Boondocking in a coronavirus world. Part 1: Why?

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By Dave Helgeson

I have touted the many benefits of boondocking for years. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, I have discovered even more reasons to choose boondocking over more conventional campsites like campgrounds and RV parks.

Now before I get into the reasons why I prefer boondocking and why boondocking makes even more sense in a coronavirus world, let’s spend a minute looking at how I define the term boondocking as there are many definitions floating around out there, as this previous entry illustrates.

There is no right or wrong definition of the term “boondocking,” but for the purposes of this and following entries written by myself, boondocking will be defined as “dispersed camping on public lands with no amenities (vault toilet, picnic tables, etc.) for free.*” This definition excludes dry camping in developed campgrounds (forest service, national parks, etc.) and on private property (Walmart, Cracker Barrel, etc.) *Occasionally some type of access permit (state or federal) may be required. Important Note: Government agencies always use the term “dispersed camping.”

Boondocking on Land Administerd by the BLM
Boondocking with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management)

Following are some of the reasons my wife and I prefer boondocking:

• We don’t have to deal with the inconvenience of making reservations and adhering to a rigid travel schedule that comes with it.

• A boondocking camp spot is typically closer to the activities and places we want to see, as many of the things we enjoy are located on public land.

• The price is right!

• We can arrive and leave when we want as there are no check-in or check-out times.

• We don’t have to deal with other campers who think the rules don’t apply to them, as you will often find in a campground.

• We can orient our RV however we like in the boondocks to take advantage of the wind, sun or the view, unlike a campground with a predefined space to park in.

• We don’t look out the window at the neighbor’s slide-out, as our RV neighbors in the boondocks (if we have any) are hundreds of yards away.

• We are parked in natural surroundings.

• We don’t have to deal with other RVers roaming or any of their barking dogs.

• There are no street lights or lights from other RVs to disturb the night sky or our sleep.

• We are never awakened early in the morning by a garbage truck emptying the campground dumpster or the street sweeper in the Walmart parking lot.

• If we choose to travel with others, they can camp with us, not five campsites away.

• The views from our campsite aren’t cluttered up with buildings, other RVs, or man-made obstructions.

• While we no longer have a dog, the boondocks are much more dog-friendly than any RV park or campground. (No breed /size restrictions and seldom any leash requirements.)

Boondocking with the USFS (United States Forest Service)

Since the pandemic, the following benefits and advantages have been added to our list:

• The Constitution pretty much guarantees you and I unfettered access to undeveloped federal “public” land. Therefore, “dispersed camping” was and is permissible on most federal land (USFS – United States Forest Service, BLM – Bureau of Land Management, and others) during pandemic restrictions issued by state governors.


Check out Boondockers Welcome, who recently added more than 100 new hosts! Click here.


• Dispersed camping has become the clear and perhaps only choice after pandemic mandates have closed most developed public areas like campgrounds, boat launches, picnic areas, trailheads, etc., where “dry camping” was permissible previously.

• There are no hard “high touch” surfaces like picnic tables, vault toilets, etc., possibly harboring the virus for you to come in contact with.

• There is no “check-in” process that could possibly expose you to the virus (doorknobs, pens, credit card touchpad screens, personnel, other people in line, iron rangers, etc.).

• You are unlikely to have a neighboring RV with occupants (potential virus carriers) anywhere near your camp unless you allow it.

• Other than when you are safely in your RV, you will be outside – where studies suggest virus transmission is rare.

• There is a plethora of activities available in the boondocks that by nature provide social distancing and allow you to get some exercise in beautiful surroundings.

• Many boondocking locations (especially in the West) are far removed from broadcast TV or cell phone coverage, allowing you to quickly forget there is even a pandemic occurring.

• When boondocking, there are no worries that your travels will be interrupted by RV parks or campgrounds being forced to close due to a second wave of the virus.

• Since there are no hookups in the boondocks, you won’t have to worry about the possibility of lingering virus particles left on water spigots and the electrical pedestals from the last user.

• If a second wave does occur, boondocking provides a safe and available means of obtaining overnight campsites while returning home.


Run your RV air conditioner with a small generator
When the temperature heats up and you’re boondocking with only a small portable generator for power, you’re out of luck running an air conditioner. That is, unless you have a SoftStartRV. It’s inexpensive, simple to install, and makes running your A/C possible. Learn more or order at a special discount.


More reasons to like RVing in a coronavirus world:

While most of you reading this are likely already enjoying the RV lifestyle, a few of you may have stumbled onto this site while researching the lifestyle to see if it is right for you in these troubled times. For those that aren’t current RV owners, I suspect you are quickly discovering the many positive features of RVing (boondocking or not) in a coronavirus world, and will choose to make it your preferred method of travel this summer for many of the following reasons:

• Just like we witnessed after 9/11, people may be reluctant to return to the confined space of an airplane after practicing the safety of social distancing for so long and will opt for RV travel instead.

• The thought of traveling abroad to foreign countries will still be a concern for many.

• Traveling by RV allows people to prepare their own meals and consume them in their own space, not in restaurants that they were banned from during the outbreak.

• Sleeping in your own bed every night and using your own bathroom is always preferred over the alternatives, especially after an infectious outbreak when you question every surface you come in contact with.

• You know when the interior of the RV was last sanitized and by whom (you!).

With more people turning to RV travel for the reasons listed above, demand for campsites (which have been exceeding capacity over the past few summers due to soaring RV sales) will be at an all-time high, as this article points out. Even if you can obtain a campsite, do you really want to stay at a crowded RV park or campground where there could be even one asymptomatic person walking around unknowingly spreading the virus?

Is boondocking right for you in a coronavirus world? You won’t know until you give it a try. It is not as hard or scary as you may think.

No coronavirus here! Just summer wildflowers. This could be you!

See other boondocking-related articles here.

##RVT951

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pauline
5 months ago

Be sure to clean up and keep public lands as clean as possible. I always find trash and I leave my site cleaner then I found it.

Tom Horn
5 months 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)

www.livingboondockingmexico.blogspot.com
5 months ago

People will nit pick this article to pieces. As an avid boondocker in North America, mostly Mexico and the Southern U,S., you have hit it right on. You have used the word “free” so there will be those that say “well, this costs and that costs” true, but we’re talking freedom, open-air, the great outdoors and most of all, peace and quiet. Those “costs” are certainly minor and we as boondockers we learn to adjust and find ways to make it work to be able to maintain that freedom.

We sometimes have to use RV parks, rarely, but avoid them like the plague (no pun intended)

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago

You are correct, it’s about the freedom! Thanks for commenting.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago

Hi, have a nice day

Tour Crazy
5 months ago

I get it, but I’d miss my air conditioning. That and the extreme water conservation needed to extend black and grey tanks. When I see videos with people suggesting bathing with a baby wipe and wearing a hat to cover your greasy hair, I’m turned off. Maybe in my youth, but not for me. We’re full time, and I wouldn’t live that way in a sticks and bricks, so why in my RV.

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago
Reply to  Tour Crazy

Tour Crazy, I totally agree with you. I take care of my AC needs (when needed – I typically just go up onto the mountains where it isn’t hot enough to require AC) with a 2,200 watt generator and a SoftStart. My wife and I don’t boondock in one spot for weeks on end like the people you see in the videos. We both shower daily ( I can’t stand not shampooing my hair every morning) and move every few days along our route taking on potable water and dumping tanks as we go.

Judy S
5 months ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

My situation is kind of similar to Dave’s. I can boondock alone in my Class B for 2 weeks with daily showers. (Maybe a week if a friend is with me.) By then, I’m ready for a change of scenery and I restock water + food enroute and empty the composting toilet.

I HATE to be hot and have a 12 volt AC and a ton of insulation, solar & lithium (no generator or propane), but I don’t want to sit inside all day, so I usually just move to higher altitude where the temps are much cooler. You don’t need to move to another part of the country to escape the heat. Usually a much cooler alpine climate is less than 2 hours away.

wanderer
5 months ago
Reply to  Judy S

I was agreeing with you completely up to those last 2 sentences. I just drove north 4 hours today in Florida, and it was hot, sticky, and 100% humidity where I started, and where I stopped. There are no alpine mountains another 2 hours away.

Camping in the deep south is problematic in the warmer months. Most people do not have 12 volt AC, so it’s very tough to boondock without being really miserable or even unhealthy. So much solar gain in an RV, and it doesn’t get much cooler at night like it does at elevation.

I do agree boondocking has tons of advantages and it’s great to find ways to make it work, and places to do it.

Lew
5 months ago

From my unscientific survey, conducted while driving backroads in the San Juan National Forest (CO), there is a dramatic uptick in dispersed camping/RVing. With it has come an uptick in illegal campfires (fire ban in effect) and pricey citations. Enjoy the public lands, but obey the rules. We’ll all be better off.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago
Reply to  Lew

Let me guess what’s coming next; camper starts forest fire because he was stupid. Result, area closed for public use till further notice.

Steve
5 months ago

I only see one thing missing from this article–dumping your waste tanks. It is illegal to dump black tanks on all public land and, in Colorado at least, illegal to dump gray water on the ground. To find a LEGAL place to dump, you have to go to a public campground, an RV park, a gas station, or somewhere else with a dump and generally must pay for using it. So, boondocking is not quite free and you do have to come into contact with others when dumping.

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Steve, Thanks for reminding the readers that dumping of the black tank on the ground is illegal, not just in Colorado but to my knowledge EVERYWHERE! There are many creative ways to manage gray water (Do an online search using my name and “managing gray water”) thus allowing you to extend your stay in the boondocks without searching out a dump station (your black tank should be good for a week or longer). Many apps and websites list free dump stations across the nation (I rarely pay to use a dump station) and since they are free I don’t have to come in contact with anyone to pay a fee. Plus I dump my black first and rinse my sewer hose by dumping the gray water second. Therefore unless I have a mishap I don’t even have to touch the water spigot to engage the rinse hose. Thanks for writing!

Judy S.
5 months ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

The Allstays app seems to list a lot of free dump stations. Thanks for the Google suggestion! I’ll pass it on.

Machholz
5 months ago

Dave, I respectfully disagree on you dog comment. From my experience nearly all state parks, national parks and national forests have some sort of leash law. The fact many dog guardians choose to ignore them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Most require dogs being on six foot leash and not one of those retractable gizmos. I agree with that policy, too, as my two German Shepherds always seem to be at fault when an off-leash dog comes running up to them with mischief in their eyes and that dog goes away thoroughly chastised.

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago
Reply to  Machholz

You are correct that dogs must be leashed in “Developed areas” like state parks, and national parks and USFS campgrounds, etc but not in undeveloped areas like true boondocking sites. Here is one of several references : May 28, 2017 – Pets are allowed in all U.S. National Forests, but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times while in developed recreation areas and on interpretive trails. Most other areas within the National Forests do not require dogs to be on a leash, but they should be under control at all times. I encourage everyone to understand the rules and follow them.

Lance Craig
5 months ago

You say the Constitution “pretty much guarantees you and I unfettered access to undeveloped federal “public” land.” I can find nothing in the Constitution regarding such. The only references regarding public land occur regarding free speech on public land. Can you cite the Article or Amendment?

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago
Reply to  Lance Craig

Lance,
This is a subject that has been debated for years, but I have had several government officials / employees tell me that no one has the authority to keep you off undeveloped federal lands that are open for public use. This is why trail heads (developed areas) were closed during the pandemic, while hiking was still permissible. Same thing for snowmobiling, trail heads were closed, but snowmobiling on USFS lands was still permissible. I checked with two USFS districts and one BLM office here in Washington State during the pandemic and was told dispersed camping and trails were open. Here is the best article I can find on the subject of guaranteed access. https://scholarship.law.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=plrlr

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

Interesting link Dave. Rather long and somewhat convoluted though, and in the end, still shows that there needs to be concrete rulings on the topic. It is our experience that we’ve never had trouble locating ‘public’ land for boondocking out here in the west. East of the Rockies? Not so much.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

Hey Dave, if you thought I stepped on your toes, you should say so, not delete the comment. That’s just not playing nice. Federal lands have been closed numerous times, which I made the point, but you thought it wasn’t proper, even though I was accurate.

Please feel free to comment, rather than delete the post. Honest and open discussion is informative, as I know you would agree!

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
5 months ago

Hey, Billy Bob. Dave didn’t delete your comment. I don’t know who did, but don’t blame Dave. (BTW — I see that 41 comments have been trashed today by moderators not as lenient/tolerant as I am.) —Diane at RVtravel.com

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thank you RV staff for clarifying that. The post that was deleted was respectful, factual. So, when I see that happen, especially in today’s climate, I get alarmed. I fully understand that opinion is opinion, I refrain from that, unless it’s in a kind sarcastic manner. Otherwise I source my information, and relay it here when I believe opinion being treated as fact. The two are mutually exclusive. However, open and intelligent discussion, should always be the order of the day. Never should it be, I’m taking my trucks home from the sandbox, and none of you are allowed to play anymore. That seems to be the theme permeating today’s narrative, and it’s not a good course to take < that last part is opinion!

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago

Oh, and I bet dollars to donuts, the reply above stays put. Because I know the respect you. I just wish, whoever has veto power, not be so ” it’s my way, or the highway” I suggest they reply so civil discourse can ensure, not I hold the power, blink, goodbye.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago
Reply to  Lance Craig

Oh, you think you have a right. I think you’re misguided. The government will decide who has rights to use. Although it is going in the right direction. Let’s recap shall we; previous administration shut down the National Park System when there were budgetary issues, effectively giving the finger to the very taxpayers who fund this whole experiment. Current administration; ordered the parks open, because it is the belief it is OUR LANDS, not some bureaucrats whim of power to punish us. I don’t care what your individual ideology is, but if you can’t see the forest for the tress, then why are you RVing anyway. It’s our land to be used responsibly, and those who don’t fine them enough to get their attention. But leave the rest of us alone.

Tumbleweed
5 months ago
Reply to  Lance Craig

In recent years, more and more restrictions have been added as to where on even undeveloped public land it is permissible to camp. For every national forest, it is almost necessary to stop at a ranger station to get the huge free map that shows where you can and cannot camp, and what roads you can and cannot drive on. Dispersed camping areas are clearly delineated. Without the maps, you find yourself encountering many chained-off roads before you reach one that leads to a dispersed camping area.

I’ve wondered if the forest service is being forced to slowly implement the UN’s infamous 2030 agenda that wants most western land closed to human use, or if so much damage is being done by campers and ATVers that they have to close portions continually to let the damaged areas recover. In spite of this, however, I still have few problems finding oddball, out-of-the-way places to camp. After years of doing so, I’ve developed a “nose” for finding them.

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago
Reply to  Tumbleweed

Tumble Weed, Good point about maps. These maps are known as Motor Vehicle Use Maps or (MVUM) and can be obtained in print or online. I typically use the online version and print off (or take a screen shot) just the section of the area I will be boondocking in.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago
Reply to  Lance Craig

It is understod that; all federal land is the property of, We the People, to be used in the manner perscribed. As an example; federal momuments in Washington DC are open to the public, as regulated by the National Park Service in that case. Most have ” hours of operation”, some do not (i.e. Washington Monument) unless you want to go inside, then see hours of admittance. So, in essence, it is public, but only for the intended use.

BLM lands obviously have a much broader use, like allowed discharge of firearms where permitted, etc., riding dirt bikes, camping where designated, to help preserve the ecosystems.

Hope I did not violate and rules here. You’ll have a nice day.

Donald N Wright
5 months ago

dispersed camping must be interesting. I think of “interstellar Orchard” or “slim Potatohead”, not the larger RV’s wandering about the forest or desert. I think of camping, not RV’ing.

Billy Bob Thornton
5 months ago

Slim rules. Now that guy knows the value of a buck.

Dave Helgeson
5 months ago

Don, Boondocking can be enjoyed by big rigs too. Check out a blog called Wheelin It. The gal that writes it has relocated to France, but prior to that traveled in US in a 45ft motorhome nicknamed the “Beast” and often boondocked. Check the older posts and you will see a listing of all the places they boondocked and how their rig was equipped.