Boondocking, dispersed camping, dry camping, wild camping and off-grid camping all pretty much mean the same thing, which is camping without service connections such as water, sewer or electrical, and often for free.
It’s driving into the wide open and mostly uninhabited spaces where others are less likely to go, to find and set up camp.
In the van life world, Boondocking can also mean parking your van any place you can find to sleep for the night. This article is more about legally sanctioned camping.
The best reasons for taking advantage of off-grid sites can be counterintuitive.
Of course cost savings is the obvious one and compared to $20 to $60 a night for paid sites, that can be reason enough for many of us.
But once you’ve spent time finding and staying at some wild camping locations, you’ll see other advantages right away. For example…
- Peace and quiet: Some of these sites require a bit more driving time and effort to find, but that often means fewer people and less noise. If it’s seclusion you’re seeking, wild camping will often provide it.
- Less impacted: Even the highest maintained paid sites are often littered, deforested, trampled. The more you’re willing to drive and seek off-grid camping, the more natural beauty you can surround yourself with.
- A sense of freedom: Getting to spend time in the wilder places can be very powerful, not just in terms of beautiful open space, but for the sense of freedom and accomplishment of truly being self-supported in the wild.
Preparing for Wild Camping
For many of the best wild camping sites, it’s important to be well prepared for a fully self-sustained experience.
For safety sake, it’s best to think of all off-grid spots as totally unsupported.
In some of these locations, you’ll be out there on your own with no rangers or hosts, no cell service, no potable water…
You’ll need to make sure to have enough food, water, fire starter, cooking and heating fuel, proper clothing for the cold and wet weather, first aid and prescription medical…
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In recent years in the US, we’ve seen a substantial increase in homelessness. One result of this is some off-grid sites have become overused.
Some close-in easy access areas are highly impacted by trash, derelict cars, and other debris. You might also encounter groups of people that are best to avoid.
The resources below will help you to find the better spots, but you should be prepared to move on when your destination site turns out to be sketchy or seems unsafe in any way due to condition or inhabitants.
We wrote an article for a fellow campervan site on staying safe on your van. Take a look and share your safety tips in comments, please.
We also suggest that you carefully find and study any resources available about the areas you want to visit, bring physical maps when possible and plan to arrive early for daylight set up.
On-Line Resources for Off-Grid Camping
Please keep in mind that links to internet resources change frequently. For accuracy, diligence is necessary when reading any resource, online or not.
If you find any of these to be inaccurate or outdated, please say so in comments so we can update them.
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Government rules and regulations regarding dispersed camping change frequently so whatever you read on forums, social media or other sources, be sure to double check with the people at the top.
The Bureau of Land Management page is a great place to get the latest info about any BLM spots.
The United States Department of Agriculture site is a must visit for info about dispersed camping anywhere in the National Forest outside of a designated campground.
Here’s the National Forest Service Maps site for all your location and topo needs.
Many states allow distributed camping in wild areas. Search online by state and county for more local resources. For example, this search turned up some state-sanctioned resources.
Forums resources are some of the best for information on many topics. The permanent, searchable nature of forum threads and comments can have value for years after they’re posted.
For example, I was looking for waterfront boondocking sites, so I performed this Google search: “forum off-grid waterfront” (without the quotes) and this popped up.
I had no idea that people were talking about off-grid camping on Trip Advisor prior to doing this search.
Even some older forum threads can be useful, and many forums have members who are experts in the field.
Look for commenters with a lot of posts who care about the topic and take time to share relevant information.
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Off Grid related forums and forum posts
Sprinter Source Forum: This is a great thread that any campervan traveler can benefit from.
OffTheGridForum.com has an RV specific section.
Here’s a Survivalist forum post I found when searching Google for “forum off-grid camping”.
A note about survivalism
I don’t consider myself a survivalist. I’m focused on the possibilities of adventures in the world, not worrying about the end of it. I do respect the resourcefulness of many survival minded people.
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Blogs and Websites
A great way to find blog posts and websites with information about where you want to go are by searching Google by desired location + “free camping” or “distributed camping”.
This page on RV-Camping.org has a list of government resources for free camping.
Freecampsites.net is a pretty solid resource and very easily searchable. It includes comments about specific sites. Pay close attention to post dates for relevancy.
Boondocking.org bills itself as “a publicly available database of GPS coordinates for boondocking (free camping)”. While there are many camp spots listed here, it’s not exhaustive and you either need to know the GPS coordinates of where you want to camp or click the “Show All” link and scroll for sites.
Facebook search can be hit or miss. Threads are linear with nested comments tend to get lost.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great RV van life pages where the topic of wild camping is often discussed.
I look for pages that allow open discussion. Here are some I belong to and have found useful:
Keep in mind that new Facebook groups are always forming, so use their search function to find off grid related pages.
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Pinterest is largely about inspiration, though I do find valuable stuff there from time to time by clicking images through to related sites.
The Pinterest search engine is massive and you can use their search bar to find images (called “pins”) on any topic. Once you’ve located those images you can click through to related articles on blogs and other sites.
Here’s one I found when I searched for “Boondocking” on Pinterest.
IG is mostly about inspiration, as they don’t allow links in posts. Still, sometimes when I’ve been parked under a rainstorm for a few days, a couple minutes perusing some of the gorgeous images that other van lifers post can be all the inspiration I need to crank up the beast and head to a warmer place.
Set up an Instagram account and start following Campervan, RV, camping, and travel-related accounts.
For example, this one is very good!
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YouTube can be a fantastic source of off-grid info. It can also be a time suck. I avoid the latter by using the search function to look for specific topics vs “surfing” and losing hours to “suggested” videos.
I also subscribe to YouTube channels I find valuable.
YouTube Tip: Click the gear icon on any video and boost the speed up to 1.25 or higher to get through the video faster.
Here’s a brief video that explains BLM free camping.
Thanks for reading!
Where do you like to camp? How do you stay comfortable when wild camping? Please comment below to share your thoughts and experiences on off grid camping.
This article is brought to you by James Petersen
James Petersen is Editor in Chief at VanSage.com. As a Pacific Northwest native, he loves mountain biking, camping, hiking and the Campervan lifestyle.