How to: Transition from hook-ups to boondocking

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February 27, 2010

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By Bob Difley

I receive several questions from new RVers wanting to try boondocking and are looking for easy ways to get started. One asked for a map of boondocking locations, another for a tour guide that would take would-be boondockers on a boondocking camping trip.  To take the mystery out of boondocking for those who haven’t tried it, I would suggest another approach.

First, consider the term boondocking itself. The difference between boondocking and dry-camping, is where you do it. You are dry-camping in a Wal-mart or Crackle Barrel parking lot, or any other location or event where hook-ups are not available. You are boondocking when you are dry-camping out in the boonies, away from civilization, services, walk-to resaturants, and probably cell phone service.

So logically to practice boondocking, and to get your feet wet, try dry-camping first, in a location where if you have questions or problems, help is close by. As you gain confidence, you move further and further from services and help, into more remote, pristine, solitary, and wonderfully isolated private campsites you can give your own name to, with no neighbors except for the nighttime coyote serenade and a sky full of the undiminished Milky Way.

These are the steps, from just feeling comfortable without hook-ups to “coyote camping”:

  • Wal-mart, Crackle Barrel, K-Mart, parking lots. Primitive campgrounds with designated campsites, dump  and water fill stations, like the Forest Service, BLM, State Parks, and some National Parks and Monuments where there are no hookups.
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA), designated camping areas with hosts, dump station, water fill, and trash containers, but with no designated campsites, where you can stay up close to the entrance and help, or retreat further back where it is less crowded.
  • Dispersed camping areas that are designated camping areas but have no services or host and you have to leave the area for dumping, filling water tank, or getting help. Find locations at BLM and Forest Service offices.
  • Open land camping. The BLM and Forest Service permit camping (boondocking) any where unless expressly prohibited by signs or fenced off.  You can follow any dirt road or old logging road and camp anywhere where you can get off the road so as not to impede any traffic–even if there isn’t any. This is where you find those secret places you can call your own and is the most extreme–and arguably the most satisfying–form of boondocking.

My new boondocking eBook, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, will show you in more detail how to start and perfect the boondocking experience.

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22 comments

  1. GMAs

    Bob.. big jump from boondocking at wal-mart to BLM land. Actually why risk the boondocking hassle at wal-mart and make the jump right into BLM land camping.

    I can see where some might get butterflys in camping out where you don’t have much in the way of neighbors (except what roams around out their and calls it home) . But, for some its a nighmare dealing with a whole new adventuer of wilderness camping.. so to speak. Yet to others its no big deal and they enjoy it.

    The difference between the two people is the alertness to nature and common sense approch to camping where one is not going to have night visitors of the wild kingdom kind. (4 legged kinds.. or somthing that crawls or slithers along)

    The newbie has to remember that he is out among the wilds of nature and must respect that. Anything less and he is assured of having problems.

    First off I recommend that the vehicle and RV be made ready to go off road. Yep you can’t take the honda civic out back and expect it to be good at it. It was made for hard surface streets and not ruts, rocks and washes (be they small or large) .

    So also tire consideration is a big factor as well as clearance and traction devices.

    Once you have that going for you the next thing you need to check in my opinion is the camp spot itself… while camping in washes is nice place with easy access…and some really don’t know they are camping in a large wide wash… the high ground is a better place over all. (wind and blowing stuff be exceptions) Most of the time critters will hunt in the wash due to the prox of moisture and green plants. The higher ground is not a desireable to them as they only can use it for a vantage lookout point. However, snakes like warm places.. thus high ground normally is just ideal for them to sun with.. but at night they will again chose the lower wash for dinner time activity.

    Picking out a spot that has some clearance of brush between your camp and the natural flora and fauna is more ones ideal spot.

    As to moving around. Remember your in the natures back yard.. you are on the menu.. so to speak .. as is everything out their. Its natures way of survival of the fit’est That being said… most natural animals don’t like you.. as much as you don’t like them and normally will keep their distance if the aroma of food and garbage or… water …is not a incentive to investigate the strange new alien — you and your camping rig. Remember any moisture is also considered a calling card for natures wild kingdom in the dry country.

    What about protection from the big bad things out their… well most of the time we have found that it be the things that walk on TWO leg’s that you really have to worry about most. If you camping in a normal way… and not allowing drain water to just dump on the ground.. food, cooking and garbage not to be a calling card… then you really only have two other kinds of LITTLE creatures to contend with… things that crawl and things that slither. Again heads up can prevent any problems.. things that crawl can be from ants to pack rats to scorpions… tranc’s are not on the deadly list… Things that slither are snakes… which will love the shade the RV provides as well as the warm body it also gives off in the winter.
    So one must watch where they step and keep eyes and ears open for their anouncment

    Weather is another biggie… that most RV’s take for granted.. but not out wilderness camping or boondocking…if you plan on keeping yor camper or RV.

    One eye on the sky is what we suggest… and again placement of the RV for that overnight stay is one thing that weather has to be taken in consideration of.

    We have had many a time when we drove in on a nice dirt road only to find out that a storm miles away has turned it now into a rutted washboard endurance trail to come back out of that requires 4 wheel drive. So again plan’n and awareness is one thing to keep in mind.

    Is boondocking worth it… well as we say… yes but… If you think its only for saving money on overnight parking… think again. We have raised hell with such idiots who come out and dump their waist and disrepsect the land and others.. in not a frendly way. They think they are OK to just dump and run….as it saves THEM MONEY… atttt wrong attitude and you don’t want others to catch you .. as they can leave you kinda flat in the tire dept… some take it very serious if you diss the land just because YOU think its OK… We don’t want those kinds of people out their with us… better known as trailer trash.. or in this case RV trash… and recommend that they stay in pay camp sites instead of thinking that they are going to cut a fast one and save the bux…

    Another serious issue is parents who can’t control their kids out their… and the kid gets bit or worse.. and the parents think that all animals should become … history because their nummie got hurt. Personal responsibility is taugh … and so the parents who don’t know.. should be alert to the hazzards of being out in nature.. its not all frendly out their… remember you and yours are on the menu… its the wild kingdom thing again.

    Some parents have great savy of what is and isn’t.. and teach the kids wisely not to destroy for the fun of it… RESPECT of the environment is something that ONE needs to be aware of. Leaveing it the way you found it…(and that means no picking up artifacts or even rocks, dirt or other discovered items.. even if they are valuable) Ya leave it the way you discovered and found it for the next person to experiance … is the way of boondocking and wild camping.

    The benifits of boondocking and wildland camping or outback .. is exactly what it says.. you get to GET AWAY FROM CIVILIZATION… and experiance the wonders of nature and interfacing with it. RESPECT IT AND YOU WILL HAVE A GREAT TIME SEEING THINGS YOU DON’T FROM A CIVILIZED CAMP SPOT. Nature is their but a lot of times people don’t see. All they see is waist land and not the bueaty of what nature has to offer in the environment.

    So if you go boondocking or outback docking…to take in the natural environment… be ready for a great adventure… as its priceless.. and leave the electronic toys at home… you will find it will refresh you and give you a glimps of what yonder years of pioneers used to have to put up with and discovered as they traveled the land.

    Enjoy… just our two cents worth to add to Bobs MILLIONS… 😀

  2. JERRY THORNTON

    Remember the movie, The hills have eyes, i also take the pistol………..for those
    2 legged creatures while boondocking, makes you sleep better at night..

  3. Poshgrandma

    @GMAs
    Loved reading your heartfelt post. We are newbies and hope to be able to learn the best in boondocking style. Over-populated campgrounds scare us. We want to boondock safely (without having to carry a gun) and with total respect for the environment. Wish we could camp near (but not too close!) you someday!

  4. GRAMPS CARLSON

    TO POSHGRANDMA; WE HAVE BEEN BOONDOGGING FOR OVER 40 YEARS AND HAVE HAD ONLY VERY MINOR PROBLEMS BUT JERRY IS RIGHT, WE CARRY A GUN AND IT GIVES US A VERY SECURE FEELING IN MANY SPOTS ! DON’T MISS THE BEAUTY AND QUIET OF THE NOT SO USED AREAS ! GO FOR IT !!!

    GRAMPS

    PS; NEVER HAD TO PULL THE GUN !!!

  5. GMAs

    By the way generators can be heard for miles.. so when the sun goes down… the rule is… so also do the gen sets… but, you would be surprised at the great time you can have without all the boombox and TV blairing… its a real soothing to get back to nature and relax without all the daily influences and pressure of cell phones and constant comm’s … leave the TV behind.. if you want to watch the ball game .. radio… otherwise… don’t waist the elect and shut things down… different.. but that is what you came for.. hmmm…

    Posh…
    Carrying a gun is a option… no one says you have too.. but, when it comes to .. and if it does come to that… deciding which one I would take (cell phone or gun) wouldn’t be a option then… but if you don’t have it.. what can you do excpet sit their and watch. Think of it as a tool… like the spare tire.. you don’t need it till you need it kinda thing… but, now that you can legally carry in parks… I would suggest that all who know of the gun in the RV be trained on how and when one should use it… Lots of good classes out their to help train you the right way if you ever need it. (out of 30 some years of camping I have only had to use mine twice and then it wasn’t for me.. but others that didn’t have one. One such was just what I wrote to Bob about… where some young kids were throwing rocks at a Mt lyon that was on the other side of the stream… not thinking it would attack by crossing the water.. it did.. and the kids took off running… the one was about 5 ft from being cat food when we nailed the cat… and the parents thougth that I endangered the kid by shooting so close… what part of the fact that the kid was bout to become cat food.. had I not? Oh well won’t happen again… as the parents wanted to sue me… ya that works… the other time was a druggie who was attacking a young woman… needless to say he knew what we were pointing at him… and split… but, that was in a normal campground.. go figure…

    No you stand more of a chance of getting sprayed from a skunk or step on a scorpion… than attacked from a two legged animal… and the bueaty, peace and quite out weigh the other chances… besides a good CB radio is better than the cell phone that doesn’t when boondocking… as it then becomes the information security center… still today. .. i.e know your fellow campers kinda thing. By the way.. most of the campers have a rule.. no 5… no closer than 100 ft from the other guy… kinda thing.. so unless you want to be way out back all by yourself .. and walk around naked …like bob said he did… 😀 and not offend anyone… you will find that most will space off about 100 ft or so when they come into camp… your not that remote kinda thing. But, if your interested in doing that take time and see thing.. nothing stopping you from driving out without the RV and checking the land out first… stopping by and talking with ’em that are their already… and then form your own opinion… if its for you or not.

  6. GMAs

    I think Bob needs to hit the seminar trail again and help others discover the magic of boondocking… show and tell …. what do you all think? Oh ! Bob.. its for you bud 😀

  7. Francis

    Kudos to you, poshgrandma, for being willing and able to forego the firearm. Single woman? Incapacitated/disabled in some way? Fine, level the playing field in any way you can. For an able bodied male with common sense, a little knowledge of self-defense and pair of onions it shouldn’t be an issue. Gunpowder has become a replacement for testosterone in a large portion of this society it seems to me.

  8. w6pea

    Some great comments. We have been boondocking fora couple of years. We also have a couple of spots we don’t share the location of. They are not too far off the beaten path but far enough for us to enjoy. We like a lot of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA), A lot of great places to go.

    we have been to a couple of BLM campgrounds that were really trashed. Went to one where the people were riding ATV’s at all hours of the night. Won’t go to that one again.

  9. Thanks Bob, your posts are always CE TRES BIEN…so very good! Great comments too. Can’t wait until spring to try some dry and ‘coyote’ camping!

  10. Thomas Becher

    Before you pull the gun, think about a can of hornet and wasp spray. It reaches 20=25 ft, quite accurate and totally LEGAL. I don’t think I want that stuff in my face

  11. joe

    Francis,I agree with you. The only problem is that the 2 legged idiots have the pistola.
    I am fairly well educated in the art of self defense, but I don’t like the idea of staring down the barrel of a pistola in the hands of some wimps, that are drunk, high on something or just want to rob you.
    Never hursts to level the field, as you said.(pistola or shotgun)
    I have fun, mind my own business, the wife cooks,and we enjoy the scenery.
    You all take care out there and have fun.
    Bob, keep writing those articles.!!

  12. Thanks for all the great comments, suggestions, tips, and advice so freely offered. Much of it will become the fodder for a future boondocking post. Bob

  13. GMAs

    fodder ???

  14. GMAs

    Hey Bob… shouldn’t we actually re define the word boondocking…

    As I see it it refers to someone camping in walmarts parking lot… dry camping at national forest campsite that has pre engineered camp area… while getting away out in the BLM land is really OUTBACK Camping when done with others and/ or WILDERNESS camping. for those that go way back on their own?

    What ya think.. can we break it down into more logical areas so its less confusing to the newbie…? 😀

  15. Oh GMAs, always checking me out, holding my feet to the fire.
    Fodder – (from Answers.com and the freeonlinedictionary.com – “Raw material, as for artistic creation.”
    Agreed on the bondocking definition. Staying the night in a Walmart parking lot is Dry Camping, In my ebook I refer to camping away from civilization, which could be in a forest service campground, dispersed camping area, or in an LTVA as boondocking, and what you call Wilderness Camping as Coyote Camping. But Wilderness Camping works for me.

  16. Steve Pfluger

    Like to add my 2 cents… Tough decision but guns are back home, we have Bear Spray, flairs (hand held & pistol0 and air horns. These along with our hunting knives make us feel quite safe. Spent over 6 months in Yukon/Alaska guess you could say boondocking as we used natures bathroom as much as possible to extend our time out there. We do respect the land and nature, once out there your whole perspective on life changes.
    We bought a class B Roadtrek 3 years ago and can pack more sh.. in it than I thougt possible. It’s diesel and get 20 MPG, range 400 miles. Daily maintenance and cleanliness is a must.
    Seriously discussing doing it full time, lot’s to see out there and a few miles of road to travel.

  17. Paul Tanzar

    Perhaps it’s from watching too many movies/TV, but we are far more worried about danger from humans than nature. Although I’ve never owned a firearm, we will definitely acquire one for boondocking. A gun-person friend strongly advised a shotgun, preferably short-barreled. If you’re awakened in the night, groggy and adrenaline pumping, a shotgun will compensate for marksmanship. Also, high powered bullets can penetrate walls, tanks, storage batteries, etc. posing another danger.

  18. Dusty 4x4

    We have also been “outback camping” for about 40years. In general we have had very few problems with the folks we meet. The one exception was about 25 years ago in a pine forrest. It was the 4th of July and the “neighbors” decided to launch sky rockets up through the trees. It was STRONGLY suggested that the next rocket fired would be their last earthly action.

  19. Hi All,personally i carry a pistol,and a shotgun.3 times ive ALMOST had to use it,the last time was in a rest area in North Florida,when a guy started banging on the door,and wanted money. (i think he was drunk) i opened the door to show him the shotgun,and he hauled butt.ive had 2 class C and my class A now. i have been rv ing for almost 35 years. if you dont want to carry a gun,thats fine with me,but,what are you going to do when you need one,and dont have it? i will carry mine, SO PLEASE ,, dont preach to me. (21 year US Army vet,,,2 year Vietrnam vet)

  20. Glad to hear the surgery went well and that you had soemone for transportation. Friends are good! Congratulations on the new granddaughter. Beautiful! You’ve undertaken quite a big remodeling job but it looks like everything is going well and it sure is going to make a difference. Hope the rest doesn’t take too long and you can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor.