Friday, December 2, 2022


Definition of “boondocking” stumps experts


Edited by Russ and Tiña De Maris

Last month we polled readers on what constituted “boondocking.” Last week we published the full results and many comments on the subject. To recap the poll results, here they are again:

“In which of these circumstances would you be “boondocking?”

21%   Staying free on public lands (desert, forest, etc.)
14%   Staying anywhere without hookups where it’s free.
11%    Staying in a free public campground without hookups.
10%   Staying in a free small town park without hookups.
8%    If I pay to stay, it’s not boondocking.
8%    Staying in a parking lot, Walmart for example.
7%    Staying in a highway rest area.
6%    Staying in a small town park, no hookups, where a donation is requested.
5%    Staying in a friend’s driveway without hookups.
5%    Staying along the side of a quiet city street.
5%    Paying to stay in a public campground without hookups.

It’s clear that there’s no widely accepted definition of “boondocking.” But that can lead to issues for us here at, and to our writers. When Bob Difley writes about boondocking, is his vision the same as that of Russ and Tiña De Maris, or that of Greg Illes or Dave Helgeson? All of us in the list write extensively on the subject. Are we on the same page?

Dave takes it back to the origin of the word that RVers bandy about. Quoting that exhaustive internet resource,, he points out that boondock refers to “A remote, usually brushy rural area; or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated. The expression was introduced to English by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. It derives from the Tagalog word ‘bundok’, meaning ‘mountain’. The term has evolved into American slang used to refer to the countryside or any implicitly isolated rural/wilderness area, regardless of topography or vegetation.”

Referring to several different Internet resources, Dave points out that about the only thing that’s truly in common for the sake of their definition of the practice of boondocking, is the matter of the self-sufficiency that an RV provides.

“Given the definitions the websites use to describe boondocking,” says Dave, “anywhere but a full hookup space in a RV park could qualify as boondocking. In my mind only the last website defines boondocking correctly when it defines boondocking as, ‘remote location dispersed camping.’ I don’t believe dry camping in a developed campground within a local, state, national park or forest qualifies as boondocking; neither does staying the night in a Wal-Mart or a Cabela’s parking lot.”

Bob Difley takes a similar view. Bob begins his own definition, “Camping away from hookups and out of the immediate vicinity of civilization. This would include dispersed camping areas (as defined by the forest service), [and] camping on open public lands (when not in defined dispersed camping areas).” On that score, Bob sides with the “21 percent majority” that say, boondocking is ‘staying free on public lands.’ But hang on, he doesn’t leave it at that. Bob would also include government operated campgrounds like those provided by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that “have NO hookups, but may have a communal water source or nearby dump stations.”

Bob is quick to add these other “non-purists'” venues because, in his words, “Dropping them from the boondocking definition serves no purpose, and would eliminate lots of people that regularly use these camping options and consider themselves boondockers. Otherwise, it positions those who think this is not boondocking as snooty, technically purer, elitists.”

Greg Illes tried to unravel the dilemma by looking to see how the “boondocking” word usage has evolved over the years. “In RV parlance, ‘boondocking’ originally meant camping in remote places, not provided with typical RV park amenities. After a while, ‘boondocking’ became equivalent to camping without amenities. So when Walmart, casinos, Pilot [Truck Stops], etc., began openly supporting overnight parking, it seemed logical to include such self-contained experiences under the ‘boondocking’ mantle.”

Greg touched on other words that have crept up in the “RVing thesaurus.” He adds, “Hard to segregate these things using something like ‘pavement camping’. There’s a nice little dirt lot at the south end of Petrified Forest National Park, adjacent to the gift shop. Not pavement, not the boondocks. Still amenity-free camping (no toilets, water, electrical, dump, etc.). It might not pay to try to get too precise with terminology, because the activity is so varied that inevitable exceptions or confusions would occur.”

To the ever-expanding lingo, there are a couple of newer entries. “Some renegade types have tried to stand apart from the crowd with variations — seemingly for variations’ sake. ‘Wild camping’ and ‘free camping’ are narrowly-used and poorly-defined alternatives. I think ‘boondocking’ is a fine one-and-only term and I personally never use the variations,” writes Illes.

Still, one more term that has popped up very recently is brought up by Russ and Tiña De Maris, who tend to edge toward the purist’s side of the spectrum. “Have to agree, ‘boondocking’ in our parlance doesn’t apply to ‘Camp Walmart’, or in Uncle Joe’s driveway. Those are best described as ‘dry camping’, or we’ve seen of late, ‘moochcamping.'”

There are other terms that, at times, muddy the water. Here’s how Bob would dispense with them:

“Dry camping — A generic term for camping without hookups. Period. You can dry camp in a dispersed camping area or in a Walmart parking lot.

“Blacktop or pavement camping — Dry camping on any paved surface, Walmart, Cabela’s, truck stops, shopping center, friend’s driveway, etc.

“Partial hookups — In all of the above there are NO hookups. Zero. Partial hookups (probably needs a better name) would be camping at any of the above and having a water or electrical connection.”

There’s plenty of terminology to be tossed around. And try as we might, the “group of four think tank” couldn’t come to a unanimous definition for “boondocking.” But leave it to “Engineer Illes” to give us an illustration of what at least a sort-of consensus resembles. There’s a lot of overlap in thinking, and for now, we’ll have to leave it that it “seems like” boondocking holds a common thread of being away from civilization, and being self-reliant — no hookups available.

Finally, one of our readers pointed out that whenever it is we bandy the word “boondocking” around, it seems like our writers are mostly pointing toward something done West of the Mississippi. We apologize — maybe it’s because the majority of our RVing time is done out West. Interestingly, Greg Illes undertook some quick research and came back with some interesting factoids regarding “boondocking” east of the Big Muddy:

Back East, there are, by his estimation, some 12,000 sites that might — depending on your definition — qualify as boondocking sites. Compare this to the West, where about 15,000 sites immediately pop out of the woodwork. Now, for purists who won’t stay if you have to pay, Greg points out that a disproportionate number of sites in the East charge money, compared to those in the West.

Since most of our staff writers are located out West, our familiarity with potential boondocking locations is limited. We’d love to hear from readers in the East who could share their favorite places. Write Russ at rvtravel dot com.


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Tom Horn
2 years ago

I prefer the term Freedom Docking
The term “Boondocks” which means mountains (difficult to reach areas) was brought to the US by American soldiers after fighting the Philippine-American war (1899-1902)

2 years ago

I hadn’t heard the word boondocking until my parents started using it going full-time RV about a year ago. I’ve been interested in getting an incredibly small camper and was shocked to find what I was looking for was considered an overlander. Definitely some overlap here!

2 years ago

I don’t see why boondocking/dry camping always includes the idea of “free”. Security might be worth a price even if you aren’t hooked up to anything.

2 years ago

I too want to know about boondocking/dry camping places in the east as I hope to visit there this summer. Help!

2 years ago

Every answer either included the word “free” or implied it. I don’t know that HAS to be in the definition. Anything without hookups is boondocking to me, and the fact you don’t pay for it is a bonus. I realize no one wants to pay for “services” they don’t get, but maybe security is a service too and one might be willing to pay something for it.

Rory R
2 years ago

I don’t understand why everything has to be so complicated. Boondocking should cover anyone staying free with no hookups. Moochdocking is staying in a friend or relative’s driveway with at least water, and electricity when available. Does everything have to be so pure. It’s a B+, no it’s a compact C. It’s a friggin camper on a sprinter van chasis. It’s Camping, no it’s glamping. Well I’ll let anyone else who want to debate what is and what isn’t do so, and I’ll see ya down the road, when I can leave my home base…… LOL

Gene Bjerke
2 years ago

As a wordy, let me throw in my two cents worth: “Dry camping” is camping anywhere without hookups; “Boondocking” is dry camping in the boondocks, i.e. far from civilization. Now to another word that is far too casually used: “Factoid.” Factoid was defined by the person who invented the word as something that looks like a fact but isn’t (not some sort of miniature fact — that would be a “factlet.,”)

2 years ago

I agree with the graphic. No name for the blue. Most of the time, it’s easy to figure out which category is being discussed and what info applies to my situation(s).

2 years ago

I like Greg Illes’ illustration of the difference between dry camping & boondocking.

Tommy Molnar
5 years ago

I remember when I was in management for a well known package company. We referred to an expert as anyone more than 100 miles from home . . .

5 years ago

I like the idea that boondocking is a subset of the “greater set” of dry camping. Now where does “off grid” camping fit?

Ron T
2 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

So now I guess we need to define “grid”. I’d say there are four grids – electrical, plumbing, sewer and communications. So if you’re not connected to any of those you are truly “off the grids” IMHO anyway.

5 years ago

I like the last word in the caption: “experts”. I’ve always considered the term breakable into two parts. One: x is an unknown quantity and sperts is a drip under pressure.

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