas or other campers, you are essentially on your own. If you become injured or lost, you’ll want to plan ahead so that you have a way to communicate remotely. It’s a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If possible, give the GPS coordinates. The chances of something happening are small, but knowing that a trusted friend or relative knows exactly where you are can bring peace of mind and free you up to enjoy the boondocking experience and the nature around you.
- Your only resources are what you bring. There will not be a gas station or convenience store nearby, nor will you have access to power or water. You need to plan accordingly and be sure to ration your resources appropriately depending on how long you plan to boondock. It’s better to take “Navy” showers and smell a little gamey while boondocking than to be stranded and run out of water due to poor planning.
Is Boondocking Hard?
Boondocking is only as challenging as you want it to be. If you are considering boondocking, start with a short trip. Many casual campers will boondock for a day or two, making it relatively easy. It’s a good way to find out if boondocking is for you and you’ll only need to bring some light supplies to get you through.
Once you have a short boondocking experience or two under your belt, you may choose to join the ranks of the campers who choose to boondock for a week or more. Longer excursions can increase the challenges, as can the weather. Ultimately, the only difficult part of boondocking is preparation. If you prepare correctly, pack accordingly, and ration properly, you won’t have any problems at all.
Are Some RVs Better for Boondocking Than Others?
There is no one “right” RV for boondocking. The type of RV that is right for one type of camper may not suit another. It all depends on what you want and your preferred level of comfort.
If you prefer camping in remote locations, a lightweight RV may be a good choice. They can be better for maneuvering through dense forests and terrain. They will also do less damage to the ground. The heavier the RV, the deeper the ruts it can leave behind, especially in muddy conditions. Also, the fewer creature comforts you require the smaller and lighter the RV you’ll need to enjoy your camping experience.
This is not to discount the more luxurious RVs. They have their benefits as well. The more amenities you bring with you, the more comfortable you will be. More restful nights and a more relaxing getaway if the weather turns extreme are just two benefits you can enjoy. Additionally, the longer your trips, the more you will appreciate a luxurious RV.
What works for the weekend warrior may not be the best choice for those planning long boondocking stays or someone who is going to be a full-time RVer.
What is the Etiquette for Boondocking?
So, what is boondocking etiquette? Just as there are rules and tips for being a good neighbor in a campground, there are things to remember when boondocking:
#1. Avoid other campers. Boondocking is about getting away from the crowd and getting back to nature. Always try to camp far enough away from others that you can’t see or be seen by them. If the space is such that it’s unavoidable, ask if the other camper minds if you park there. Don’t encroach on others.
#2. Try to camp in established camping locations. While camping in a dispersed area is at the very heart of boondocking, the more you disrupt the natural landscape of a park, the more you may impact the wildlife. When boondocking, look for designated areas or abandoned campgrounds which allows you to use existing fire pits and other makeshift camping areas with little disruption to the surrounding nature.
#3. Respect the rules of the park. Just because no one else is around doesn’t mean rules don’t apply to you. Most parks have rules for boondocking, such as not parking near water, not staying longer than 14 days or other specific rules that may pertain to pets, campfires or generators. Know the rules before you arrive and check posted signage. When you don’t respect and follow the rules, you risk ruining the experience for other campers.
#4. Minimize noise. While generators are common alternatives to electric hookups or solar panels, they can ruin the peace and quiet of the remote areas. Always remember that you’re just one of many campers in the park – even if you can’t see them. Keeping noise to a minimum means being respectful of others in the area as well as the wildlife!
So what are you waiting for? What is boondocking to you? Charge your batteries, fill your tanks, load the cooler, and find out! It gives a whole new meaning to the term, “Nature calls!”
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