The Zen of Boondocking Part X – Campsite responsibilities

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April 9, 2011

By Bob Difley

boondocking-in-Tahoe-National-ForestIn last week’s blog, Part IX How to find boondocking campsites, I offered some tips on how to find campsites on public lands. Once you find a suitable campsite, it becomes your responsibility to follow certain unwritten rules of boondocking. I’m sure you’ve seen some trashy campers in your travels, practicing behavior that gives a bad name to RVers, boondocking, and the RV lifestyle.

Most rules are just plain commonsense, which you wonder sometimes whether that gene was left out of some people’s gene pool. But anyway, here they are, and feel free to add your own in the comments section.

  • Pick a campsite away from others. Many boondockers value their solitude and privacy, and prefer not to have neighbors close enough to hear their generator, TV, and conversations, or to be lit up by unwanted porch lights. That is why they are not in campgrounds.
  • Upon arrival, walk the site with a bag and pick up any man-made trash left behind by previous campers. It won’t take you long, will infuriate you, but will bring the point home–anything that will not burn to ashes, carry it out.  And it will make your campsite that much more enjoyable.
  • Find ways to hang things other than driving nails into trees. There are plenty of ideas for clothes drying hangers or racks or poles that clamp onto your picnic table to hang a lamp. Slide in hooks for your awning rail can be used to hang lights, a bird feeder, trash bag, etc.
  • Keep your campsite neat. Put things away when not in use. Nobody want to see all your possessions strewn around your campsite like a yard sale in progress.
  • Pick up only downed and dead wood for a campfire. Chopping limbs off trees or uprooting bushes to burn is something only clueless teenagers would do.
  • Think safety when building a campfire, especially this season when parts of the country, like Texas, are as dry as the desert in July. Scrape all debris several feet away from your fire and keep your fire small. Build a rock ring or dig a depression to contain fire. And when you leave, return the fire site to its natural state.
  • If you plan on dumping the gray water from dishwashing and rinsing, be sure to wipe all food bits off cooking and eating utensils with a paper towel first. Always use biodegradable soaps. Dump gray water on thirsty plants or bury in a hole (and cover it with dirt) well away from your campsite. Food bits draw unwanted smells and critters.
  • Alter your site as little as possible. Walk your site looking for trash, even if you think you haven’t left anything behind. Often paper blows away unnoticed, so make your reconnaissance a wide circle around your campsite. When you leave, your site should appear as if no one had been there, just the way you would like to find your next boondocking site.
  • Remember that the way others–hikers, off-road wanderers, officials–see your site is the way all RVers are seen. Set a good example, that of a responsible, environmentally-aware, and conservation-minded steward of the land. It’s good for all of us. And thank you for doing so.

Check out my website for more RVing tips, destinations, and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public LandsSnowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  7. William Fincher

    It takes such a small amount of time to pick up an area where the campers prior to us left a mess.It is not only the proper thing to do, but sets a good example of our younger population, and other campers.Roll on in safety.

  8. Art Steebs

    Backpackers always used to say “pack it in, pack it out”. However if you pack out a little more trash then you pack in it will bring you good karma. Heck, it might save you from a roadside accident.
    Campfires are fun, but cut you off from the night. Sometimes it’s fabulous to just sit and look at the night sky.

  9. Tom Hargreaves

    A requirement for the litter detail that I learned while participating in our neighborhood litter pickup: wear plastic (latex, vinyl, etc.) gloves that you can put in the trash! There is no telling what could be IN that can or bottle or on that piece of paper — and there are people that intentionally put “stuff” in or on things, in which case the bleach may be need for more than one thing.

    Happy (clean) trails!


  10. hoppe

    Like you said, really should be common sense.

    Unfortunately the bleach is needed.

  11. Pete – You must be seeing things. There’s no XIX in this post. Heh, heh. I fixed it.You know, of course, that I only insert these mistakes to see if you’re really reading it. Thanks for pointing that out. I have no idea why I put that extra X in there. Bob

  12. PeteB


    You do indeed must have CTF, because when using roman numerals, chapter Nine is IX and number 10 is X; what is XIX (which does indeed mean # 19 !!!) doing in the title of this episode ?

    Just teasing you a bit; hope you’ll forgive me.

  13. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Bob,
    YOU THE MAN !!!!!!!!!! If people would only remember that most boondocking places ARE THEIR FRONT & BACK YARDS !!! I am appalled at the irresponsibility
    of people, who claim they enjoy the outdoors and then trash it like it was the county
    dump… They are the same ones who buy take-out and throw the refuse out of the window driving down the road…. No shame !!!

    Smooth roads & balmy breezes !!!!!!!!!!

  14. Malcolm kosowan

    I totally agree with the article but I believe the gene pool needs more bleach.

  15. Oops! Thanks Tom. Good some of you have eagle eyes. I corrected it.

  16. Tom Smith

    I’m sure you meant to use the word “whether” instead of “weather”? I suffer from the same ailment. CTF (Crappy Typing Fingers)