Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference between boondocking vs. dispersed camping vs. dry camping. Read on to learn more…
Do you dream of finding the perfect campsite away from all other civilizations? A place where you can enjoy nature and wild animals and truly be alone in the quiet wilderness?
If so, you are not alone. Jennifer and I love to go “off the grid” to recharge whenever we can.
If you are relatively new to this type of camping, you may have heard of boondocking, dispersed camping, and dry camping. But do you know what they all mean?
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Boondocking vs. Dispersed Camping vs. Dry Camping: What's the Difference?
Let's put first things first. Boondocking, dispersed camping, and dry camping are very similar terms. They are often used interchangeably but not always correctly.
To understand the differences between boondocking vs. dispersed camping vs. dry camping, we need to define each type.
The term boondocking means camping in a remote location without using utilities or other hookups. Boondocking can be done in many different areas, like public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In addition to BLM land, you can find some boondocking spots in national and state parks and other wilderness areas.
The appeal of camping in remote places is to escape the hustle and bustle of crowded city life truly. You can be alone in the quiet, natural world and avoid bad camping neighbors. However, you will not receive the benefits of a developed campground.
When boondocking, you will not have access to a dump station, trash facilities, traditional fire pits, picnic areas, or utilities. You will have to bring your own water as there is no access to potable water.
If you're interested in boondocking, I highly recommend reading The Beginner's Guide to Boondocking.
Boondocking vs. Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping, which I detail in the next section, occurs in national forests. When you are doing dispersed camping, you are boondocking. However, you are not always participating in dispersed camping when boondocking.
Dispersed camping occurs in the national forests, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, outside the U.S. Forest Service, outside of a designated campground or recreational area. While you cannot simply pull up and park anywhere you'd like, there are areas where you can stay that are not in a designated spot. These areas are often marked with some fire ring or worn land that has a history of being parked on.
Dispersed camping will not have campsites with electric hookups, potable water, picnic tables, or trash bins. It may have a fire ring placed by the national park or made from a simple circle of rocks. You will have to pack in and pack out everything you need to camp. In addition, these areas are usually so remote that you are genuinely “off the grid” without any cell service.
While dispersed camping is usually free camping, there are still regulations you must follow. You have to follow the national park's rules, like not disturbing wildlife. It's best to stay on trails and could not remove plants or other natural elements. You will want to take out all trash and any other items you bring.
The beauty of camping off the grid is that you can remove yourself from daily life's stress and pressure. One downside, however, is that you put yourself in a vulnerable position because you might not have access to emergency services or information. If you do not have cell phone service, you also lose your ability to call for help.
These reasons are why it is a good idea to use a thorough RV safety checklist to ensure that you are leaving in a vehicle that is safe as possible. It's also a good idea to take an emergency radio since it is the best way to provide you a lifeline to weather and other occurrences happening around you.
Many other great survival gadgets can help save your life in an emergency, especially when doing dispersed camping.
Finally, another good idea is to bring solar panels to produce your energy. That way, you will not drain your batteries.
Dry camping is a term that refers to camping without any hookups. That means you do not use electricity or water sources. Boondocking and dispersed camping are remote forms of dry camping.
You can go dry camping in an established campground or a primitive camping site. Some established campgrounds do not have hookups and only offer dry camping.
What About Moochdocking?
Moochdocking is sometimes also referred to as driveway camping. Typically, moochdocking is staying in the driveway or the property of a friend or relative. It gets its name from the term “mooch,” or getting something without paying for it, and “docking.” the second half of the now familiar term boondocking.
Boondocking means camping in the “boondocks,” a slang term which the dictionary defines as “rough, remote, or isolated country.”
Moochdocking, could loosely be construed as RV dry camping (if there are no hookups), but it definitely is NOT boondocking.
How Do I Find Dispersed Camping Spots?
It may feel overwhelming to find dispersed or other remote camping spots. But there are different resources you can use! The following are ways to find remote camping spots.
Campendium is a popular website that can help you locate remote camping spots. You can use this website to find regular campgrounds, BLM campgrounds, as well as state forests or national forest land areas that you can use.
Another website that has dispersed camping spots is freecampsites.com, although it is not as “good” as Campendium, in my opinion.
2. Google Maps
Google maps is a great way to find free dispersed camp spots.
First, find the national forest or another specific area you want to visit. Then zoom in as close as you can using the satellite view. Look for promising United States Forest Service roads with pullouts big enough for a campsite.
One good starting point is to locate a developed campground or trailhead, then look for roads that might work well for you.
3. Ranger Station
Another good way to find remote campsites is to visit a ranger station.
Many rural camping areas are located down secluded dirt roads. While this anonymity is appealing in many ways, it can also be challenging to locate. The best way to access some of these areas is to stop and check in at the ranger station.
The rangers have a wealth of information because they work and stay in these areas daily. It is also not a bad idea for a ranger to know that you are out there in case of an emergency.
Rangers can also help direct you to stay off private land that may border these wild camping spots.
You might also want to pop into a visitor center if you are near one. The workers there may know of some great, free campsites.
Boondocking & Dry Camping Tips
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Come on along with us as we go boondocking in the 100,000-acre Pigeon River State Forest in Northern Michigan, a beautiful wilderness area dubbed “The Big Wild.” We hike, view the elk that make this area home, and offer up lots of dry camping and boondocking tips. I have written a companion article with links to the various resources we talk about in the video.
I hope the above information serves as a good explanation of the differences between boondocking vs. dispersed camping vs. dry camping. If you'd like to learn more, I highly recommend the following…
Beginners Guide to Boondocking (one of our most popular ebooks) and one of our newest ebooks, The Ultimate Guide to Free and Cheap RV Camping!
ebook #1: Beginners Guide to Boondocking
We created a 65+-page downloadable digital guide to help you understand the nuances that come with boondocking, the most common boondocking problems, and what you need to do to get your rig “boondocking-ready.”
ebook #2: The Ultimate Guide to Free and Cheap RV Camping
Buckle up because here is everything you need to know on how to find cheap or free RV camping sites in the 33-page EBOOK.