5 Tips for A Safe Boondocking Experience

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Boondocking, wild camping, dry camping, or what you might call “roughing it,” requires an amount of self-reliance that you don’t often need in the comfort of a high-end RV park. Beyond the limits of cell phone towers and electric lines, there are potential dangers that you need to look out for.

RV parked in the desert.
Old Spanish Trail Dispersed Camping | Monte Vista, CO – Photo by: DesertGeckoAdventures

Depending on where you camp, boondocking can take you far away from other people or quite close to a camping neighbor. This isn’t to say that they aren’t going to be friendly (we’ve made lifelong friends out of boondock neighbors), but in many places, you’ll be far from the assistance you’d find in a city or town. These boondock tips will help guide you towards a safe and enjoyable boondocking experience.

Sign for Poplar River Campground
Poplar River Rustic Campground | Tofte, MN – Photo by: 20 AcresNoSheep

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

The first principle of Leave No Trace is to plan ahead and prepare. It’s not just applicable to backcountry camping or hiking through the forest; it’s an essential guideline for boondocking as well.

A prominent aspect of this principle is to let others know your plan and where you will be. If anything ever goes wrong while you are out of cell service, it’s important to have someone in range that knows your plan and when to call for help. Avoiding another 127 Hours situation is in everyone’s best interest.

Let loved ones know the site you are planning to visit and when they can expect to hear from you. If you plan on doing any day hiking around that area, that’s important to share as well. Give them any pertinent details to your trip and allow them to help you take care of yourself.

Another piece of preparation is bringing everything you could need, and sometimes more. When you set up camp on public land and dispersed camping areas, you aren’t going to have the sewer hookups or water and electric lines that you find in RV parks.

RV parked in the woods.
Thump Butte Loop | Prescott, AZ

2. Trust Your Gut

It may seem cynical, but not everything or everyone will be on your side when you are out boondocking. An often accurate alarm system for funky situations is that natural gut feeling. Your gut knows when something is up. The hardest part is learning to trust it and then acting on that instinct. We can easily forget that our instincts have kept us safe as humans for thousands of years and that natural protection hasn’t gone away.

Trust your gut with location, wild animals, RV neighbors, and everything going on while you are out there. If you ever get a bad feeling about something or someone you run into, pack up and move camp. Your gut may not always tell you to abandon ship; it may just remind you to pack up everything and move it inside for the night.

Fifth wheel hitch lock

3. Theft Deterrents

Unfortunately, some people may be interested in getting some of your more expensive gear for free while you sleep at night or are off exploring the area. Since your rig is your home away from home, you want to take all the same safety precautions that you would typically take closer to civilization.

In addition to keeping valuables out of sight and locking up your camper, you can invest in safety equipment like a coupler lock for your trailer, wheel locks, a door alarm, and even a camera system. There’s a wide range of quality and price on the market that makes safety accessible for anyone looking to lock up their valuables.

One of the big questions we often get is if a firearm is necessary for a safe boondocking trip. The only answer we can give is, it’s up to you. Carrying a firearm is a personal choice. If you choose to carry a firearm while boondocking, read up on the various state laws and become well-versed in the regulations about bringing firearms across state borders.

Sometimes the best deterrent is to make your camp blend in rather than stand out. While it can be nice to have strings of lights running around the front of your RV and a propane pizza oven for cooking dinner, drawing attention to yourself can bring in both friends (see below!) and those with more nefarious aims. Gauge the scene before you make any big statements about your location, camping style, and what you may have inside your RV.

Two people and a dog sitting outside of two fifth-wheels.
Red Rock Lane Dispersed Camping | Island Park, ID – Photo by: Homie At Large

4. Make Friends

Making friends while boondocking is one of the greatest pleasures you can find even in the middle of nowhere. It’s no surprise to find people with similarities while out on boondocking trips. Neighbors can also act as a “neighborhood watch” of sorts where everyone looks out for each other.

We don’t need to follow the childhood rule of “don’t talk to strangers,” but making friends doesn’t mean having everyone that knocks on your door over for an evening drink or morning coffee. You don’t need to open your door for strangers. You can talk through windows or keep to yourself if that’s what feels more comfortable.

While you are making friends, it is best not to share that you are alone or even where you are camping (if you meet someone while away from your campsite). Once you get to know someone better and become more comfortable, you can share more about yourself.

Class A and Jeep parked in the desert at sunset.
Palm Canyon Dispersed Camping | Quartzsite, AZ – Photo by: Scott

5. Keep a Tight Ship

The more organized you are, the safer your belongings will be. Even knowing where everything is will help to keep you safe. It allows you to pick up and leave in an emergency and gives you access to key pieces of gear when you need them most. If you’ve ever watched survival shows, you know that the loss of an important piece of gear has sent many competitors home before anything else.

Like we mentioned before, discretion is key. When you set up camp for the night, it’s important not to draw too much attention to your spot. Keep your more expensive items out of plain sight. Tuck away all of your computers, tablets, and pricey sports gear.

One camping item that “walks away” with relative frequency is generators. This is a commonly sought-after piece of camping gear that can cost a lot to replace when it goes missing. When you leave camp for the day, be sure to stash your generator in a spot that people can’t get to or lock it where it is. 

Following these tips for boondocking safety will help you cruise through national parks, dispersed camping areas, BLM land, national forests, and other wild spaces with a sense of security that makes these off-the-grid places feel like home.