Good lord, mainstream media has done a number on us, haven't they? News and media only show us the worst of what goes on in the world.
They lead us to believe that without the supposed 'security net' of society, we are vulnerable to some sort of attack. Especially when boondocking or living as a nomad.
But it's really just not true.
But yes, it's pretty natural to be afraid of boondocking at FIRST. Most of us fear the unknown. If you've never done it before, boondocking IS the unknown.
Here you will learn why many typical fears and concerns that you have about wild camping aren't to be feared.
You will also learn how to do a few key things that will help keep you from worrying so much. You'll also find out what to expect out in the 'wild west'. It's really not as 'wild' or as 'out there' as you may think it is.
Camp Addict Co-Founders Kelly and Marshall were in Quartzsite, Arizona in January 2018 and did a presentation on Boondocking 101 at the Xscapers Annual Bash.
Topics covered include all things that are scary or seem prohibitive about boondocking so that you can learn how-to without being afraid of giving it a try.
Complete presentation is available in the below video. Enjoy!
How Can It Be Safe 'OUT THERE', Camping All Alone?
So this information is going to be pertained around boondocking in the American West. Public lands are quite plentiful out here as opposed to the East.
But it's 'out West'... so most east coasters may not know what to expect. I didn't at first, being a Floridian, but I do now. For boondocking, you may have questions like this:
- Will I have enough food to last me a couple of weeks?
- Is it safe?
- If I leave my rig unattended will it still be there when I come back?
- Will my pets be safe if I leave them?
- Do I need to get a water filter that lets me use water from a creek?
- Should I worry about wild animals?
- How do I find boondocking spots?
Let's look at some of the answers in detail.
Am I Safe From 'Bad' People/Criminals?
Is it safe to be out on public land all alone? Here's a resounding YES for you. In fact, it's even safer than living/being in a city!
Or the suburbs, even. Why? Because if you're scared of other people, just know this:
Criminals are lazy. They don't drive out to BLM land looking for a target.
Murderers aren't looking for you. Stop watching the news!
Criminals look for low-hanging fruit. They don't drive for miles and miles to try to find a random unoccupied RV in the middle of nowhere only to steal free clothing, food, and games.
Doesn't that sound silly now?
It is silly. So, you can push that fear out of your mind right now. I was a tad scared the first night of my boondocking experience, but it was of the 'boogey man', not of people.
I was over it after my first night of totally alone camping. Listen, criminals generally don't have much money, so they don't have ATV's and aren't four-wheeling or camping for recreation.
The majority of people who are primitive camping ARE 'recreating'. They aren't looking for an RV to steal.
The people 'out here' are here for the same reason you will be. Camping and for recreation.
The only time I worry about locking things up is if I am booning near or in a city (which is rare).
Or, I'll lock my generator up if I am in a crowded spot and don't know the other people.
Again- this RARELY happens. I only lock up or put stuff away maybe once a year for this reason. (Also, I don't leave a generator or portable solar panel, etc. out unattended/unlocked if I am parked all alone.)
Number of times a stranger has come and knocked on my door in almost 5 years of RV boondocking?
I'm not even going to list a bunch of ways to 'make yourself safer' while dispersed camping because what I am here to tell you is IT'S NOT NECESSARY.
There's all kinds of silly little ways you can make yourself look 'bigger' or like 'more people' if you're solo.
I had read all these things before I left and planned to do them, but I have not found any of them to be necessary, and do not use them.
Only fear mongers, or those who have never done any serious boondocking, will disagree. It's your prerogative if you want to believe them.
Google 'boondocking safety tips' or something if doing those things makes you feel better regardless of what I am telling you.
The point of this article is to let you know that these things are NOT necessary. So why would I include them?
What About Wild Animals/Bears?
Oh wow. I only WISH there were more wild animals around to worry about! I'm not saying you are totally 100% safe from them and shouldn't be aware. You should, depending on where you are parked.
It's about being aware of your surroundings and not doing something stupid like putting your garbage outside to attract bears and such. It's not rocket science. Just use your head!
Oh, and bears are about the only thing you really have to worry about. Well, there are coyotes, snakes, and moose. But again- they usually want nothing to do with you.
If you go for a hike in bear or moose country, bring bear spray. Make yourself known while hiking by being noisy. This is stuff I shouldn't even have to say, but some people need to hear it.
No, bears aren't going to be trying to get into your RV. Not unless you have an RV with holes in it and you leave a bunch of food outside at night, which you should OBVIOUSLY already know not to do.
You will be reminded not to do so if you are in bear country.
Maybe there could be an almost starved to death bear that will try to get in. It COULD happen, but folks, it's not gonna happen. Stop with the crazy thinking.
Use your head and you will be ok. In the almost five years of dispersed camping I have only seen 5 or 6 bears. They were all in national parks and were nowhere near my campsite.
You're MORE likely to have a bear encounter if you are in developed campgrounds.
Because there is food around. And some unknowing or uncaring campers leave food out when they are not supposed to.
Some even feed wild animals on purpose when they know they shouldn't.
Other people leave stuff out on accident. Bears come to realize it's an easy place to score some food. Then tragically, a returning bear at times has to be killed.
In fact, here's a rundown of the wildlife I have seen at or near my RV campsites:
Deer, mice, sheep, cows, porcupine, birds, donkeys, beavers, shrews, moles, bats, jackrabbits, rabbits, chipmunks, kangaroo rats, coyotes, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, California Condors, and one moose.
The horrors! Better get your guns out and lock the doors!
Not once has a single person posed a threat to me or anyone I know 'out here'.
(Not even an illegal Mexican who had just crossed the border who walked through a friend's camp down near Ajo, Arizona. He just wanted water.)
Only one time was a threat posed. There was a drunk guy threatening to use a gun nearby. Guess where? In a developed CAMPGROUND, lol!
It wasn't funny. The cops were called. He was day drunk. All turned out ok.
Also keep in mind- a day drunk idiot could happen ANYWHERE at ANY TIME.
This incident had zero to do with boondocking. And it's the only one I've had in almost 5 years.
The truth is, I have met simply the nicest people 'out here'.
Should I Have A Gun?
I'm not getting into the politics of this one.
Here's my suggestion: If it makes you feel better, then sure. Get a gun.
You will not need it for self-defense. But if it makes YOU feel better/safer, then go for it!
But please make sure you are VERY versed in using one. And follow rules.
Also know that there are different rules for storing/having guns in different states. A pain to keep straight with the law while crossing state lines.
Again- remember that criminals are NOT out in the boonies looking for victims. Wild animals want nothing to do with you if they can help it.
The bottom line is that self-protection is not needed 99.9% of the time. Same goes for living among society. But if it makes you feel better, go get one.
I had a pistol because I was unsure of what it would be like. I hadn't read an article like this one before I launched.
After having it, the fact of the matter was that I didn't practice using it enough. Therefore, it was dangerous to have around.
I couldn't remember if I left it loaded or not. Couldn't remember how to use it. I wasn't sure I COULD use it right had the need arised. (It hasn't and wouldn't.)
I finally realized it was safer NOT to have one in my RV.
I sold it. It's gone. I did NOT need it.
I don't even mind putting this information out there. Because nobody is hunting me down. I don't need to 'protect' myself.
Also, I am 85% of the time parked with friends now.
(At this moment it's November 2019. I am updating this article and I am dry camping 100% by myself in Kanab, Utah. And I'm fine! Happily gunless.)
Can I Leave My Rig Unattended?
Absolutely! This was something I was not very comfortable with at first. I wondered if my rig would be there when I got back. So, I got a fairly cheap hitch lock.
However, these days I don't even bother putting it on. If I'm near a bigger city, then MAYBE I'll use it if I feel the need. (I don't recall using since sometime back in 2016.)
There are hitch locks that are VERY difficult for even the most talented criminal to break. You could do all kinds of stuff to secure your rig including booting the wheels, if it makes you feel better.
But seriously, you don't need to when you are in the sticks. Again- criminals want inner city and suburb RVs, if they want RVs at all!
Try the MegaHitch Lock Coupler Vault Pro, the self-proclaimed best hitch lock on the market. This lock literally looks like a vault.
You could also get a GPS tracker and stash it inside your RV if that makes you feel better.
Will My Rig Get Stuck?
Ok, the truth is that this one is ACTUALLY a valid fear. Sure, the possibility is there. But the good news is that it is not the norm and it's pretty easy to avoid.
Just don't be driving your rig down soft sandy roads or slick muddy roads. Especially without 4wd! Check out this doozy of a story:
So if you get to a potential dry camp location and you aren't sure what the road is like, the safest thing to do is to 'scout' the road with your toad or tow vehicle.
Still, there's always a possibility of getting stuck. I have, just look... If my truck was a 4wd (my new one is), I probably would have been able to pull out of this: Had I stayed a little more to the left, this could have been avoided.
If you have a motorhome and you don't have a toad, well, I don't know how you would manage scouting. Personally, I would simply HAVE to have another vehicle if I had a motorhome.
For you toadless motorhomers (and boondocking newbies), your best bet is to read up on the well reviewed boondocking sites on Campendium and only choose places that have been proven to be no problem to get in.
Also don't travel down dirt roads on rainy days if at all possible. Checking the weather in advance is essential.
How To Not Starve To Death Or Die Of Thirst
When I first started thinking about wild camping, I was worried about food. I thought that I'd have to store enough food and dry goods for armageddon!
Turns out, I didn't.
Even out west, it's not like you are going to be hundreds of miles away from a grocery store, or even a convenience store, hardly ever.
Most wild camping spots have about a 2 week limit. You can usually stock up enough for that time period without issue, unless you have a large family.
Veggies are a different story. You probably need to re-stock once a week or so. The good news? Grocery stores are usually not too far away.
Some fulltime RVing families get a rig with a large refrigerator. Some have an additional portable refrigerator. Dry goods can always be stored easily.
When I was in Spencer, Idaho, the nearest real grocery was about an hour away in Idaho Falls. This was VERY unusual.
Usually there's SOME type of food store about 10-40 minutes away. And yes, you can drive there. There are roads. You don't have to hike or ride a horse to get there.
So you will be fine. Again, if you just have a motorhome and no tow vehicle, it's going to be harder for you if you need to make a run.
If you have to go, you will have to drive your whole rig to get there.
Still, most people can pack enough food to last for about 2 weeks. If not, and you want to be able to carry more, get that portable refrigerator.
And if you don't eat veggies, you've got no issues beyond how much dry good storage you have.
If you are moving every two weeks, you simply can plan to stop at a grocery along the way. Use Yelp or Google Maps to find local grocery stores. Easy!
The American West is not as wild as you might be picturing. You have an RV, so you are going to always be on ROADS. Paved or dirt. Mostly paved. There's pretty much SOME civilization around most western roads.
Marshall's brother-in-law has a gigantic supplementary gas tank installed into the back of his truck.
This guy can probably drive about 800 miles with all tanks full. Even so, he could still run out of gas if he doesn't watch where stations are.
There are some stretches of road where you won't come across a gas station for a long time. Funny enough, most of the longest stretches are in Florida!
Still, always keep an eye out if you are getting low or past half full. Use the Gas Buddy app for finding gas along your route and be vigilant about knowing how far you can go on a full tank.
You might want to keep some supplemental gas with you in the event you misjudge.
But that is up to you. Be vigilant. Plan your gas stops and you will never have an issue.
How Do I (Easily) Find Boondocking Spots For My RV?
In Florida, if you're going down a dirt road, you're typically in redneck-ville. It's kinda scary! You have 'good ol' boys' raising hell down those roads. That was my interpretation, anyway.
The roads are usually sandy, so you might (EEEEK!) get stuck!
So when I hit the road, the idea of trying this on my own was scary for sure as I feared mud pits, sand traps, and quicksand. If you know where to look and how to go about it, it's easy as pie.
Like you, I wasn't sure how I would find primitive camping spots. All I found was information such as 'call the ranger station in the area', or 'use the public lands app', or 'use a public lands map' or 'use the National Forest website'.
Ugh, so much work! And the National Forest (USFS) website is darn near IMPOSSIBLE to navigate. We know there are more ways, but we aren't including difficult ways to find dispersed camping here.
(Except for the Avenza maps way, lol.)
Today, there are better and easier resources for finding campsites.
Here we list them from easiest method to the hardest to find method
- Avenza maps + Google satellite (Best for finding spots that don't show upon the first two options)
- Word of mouth
This is a great resource and it’s the most reliable of the four. Many of the listed sites are reviewed by people who previously visited there.
If reviewed, you can typically find if there’s cell service, road conditions going in, what the views are if they supplied photos, and where to dump/get water, etc.
It all depends on whether it’s been reviewed or not and how thoroughly they reviewed the spot.
Brian and Leigh, the creators of this website, drove all around the country finding these spots as well as developed campgrounds. They took photos of the places they did go, and have a little information for each location.
Where you get the most benefit are the places listed that others have already reviewed.
If cell service and road conditions don’t matter to you, and you have a really small rig or trailer, you may do fine at just about any of the places listed.
Otherwise, if you’re new to this, stick to the spots that are reviewed that meet your expectations.
They also have a filter for RV dump stations. Just enter a map area, then choose the filter under 'type' for dump station.
Supporters (People who donate to Campendium) also have the option to use a cellular coverage map overlay when using the website.
To make it easier, we created a follow-along tutorial on how to find boondocking / free camping locations using Campendium.
How To Use Campendium To Find Boondocking Locations
This website seems to be more geared towards tent camping. Some of the spots are also reviewed by users, but the site is not as user friendly as Campendium.
Also, trying to figure out if the site can accommodate a rig, as well as what size it can accommodate can be a PITA as it's not always clear.
It’s just not as well set up but you may be able to find some spots using this site. Despite the name, they also list RV campsites on the website that cost money.
Yes, there are other websites and apps such as iOverlander, Allstays, Free Roam, and more, but these two are simply what we find to be the best and the easiest to use with the most primitive camping locations listed.
To add more sites/apps here may overwhelm the beginner. If you DON'T find a place on the popular apps, are you really confident that a spot you find on a smaller website/app will be a good one/easy to get to, etc?
If you are looking for more remote wild camping locations, maybe trying a newer site or a less used one will give you what you are looking for. Maybe.
Avenza Maps is an app that you can use to tell you where camping is allowed inside of National Forests. (But there are plenty of spots in National Forests on Campendium.)
It doesn’t show you where spots are, just that the road does, or does not, allow for camping. This does NOT mean that there are definitely spots on roads that allow dispersed camping.
I have driven down a few National Forest roads where there were no spots at all, despite dispersed camping being allowed.
Remember, the rules are that you may only camp where others have obviously camped before. Check Google Maps satellite view for evidence of previous camping activity.
Some spots you will be able to identify easily, while others may be hidden by trees or are otherwise less easy to view.
This is where Google Maps satellite view comes in handy. When you scroll in on a road, sometimes you will be able to tell that an open area is a spot.
It’s especially helpful if there’s a rig there. That’s a pretty surefire sign that you can camp in that spot.
This is a do-able method, but it can take you a lot of time to find a spot. One big point to think about here is that you aren’t going to know if you will have cell service or not.
Oh, you have a map of service coverage? You can't totally trust it. Many times I have gotten to an area that ‘should’ have Verizon coverage, and service was unusable to non-existent, even with a cell booster.
So, don’t rely on that completely if you MUST have cell service.
This system of finding boondocking spots is a little easier said than done so we made a video tutorial on how to use the maps. Follow along to learn how to find super secret spots!
How To Use Avenza Maps To Find Boondocking Spots
Word Of Mouth
Pretty self-explanatory. If you have a friend who has been there before, and they tell you about it, lucky you!
Some Facebook groups share wild camping locations. Consider joining some.
Make sure you get an exact location (get GPS coordinates, or have them 'drop' you a location pin via Google Maps), so you aren't relying on their verbal directions (second turn after the third stump).
BLM Offices/Ranger Stations
Another place to find new boondocking locations is at the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office or ranger station. They may even be able to provide you with maps to your new favorite spot.
What is good about using these (though I 99% never do) is that they will also have updated information about area conditions and closures.
In Google Maps, just enter 'BLM office' with the nearest city that you can find wherever you are looking to go.
To be clear, I don't use this method. Also, as you might already know, the government is not known for making stellar websites.
Leaving Pets Alone In Your Rig When Dry Camping
This one can be tricky. Generally, if you boondock, you are following fair weather. Some people have access to air conditioning in their rigs, but many do not.
Elevation chaser or not, there are days (and elevations) when high temps are unavoidable. Even in temperatures as low as the mid-70s, it can get very hot in an RV.
This is why it is very important that you have your eye on the weather. Awnings may be tempting to leave out, but as a rule, you should never leave your awning out if you leave your rig.
All too often, winds kick up unexpectedly and awnings get damaged. This should not be a relied on form of cooling.
On hotter days, if you don't have A/C, your only bet is to STAY HOME with your pets. I don't like to leave my rig if it's getting even in the mid 70's, as the temp in the rig, even with my Fantastic Fan open, can get into the high 80's.
This won't kill my dogs, but I just made that my hard rule so if the forecast is a little off, they are still safe.
If I know it's going to be a hot one but I have things to do away from my RV, I leave early in the morning, then come back before noon or so.
If it's going to be in the 90's, then for sure you can't be leaving them in your closed rig. It can easily reach the 100's inside, much like a car.
Even if you DO have A/C that will kick on while you're gone, it's a good idea to not leave. Why? The A/C could fail. Your pets would very likely die in this type of situation.
A Fantastic Fan that has a rain sensor is also dangerous. A few drops of rain and the fan will shut off and close.
Much of the time it takes the rain sensor a long time to dry, so the fan won't start back up right after the rain is over. Now your pets are in dire straights.
A Maxxair Fan is a better solution to this issue. It comes with a cover that won't allow rain in, and the fan doesn't turn off in rain.
You likely have a rig where you can safely leave the windows open while you are away, which helps.
You can also get a device to remotely check the temperature in your rig. This can keep your mind at ease.
I use the MarCELL temperature and humidity monitor. It uses its own cellular connection to be able to send alerts to your phone, email or text. I did receive a unit from the company and have been testing it out.
You can set temperature alerts for low and high temps. You can also set humidity alerts. Not really necessary in an RV, but it's available.
It's been quite a few months now and I VERY MUCH love it so far. It's total peace of mind.
If you don't have a temperature monitor, the main thing to get to know is how hot it will get inside your rig in full sun at certain temperatures.
I.e., you need to know what the temperature will be inside when it's 'X' degrees outside.
And you must know by EXPERIENCE. Only then can you safely leave your pets inside your rig and leave for the day if you know the temps won't rise above safe living conditions.
Water For Your RV Fresh Water Tank
This is one of the most challenging parts of primitive camping for most people. Obviously, the more people you have in your rig, the more water will be used.
The bigger your tank is, the more water you will have on hand when you reach your boondocking spot. Still, there are ways to conserve water and to get more without moving your entire rig.
Refilling Without Moving
Marshall and I both have collapsible water containers that we use. We can drive our tow vehicles to fill the containers, then return and dump the water into our rigs' freshwater tanks.
Each jug holds 5 gallons, has a handle at the top for carrying, and has a dispensing spout. (You will have to buy a separate spout that would fit into your water tank hole for filling.)
It's not the easiest thing to fill this way, but it's not really hard either and beats the heck out of having to move your entire rig to get more water.
Filling Fresh Water Tank With Collapsible Water Containers
Reliance 5 Gallon Collapsible Water Container
You can also get a pump that does the filling for you, or you can rig your existing water pump to pump the water from bags or jugs for you. However, this will likely take longer than filling it manually (see video above for manual filling how-to).
Using a pump might be a better option if you have a very large tank or are physically unable to fill without one.
RV fresh water tanks can be anywhere from 10 gallons to 200+ gallons. It would be impractical to have to store AND fill a ton of water bags.
You can always get a water bladder or bigger plastic jugs that hold more water and then use a pump to get refill your fresh water tank.
Using a Pump to Refill Fresh Water Tank
There are so many ways to conserve water. Let's have a look at some of them:
- Less showers- Some of this has to do with your level of personal hygiene. Mine (Kelly) changed dramatically once I hit the road AND became single. Because I stay in pretty temperate places, I don't sweat. Since I don't sweat, I can go days without a shower. Sound gross? It's not. We are programmed in this country to shower every day. Many full-time boondockers don't shower every day. In fact, it's not unheard of to hear many say they don't shower but every 4-7 days. This doesn't mean that 'under' parts can't be cleaned with soap and water. This is a common practice. No, you won't smell. No, you can't tell. I used to shower every day. Now I find it to be a great waste. This is your #1 way to save water.
- Low-Flow Shower Head- An Oxygenics shower head is another water saver. So is any shower head with a low flow. You MUST turn your water off in between rinses. This is why all RV shower heads come with a shut-off valve. It's a no-brainer for water saving.
- Flushing Toilets- RV toilets are made to save water. They are not like traditional toilets that have a lot of water in them. Instead, there is just a minor amount left after a flush. You do your business in it and flush. The RV toilet doesn't use much water. You CAN pre-fill your toilet if you are going #2 to keep it off the sides of the bowl, but for #1 this really is not necessary. Keep your flushes short and sweet. The other option is to get a composting toilet. These use no water at all.
- Dishes- Here's a very high water-consuming activity. The easy answer here is to just use as little water as possible. Also- you can use the water that comes out of your shower head while you are waiting for it to get warm. Some people save this water to use for either flushing their toilet or to soak their dishes in. Paper plates are also an option. Clean your dishes as MUCH as possible before washing in sink. This might even mean wiping them down with a paper towel OR letting your dog clean them before you wash. This is up to you. I'm a dog person. Doesn't bother me in the least.
- Drinking water - Another easy way to conserve the water in your fresh water tank is to not drink water from it. In other words, use 3 or 5 gallon containers for drinking water. Refill them at a filtered water dispensing machine that can be found at grocery stores and other locations. Or if you don't care about filtered water, just fill them up at the same place you fill your RV's water tank.
I'm not going to go into this subject here as it can get VERY in-depth and there is much information on the subject of generators, batteries and solar out there already.
The bare-bones important thing about it is to make sure you have enough amps to serve your needs, and to be able to fully re-charge your battery bank daily.
If you aren't sure, there's an easy way to figure out if you can boondock successfully.
Unplug from your shore power while you are in a campground and make sure you can re-charge your batteries through your solar or generator.
Do this for more than one day. If you are looking for more on solar, just Google 'RV solar power' or 'boondocking power'.
Soon Camp Addict will have an RV solar power page. We do have a guide to portable generators.
Boondocking sounds scary until you have tried it. That was the purpose of this post- to reassure you that dispersed camping is not as scary as you might think it is.
Like you, I was a little nervous about it when I started. I didn't have RV solar at first, just my generator. Even figuring out how to use the portable generator worried me a bit.
Until I finally jumped in and started wild camping - then it was the easiest thing in the world. Kind of like how it will eventually feel to you. It really is the RV lifestyle that fits me the best.
But with just a little education from fellow full-time RVers, I quickly found what it was I needed to make the most of every dry camping location I stayed at.
Eventually I got solar, water bags, learned about Campendium, and became a pro at water conservation, among other things.
This is the stuff I wish I had known when I started RV living. I hope it helps you, too. Happy boondocking and Camp On, Addicts!