As you may know, if you follow us in any capacity, we love boondocking. We think America’s public lands are the greatest thing, and being able to stay on them for free and experience the quiet and the views?! Priceless. We encourage everyone to get out and try boondocking, even if just as an occasional thing.
All of that being said, there are some folks who think that just because they are in “the wild” that it is a free-for-all, and there are no rules. If you are a decent human, this is definitely not the case. While there may not be a camp host to enforce the rules, there are certain regulations all public land users must follow. In addition, there are also some basic tenets of etiquette you should follow to respect the land, your neighbors, and future users of your campsite. Here, I will highlight the basic rules and etiquette of boondocking that all good public land users should know and follow.
1. Keep noise to a minimum
I have mentioned before how much we love the silence and solitude that comes along with camping in the wild. Well, this sense of peace and quiet is not entirely possible if you have noisy neighbors. While boondocking sites are typically incredibly spaced out and private, at times, we are only a few hundred or thousand feet from our nearby neighbors. Be considerate of everyone around you by not blaring your music, letting your dogs bark for hours, or revving your ATVs in the middle of the night. Basically, just be polite. Of course, you can have fun and treat your site as your own, but just remember to do so while also remaining respectful of your neighbors.
2. Be polite with generator usage (if others are nearby).
This goes along with the noise tenet, but I felt it deserved its own category. How do you power your RV when not plugged in? Some people have solar, but it the majority of folks use a generator. Since generators are typically loud, blasting them in the middle of the night is not very polite. We tend to follow an 8am-10pm rule, meaning that you should avoid usage before 8am and after 10pm.
3. Don’t crowd others unless absolutely necessary.
One of the greatest things about boondocking, in my opinion, is the amount of space and privacy one gets at their own site. However, there are some folks who seem to feel safer when surrounded by others, and they will go out of their way to join others’ campsites. This is rather rude for a variety of reasons, primarily because not everyone feels unsafe or wants other people in their site. Sometimes this scenario is unavoidable if there are a lot of people packed into a small area, but, in general, you should follow the one rig per site rule for best boondocking etiquette.
4. Keep off-leash dogs in your own campsite.
One of the other great things about boondocking is that dogs are not required to remain on-leash! We almost always let our dogs run and play off-leash outside while boondocking, which makes the experience much better and more enjoyable for them. However, the lack of leash laws does not mean you should allow your dog to roam freely without supervision. Other campers (and their dogs) may not be thrilled about a visit from your pooch, and, more importantly, it may not be safe to allow them to wander without watching them. If your dog is not off-leash trained, I would suggest a long lead so they can still sniff and play outside without bothering others or potentially being harmed themselves.
5. Clean up after yourself.
This is another basic principle that some people just do not seem to care about. There is nothing worse than pulling into a gorgeous boondocking site and finding it filled with trash. We have seen broken dishes, old tires, car parts, broken bottles, beer cans and much, much more, all left behind at camps simply because the previous campers did not feel it necessary to clean up after themselves, or worse yet, from folks using BLM or National Forest land a dump site. The basic rule of “pack it in, pack it out” certainly also applies to boondocking.
In addition, keep your site neat and clean. Spreading out all of your belongings outside will make your site look extremely messy. If the forest service feels that the land is not being cared for, they could potentially close the free sites that everyone loves. Clean up after yourself to avoid ruining it for others.
6. Clean up after others.
As a way to reciprocate all of our boondocking, we like to do a campsite clean-up at the end of each stay. While this is not necessarily required, we see it as a way to give back to the land and the services (BLM and NFS) that allow us to camp in these spaces for free. Cleaning up after others is a thankless job, but it also goes back to the principle I mentioned in the previous rule. If the sites aren’t being cared for, they could eventually be closed, so, if you can, do your part and help out.
7. Properly extinguish campfires
Everyone loves a good fire while boondocking. Eighteen months into the road life, we still love a good fire in the wild. But abandoned and improperly extinguished campfires are one of the biggest causes of wildfires. Follow the forest service’s rules for campfire safety by building a fire ring out of stones in an area at least fifteen feet from your camp and ten feet from grass and brush. Clear all surrounding twigs and other flammables and enjoy your fire. When you are done, be sure to drown your fire with water and bury it in sand and dirt to extinguish it. Feel your fire to ensure it is cool to the touch, and remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
8. Respect burn bans
Throughout the year, there are often burn bans in effect for places that are extremely at-risk for wildfires. If you are not sure whether or not campfires are allowed, do your research. National forest websites typically indicate if there are any fire restrictions currently, and, if you are really unsure, it never hurts to call your local forest service station or BLM office to double check. Remember that seeing others’ fires is not necessarily an indication that fires are currently permitted, as others may not know the rules or may be ignoring them. It’s best to know for sure before breaking the rules.
9. Don’t overstay your welcome.
Finally, be sure to respect the max length stay limits. For most boondocking, the limit is 14 days, but I have seen as little as four days or as long as twenty-one permitted in certain areas. If you are unsure, as always, call the local BLM or NFS office. We have seen many people who have clearly been in their site longer than permitted, and this is not cool for a variety of reasons. Don’t make a ranger have to come and remove you from your site. Fourteen days is plenty of time to enjoy a beautiful area, and this is the length of time we typically stay.
Whether you are new to this type of camping or pride yourself in being a seasoned boondocker, with these basic principals, you are sure to have an enjoyable time in the wilderness. We use boondocking as a time to unwind, recharge, and relax, and we hope you enjoy similar experiences while camping. As always, if you have any questions about the rules and regulations, do not hesitate to contact your local forest service or BLM office. The rangers there are always willing to help and answer your questions. Boondocking etiquette ensures a better time for everyone, and, with so few rules in place, it shouldn’t be difficult to keep these principals in mind during your next camping trip.
Have you boondocked before? Are there any etiquette elements I missed? Feel free to share in the comments below!