Renegade Camping, Dispersed Camping, & Boondocking

Dispersed Camping, sometimes referred to as Renegade Camping, Primitive or Backcountry camping and boondocking is basically,

  • Camping OUTSIDE of designated campground areas.
  • Camping with no power, no services, and no modern luxuries.
  • Camping with No Crowds. It’s just you, and the great outdoors.

As a general rule, this type of camping is usually done on public lands well away from any established roads. Scattered throughout the United States there are millions of acres of public land where you can setup and camp, most of which won’t cost you a single cent.

Boondocking in the Desert by a Lake

Where to Camp for Free: Boondocking and Backcountry Camping

Most people who camp off the grid will pick a road in the National Forest or some other piece of public land, and then keep on driving. When the road ends, the real adventurers won’t stop until they find the perfect spot.

Free Campsites – While this might be a little less adventurous than finding a secluded spot in the backcountry, it still beats paying for a campsite or having to deal with a bunch of degenerates at the local KOA. Free Campsites are usually very primitive, but there are some that have basic services.

For those adventurous souls who just want to get away from it all, I recommend choosing a road that’s not often traveled. Roads with signs usually mean there will be too many people, and might not be the best spots to set up camp. Old dirt roads and old abandoned rail lines are some of the best places to look. I’ve found some great spots by just wandering around in the backcountry.

  • BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and other public lands are almost always free to camp at unless otherwise posted.
  • All National Forest land is open to camping unless otherwise posted, but some areas do have limits on how long you can stay in one spot so make sure to check with the rangers.
  • Some private land owners will allow people to camp on their land, so it never hurts to ask.
  • USFS – USDA Forest Service and the BLM – Bureau of Land Management websites are a good start when looking for areas to camp. The USFS offers free travel management maps called MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map) that show exactly where dispersed camping is restricted and which roads are open for travel.

A Few Things To Be Aware Of

If you’re new to camping, then you might want to start off slow. Dispersed camping means you need to be fully self-sufficient.

  • Don’t forget to find out if you need a fire permit or if you need to pay fees to camp in the area.
  • Unless you’re boondocking in an RV, then you need to remember that there are no bathrooms.
  • Anything that you’re going to need at your campsite needs to be brought in. Make sure to pack extra water, food and emergency supplies.

Always practice Leave No Trace! When you leave your campsite, there should be no trace that you were ever there. Things like fire rings, trash or anything else that you had needs to be taken with you; and the land that you camp on needs to be returned to the original condition that you found the land in. A good motto to live by when doing this type of camping is, “Take only photographs; leave only footprints!”

Jeep in the Backcountry
photo by desert-dweller@Flickr

The Best Kind of Road to look for…..
dirt road
photo by toughkidcst@Flickr

Driving to camp

Camping in the Backcountry
Top 2 photos by indigoprime@Flickr

44 Comments

  1. hermitjim
    February 13, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    It might be a good thing to go out and look some of these places over…you just never know!

    • ARC
      December 14, 2015 at 8:58 pm

      I really prefer the “Renegade” camping. Most of my time camping out is done this way and by myself. There are a few things to consider before going out on your own. Don’t over pack!Most people will over pack and half the stuff they take, they really don’t need. A good general rule for beginners is 1/4 of your own weight. You could go about 10 lbs heavier. Any heavier than the 10 lbs over limit for hiking in will soon turn enjoyment into a hateful struggle and will defeat your moral quickly. Research the planned area and let someone know where you are with longitude and latitudes of the planned campsites. Find out what types of animals are out there and how to counter the predator animals. Also keep a good two way radio or a 2 meter UHF/VHF radio on you or in your pack. The 2 meter UHF/VHF radio requires a FCC Amateur Ham Radio License to transmit but anyone can call for help on a 2 meter. A 30-45 dollar Baofeng 2 meter radio always goes with me on my trips for those unforeseen problems.

      • Audrey
        May 31, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        Have you always wanted to live off the grid? Let us provide you the opportunity!

        Calling all survivalists, expert outdoorsmen, and everyone in between.

        The producers of EDGE OF ALASKA, THE HUNT, ICE LAKE REBELS, & AMERICAN JUNGLE are searching for people who dream of living off the lands to participate in a new unscripted TV series. We will document your journey as you “re-wild” yourself.

        If you think you have the skills and resiliency to survive, email us today!

        • Kenneth George Sitton
          June 11, 2016 at 3:20 pm

          How can I get in on getting out?

        • Les Jones
          June 15, 2016 at 6:22 am

          I have always had an itch to go off grid, the idea of living as close to nature as possible has been in my blood from my early years. To have a chance at this is for me a once in a lifetime opportunity. I consider myself moderately self sufficient, always ready to learn, and have new challenges

        • Nathan Johnson
          June 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm

          This is most definately something I have dreamed of doing for a very long time. I have an 18 yr old son who I have trained in off the grid living as well that my wife would trust her life with if the situation were to ever arise. I would love to receive some more information and details on your upcoming show. I feel we would be a great fit for each other and I look forward to a response.

          Thank you,

          Nathan

        • Danie Anderson
          July 30, 2016 at 1:17 am

          I’ve been referring to this summer as girl interrupted/ into the wild adventure anyway so what the heck.. I can and will survive anything anywhere.

        • Chris Niner
          August 7, 2016 at 6:59 pm

          I am almost to the twenty year mark being off grid. It doesn’t have to mean living under a tarp.. I have all the conveniences, although a lot of the things I use are either special made it have been modified. I collect rain water, use only solar and wind power to run everything,

        • Carolyn Haslet
          August 12, 2016 at 5:43 pm

          I’m going to drop out of society and live off grid in the tiny house I am building.

        • Trey
          August 12, 2016 at 7:37 pm

          Ready

        • bill dallmeyer
          August 21, 2016 at 5:04 pm

          How about a family of 3? A 13 month old baby could be a twist to this show. We can just “wild” her instead of rewild.

        • Joseph Cokayne
          August 22, 2016 at 2:16 am

          I am more than capable. 2072711803

        • Donald Ely Guy
          October 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

          Always wanted to live off the grid. Actually, that’s my life goal, everything that I am working for.

        • Samuel Hickman
          December 11, 2016 at 8:03 pm

          Hi my name is Sam an I an very interested in being on your show ..I in fact am in the process of trying to sell off all my position to move to the wilderness of Alaska permant lyrics to live off the land an trap if fact found this add on a off the grid living forum so of you are still looking for members please consider me unlike most when want to just experience it once in Thier life I actually want it to be my life I am a big nature lover I watch evry survival showbiz can find read books I’ve live the true camping life a few full winter season nothing but a tent a clay made fireplace my rifle an a bow…I’m a avid hunter I plan on trapping in alaska for a living …thank you for your consiseration

        • Wayne
          January 14, 2017 at 6:45 pm

          I definitely have the skills and desire. I’ve been looking at land in Alaska to just quite honestly disappear to for quite some time. I’ve been practicing bushcraft for years home on my own often for weeks. Is love to know more please get back to me as soon as possible. Thanks…..

        • steve
          February 1, 2017 at 7:55 am

          Would love to do this as i spend most of my time outdoors when not working a 40hrs week job. Really need a change so count me in ! Just let me know. Thanks.

        • Jeffrey George
          February 6, 2017 at 8:05 am

          We are a family of 5 and I have been taking my kids camping All there life’s they are 14,12,10 we would love to do something like this and have been trying to plan a long trIP we went last year for 8 days and hiked in several 100 yards over rough terrain took us three trips off and on all day to carry are supply’s made are water last as long as we could -the bird baths lasted longer then planed. Thanks for your consideration

        • Mark Berry
          April 1, 2017 at 10:31 pm

          I have been on the road for a year surviving with just my dog and I. I am a 51 year old male in good health and good shape living off the grid and just surviving This Thing Called Life. I would be very much interested in an opportunity like this. Thank you.

  2. Thomas Tabor
    March 29, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Renegade camping, dispersed camping, boondocking or maybe more simply put… backpacking into remote wilderness is the type of get away that I usually seek out. But one rule that many forget whom participate in this type of activity is… they forget to tell someone where they are going! A recent movie and story that was covered in Outside Magazine is a prime example on what can happen when you do not follow that simple rule. Be safe… be smart… enjoy the outdoors!

    T2

  3. OFFGRID Logo
    Off Grid Survival
    March 29, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Great Point Thomas,

    Not telling someone where you are going is one of the biggest mistakes that people make while adventuring outdoors. We highly advice anyone who is trekking out into the wilderness to tell at least 2-3 people where you are going. Telling multiple people your plan will ensure that someone will notice if you don’t return.

    • Rick E.
      December 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      You’re correct,with excellent points made.

      However, sometimes the thrill, excitement, and alluring silence of going it alone is THE point!

      Surely there’s the associated risks with making the decision to go into the wild by one’s self.
      Risks can be minimized along with the inherent dangers. And sometimes a camper changes his/her mind while on the way to a previously determined camping spot, and cannot let anyone know of the change in plans. In certain situations, OPSEC may determine that a person doesn’t disclose the location and route of their camping destinations.

      I do a lot of primitive remote area camping. The kind of areas whereupon if you break down or are stranded for some reason, it may be 2-4 weeks before anyone finds you. (or a longer period of time). This is why when I go into the wilds of our country I prepare myself mentally and gear-wise just in case I may experience “Murphy’s Law” while back of beyond. My point is to be prepared for anything while enjoying the wild lands.

  4. ztar
    July 10, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    I love stuff like this its just i dont have the time to do it as much i would like too.

  5. Rich
    November 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

    The problem that I have encountered in telling someone where I am, is the fact that they usually google or GPS my location. I have come home from combat and I really do not like being around “Big Brother” and its ways to pry into my life. The people I know, they just arrive from out of nowhere, even if I leave the state. I am soo frustrated when these people come back into my life and drag my wife and I back into some kind of reality of feeling guilty about going anywhere. If they like to work their way to have a fancy phone or work to pay for a peice of isolation where you can never leave (except for weekends or vacations), that is no way to live. I should not have to feel guilty about being free. And nor should I be forced into following the leader, if I may, never going anywhere.
    We all go to school or an institution that tells us to go to college, then we go to college to get this fancy job with our three degrees, and next thing you know, we are on top of the world (so to speak), but they forgotten something, How many of us have to “Support” those on top of the pyramid? We need skilled laborers to support them smart people on top. Guess what, I am going to go out and support myself living freely on my own peice of land and not pay for all of my amenaties.
    Leave those people behind who want to just know where you are to either snitch on you, report you, bug you, get you into beleiving that doing what everyone else is doing is the “Right” way to live. Ever hear of Right to privacy, or Standing Upon Your Land? No one needs to know where I am or see what I am doing every minute of the day nor know how much I spend or where I spend it at.

  6. Rich
    November 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Have Food Stamps, A bike, or a sailboat, will travel. (Of course you have to have lots of free time, oh wait, I do have free time, I am unemployed from the service, ha-ha-ha!) Even a bit of common or what should be common outdoor skills on how to be a bit of a mountain man/woman..

  7. Paulie D
    December 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    I’m the kid from the big city back east. always love going backpacking. move out to the mountain west and fell in love with the open space. when ever get a chance I’m out there in the wilderness and enjoying every moment of it.

  8. joannewall
    December 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    If you dream of doing this, do it now. I have waited until I’m too old, too broke, too unhealthy to try these adventures. If I could find a companion my fear of accidents or worse would be less, but I don’t think that’s in the cards. I have acquired a kayak and do some exploring on local lakes and rivers but still dream of hitting the back roads and trails. My favorite pastime is learning basic survivor skills. The way the political scene around the world is escalating, I might need them. Do it now!
    Sad old explorer.

    • Les
      December 30, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Hey, unless you are bed ridden, you are never
      to old to camp. Just go light and easy and if
      possible find a partner to share the trip.
      Good luck !!!!

      • Marie
        January 3, 2015 at 3:09 pm

        You made my day!!! I’d just been thinking to myself, “I’m too old to go boondocking…”

        • paul
          February 10, 2015 at 11:46 am

          we are both 59 years young, and just purchased 10 acres in south central oregon, and are moving off grid in april of this year, 2015. we enjoy wilderness and our property is surounded by national forest. Never to old to live off grid. we have a big cabin tent, and our property is secluded.we never know if u dont try. we have been planning for years, and now we are taking the plunge.

          • don
            June 11, 2015 at 3:39 pm

            I am disabled Vet, 55 years old. I have income. I live near Seattle and it’s driving me nuts.Too many cars/people. Your situation sounds awesome. Good luck with it.

  9. george morris
    December 18, 2011 at 1:46 am

    I live SW of Louisville KY. I plan on kayaking and primitive camping from this area going west on the ohio river this spring exploring any caves spotted from the river. Dining on fresh fish, wild greens or squirrel on a stick. I am another sad old explorer just learning or relearning survival skills and would welcome company if any live near. Just safer to travel with others. Also gonna try out land between the lakes in SW KY primitive camping. Have heard so many good things about it.

  10. thunder wolf
    December 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    love some information this help thank you of your time

  11. roughin it
    June 7, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    sounds like what I was thinking, I have a trailer dose that ito much for deep country you think ?, might stand out?, but sure nice to have traveled with home in the hitch,

  12. Mike
    June 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Yes, the road in that second picture could be a good ambush, or defensive spot depending on your perspective.
    During exploration adventures (after I inform someone of the general area I will be and when they should hear back from me else they call SAR) with my dog and Personal Locator Beacon just in case, and GPS, I like finding places to store on my GPS. If one place is not available, another one may not be too far away.

  13. Jose Sirvent
    December 9, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Check this one in south Spain:
    quemaoviejo.com

  14. WTF
    September 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    to get away and experience the remoteness and one on one survival is the excitement of it. not giving someone all the info to gps and trace your habits…LIVE FREE OR DIE.

  15. David
    May 16, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I’m curious. Is it illegal to have a campfire on state land while disperse camping?

    • Les
      December 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Don’t confuse state owned land with Federal land.
      It is legal to primitive camp in Federal forest
      areas and to build a campfire………unless a fire ban has been issued due to dry weather. State
      parks and conservation areas etc. have rules that very, so check out each location separately. Happy trails !!!

  16. Peace
    March 2, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    For those who think I can’t sleep in a tent or be exposed, I say come home .

  17. Jon
    March 31, 2015 at 5:37 am

    My wife and I are reaching that stage in life where this kind of adventure may be fast leaving the realm of possibility. Before it does, we want to find (for rent) a four wheel drive vehicle and towable live-in trailer (tear drop or larger) capable of negotiating those wilderness roads that haven’t been graded by a state DOT! Does anyone know of some business/person that rents vehicle/trailer for folks like us who drive on the flat and smooth; preferably in the four corner’s area of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona? Thanks.

    • Sandy
      August 12, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      Check out intothewildexpeditionrentals.com located in / near Denver.

  18. Trisha
    July 15, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    AMEN to this! Where are likeminded folks in stodgy NEW ENGLAND? is the idea of an “off-grid”, “boondock” or otherwise “alternative” community in stodgy NEW ENGLAND that far fetched?? Or perhaps a ‘town’ of tiny houses? I am a rehabilitated former government-paper-pushing-drone, thankfully divorced from my mortgage and SUV. Now, i am ready to go to LIVE! (ironic, they call us ‘survivalists!) Problem is, humans need community. We just do! Anyone here from New England??

  19. glen
    January 14, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    I’m 61 and the secret(for me) was to marry a young slim, healthy, woman, Filipina, Catholic, from the Provinces (or as we Americans would say a farm girl). My wife was 20 years old when we married and she is now 30 and we have 2 little young’uns, 4 and 8. She says I am not old, but wise, not fat, but healthy. She is smart, quick, aware, a good Wife and Mom, good cook, frugal, neat/tidy, can clean fish/game (she’s a farm girl), a bit religious (and I am a bit of a heathen, regrettably) and she’s fearless. We spend a lot of time camping, hunting, fishing, traveling and my little 8 year old boy is getting very good with woods craft and tools. We always have a garden and try to build/craft as many things as possible with as little as possible. You old f*cks can do more than you think. Drink less, eat less, smoke not at all and have as much sex as possible. That’s my remedy for dementia and aging. BTW there are a thousand young pretty Filipinas who would love to meet an older American man.

  20. Harry
    May 27, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Trying to find free campground or to go camping around Harrisburg Carlisle like a state forest for a RV to go camping can you help us out please get back to me

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