Don’t Make These 5 Major Boondocking Mistakes

Boondocking: saying it is almost as fun as actually doing it.

Boondocking is a fun word for free camping, done off-the-grid and on public land. Boondocking has a few other names, like dry camping and wild camping, but they all mean about the same thing. You can boondock in an RV, a bus, a truck camper, a tent, a pop-up camper, or any other type of mobile shelter that you’ve devised to explore the open road.

Truck camper parked in a salt flat.
Bonneville Salt Flats | Wendover, UT – Photo by: Downsized

People choose to boondock for many different reasons, though the quiet, remote, natural beauty of camping in the wild is usually close to the top of the list (so is the price tag, which is often free!).

If you’re interested in trying boondocking for the first time or are looking to brush up your skills, check out these helpful tips and boondocking mistakes that you don’t want to make.

Don’t Rely on Google Maps

When navigating to boondocking sites, don’t put your trust entirely in the Google or Apple maps navigation systems. These digital tools are great for navigating well-traveled roads and traffic but often don’t offer a realistic view of what to expect when you venture onto wilder, often seasonally open, roads.

When choosing a boondocking site, be sure to read through the reviews posted by the Campendium community. These reviews often include important information about navigation and the best sites in dispersed camping areas.

Also, do your best to plan your boondocking destination ahead of time. Imagine driving all day while on a road trip; you feel your eyes getting heavy, you’re ready to set up camp and fall asleep, then you pull your rig into a national forest only to find there’s nowhere to feasibly park your RV.

Don’t Arrive at Night

If you’re boondocking, the chances are high that you’re headed somewhere off the beaten path, where the dark of night could obscure natural and artificial hazards. If you don’t have a chance during the day to figure out the lay of the land, you could risk hitting some mud that your rig can’t make it through, or worse, get caught up in a maze of trees with no way out. Granted, that’s a little extreme, but at least one of Campendium’s seasoned travelers has nearly driven over a cement embankment after pulling into a dispersed camping area after dark.

Truck with bikes on roof driving down gravel wall next to rock wall.
Arrowrock Reservoir Dispersed | Boise, ID – Photo by: Live Small Ride Free

Show up during the daytime. Scout your potential boondocking locations either with your (small and nimble) camper or if you have a larger rig, on foot, bike, or with your tow vehicle. Getting the lay of the land first will make setting up camp much easier and help you avoid some annoying and potentially dangerous situations.

Don’t Boondock in the Wrong Rig

Rough terrain, tree branches, and other surprises in remote places mean that boondocking can be rough on your camper. If you don’t want scratches or dings on your RV, van, truck, or motorhome, then boondocking may not be for you.

Class A stuck in the sand on a beach.
Rutherford Beach | Creole, LA – Photo by: Juliana

Secondly, don’t boondock in a vehicle with low clearance unless you’ve been to the location before and are sure your rig can handle it. Low clearance vehicles run the risk of getting the bottom of your rig snagged on roots, rocks, or tree stumps and getting stuck (or worse), doing major damage to your vehicle. It’s not all that hard to bust an oil pan, causing oil to leak out and potentially ending up with a blown engine in the middle of nowhere.

Third, both heavy and super long rigs are pretty tricky to maneuver in tight or uneven terrain. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you dive in headfirst. If you’re renting a rig, check out this article on how to boondock in an RV rental.

Don’t Ignore the Weather

Even if you’ve visited before and know that you’re at a great spot for boondocking, always check the weather. Rain can turn your favorite, usually dry boondocking spot into a sludgy mess pretty quickly or influence the tide height at that epic beach camping spot. You also don’t want to be nestled in at 10,000 feet elevation when that surprise snowstorm settles in.

RV boondocked in the snow.
Coconino Rim Road Dispersed Camping | Grand Canyon, AZ – Photo by: Doug

Experienced boondockers often carry an emergency weather radio in their camper for those times when they are out of cell range or as a backup to a phone in case they run into issues with their batteries or electric systems.

Don’t Fully Trust Other People’s Experiences

Just because a campsite is well-reviewed on Campendium doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Even if you see stellar photos and reviews exclaiming how great a spot was, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience.

Bus stuck in the river.
Middle Fork Flathead River | Columbia Falls, MT – Photo by: MikeRopinez

The fun of boondocking is that every dry camper’s experience will be vastly different depending on where they are, what they’re driving, and past and current weather conditions.

Give yourself permission to get off the beaten path, check out satellite views of national forests, explore a little (using the guidance above), and tailor your boondocking trip to suit your and your vehicle’s risk for tolerance.

Bringing it Together

Boondocking is a fun way to unplug and submerge yourself in nature. However, there is an art to boondocking, and it can go wrong if you aren’t informed about the ins and outs of off-grid exploring.

Keep these boondocking tips in mind, and your RV life will be much easier and safer. Last but never least, have fun!