What is Boondocking? A Thorough Guide.

Table of Contents

Last updated on May 18th, 2024 at 08:58 am

Cindy Scott
Disclaimer

Hi! I’m Cindy. I have car camped, RVed, and backpacked throughout my life, and full-time RVed for three years. And for many of those years, I was on a tight budget!

If you’ve been looking into affordable ways to camp, you’ve likely started coming across terms such as dry camping, dispersed camping, off-grid camping, and moochdocking. Those terms are ultimately all forms of boondocking and are about getting away from the amenities found at developed campgrounds.

But what is boondocking? And what is the difference between all of those above terms?

This article will define each term for you and start you off with everything you need to know to successfully tackle boondocking.

What Does Boondocking Mean?

Boondockers forgo water, sewer, and electrical hookups, often even going without campground-provided toilets and drinking water, to say nothing of luxuries like showers, playgrounds, and camp stores.

The easiest and most common method of boondocking is to set up camp in the forest.

Boondocking in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Areas

Spots are often found in national and state forests, wilderness areas, and BLM land.

BLM and Forest Service land is a boondocker’s best friend, as together, these two agencies manage approximately one out of every five acres of the US. They also have relatively relaxed boondocking policies compared to national and state parks.

If one of these agencies owns the land, and it’s sufficiently far from an urban area or popular park, you can likely camp there for free with no reservations, and many times, you’ll have the place to yourself, and the scenery will be unbeatable.

Find a nice place to pull off the road, and you’ve got a campsite. It’s really that simple.

Remoteness can be a double-edged sword, though. You’ll need to come prepared because there won’t be anyone around to help should something go wrong.

You’ll also need to be pretty map-savvy – the wilderness is a mix of public and private land, and it’s not always clearly marked.

Why Would Someone Boondock?

You may be wondering why someone would want to do this.

1. To Save Money

First and foremost, cost.

While staying in developed campgrounds is often less expensive than hotels and VRBO, it’s not free. Campground fees can add up if you’re living out of your RV or on the road for weeks or months, sometimes nearing what you’d pay in rent.

For many long-term travelers, that’s not financially sustainable.

However, on the flip side, camping without amenities can be really cheap or even free! So, the most apparent reason for boondocking is to save money, and many boondockers head into the wilderness, giving up coveted creature comforts to save some dough.

2. Out of Convenience

Many RV travelers also prefer boondocking when they’re only staying somewhere for one night. If you’re pulling in at night and getting back on the road at first light, there’s little point in paying for a campground with lots of amenities you won’t have time to use.

3. For the Challenge

Others prefer the challenge of boondocking; it’s similar to backpacking in that you need to carry all your essentials and be prepared for self-sufficiency.

It’s also an opportunity to get away from it all. If you can’t stand the late-night commotion of rowdy travelers at developed campgrounds, boondocking is a great way to avoid all that and find peace in nature. 

Types of Boondocking:

Ultimately, all of the below terms are types of boondocking because they all involve camping without the basic amenities provided at most developed campgrounds.

Here are the main differences between each type:

What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping is the most common type of boondocking, where you simply set up camp on public lands, away from campgrounds. It’s camping in the wilderness, minus the whole trekking for miles with a backpack part, and as long as you’re doing it correctly, you don’t need to ask anyone for permission.

To try dispersed camping, all you have to do is pull off an existing Forest Service road and call it a camp spot. You can’t block the road, and you typically must move a few miles every two weeks, but beyond that, there aren’t too many rules.

Land owned by federal agencies like the Forest Service (FS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allow dispersed camping wherever they haven’t expressly prohibited it. Those prohibitions are more common at trailheads, picnic areas, and near popular designated campgrounds.

As there are no signs indicating that camping is permitted on FS and BLM land, you must carry a good map that shows who owns a particular piece of land. Private inholdings are common, and you don’t want a rancher knocking on your door in the middle of the night telling you to move.

Also, watch for “No Trespassing” signs or fence posts coated in orange paint to indicate the area’s private ownership.

What are Designated Dispersed Camping Sites?

Most dispersed camping takes place beside a gravel road. However, there are also designated spaces that function more like zero-amenity campgrounds.

Designated dispersed campsites pop up wherever there’s an abundance of boondockers and the federal agency managing the land wants to make things more orderly.

Compared to other campgrounds, there usually isn’t a limit on the number of vehicles that can camp at a designated dispersed campsite. However, groups of 75 people or more must acquire a free permit.

What is Dry Camping?

Dry camping means you still won’t have access to hookups, and, like dispersed camping, your rig will need to run off your holding tanks and batteries, but sometimes at a campground with a few bonus amenities such as showers.

That said, dry camping can be done anywhere someone will allow it: a private parking lot, campgrounds without power, or even a friend’s driveway.

As such, similar to dispersed camping, dry camping also requires more forethought than staying in a developed campground with access to hookups. You’ll need to know how much electricity and water you and your fellow campers use daily and how much waste you create.

It should also be noted that unless you’re in the wilderness, you should only use the generator as needed since using it 24/7 will greatly annoy everyone around you.

Dry Camping at Developed Campgrounds without Power Poles

Developed campgrounds sometimes have electrical and non-electrical sites. Some novice boondockers don’t realize that you can often occupy a non-electrical site with your RV (they’re not only for tent campers.)

Going without electrical hookups can save a little money. It also gives you another option in a very crowded campground. Electrical sites are often reserved far in advance. In contrast, non-electrical sites sometimes don’t get snatched up until right before the reservation date.

Going without power is definitely doable! You should be able to use some electrical devices off your RV’s batteries for a little while, but you’ll want to monitor your usage.

Parking Lot Camping

Parking lot camping is a solid option for travelers who stay only one night at their destination. If you know you’ll be on the road until after sunset, call up one of the big box stores in the next city and see if they’ll let you stay. The worst they can say is no, and there are plenty of them to try. 

Camping in a parking lot is not great for anyone who wants to recreate in their stopover cities. Ideally, you’ll be out of the lot by sunrise, and then you’ll need to drive your rig to any attractions. 

Also, know that the more urban an area is and where parking comes at a premium, the more likely you will face complications. 

General Rules for Overnight Dry Camping in Cities

Dry camping in an urban parking lot can feel like getting away with something you shouldn’t. You’re getting a free campsite while everyone else is paying $50, $100, or even $150 for a hotel or Airbnb. It shouldn’t be legal, right?

But it is, and it’s one of the best ways to save money on a road trip. However, you’ll want to know these things before you crash in a parking lot for the night.

Make a Phone Call and Ask if You Can Stay

It pays to be respectful, and you’ll save yourself loads of time if you call the business you’re hoping to stay with. Every business is different.

Big box stores like Walmart and Costco are run by massive corporations. Still, often, the person who decides whether you can stay the night is a store manager, not some suit back at headquarters.

Similarly, restaurants like Cracker Barrel are nationwide chains. Still, each location has the ability to decide how their parking lots are utilized at night. 

One Night Only

Really, this shouldn’t even be considered “camping” because you won’t be there during daylight hours.

Dry camping at a business is a one-night-only affair. Get in after dark, preferably after business hours, so you’re not taking up any valuable parking spaces. Then get out in the early morning, preferably soon after they open and you’ve made a purchase.

Respect the Establishment Letting You Stay and Buy Something

You’re off the hook for a campground fee, which could be anywhere from $15 to $50, so the very least you can do is buy something to support the business that offered you a free parking spot.

Big box stores know that you need supplies when you’re on the road, and they expect that you’ll buy groceries and other necessities while you stay in their parking lot.

Similarly, restaurants assume you’ll grab dinner or breakfast with them. (We always love staying at Cracker Barrel and grabbing breakfast in the morning before hitting the road.)

This should be a mutually beneficial exchange for all parties.

Know the Laws of the Area

Many municipalities have passed laws that ban RV travelers from staying overnight in a parking lot. Why?

Mainly because those people aren’t spending money on hotels or campgrounds, which means lower profits for those establishments and less tax money for the government.

These laws can drastically limit your dry camping options, so it pays to know them while planning your road trip. 

What is Moochdocking?

Lastly, let’s talk about Moochdocking! This is one of my favorite ways to plop down the RV.

Is a visit to friends or family part of your road trip plans? Do they have a driveway that can accommodate your RV? If so, they just became your next campsite.

Example of us Moochdocking at a friend's house

Moochdocking gives you all the benefits of a developed campground – flush toilets, showers, electricity, and maybe even some kitchen space, without costing you a dime. Your hosts also benefit in not needing to make up the guest bedroom for you.

To ingratiate yourself to generous hosts, consider making them breakfast a few times during your stay. It’s the least you can do for a free campsite.

Not too much goes into setting up a moochdock since you’ll mainly be using the bathroom inside the house, and you can transfer any food from your fridge into theirs.

If you want to hook into the power grid by running an extension cord from the garage or an external outlet, you’ll need adapters and a quality extension cord that can handle heavy-duty use to accomplish being plugged in during a moochdock.

Know that most electrical outlets in a house run on a 15 or 20-amp circuit, which is lower than what you’ll find at most campground power poles. You’ll need to be careful with your power usage and not run energy hogs like your air conditioner, or you’ll risk tripping the circuit breaker in the house.

How to Find Dispersed Camping Boondocking Spots

Now that we’ve covered each type, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the best ways to find boondocking spots!

Boondocking at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

It’s relatively straightforward to find a quality boondocking site. Still, you’ll want to make a list of what’s important to you. Examples of things to consider include:

🚽 Does your site need to have toilets, or are you comfortable using the one in your RV and going to a dump station as needed?

🏜️ Is having lovely scenery important to you? Sometimes, boondocking sites are nothing more than a parking lot where you can spend the night.

🥳 Is boondocking all about solitude for you? Some designated dispersed sites can get crowded, and parking lots that allow boondocking may be in the middle of town.

Resources for Finding Dispersed Camping Boondocking Spots

Once you’ve listed what’s important to you, you can start your hunt.

All of the websites and apps below are great resources for finding boondocking camping spots:

And don’t just use one. Using a combination of the above websites and apps will serve you well. They each shine in different ways, and they’ll each have different reviewers using them.

How To Boondock Tips

Boondocking in North Dakota

Boondocking is camping in a remote location, sometimes with no one else around and without amenities like electricity or toilets. Many campers never try it because the idea can sound downright intimidating.

But if you think about it, boondocking with your RV is similar to backcountry camping, except you’re near a road, and no hiking or lugging your gear is required.

That’s not to say that boondocking is easy, but with some preparation, any RV owner should be able to do it. These are a few of the things you’ll want to do on every boondocking trip.

Detach and Inspect the Area First

Boondocking will take you to some wild locations, some of which may have horribly rutted roads and tight turns.

What’s the worst thing that can happen after a half-hour of driving these hellish roads? Finding out there’s no suitable campsite. Or, even worse, finding out too late that the road was not ideal for your rig and causing injury to your trailer.

You can avoid this situation by detaching from your trailer before driving the route. This way, you’ll get a sense of the road conditions, where possible campsites are, and if there’s any place that can accommodate your rig.

I can vouch for it; these scouting missions, while they take some extra time, save frustration.

Pack in and Pack Out – Leave No Trace

No matter the camping type, from backpacking twenty miles into the remote wilderness to RV camping at a state park just outside your hometown, you should practice the Leave No Trace principles.

That means packing out any waste that won’t biodegrade in a few weeks (dig a cathole for your solid wastes if you aren’t packing out).

Even leaving trash in your fire ring can attract animals and make for a worse experience for the next camper. 

More recently, there have been issues with boondockers not following the principles of Leave No Trace, particularly on remote BLM land.

I hate that it has to be said, but these careless campers must realize that the Bureau of Land Management can close these areas to recreation, locking all of us out of these fantastic places.

All boondockers must do their part to ensure we leave the places we are camping even better than they were when we arrived so the next generation can enjoy all the same spots we have.

Don’t Dump Your Tanks Just Anywhere

Let’s start by stating the obvious – your RV has two wastewater tanks: black water and gray water.

Black water is raw sewage, and you absolutely cannot dump it anywhere besides an approved dump station, be that at a campground or gas station.

Gray water comes from your RV’s shower and sink, containing soap, hair, food bits, and other relatively less toxic things.

If you’re dry camping in the wilderness or urban parking lot, anywhere away from a designated campground, you’ll need to find an RV dump station. Comprehensive lists are available online, but most large gas stations and truck stops have them. Using them will generally cost you somewhere between $5 and $20.

Rules about dumping gray water are somewhat murkier when discussing dumping on BLM land. That said, it’s illegal just about everywhere else.

Emptying an entire gray water tank on BLM land is questionably ethical anyway and should really be avoided. It’s not like dumping a small bucket you’ve used for washing dishes.

Be Kind with Your Generator

Camping, particularly off-the-grid boondocking, is supposed to be about peace and quiet and enjoying nature.

Unfortunately, the devices in your RV don’t power themselves. If you want them to function for any length of time beyond what your battery can provide, running a generator (or installing solar panels with upgraded batteries) will become necessary. 

Campers can have some generator etiquette, though, with the most important being to respect quiet hours.

Campgrounds typically ban generator use between 10 pm and 6 am, so it won’t disrupt anyone’s sleep; however, that’s the bare minimum. Really, you should only run a generator when it’s necessary.

If you find yourself running it more often than is acceptable, you could engender some goodwill by offering your neighbors a plate of cookies or a six-pack.

Make Sure You’re Extra Prepared

It can’t be said enough: preparation is key when boondocking, whether that means emptying or filling your holding tanks, bringing enough propane, or stocking up on food before you hit the mountains.

Experience is handy here; you’ll better understand what you need the more trips you get under your belt. 

If you’re planning on boondocking often, it’s worth investing in a combination of these items to help keep your rig running anywhere:

Solar Panels & Upgraded Batteries

Putting solar panels on and upgraded batteries in your rig is a great way to increase your electrical capacity, as you can recharge your batteries at the campsite.

I recommend testing all your equipment in a spot with power before setting off on your first boondocking trip, so you know how quickly your panels will charge your RV’s battery in full sun. This way, you can assess your power situation and address any issues before finding yourself in a remote location.

A Portable Power Station

Portable power stations are fantastic for providing quick power to specific appliances as needed.

Sale
Jackery Solar Generator 1000, 1002Wh Capacity with 2xSolarSaga 100W Solar Panels, 3x1000W AC Outlets, Portable Power Station Ideal for Home Backup, Emergency, RV Outdoor Camping Black, Orange
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A Generator

Generators are great for powering up the rig when no power pole is around!

Sale
Honda EU2200ITAN 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator with CO-Minder - 49-State
825 Reviews
Honda EU2200ITAN 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator with CO-Minder - 49-State
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These items will be expensive up front, but the investment will balance out over time since boondocking spots are free!

Utilize a Trip Planning Program

RV Life Pro

For $65 a year, RV LIFE PRO provides a bunch of RV trip planning benefits.

RV LIFE PRO has been created specifically for RVers.

First, the RV Safe GPS, included with an RV LIFE PRO membership, does everything a separate GPS unit does, saving you the cost of buying an extra device.

RV LIFE Trip Wizard

However, my favorite feature that comes with an RV LIFE PRO membership is the RV Life Trip Wizard.

If you enjoy mapping out your RV road trip routes ahead of time, you will likely quickly become frustrated with Apple or Google Maps. This is because your rig’s height and weight now affect what roads you can travel on, but Apple and Google Maps do not accommodate for that.

RV Life Trip Wizard operates off a web-browser-based program, similar to what you’ve likely already been using, but also offers the ability to plan your route customized to your rig’s specific height and weight.

It’s also better at estimating travel times for your RV and trip costs.

Plus, you can add points of interest, gas stations, and campgrounds to your route.

👉 Click here to try RV LIFE PRO for FREE for 7 Days!

RV LIFE Pro Banner

Roadpass Pro

Roadpass Pro is another option similar to RV LIFE PRO, costing $49.99 annually.

If you frequently use Roadtrippers and Campendium to plan your trips, consider the Roadpass Pro combo pack, which includes features from both websites.

If You Need Internet, Research That Ahead of Time

Camping should be a way to disconnect from our devices, but let’s be honest – many of us are digital nomads or joining the van life movement. Funding that lifestyle means being able to work from the road, and for that, you’re probably going to need the internet.

Fortunately, mobile hotspots work great these days as long as you’re within range of a cell tower. The websites Free Campsites and Campendium post user reviews of boondocking sites and often include the cell strength for each cell carrier.

However, many of the best boondocking sites are miles from the nearest cell signal.

So, be sure to download an offline map of the area beforehand. That way, if you get somewhere that doesn’t have the cell signal you expected, you can still avoid getting lost.

Be Prepared to Spend More Time Focused on Your Rig

Getting into boondocking means entering a new stage in your relationship with your RV.

You’ll spend more time focused on your rig in this phase. 

While you always want to give your rig frequent maintenance, with actions such as checking your RV’s seams for leaks, boondocking requires more work and careful monitoring than being in a cozy campground spot. You must have a strong understanding of your rig’s power usage, water levels, and tank levels.

And if you’re used to dumping your tanks at your campsite’s sewer point, you’ll now have to get acquainted with how to use a dump station.

Furthermore, things will break, and you will likely be further away from help if you’re boondocking. A general knowledge of repairing things without help will serve you well.

A good start is to pick up a repair and maintenance manual for your RV model. The RV community is also incredibly supportive, so you should find plenty of online forums to answer many of your questions about maintaining your camper.

Boondocking Safely

Boondocking is not an inherently unsafe form of camping.

Sure, you’re further away from emergency services and other humans; however, boondockers are often far more prepared for their camping experience than those using developed campgrounds.

It can be intimidating, though! I often joke that it took me nearly two years to persuade my husband Barrett to live in an RV and then almost another two years to convince him to try boondocking.

The keys are:

  • Don’t get complacent. Always be ready for the unexpected.
  • Do your research before picking a spot.
  • Arrive prepared with the necessary supplies and essentials.
  • Protect yourself with whatever materials are appropriate for you and your family.

Many online resources, including Campendiumthe Dryt, and Boondockers Welcome, are also available to help campers feel more prepared to start boondocking.

Understand Regulations

Boondocking sites are light on rules and regulations. Still, it’s always important to look into them during the planning phase of your trip.

There’s typically a maximum number of nights you can stay in one place, a minimum number of miles you need to be from your previous campsite when switching to a new one, and campfire restrictions.

These will all be posted on the agency managing the area’s website. 

Boondocking Supplies & Essentials

Much like the Boy Scouts, the motto for boondocking is always “Be Prepared.”

Nothing is worse than running out of food, water, or fuel when you’re twenty miles deep in the mountains, especially since there will sometimes be no cell service.

Seasoned boondockers always prepare for the worst and give themselves a healthy margin of error regarding supplies.

Imagine your RV has broken down on a remote forest service road, and you have no cell service. Ask yourself what you’d need to get through the night in that scenario and ensure you have it.

Water (& Food)

Water is, of course, a necessity, along with having some non-perishable food items.

Depending on the size of your RV’s water tanks and your conservation methods, you can go for a few days or weeks before needing a water fill-up.

The average camper uses two to five gallons of water daily, including drinking, washing dishes, and personal hygiene. If you’re showering, that number rises.

Drinking water is critical and should be kept separate from the non-potable water used for washing your hands and dishes. Bring at least a gallon of water per person per day to be safe.

Collapsible plastic water jugs (like this one) that hold between one and five gallons are convenient for storing drinking water.

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WaterStorageCube BPA-Free Collapsible Water Container with Spigot, Food-Grade Camping Water Storage Carrier Jug for Outdoors Hiking Hurricane Emergency, Foldable Portable Water Canteen (5.3 Gallon)
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Extra Fuel

Many boondockers never carry extra fuel; they know their fuel economy, tank size, and where the next gas station is. When you’re starting out, though, mistakes happen.

Running out of fuel on a dark and lonely road is no picnic, so it’s a good idea for novice boondockers to carry a five-gallon gas can to get them twenty or thirty miles down the road.

Emergency Kit

We’ve experienced emergencies in parts of the United States where services were unattainable. You’ll never regret having a roadside emergency kit such as this one:

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Everlit Survival Car Emergency Kit, Roadside Safety Tool Kit with Gloves,Digital Auto Air Compressor Tire Inflator, First Aid Kit, 12 Feet Jumper Cable, Tow Strap, Flashlight for Women, Men, Teenagers
  • The Road Guardian- The portable roadside assistance kit is designed and hand picked by a group of experienced veterans and experts to provide every essential tools you need in roadside emergencies. The automotive safety bag contains accessories such as repair cable ties, bungee cords, electrical tape, space blanket, rain poncho, reflective warning triangle, glass breaker, seatbelt cutter, safety gloves, tow rope and more to get your vehicle back on the road and continue your travel.

Tools

Whether you’re driving a Toyota Matrix or a 33-foot Class A RV doesn’t matter; you should always carry a basic set of tools when road-tripping. 

While RVing, it’s not only about roadside emergencies; it’s also helpful to be able to install spare parts without needing a mechanic.

What should go in your kit without bringing an entire tool chest, though? An excellent place to start is having these essentials so you can carry out minor disassembly:

🪛 A socket set with a ratchet
🪛 A screwdriver with interchangeable heads (including phillips, flat head, and torx)

EPAuto 40 Pieces 1/4-Inch & 3/8-Inch Drive Socket Set with 72 Tooth Reversible Ratchet
  • Durability: Made from Hardened treated Chrome Vanadium steel alloy (Cr-V)
SHARDEN Ratcheting Screwdriver 13-in-1 Multibit Screwdriver All in One Screwdriver Set with Phillips, Flat Head, Torx Security, Hex, Robertson, 180 Degree Pivoting Adjustable Angled Screw Driver Set
  • 【5-Position Pivoting】SHARDEN 13 in 1 screwdriver is designed with 180° rotation, button controls enable you to pivot the handle to adjust 5 angles, this flexible screwdriver allows for access to tight and confined spaces that traditional multi screwdrivers can't reach

A roll of rubber roof repair tape for sealing leaks is another must-have, along with a multimeter for checking electrical connections (watch some YouTube videos to learn how to use it).

EternaBond White Mobile Home RV Rubber Roof Repair 4' x 20' - 20 Foot, 20 Feet
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EternaBond White Mobile Home RV Rubber Roof Repair 4" x 20' - 20 Foot, 20 Feet
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AstroAI Multimeter Tester 2000 Counts Digital Multimeter with DC AC Voltmeter and Ohm Volt Amp Meter ; Measures Voltage, Current, Resistance; Tests Live Wire, Continuity
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AstroAI Multimeter Tester 2000 Counts Digital Multimeter with DC AC Voltmeter and Ohm Volt Amp Meter ; Measures Voltage, Current, Resistance; Tests Live Wire, Continuity
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Lastly, don’t forget a jack, tire iron, tire pressure gauge, and spare tire for fixing a flat. 

Sleeping Bag

If you’re on the tail end of your adventure, your propane tanks might be empty. Depending on your situation and location, you could get stuck with no heat for an evening; therefore, a warm sleeping bag is a great item to have, just in case that occurs.

Headlamp (or Flashlight)

You’ll also want a headlamp. These devices allow you to see clearly in any dark situation while keeping your hands free for any task. It’s best to find one that is at least 300 lumens for adequate illumination.

Take a look at this lightweight, rechargeable one that my husband and I used during our entire Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen Triple Output - White, Red, High CRI - Lightweight USB Rechargeable Headlamp (Black)
  • 360 LUMEN WIDE BEAM - Featuring a CREE XP-G2 S3 LED for a primary output, the NU25 is capable of 360 lumen max output and 88 yards of throw, perfect for biking, jogging and trekking.

Protection

Some campers feel especially vulnerable while boondocking and want to carry some form of protection. It should be noted that while the media likes sensationalizing attacks in remote areas, these incidents are uncommon. Anyone else in the woods with you is also likely just there to recreate.

Dangerous animals like bears and mountain lions are a different story, but encounters with them can usually be avoided by keeping food and toiletries inside your rig. Follow the same basic principles as you would backcountry camping, and you’ll be fine.

All this being said, having some basic protection items is no problem if it makes you feel comfortable. These are a few common choices for boondocking protection and some information on whether or not they are actually good options.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is great for deterring bears and human assailants. It’s easy to use – simply point it at whatever is threatening you and empty the canister.

SABRE Pepper Spray, Quick Release Keychain for Easy Carry and Fast Access, Finger Grip for More Accurate and Faster Aim, Maximum Police Strength OC Spray, 0.54 oz, Secure and Easy to Use Safety
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The downside is that it can just as easily incapacitate you if the wind blows in the wrong direction. In the case of a charging bear, it’s worth the risk because the bear will probably scamper off afterward.

Note: Pepper spray usually has an expiration date, so if you’ve been backcountry camping with the same canister for the last couple of years, it might be time to buy another one.

Bear Spray

An even better self-defense option in bear country is to carry bear spray.

Sale
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Wasp Spray

Pepper and bear sprays can be pricey, costing upwards of $50 for a canister, and you can’t even take it on an airplane. This has led some people to carry a can of wasp spray for self-defense.

This is a mistake. Even though both pepper spray and wasp spray irritate the eyes and nose of the person or animal being sprayed, the effects are not nearly as rapid with wasp spray. Wasp spray also has a much tighter dispersal pattern, so you’ll need to be more accurate with your spray.

Lastly, spraying a human with wasp spray is a federal crime. While you may not care about that during an attack, if you happen to be wrong about the person’s intentions, you could end up in jail.

Gun

Some boondockers feel safer carrying a gun to fend off animals or human threats. This isn’t the best idea for a couple of reasons:

First, gun laws vary from state to state, so if your road trip takes you across state lines, you could run afoul of the law. Secondly, guns are relatively expensive, and you don’t really need one for boondocking.

However, if you already own a gun and enjoy shooting, by all means, bring it after you; of course, familiarize yourself with the firearm laws of wherever you are camping first and make sure it’s appropriate.

Best RVs for Boondocking

There really is no “best RV for boondocking” because boondocking can encompass many different things.

Some people enjoy the cost savings of not paying for a campsite while road-tripping, while others want to explore the backcountry.

Each camping style has its pros and cons and some RVs will work better than others for each scenario. You want to match your RV with the recreation you enjoy most.

Can Any RV Boondock?

Yes! But some are better for boondocking than others.

Smaller, self-contained rigs are the best.

Any RV can boondock in a sufficiently large parking lot, but hauling a 35-foot fifth wheel up a poorly maintained Forest Service Road can be a recipe for disaster.

If you are using a larger RV, start small with your trips. Choose areas with large meadows for parking and easy access roads. Once you’ve got a feel for your rig, step it up to more challenging sites, but never take unnecessary risks.

Best Travel Trailer for Boondocking

The pros of travel trailers are that you can detach yourself from the trailer at any time to explore and separate your vehicle’s maintenance from the maintenance of your living quarters.

Also, travel trailers don’t have to feel minimalist. While pop-up camper trailers only weigh a few thousand pounds and cost under $20,000, you can easily spend $100,000 on an incredibly luxurious fifth-wheel trailer. It’s all about what kind of camping experience you’re looking for.

A good budget option is the Riverside Retro, which you can find for under $15,000 and can be anywhere between 13’ and 28’ long. They’re not the fanciest travel trailers on the market, but they’re perfect for boondockers still deciding what they need.

The Airstream Flying Cloud is another classic choice; it’s 23′ long and weighs 5,000 lbs, well within the capacity of light trucks and SUVs. It’s got a modern look, and the floor plan can be customized to fit your needs. It doesn’t come cheap, though, as new ones cost just under $100,000.

Best Class A Motorhome for Boondocking

A Class A motorhome is the King of the Road. It’s a luxury home on wheels and can cost as much as one. They look like the tour bus’s rockstars ride around in.

Typically, these behemoths are between 20 and 40 feet long, so getting them into the more remote mountain locations can be trickier since they’re less maneuverable. What they lack in flexibility, though, they often more than make up for in comfort. 

On the lower end (but still more expensive than some condos) is the Coachman Miranda, a 30 to 40-footer with a 7.3L V8. It has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a Class A, but since it’s not a diesel, it’s still one of the cheaper options.

At the other end of the scale would be something like the Newmar Ventana, a 35 to 43-foot diesel pusher that costs over $400,000 new. This is the type of RV you sell your house to buy and then live on the road.

Best Class B Camper Van for Boondocking

The more nimble cousin to the Class A, Class B motorhomes look more like a van than a typical motorhome. They’re infinitely customizable, and thousands of YouTube videos and articles are out there to show you how to do it. Admittedly, these vehicles usually have fewer features than Class A RVs and travel trailers. 

The Mercedes Benz Metris doesn’t look much different than a minivan, albeit an incredibly stylish one. However, it features a pop-top roof tent with a mattress for two and a rear bench seat that folds into sleeping quarters for two more. Unlike a Class A RV, it has excellent fuel economy.

A larger and more expensive option is the Winnebago Travato. It costs three times as much as the Mercedes, around $180,000, and only sleeps two as it has no pop-up tent. That said, it has better organizational features and is more similar to the custom van life builds you see online.

Boondocking FAQs

Next, I’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about boondocking.

Can You Boondock in National Parks?

The short answer is: not generally.

Most US national parks allow for backcountry camping with a tent, which often requires a fee for a permit.

However, very few national parks permit boondocking with a vehicle. (Some exceptions do exist, though, such as in Death Valley National Park.)

Fortunately, national parks are usually surrounded by other public land, like National Forest and Bureau of Land Management areas, with far fewer restrictions. Here’s an example of a fantastic boondocking spot directly outside Badlands National Park.

Headed to the Badlands? 👉 Click here for my ultimate one-day Badlands National Park road trip itinerary!

Is Boondocking Illegal?

That all depends on how you go about it… setting up camp on someone’s land without their permission is absolutely illegal.

But camping in a private parking lot with permission or on public land (where it’s not prohibited) is perfectly legal.

Free camping might sound too good to be true, but as long as you follow the rules, there shouldn’t be any issues.

However, some states are notedly friendlier to boondockers, and most are out west.

In states like Utah, Nevada, Alaska, and Idaho, more than 60% of the land is owned by the federal government. In contrast, states like Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island have less than 1% federal ownership. That means there are a lot fewer places to set up camp.

Combined with the lack of ample federal land, higher population density, and stricter rules about parking in private lots, much of New England has become very difficult (though still sometimes possible) for boondockers to enjoy.

Can you Boondock at Costco?

Absolutely, Costco is one of the best places to boondock. The stores close relatively early, usually between 8 and 10 pm, so the parking lot will be empty overnight.

Every store is different, and some cities ban overnight camping, so you’ll want to call the store and ask the manager for permission first. Surprisingly, you don’t need a Costco membership to camp there, even though you can only spend money there with one.

Can you Boondock at Cracker Barrel?

Boondocking with our rig at Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel is easily the most RV-friendly restaurant out there.

Not only do they allow you to camp in their parking lot, but they also designate specific parking spaces just for RV travelers.

As with any private parking lot, call the restaurant and ask if overnight camping is allowed. If it is, enjoy a good night’s sleep and then grab some biscuits and gravy in the morning before hitting the road.

When we need a place to stop overnight, we usually prefer Cracker Barrels to Walmarts for several reasons:

✅ Cracker Barrels are often much less creepy than Walmarts.
✅ Cracker Barrels are generally right off the interstate.
✅ At Cracker Barrel, you can wake up and kickstart your day with a hearty meal!

Can you Boondock at Walmart?

America’s largest company is a favorite campsite in the RV community. Most Walmarts will let you park in their lot as long as they can according to municipal regulations. Walmart knows that you need supplies before hitting the road again, and you’ll spend some money while parking there.

As with any parking lot, call before you arrive to see what the manager says about overnight parking at their specific store.

Can You Park Overnight at Home Depot?

Home Depot is generally okay with RV travelers camping in their parking lot. The lots are empty all night, and RV travelers do a lot of DIY work on their vehicles and purchase supplies at Home Depot. So it’s a win-win for everyone.

Again, call ahead first and ensure no local regulations prohibit a stay.

Can You Sleep Overnight at Truck Stops or Rest Areas?

Rest areas expressly exist to allow drivers some shut-eye so they don’t get into wrecks on the highway. 

That said, research before arriving to ensure it will work out, and check the signage when you arrive. Some states have implemented time limits to prevent RV travelers from camping in them and have strict laws limiting a stay to only two hours. You can read more about specific state regulations here.

I’d like to think law enforcement would be lax since the county sheriffs and officers who often patrol rest areas usually have better things to do than bust up RV travelers that aren’t bothering anyone. That said, check the signage when you arrive. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

What are Some Other Establishments for Boondocking?

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan whenever you’re boondocking; sometimes, bad weather prevents you from reaching your campsite, or your route changes at the last minute, and you need a place to stay for one night only.

Here are some extra options when you need a last-minute parking space for the night.

Hotels / Motels

It’s a last resort, but sometimes you get into town late at night and need to grab a few hours of shut-eye before heading back out on the road. The local campgrounds could be full if it’s peak tourist season or there’s an event in town. Or maybe you drove too long and don’t have the time or energy to putter down dark dirt roads looking for a site in a national forest. 

In that case, head to a hotel and ask the front desk staff if you can park your RV in their lot. If their parking isn’t full for the night, there’s a good chance they’ll let you stay. Sometimes, the front desk staff will collect a nominal fee from you, while others won’t want to bother with the paperwork.

Always ask permission, though, because if you don’t, you’re liable to get kicked out in the middle of the night or towed.

Visitor Centers

Visitor Center parking lots are empty after business hours, and the center’s goal is to promote tourism, so it’s only logical that they would be a refuge for boondockers.

One of the biggest advantages to boondocking at a visitor center is that bathrooms and drinking water are often available outside.  

The only catch is that you’ll need to call the center during the day to see if overnight parking is allowed. Come after hours, and there won’t be anyone around to ask. You risk having the cops call if you park there without permission.

Trailheads

People park at a trailhead for days or weeks while backcountry camping, so why not set up camp in the parking lot?

For one, an extended stay at a trailhead is not recommended because these parking lots are reserved for hikers. If too many people start camping at them, there won’t be any spaces available for sunrise hikers in the morning. This is why tent camping is often prohibited at trailheads.

That’s not to say you can’t camp at a trailhead for one night, though. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate whether a vehicle belongs to a backcountry hiker or not.

This style of camping should be avoided at busy backpacking trailheads, though.

If you are going to go for it, you should arrive after sunset and get to sleep right away, and then ideally wake up at sunrise or just before to avoid taking up a hiker’s parking space.

Summary: What is Boondocking

With all of the above information, you should now better understand what boondocking is and how to be prepared for your next outdoor adventure! Happy camping!