What is Boondocking?

Pelican Flyer  |  June 03, 2020

When we think about going camping, most of us picture a scenic campsite with a designated picnic table, fire ring and camping pad. There may be public showers and a camp shop. But this is far from the only way to camp, especially when you’re rolling with a full-blown RV or camper. Another option, and an arguably more primitive one, is boondocking. In this guide, we’re going over all the basics of boondocking to see if it’s something you may want to try.

What is Boondocking?

In the broadest sense, boondocking is camping in an RV or camper with no hookups (sewer, water, electric) away from developed campgrounds. Boondockers set up camp virtually anywhere, from a friend’s plot of private land to the parking lot at a Walmart, Cracker Barrel or Cabela’s. Using basic camping gear, such as one of our hard coolers and battery-powered light sources, boondocking offers a more simplified version of RV camping.

Though similar, boondocking differs from dry camping because it refers exclusively to camping outside of traditional campgrounds, whereas dry camping can occur in campgrounds without hookups. For more information on the difference between these two kinds of camping, check out our guide: What is Dry Camping?

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Things to Consider When Boondocking

Before you head out for a boondocking adventure, you should take into consideration the following factors to ensure that this kind of camping is right for your unique situation.

  • Is it Safe? Indeed, boondocking can be more dangerous than typical camping. There’s no ranger, security or parks service to oversee the situation, and in many cases, you’re far off the grid with minimal communication with the outside world. Preparation is key, so it’s essential to invest in a good cooler. Always have a fully-stocked emergency kit on hand, complete with a radio and distress signals. It’s also a good idea to learn how to pack a cooler so your food stays as fresh as possible.
  • Is it Accessible? One thing to consider before heading off the grid is the weather or any changing conditions that may affect access. When camping on the land, an unexpected rainstorm can dig up serious mud and affect your ability to back up, turn around or easily exit the site. Always pay close attention to weather and access when you’re choosing a spot and a time to head out.
  • Is it Legal? Whether or not a boondocking situation is legal comes down to one thing, and one thing only: permission. You should never attempt to set up camp anywhere that is prohibited, so always triple-check before parking. The parking lots of big box stores are popular places to boondock in a pinch — Walmart parking lots are especially popular boondocking hotspots — but you should always get permission from the landowner or manager before camping overnight.
  • Is it Responsible? As with any kind of camping, there is a responsible way and an irresponsible way to boondock. No matter which style of camping you practice, you should always follow the principles of leave no trace. In other words, you should bring out everything — and we mean everything — you bring into the wilderness. Also be sure to pay attention to the surfaces on which you drive or park, taking special care not to disturb any vegetation or animal habitats.

A Unique Camping Experience

With the exception of the occasional parking lot overnighter, we don’t recommend any novice campers go boondocking. With minimal access to the outside world, no security and no water or electricity, the potential for an emergency is a lot higher. With that being said, seasoned campers and those who are properly prepared may find this type of camping more rewarding and more enjoyable. So go ahead and boondock, as long as you do it right!

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