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The Hold-Your-Hand Guide To Boondocking Without Fear

PublishedJuly 15, 2017

Last Updated: November 7, 2019

Good lord, mainstream media has done a number on us, haven't they? The ding-dang 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, someone will attack us or steal or whatnot.

Especially when boondocking or living as a nomad. But you know what? It's just not true.

Kelly at LIttle Molas Lake Colorado

Get out there! Views like this aren't very far away when you're boondocking. This is Little Molas Lake in Colorado.

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 in an RV 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'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.

How Can It Be Safe 'OUT THERE', Camping All Alone?

Cows at Las Cieneguita Arizona

 Boondocking is so scary! Look! WILD KILLER COWS! (joking) These curious souls were photographed at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area which is BLM land in Arizona. 

So this information is going to be centered around boondocking in the American West.

Public lands like national forests and BLM land 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 remote 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.

Are Your Safe From 'Bad' People/Criminals?

Is it safe to be out on public land all alone? Here's a resounding 'YES' for you.

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.

Put that way, doesn't that sound silly?

Boondocking at Ketchum Idaho

Boondocking by a lake in Ketchum, Idaho.

It is silly. So, now you can push that fear out of your mind.

I was a tad scared the first night of my boondocking experience, but it was of the 'boogeyman', not of people. But 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 camping remotely are here for the same reason you will be. They are there for recreation.

Lady standing in desert

Maybe you're right. This lady MUST be up to no good 'out there', right? Ha ha ha ha. 

The only time I worry about locking things up is if I am boondocking 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 panels, etc. out unattended/unlocked if I am parked all alone.)

The number of times a stranger has come and knocked on my door in almost 5 years of RV boondocking?

Zero.   

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. (Define dispersed camping.)

Boondocking in Silverton Colorado

Boondocking spot in Anvil 'campground' outside of Silverton, Colorado. It's not really a campground. No hookups, no reservations, no official spaces.

There are 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?

Sheep at boondocking spot

Yeah, better watch out for those deadly roaming sheep out west. LOL!

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.

Just be aware of your surroundings and don't do something stupid like put your garbage outside to attract bears, raccoons 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.

Boondocking 101 Presentation

Camp Addict Co-Founders Kelly and Marshall were in Quartzsite, Arizona in January 2018

We did a presentation on what is 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.

The complete presentation is available in the below video. Enjoy!

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. 

Brown bear in Grand Tetons

This gorgeous bear was on the side of the road in Grand Teton National Park. Nowhere near my boondocking campsite.

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. Why? Because there is food around.

And because some uninformed or idiot 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 (keep mice out of your RV), 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 camper doors!

Surprised woman

Girl Sees Squirrel.

Not once has a single person posed a threat to me or anyone I know on public land.

(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, no less. 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 when boondocking camping. 

Talking to Sheriff

Cops called while we were staying  IN A CAMPGROUND. Because of a day drunk idiot.

Should You Have A Gun?

I'm not getting into the politics of this one in this post. Here's my suggestion: If it makes you feel better, then sure. Get a gun. 

Here's more information about how I feel about camping with guns.

You will not need a gun 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 the 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 boondocks 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. The same goes for living in society.  But if it makes you feel better, go get one.

Utah Lake boondocking

On the west side of Utah Lake, Utah.

I had a pistol because I was unsure of what it would be like. I also 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.

Kelly target shooting

One of the few times I practiced shooting with friends.

I couldn't remember if I left it loaded or not. Couldn't remember how to use it. Wasn't sure I COULD use it right had the need arisen. (It hasn't and wouldn't.)

I finally realized it was safer NOT to have one in my RV. Decided to sell it. It's gone. I did NOT need it.

This information is safe to put 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.)

Moab Utah Boondocking

Off of Klondike Bluff Road in Moab, Utah.

Can You Leave Your RV Unattended?

Absolutely! This was something I struggled 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 it 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.

MegaHitch Lock Coupler Vault Pro coupled


You could also get a GPS tracker and stash it inside your RV if that makes you feel better.

Will Your 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 VERY rare 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 below... If my truck was a 4wd (my new one is), I probably would have been able to pull out of this.

Kellys rig stuck

Uhhhh. Yeah, my rig's axle is on the hard dirt. Wheel in the rut.

If you have a motorhome and you don't have a toad, well, I don't know how you would manage to scout. 

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!

When I think back at that, now I laugh. 

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 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.

Grand Tetons boondocking

Boondocking outside of Grand Teton National Park. 

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, lol.

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.

Trixie and Gizmo Moab Utah

Another view of Klondike Bluff Road in Moab, Utah.

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 roads. Mostly paved.

There's pretty much SOME civilization around most western roads.

Will You Run Out Of Gas?

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.

Abandoned gas station

There might SEEM to be gas stations on old tired backroads, but I'm sure you can tell, this one is NOT open for business!

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 You (Easily) Find Boondocking Spots For Your 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, lol. 

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.)

Wedge Overlook Boondocking View from Kelly Rig

How about these views out your back window??  This is the 'Little Grand Canyon' of Utah. The Wedge Overlook.

Today, there are better and easier resources for finding beginner campsites.

Here we list them from easiest method to the hardest to find method

  1. Campendium.com
  2. Freecampsites.net
  3. Avenza maps + Google satellite (Best for finding spots that don't show upon the first two options)
  4. Word of mouth

Use Campendium.com

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.

Kelly at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park. I was dry camping just north of Yellowstone, giving me easy, close access to the park.

Brian and Leigh, the creators of Campendium, 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

Try FreeCampsites.net

This website seems to be more geared towards tent camping or car camping.

Some of the spots are also reviewed by users, but the site is not as user-friendly as Campendium.

Free Campsites website screenshot

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.

Still, 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.

Using Avenza Maps + Google Maps Satellite View

Avenza Maps is an app that you can use to tell you where camping is allowed inside of National Forests. (Can you camp anywhere in a National Forest?)

(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 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  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.

Sunset at Wedge Overlook Utah

Quite the sunset at the Little Grand Canyon of Utah. (The Wedge Overlook)

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 trust it 100%. 

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

Finding Campsites Using 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.

Hand-Selected Beginner Boondocking Campsites

I rounded up some of the best boondocking spots I think are easiest for beginners. There's an Arizona version and a Western USA version. Spots were chosen for ease of entry/turning around, things to do nearby, proximity to amenities, and more.

Here they are:

How To Keep Your Pets Safe From Heat When Dry Camping

We all love our pets. We want them to be happy when camping with us.

We must keep them safe. The biggest danger to our pets when RVing is the heat.

This one can be tricky. Generally, if you boondock full-time, you are following fair weather. Some people have a generator, giving access to air conditioning in their rigs, but many do not.

Lake Creek Road boondocking

Boondocking on Lake Creek Road in Ketchum, Idaho.

I have a travel trailer and only a 2000 watt Yamaha generator. Therefore, I can't use my A/C, so I chase the weather.

(Update as of 2017- I have two generators now. Now I can use A/C. But I don't use it when I am away 'cause then I would have to leave them out. Too tempting for someone with sticky fingers.)

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 you must 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 70s, 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 you know it's going to be a hot one but have things to do away from your RV, leave early in the morning, then come back before noon or so.

If it's going to be in the 90s, 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. (An RV is a vehicle, you know...)

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.

Dog drinking water from bottle

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.

MarCELL and Trixie

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 has 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.

Gizmo in trailer doorway

Other Dangers To Pets

Getting Lost

So many boondockers love to have their dogs off-leash. This is fine if your dog ALWAYS comes back when recalled. (Let's be honest... pretty much 90% of people do not have a dog that will come back 100% of the time on recall.)

If this is you, best get a GPS tracking device for your pet(s). 

I have used the Whistle and the Fi Trackers. Both have served me very well.

Dog Fights

This one is maddening. WHY do so many dog owners of aggressive dogs let them off-leash? Your only defense here is to keep your own dog on a leash. Those dogs might still attack. Keep bear spray on you or hike with a stick. Nothing much you can do otherwise.

Conclusion

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 every used.

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!

Kelly Headshot

He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona. 

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  • This is a great site and very useful information, thank you for putting it together. We purchased a small camper to tow behind our Jeep 6 years ago and have been boondock winter camping for snowski season since, we’ve only used the camper 2 or 3 times in the summer. There is a process to cold temp camping to ensure pipes and tanks don’t freeze. This is an opportunity to expand the seasons out in the wilderness with a few adjustments.

    • Hi Frank,

      Thanks for the kudos! We’re doing our best to make sure you get the most correct information here on Camp Addict! (We see SO many sites and pages who are clearly using writers who know nothing about RVing. It’s maddening to see so much misinformation out there)
      Oh well… sounds like you have been having a great time skiing using your camper! How awesome! I need a smaller trailer or a van at this point. Not full-time RVing anymore. So, this is overkill.
      Enjoy your future camping and maybe we’ll see you out there!

  • This was a great article. I live in Montana and boondock fairly often. I think you hit the nail on the head on every point you touched. I am shocked that you didn’t cover the one most important thing though…. Oh yeah, hasn’t happened since about the 1880’s, so we can skip it. Happy to hear that most all of us “Westerners” are actually sane and not dangerous. I live is a pretty safe town, and I feel a lot easier when I am in the boonies.

    Guns are a personal choice, and I can’t agree more with your assessments. If you choose to be armed, it is essential that you not just learn to hit a target, but become familiar with all safety rules starting with treating every firearm like it is loaded, always point the barrel in a safe direction and for sure the don’t mix drinking and shooting part).

    In addition, it is vital to learn and practice the entire manual of arms for that particular firearm. Otherwise, should you actually need it for some event, you’ll likely shoot yourself in the foot. I can assure you that this takes more practice than 999 people out of 1000 are going to commit to, and it is not once and done.

    Boondocking is often a lot quieter than any kind of campground, add a stream with some trout in it or a view all your own, and it’s a wonder that everyone isn’t doing it. I’m actually glad about that.

    Happy trails to all.

    Greg

    • Hi Greg,

      I couldn’t agree more with EVERYTHING you said. As they say, great minds…

      Your points on the gun part are so on point. MOST people out there, especially reactive and knee-jerk fearful ones, aren’t going to go through the lengths you mention here to be proficient with that firearm. Which is scary. I was one of those people. I got the gun, went to a gun range to practice twice, then only practiced two other times out with friends after that, in a 4-year span.

      I was NOT proficient with it and was well aware of it and finally sold my gun as I was uncomfortable having it. I do wish guns weren’t even a thing anymore. But they are and we have to deal with the sad consequences of them daily.

      And I totally agree with the boondocking thing- as in ‘why isn’t everyone doing it’? But I am SO HAPPY that not everyone is doing it! If they all tried, then public lands would be a thing of the past. No way could they sustain so many people.

      So thank you for taking the time out of your day to post this well-thought out comment- we really do appreciate it!

      And I am curious- what’s the thing that hasn’t happened since the 1880’s??? Am I going to feel dumb when you answer (cause I should have known what you were talking about, lol!?)

      • Uh, I was being a little cheeky, and I guess I shouldn’t have even put it in. In these days especially we need to respect all peoples and remember our history. When we take a longer view, many of us are intruders in this great land. Not everyone celebrates November 26.

        And no, it’s not dumb, I think maybe I was the dumb one for putting that silly sentence in.

        Greg

  • Incredibly useful, level-headed advice. Can you also post how you find a location on your own without consulting a website? What criteria do you look for – quiet, level, near water, has sunshine for solar panels…

    • Hi Tom,

      Great question, and thank you for the kudos!. So we pretty much never try to find a campsite outside of Campendium or friends’ advice. Mostly because we need to know it has decent internet and we don’t want to waste a lot of time on the hunt.

      However, we did do a tutorial on Youtube about how to use motor vehicle use maps using Avenza maps. You can find it HERE.

      With the MVUM maps/Avenza, there are a lot of unknowns. It’s simply easier to go to Campendium and see what has been listed. That said, not EVERY place that exists is on that website/app. So if you want to hunt places down, Avenza will be your best friend.

      Curious- why do you not want to use a website?

      And personally we look for fairly level, good cellular connection, solar, and we love peace and quiet.

      • Thanks! So, on long journeys we sometimes find ourselves short of our destination and decide to boondock at the last minute. There isn’t time to search a website, we just need a place to rest. The tradeoffs are somewhere quiet enough to rest, but not so private that neighbors will notice (e.g. if we run out generator) and come ask us to leave. Glad to have your reassurance that crime is negligible where you camp, but in our case there’s maybe a slight worry about crime also. So I just wanted your take on what things you look for in that situation. We usually look for a parking lot of a business large enough to have a parking lot, but not large enough to have in-house security guards.

        • Oh, I see now. Sounds like you are camping more in the east or midwest? You’re on par with the way to go- there’s always Walmarts, Cracker Barrel’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot, or other big box store parking lots, rest stops, libraries, and maybe some churches. If there aren’t ‘no overnight’ signs, at these places, you may be fine.

          You can also try Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts.

          And I’m guessing you already know this, but some cities have city-wide ordinances that do NOT allow any overnight parking (sleeping in vehicle) of any kind. Flagstaff is a good example of this.

          The other thing I have done here and there in a city is to parallel park on a neighborhood street. There are opportunities around. You simply have to look around. But yeah, parking in a biz parking lot is a very viable option. And yes, the crime factor is much higher that way.

          Still, long as you stay in your RV quietly and without showing lights to the outside if possible, you’ll probably do fine wherever you pick if you use common sense. Arrive late and leave early.

          If looking in town, I look for neighborhoods that aren’t slum but aren’t high-end, either. Finding a middle class to lower middle class is good- there your chances of being bothered by a nervous homeowner are probably more slim than in a fancier neighborhood.

          You may need to turn off your fridge for the night if you’re parallel parking- usually you won’t be level.

          City parks can be good as well. Either way, I look for a quiet unobtrusive spot. I’ve even found a spot right on an interstate frontage road (west of Flagstaff)… sort of a turn-around. Parked there for the night when the truck stop was WAY too noisy for me, which is rare.

          I’ve gone on and on. Hope this helps a tad, I think you are already on par with figuring out good places to overnight.

          Enjoy your trips!

  • Two years later, we finally have legit boondocked – yee-haw! I hate that we have to go back to an RV park in a couple of days 🙁

    So, our limiting factor in boondocking is our fresh water. Came back to this post to find the water containers you mentioned.

    We’re in a big rig, so don’t have a gravity feed like travel trailers do. Wondering if there’s some sort of fitting or connector we can buy to facilitate pumping the water into the fresh water tank. (Not the pump itself – we’ve got that covered.)

    Any suggestions?

    • Hey Teresa,

      Good to hear from you again! Better late than never to the boondocking game!

      Yes, water is often the limiting factor when staying off-grid. How does your trailer’s fresh water tank get filled? Via the city water connection and then you have to flip some valve to divert water to the fresh tank instead of the trailer’s plumbing system?

      If this is the case, why not just run a hose from your pump to the city water inlet and fill this way? Something tells me it’s not this simple or else this is what you’d be doing. What am I missing?

      Also, you might want to get a water bladder (folds down into a compact size when not using) instead of using 5-gallon containers. Water bladders come in sizes ranging from 20 to 100+ gallons (I think that’s the approximate range, but the point is they come in a variety of sizes).

      • Thanks for the snappy response, Marshall 🙂

        We are in a big rig, not a TT. I remembered that you and Kelly used the collapsible water containers and came back to this post to find a link to the ones you like.

        The question was how to efficiently get the water into the tank from the water containers. Do they have, or can you get, some kind of fitting or adapter for those containers so we could use a hose?

        This morning when we added water, hubby just used the onboard pump. Our rig is older, and he’s concerned that running the pump long enough to add several gallons of water might put more stress on it than it should have.

        Re: water bladders – that could be a better solution. But IDK about the mechanics of it. How would that work with a tiny toad vs. maybe being able to throw it into the bed of a truck or something? Feel free to point me to a post if you guys have already written about water bladders.

        • You are welcome, Teresa!

          In your initial question you mentioned that you had the pump covered, so I assumed you were using some external 12-volt pump, not your rig’s pump. I agree that using your rig’s pump is less than ideal because RV water pumps are only intended for intermittent operation, not long blasts of use.

          Assuming you have an external 12-volt water pump that doesn’t mind longer periods of use, then can’t you just run a hose from the intake side to into the water container?

          Regarding a water bladder, um, well, you might have a point. Not sure what type of toad you have. But it sounds like it might not have room for a bladder? This does complicate matters. I guess it all depends on how willing you are to put a water bladder inside your vehicle. I have one acquaintance who puts a large water bladder in the back seat of their truck. Yep, they have a truck, and don’t put the bladder in their bed (I think it’s otherwise full of crap).

          We don’t have any posts on water bladder use since neither of us use them. I’ve participated in their use (aka, I have friends with them) but since we don’t have them personally, we’ve never written about them.

          Heck, I’ve downsized to using two 6-gallon hard sided water containers as my only way to get additional water. Tired of hauling around all the collapsible jugs (I ‘gifted’ mine to Kelly since she still has a truck) and have found that with a full fresh tank, I don’t need that much supplemental water before it’s time to move on.

          I’m getting better with water use. OK, maybe that’s not true. But I switched to carrying drinking water in 3-gallon containers instead of filtering water from my fresh tank. So my fresh tank lasts longer.

          OK, I feel like I’ve said a lot and given very little useful information. So I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

  • Any advice on watches?

    I am researching and planning items to purchase for Prius Hybrid boon-docking.

    I just got a Fitbit for my health and then thought to ask about what I need besides GPS etc.

    Also Prius Hybrid (w/ 2nd batt etc) or non Hybrid with Solar panel set up?
    Or hybrid with solar?

    Can you verify: The engine “Ready” feature on the Prius will regulate the climate control while you sleep by turning engine on and off to charge the battery, if true, makes it a no brainier.

    Thanks for all the great info on your site.

    • Hi Ryan,

      While we appreciate your confidence in our knowledge (thank you!), we have zero experience with Prius as something to boondock in. We only ‘specialize’ and have vast experience in RV-style boondocking.

      We recommend contacting the manufacturer or getting into some Prius forums to find the answers you need about the car.

      Good luck with it all and if you have further questions we might be qualified to answer, do ask!

      • Copy That,

        Can I ask you any advice on how to receive mail and packages? I read that once you figure out your Boondocking coverage area to set up like base camp – a post office box nearby that will except forwarding mail from services and will hold onto your packages from Amazon as well as regular mail.

        Thanks again, and stay healthy!

        • This depends partly on how you choose to live. We travel full-time and don’t stay in one area for long.

          So we have mail-forwarding (and domicile) service with Escapees club. You need SOME address for things such as taxes, health insurance and such.

          But we don’t have much mail sent to our mail forwarding/domicile addresses.

          Instead, we have things sent via general delivery to the nearest post office that accepts it. (You should check with each individual PO to make sure they do accept. Use the PO app- their locations section tells you if ‘X’ PO accepts GD or not)

          Otherwise, you can have things from Amazon sent to the nearest Amazon locker or delivery site. Trying to have things sent from Amazon to GD is difficult as you don’t know how it will be delivered. If they send it via FedEx, and you have it sent to a PO that doesn’t accept deliveries from FedEx, it will be returned.

          Mail delivery is one of the biggest challenges to full-time travelers. If you stay in one area for 6 months, then sure, get a PO Box for that time. That would be the easiest way to get your snail mail.

  • This was a great article and really put things into perspective regarding boondocking for me and my husband. We are planning an epic American road trip this year and plan to boondock much as possible to cut costs and find more nature. It will be our first experience camping wild so we definitely had a few concerns. You literally addressed them all! Feeling much more relaxed now. ????

    • Hi Lisa,

      Aww, that’s great to hear! I know it seems intimidating at first, but it’s SO much a ‘no big deal’ once you have done it once or twice. Then you’re like ‘what was I worried about again?’.

      As long as you go into it with a little knowledge and common sense, you will be fine!

      Enjoy your trip!

  • We have the Honda Twins (as I like to call them.) Two Eu2000i’s, one is the normal the other is the Companion. If we do not need the A/C I run one or the other to keep the hours about the same on both generators. If we need the A/C they both are running. They run most of the hot part of the day on one tank of gas. I also have one 70 watt solar panel that will keep the batteries charged if we do not use the furnace. The solar panel is home built with parts bought on ebay. I built it when solar panels were more expensive. It is also fun to say, “I made it.” The prices have come down so much now that it does not make sense to spend the time to home build them any more. I keep thinking that I need another 100 or 200 watts, a new charge controller and a inverter. This would be a hobby thing, because I would still need to run the generators on hot days for the A/C. Have a nice camping days and tread lightly as the old 4wheelers used to say.

    • Thanks for the comment, Wayne.

      You made your own solar panel? Wow! That’s dedication! 😉 Prices are definitely low enough these days where that isn’t really necessary.

      Kelly has two 2000 watt gennies that can run in parallel for the sole purpose of running her AC on those hot days. We also installed a soft start unit so that there is less startup load on the generators when the AC kicks in.

      This setup sure comes in handy on those days when it’s just miserable hot and you are boondocking!

      • If you would like to see where I learned to build the solar panel, I can find they youtube link that I followed as a pattern, not letter for letter. There are three parts to the videos. It was very time consuming, but fun to do.

        • You sure can find almost everything on YouTube, can’t you. Almost scary…

          I think I’ll pass on making my own solar panels. I seem to have plenty of things on my plate to keep me out of trouble these days.

    • Hi Sarah,

      You’re very welcome! Have a blast in your adventures! Let us know if we can help you with any product related questions. Or, boondocking questions.

  • Thank you for sharing your advice on boondocking. I feel much better now about graduating from campsites to BLM land soon. Safe travels!

    • Thank you Renee! Glad we could help alleviate your fears! Public land is the best! Please do remember to leave your site better than you found it. With more and more people taking advantage of camping free on public land, there is more and more trash showing up.

      At my current spot near Salt Lake City, I have filled at LEAST 15 grocery store sized bags with trash. I could easily fill the back of my truck up with bags, but finding a place to put it all is my main concern at this point. I have to stop somewhere.

      Enjoy public lands but please help us spread the word to respect the land and to help everyone pick up after those who litter. Thank you, Renee!

  • Fantastic information. Thanks for compiling such a great article and your experience andhumor helps to put my boondocking fears to rest.

    • Hi Deborah,

      Yeah, I totally understand the apprehension about boondocking for the first time. I was nervous about it too! It’s always funny how scared you are of something before you’ve tried it. Then after you’re on the other side of experience you’re like ‘OMG, what was there even to be afraid of?’ LOL! Right?

      I am on that other side. Nothing to fear whatsoever. Just educate yourself with the basics, use your street smarts as you would anywhere else and you will be fine. So yay, get out there and enjoy yourself!!

  • Hey! Thanks so much for your article! We’re coming to Utah to do some hiking in the National Parks and are going boondocking first time, not in a big camper, but we’re going to sleep in our Ford Explorer and have a coolbox and campgrill with us.
    We were absolutely not worried about boondocking, until yesterday when we thought about the bears…

    I still have some questions:
    – My common sense would tell me to put all food in the cooler over night so there’s not too much smell going out of the car. HOWEVER:
    If we’re going to sleep in the car we have to have a window a little open to avoid drastic humidity in the van and get some fresh air. Isn’t it counter productive to keep the food in a van which has an open window (aka bear invitation)?!?
    – We’ve read, that it’s better to take all the food and smelly stuff and put it in a net or bag. Then hang it around a branch about 100m away from your vehicle best in 5m height. Isn’t this causing extra attention to bears instead of having it locked in the car?!?

    I know we’re probably overreacting. But for one it’s a rental car and tbh as beautiful as bears are, I’m not keen on being in the van, when a bear tries to get in.

    How are your thoughts on these points?

    Best from Austria (no bear encounters here yet 😉 )
    Christina & Ronnie

    • Hi Christina!

      Sounds like you will have some fun here in the National Parks! Utah- funny, I never even thought of bears there, but looking it up, there are about 3500 bears (Black bears, the less feared/less aggressive bears). There are no Grizzly bears in Utah.

      As far as what to do with your food, we would recommend doing what the national park recommends doing while you are at any given national park. At many NP’s in Utah, there are no trees. We would FIGURE that if you have your food in your vehicle sealed inside containers and inside of a cooler, you are probably just fine. Still, we would say to defer to whatever the NP says to do. We personally don’t have experience camping this way and have no concerns about bears.

      We’re sorry we can’t be a little more specific for you. It’s just not something we have had to deal with.

      Utah is gorgeous- have a great time and maybe we will see you there!

      • Hi Kelly! Are you also coming to Utah?
        Yeah, we also didn’t have bears on our mind at first, I just remembered from our last trip that there were bear signs in Bryce Canyon. We were just wondering, because we thought we’d might stay at Dixie National Forest after doing a hike in Zion and before driving to Bryce Canyon, but as it’s a State Forest I’m not sure if there are any signs / or NP offices we could ask :-/
        Maybe we’ll just ask in the NP office in Zion and ask them about their opinion.

        And of course – no real trees in Arches or Canyonlands, so no branches to hang food onto XD

        Thanks anyway!
        Best Wishes,

        Christina and Ronnie

        • Hi Christina,

          Yep, we will both be in Utah very soon! Heading to Moab in early April.

          Oooh, ZION. I love that place! It was my first Utah NP.

          But yeah, go with whatever the NP recommends about food for your best bet! Have a ball out there!

          • Oh how cool! We’ll be in Utah from April 2nd till April 14th. We’re heading to Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase & Canyonlands 🙂
            Would be too fun if we’d meet, I could tell you bout our bear experiences then XD

          • It sure would! Unfortunately, we will be in Moab on those dates. But keep in touch! We followed you on Instagram. : )

    • One of the biggest problems with food storage containers (ice chests etc) is people use them to sit things on. A can of pop, coffee, holding food items before, during and after eating during the day. Called spills – accidental contamination. This includes moving it before, during and after eating and not washing your hands after you have handled food, before handling the container. This gets very strong food smells onto the container on the OUTSIDE of it. This is the main source of smell coming from such containers.
      Generally containers have very little movement of air in them to escape to have a curious bear to look for it because of it containing odors. It is these others that peak their attention and draw their attention to it.
      Relatively speaking keeping it in the vehicle is relatively safe if you use it as intended and not multi function device.
      Besides if your in the vehicle with the chests your noise making and movement usually drives bears away.
      I have had a few encounters with black bears while in a vehicle and sleeping outside. Yes they were going through my camp but with a little bravo, have chased them away without harming them. They smelled the camp – not the food – and they are curious animals.

      • Hi Michale,

        Thank you for the insight about food smells on the outside of a cooler. We don’t ‘camp’ like that ever, we live in our RVs so this isn’t the kind of thing that is on our radar. Great thought to ponder for our readers like Christina, so thank you!

  • Kelly, this article is so helpful! Retired and just getting back into camping (in a minivan) and had an awful trip a couple months ago having to deal with what I call “RV Cities” …. crowded, noisy, you name it. The only plus were the showers. I’ve been a little nervous about boondocking on an upcoming trip, but after reading this..no longer. Also loved the video tutorials on Campendium and Free Campsites.
    Here’s to hitting the road again! 🙂

    • WOOT! Yea, nothing to worry about while boondocking except where should you go hiking next? LOL! Thanks for the kudos… glad it helped. Congratulations on retirement and your newfound freedom! Maybe we will see you out there one day! -Kelly

  • My husband and I just sold our restaurant of 22 years, and, as much as we enjoy our favorite RV parks, we’re kinda done with people. So, thank you so much for this info. I’ve been looking for boondocking sites, and have got nothing but spam. This was super helpful, and I laughed my ass off. Only thing I ask, I would never leave my kids (2 big dogs) alone/behind, but I would like to know where we can and can’t go with them.

    • Hi Aharon,

      Congratulations on the sale of your business! Sounds like you are free to roam as you wish now. As far as your pups and boondocking go, we have not run across any BLM land or National Forest or ANY public land where dogs were not allowed.

      As far as hiking, there are definitely some hiking areas where dogs are not permitted. You will have to check with the individual hikes to find out if your babies are allowed on the trail or not. Various hiking apps usually have information on each hiking area as to whether dogs are allowed on the trail or not. Also, the trailhead may have signs indicating whether or not dogs are permitted.

      As far as boondocking, just please keep your dogs under your total control! (You already read the article, so you already knew I would say that, LOL!) Nothing worse than fearing for your or your dog’s safety and/or having urine all over your outside stuff when trying to enjoy your time camping! Grrrrr.

      Thanks for commenting, have fun out there, and Camp On, Aharon!

  • I have found Camp Addict useful, most recently looking for a solar panel for my Alaskan Camper. I read the reviews, and picked the Renogy legacy 100 watt panel, and bought it on Amazon by clicking on the Camp Addict link. If you are going to buy anything reviewed here, you might as well buy by clicking on the link to show your appreciation!

  • Excellent article. We are new to the rv life but are learning as we visit state parks. This article gets us a little closer to cutting the cord on hookups. Thank YoU!!!

    • You are most welcome! It’s great- the freedom of not paying for power, neighbors and noise, for SURE! Thanks for commenting and Camp On, Judy!

    • Hi Ruby- Thank you very much. It will come… as with anything, once you do it once, it gets easier from there on out. Also, it’s the GREATEST way to camp and live, if you ask me. : ) Camp on, Ruby!

  • There is also harvest host which you can boondock at. These places are great for a quick stop over. Everything from winery’s to museums. Granted these are usually only for one night. There is also boondockers welcome here again only a night or two but so much better than wal-mart. Might help some people “try” the boondocker life style.
    Great article

    • Yes, both Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome are wonderful and have their place. We have friends (a lot of them, lol!) who use Harvest Hosts. Both are good ideas for the more wary types looking to stick their toes in just a little! (Also for those of us who love wine!)

    • Yes Kyle!! That gas sign was great. The lowest I can recall paying in high school was around .79 or .82!! Those were the days. It would cost me around $10 to fill my Mazda 323’s tank, and I only filled it about once a month or so. Ahhhhhhhh…

  • Great post with a lot of good tips for people who are thinking about boondocking. Thanks for taking the time to write it. You do a good job of convincing people they should abandon campgrounds and enjoy the quieter nature areas. Maybe too good. I kind of like that a lot of people are afraid to boondock. 🙂

    • Indeed, Ari- I felt a pang of conflict of interest in writing up this post! The amount of shares it has already received on Facebook tells me that it really IS something more people want to do but are held back from what are likely misguided fears. So I am happy to help others realize their dream if boondocking is a part of it. ????If all of a sudden all the boondocking areas in the country get crowded, I’ll take credit. ???? J/K. Thanks for the great comment, and Camp On, Ari!

  • Another thing to think about is medical emergencies and wilderness mishaps which ARE valid concerns, especially when traveling alone. Ive been looking at getting a Garmin inReach SE+ to ensure I can call for help if I need it.

    • Yes, that is something to consider. We have first aid stuff on board both of our rigs and I have some very strong pain medicine. Always a good idea to have things on hand! We never stay where we don’t have service, so the Garmin inReach is definitely something to consider if you ARE solo and going to an area without service. Thank you for the comment, Bob and Camp On, Addict!

  • Good overview! Regarding Avenza maps showing where dispersed camping is allowed – are these just MVUM (motor vehicle use maps) from the forest service or from a different source? Just trying to find out the advantage (if any) before I buy the app. Thanks in advance.

    • Hey Dave,

      Glad you enjoyed the post! The MVUM’s are from the Forest Service and are free to download via the Avenza Maps app. The good news is the Avenza Maps app itself is also free, so you aren’t out any money at all. Avenza makes it’s money from selling maps via their map store, but they do offer free maps, including the MVUMs.

      You can also get free hard copies of the MVUMs, but this requires you to be in the National Forest you want a map for. Specifically you have to be at a ranger station inside that forest. If you want to explore a National Forest in a totally different location, using the free Avenza Maps app is a very easy way to do it.

    • Well, I am probably the WORST person to ask because I hardly ever cook! I do make eggs in the morning so I use the burner (propane) which doesn’t use any battery. I do sandwiches for lunch. Dinner will only involve the burner too, if at all. What do I eat? Basically, ingredients. LOL!! I don’t use the microwave hardly ever, but when I do (once every 2 months or so) I have to use my generator. But for me, cooking doesn’t use much energy at all, and even if you do use your burners, just make sure you turn them off as soon as they aren’t needed anymore. I chose to replace my propane tanks with two 30 lb tanks so that if I am using my furnace at nights (which I barely ever do- I stay under my down comforter) I don’t ever worry about running out of propane in my two weeks stay. I also now have a spare tank, which I use mostly to fill my small green containers for my buddy heater. Still, I have extra propane I could use if needed. ????

  • Great post! I’m not scared – sign me up!

    I did notice you didn’t mention snakes or scorpions in your list of wildlife you’ve spotted. That made me happy. And then I thought “What if she just forgot?” ????

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