Boondocking or dispersed camping can be one of the greatest camping experiences you can have. Whether you have an RV, van, trailer, tent, or just camp out of the back of your vehicle, there are tons of free spots out there for you. We have found some absolutely incredible secluded spots that you simply can’t find in established campgrounds. There are definitely some safety considerations to take when you are out dispersed camping. We don’t advocate living in fear but there are some common sense precautions we take to put our minds (and our parents minds) at ease. Below we will list our safety precautions, things we carry with us for safety, and our methods for privacy. As a disclaimer, we have spent over 100 nights boondocking in the past year and have had largely great experiences. We have never had to leave a campsite in the middle of the night or had any scary experiences. We accredit this largely to the research we do to find safe and comfortable camp spots, and the precautions we take. We hope with this information, you can have the same great experiences we have had.
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Potential Safety Threats
Before thinking about safety precautions and things to carry with you for safety, it’s important to be aware of what the legitimate threats to safety are when you are boondocking.
Weather can be unpredictable and take your boondocking experience from enjoyable to nigthmare if you aren’t prepared. Before heading out, it’s important to know the forecast for the area you will be staying. If you are going to be camping near the top of a mountain, you will want to know if there is a thunderstorm headed your way. If there is, you probably won’t want to be on that mountain top! If you are camping near water or in an area that is going to get muddy, you probably won’t want to be in that spot if it is going to rain heavily. You may have to worry about getting stuck, or worse, flooded. Just because a spot was easy to get into doesn’t mean it will be easy to get out of if the weather changes. Other weather considerations are high winds and tides. If you are parking on or near the beach, pay attention to tide patterns to ensure you don’t get swept away. Nature is another consideration when deciding where to park. Look at the trees around you and make sure that none of them are dead. A dead tree could fall over at any time and the last thing you want is for it to fall over on your rig.
Be aware of the wildlife threats in the area you are camping. Are you in bear or cougar territory? It’s always best practice to not leave food scraps around and clean up after cooking but you need to be particularly on guard if you are in an area with known wildlife activity. Carry bear spray, lock up your food, and use flashlights when you go out at night. Probably the most frequent wildlife threat however, is rodents. They can get into your rig, chew through wires, and cause a whole mess of trouble. To prevent this, make sure as best you can to eliminate points of entry. Also avoid camping in one spot for too long and keep your rig as tidy as possible. Despite these efforts, rodents may still get in, at which point there are always mouse traps.
This is lowest on our list of legitimate fears while boondocking. The majority of people in the world, especially those you meet boondocking, are kind-hearted and well meaning people. When you are camping in unfamiliar places however, it is important to take precautions to protect yourself.
Know What Land You Are Camping On
This is one of the most important rules when it comes to boondocking. You always want to know what land you are on and if you are legally allowed to stay there. There is a great app called OnX Hunt that shows property lines and ownership, this can give you great peace of mind when you are dispersed camping. The last thing you want is to be camping on private property without knowing it.
Park Your Rig Strategically
Never park under a dead tree, this is the number one rule when positioning your rig. Besides avoiding dead trees, you want to park facing your exit and never back yourself into a corner you can’t maneuver out of. Sometimes this is unavoidable depending on what your spot looks like and where you need to park to be level. It is a good practice to maintain when you can however.
Be Ready to Leave Camp
Try to pick up camp and your rig as much as possible before going to bed. This way, if something happens in the middle of the night, you are able to drive off without worrying if you have left something in camp, or that your dishes will fly off the counter. This also helps protect against a very real threat, rodents! Picking up your campsite before bed helps insure no mice will chew though your flip flops or worse, propane hoses during the night. Sleeping in PJs helps ensure you won’t get caught naked in the middle of the night.
Always Lock Your Rig Before Going to Bed
Hopefully that’s an obvious one?
Don’t Open the Door Immediately if Someone Knocks
If you get a knock in the middle of the night, do not immediately open the door. It can take a minute or so to become coherent if you are woken up in the middle of sleep. Talk to the person through the door and if possible, see the person through the window before deciding to open the door. Having exterior perimeter lighting or a good flashlight also helps in these situations.
Have Your Keys Available
It’s a good practice to always know where your keys are. If you need to leave camp, the last thing you want to do is be fumbling trying to find your keys.
Don’t Arrive After Dark
It is always best to familiarize yourself with your camp, and be able to see if anyone is parked around you. Depending on your driving route, sometimes this is unavoidable. Seeing a camp in daylight can offer perspective on the vibe of a site (i.e. if locals have been using it as a dump etc).
Say “Hi” to Your Camp Neighbors
If you have people camped near you, it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself. For one, this is a great way to make friends. Additionally, if you need their help in the middle of the night, it’s less awkward if you’ve already said “hi”.
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Trust Your Gut Feeling
If you don’t feel right about a place, don’t stay there, plain and simple. If you are traveling with another person, you should have a pact that each person has veto power if they don’t feel safe.
We installed four spot/flood combo lights, two on each side of our van, and have been extremely happy with them. We utilize them at night when we go out or let Joni outside. They have many functions including white light, amber light, and strobing. The strobe lights are particularly useful if you find yourself on the side of the highway and want to warn oncoming cars. If you do find yourself coming into camp after dark, the perimeter lights can help you see your camp better. You can also use perimeter lights if you get a knock in the middle of the night.
An alarm system is great peace of mind when you are out boondocking. It is also good peace of mind when you leave your van, especially if you travel with valuables.
This is an optional layer of security beyond your vehicles stock locks to give you extra peace of mind. Beyond boondocking, they provide peace of mind when you leave your vehicle, especially if you carry valuables with you.
Pepperspray and Airhorn
Two good non-lethal forms of self defense. It’s also a good idea to carry bear spray when you are in bear territory.
Two Way Radios
These are a great option for communicating quickly with someone if you step outside after dark. They are also great for backing up or navigating terrain so you don’t have to yell to your travel companion. Another great function of these radios is a NOAA weather scan. If you tune to radio to a certain channel, you will get a read out of local weather. When you don’t have service, it is a great way to get information about changing weather patterns so you don’t get caught in dicey situations.
A simple solution to see in the dark if you don’t have perimeter lights. This is a great option for a rechargeable spotlight.
Beyond having a DashCam for driving purposes, some models have a parking mode that will start recording when they detect motion. This could come in handy if you have a conflict. They can also record audio, if you turn your key to accessory, they will start recording if you are talking to someone.
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If you are going to be camping in an area with no cell phone reception, a satellite phone can be a good piece of security to contact someone in an emergency. The Garmin InReach is one of the most popular options on the market but there are plenty of choices.
We custom made window covers out of Reflectix for our windshield and side windows so they fit really well and are close to light tight. Beyond helping with heat during the day, they are great for privacy at night.
Having a curtain or bulkhead between the cab and living space of your rig is great for privacy. We have a blackout, thermal curtain on a dowel rod with marine boat cover snaps all the way around. The snaps are really easy to install and when it is snapped to the walls of the van, it is completely light tight. This helps with privacy, stealth, and temperature control.
We hope these tips help you have great boondocking experiences as we have. For more information on how to find great free camping spots, check out this post. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post. Now get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow!