A Beginner's Guide to Boondocking: What You Need to Bring
Want to experience true freedom when you are camping? Want to get away from all the noise, all the crowds, and all the distractions that come with developed campgrounds?
Then it's time to start boondocking!
Boondocking is the opportunity to live or vacation off-grid. To truly get out in nature, disconnect from modern society, and live self-supported with your RV or van.
In fact, because boondocking is generally free, it's the primary camping method used by many full-time RVers and those living the van life.
Wondering what exactly boondocking is and how it works? We covered most of the basics in our "Ultimate Guide To Boondocking" and decided to expand upon that post with additional information on how to best equip yourself for true, dispersed camping in the great outdoors.
What Is Boondocking?
First off, here's what boondocking is not. Boondocking is not camping in a modern campground, full of amenities like bathrooms, showers, dump stations, wifi, and perfectly manicured campsites.
Boondocking also isn't staying in parking lots, driveways, or even dry camping in a developed campground. All of these options include some sort of amenities. Plus, they cost money and don't get you out into the wilderness.
Boondocking, on the other hand, is dry, dispersed camping on public land. Public land is areas managed by the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Essentially, it's land set aside by the government that all of us own and are free to use (and share with others). Thus, we are free to camp on this land, so long as we camp responsibly.
As a result, boondocking is almost always free. There are no reservations needed and no nightly fees required. You can live out of your RV, van, or even a tent.
But it means that you won't have access to utilities or any external amenities. That means no electric, water, or sewer hookups. No trash cans or wifi. You and your rig need to be self-reliant in order to succeed and enjoy the backcountry.
Benefits of Boondocking
So why would you want to go boondocking in the first place? One of the biggest draws for boondocking in an RV or camper van is the fact that it's free.
Imagine wanting to live full-time in your RV. If you were to pay for basic campgrounds each night, which average $25 per night, you could expect to pay $750 per month or almost $10,000 per year. RV resorts and those with nicer facilities and more amenities cost even more per night.
That's a lot of money that you either need to save up in advance of your travels or earn while on the road. Since many people want to spend more time enjoying their travels, and less time working, they opt for boondocking, saving tons of money.
Boondocking also gets you out into beautiful places. While there are some beautiful campgrounds out there, most are essentially parking lots filled with other campers.
When you are boondocking, you can be out in the middle of a forest, on a bluff overlooking the vast desert, or deep in the mountains. You can set up next to a river or lake and enjoy the beauty of our public lands in solitude.
So if you want a picture-perfect campsite in the wilderness each and every night, boondocking is the way to go.
Guide to Boondocking; How Boondocking Works
Does the idea of wilderness, solitude, and free camping sound appealing to you? Then it's time to learn how to boondock effectively and safely. Here's how to get started.
Find a Place to Camp
There are many ways to find public lands available for boondocking. Apps, websites, and old-fashioned paper maps will show you the way.
If it's your first time boondocking, opt for a piece of land close to home so you can test it out, before traveling across the country.
You can check out the USFS maps to find national forests near you. National forests are located in almost every state.
You can also look for BLM-managed lands. These exist in abundance out west, in states like Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and others.
Understand the Regulations
While public land is free to use and enjoy, there are rules and regulations to follow. For example, staying on many public lands, you are limited to a maximum 14-day stay within a 28-day period.
Upon reaching this limit, you'll need to set up camp at least 25 miles away, in order to protect and preserve the land for future use.
It's also best to use sites that have been previously camped in, rather than creating a new site. You cannot dispose of any refuse or waste on public land. Make sure to pack it out and dispose of it when you get back to town.
Some popular areas will require a reservation and possibly a nightly fee. Be sure to research the requirements for any area you plan to camp in.
Vehicles for Camping and Boondocking
Most people that boondock will either camp in their RV or in a van that has been outfitted for camping. RVs come in many shapes and sizes, but it's generally best to use a hard-sided camper, as opposed to a soft, popup camper, for protection from weather and animals.
Also, the larger the vehicle the harder it may be to access off-the-grid areas. These usually require travel along bumpy dirt roads.
While full-timers will generally use an RV or van, you can also boondock in a tent. You can install a rooftop tent in your vehicle, or simply pack in a normal camping tent.
The benefits of camping with a rooftop tent are that you can drive a truck or off-road vehicle, accessing places to camp that RVs won't be able to.
Gear Needed for Boondocking
So what do you need in order for boondocking comfort and success? Here are the most important considerations.
When you are far removed from a location containing electrical hookups, you'll need to power your vehicle on your own. Even though you are camping, it's nice to have lights, refrigeration, charged phones and computers, and the ability to cook.
A portable generator is vital to comfortable boondocking. Traditional generators use gas to generate electricity. When running, they make a ton of noise, which can disturb nearby campers. But when you are the only one's around, it's not an issue.
You can also get a solar-powered generator. These are one of the best investments you can make if you are serious about boondocking. With a solar-powered generator, you won't need to buy and store extra gas. Plus, it's much better for the environment and will save you money over time.
Solar power generators are whisper quiet and come with a backup battery, so you can stay connected all night long.
Portable Air Conditioners
Because most people like to camp in the summer, it can get hot in your RV or van. Bringing along a portable air conditioner is the easiest way to stay comfortable.
You can plug these into your wall outlet, or pick up an external battery in order to run it anywhere, including a tent. They can lower indoor temperatures by up to 30 degrees in a matter of minutes.
Don't yet have an RV or van? You can still boondock. Rooftop tents are one of the most affordable ways to get out in the wilderness, staying comfortable and protected the entire time.
Freespirit Recreation's rooftop tents can be installed on any truck or SUV, and can be taken anywhere your off-road vehicle can take you. Some models even include an annex, which is a covered area on the ground to use as a sitting or cooking area during inclement weather, or for storage.
When to Use Developed Campgrounds
It's unlikely that you will boondock each and every night of the year. If you plan to go full-time in your vehicle, you'll need the amenities offered by developed campgrounds every now and then.
For example, you may need to do laundry. You can either go into town and find a laundromat or just stay a night at a campground offering laundry machines. Many travelers will stay at developed campgrounds while they are in transit from one piece of public land to the next.
This also gives you the opportunity to empty your holding tanks, stock up on fuel and water, use the internet, and purchase food and supplies before heading out into the wilderness again for a few days, or even a week or two at a time.
How to Boondock In Parking Lots
Staying the night in a Wal-Mart parking, otherwise known as wally-docking, is the most common way for boondockers to refuel and recharge, especially since it's still free.
While most Wal-Mart stores will allow this, it's always best to inquire in advance. Sometimes rules or city ordinances change. Just call the customer service line and ask if overnight RV parking is allowed.
If so, ask where they prefer RVs to park. In order to respect the store and its customers, make sure not to "set up camp" in the parking lot. Don't put out chairs or grill in the parking lot.
Make sure you only stay one night, clean up all trash, and make at least one store purchase to ensure Wal-Mart stores continue to support overnight travelers.
The Most Rewarding Way to Camp
Hopefully, our guide to boondocking has given you enough information and inspiration to consider this method of travel for yourself. It's an incredibly rewarding way to travel and camp, as you often get to see parts of the country that most people never do.
And if you don't yet have a recreational vehicle to boondock in, you can get started the affordable way. Check out our guide to Overlanding, to see how you can outfit your current car or truck with all the gear you need to sleep comfortably out in nature.