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You MUST Know these UNWRITTEN RULES of Boondocking in Nature

| Updated Apr 28, 2023

As long-time boondockers, we have learned these unwritten rules of boondocking that make your trip safer and more enjoyable…

Jennifer and I have been boondocking for more than 11 years now, and we still can’t get enough of it. It’s our preferred RV lifestyle since it takes us away from the crowds and immerses us in nature. Plus, it’s convenient to be able to stay overnight in parking lots as needed.

But being on our own and in nature requires us to take on more responsibility, both to protect ourselves and wherever we’re staying.

That’s where the following unwritten rules of boondocking come in! We’re gonna start with the #1 rule, then follow with 10 additional rules to help you boondock like a pro. 

At the end, we also include resources for boondocking in parking lots, like at truck stops and Walmart (places that are definitely NOT in Nature!).

If you buy something through our links, we may get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps keep our lights on so we can continue to provide helpful resources for RVers. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

#1 Rule of Boondocking: Leave No Trace! Leave No Trash!

The first rule of boondocking, whether in nature or in a parking lot, is to leave it as you found it. Do your very best to leave no trace by not leaving anything behind or taking anything from the location.

To learn more about the Leave No Trace mission and why it’s so important, visit the Leave No Trace website. And in April (Earth Month) it's #LeaveNoTrash!

Breaking this rule leads to boondocking sites getting shut down. So, if you want to continue boondocking for years to come, leave no trace!

10 Unwritten Rules of Boondocking in Nature

Boondocking vs. Dispersed Camping vs. Dry Camping Unwritten Rules of Boondocking in Nature

As you’ll see, the following are best practices for boondocking ranging from safety to etiquette. We hope you find them as helpful as we have while adventuring across the country!

If you're just learning about boondocking, we recommend checking out The Beginner's Guide to Boondocking (ebook).

1. Survey the Area Before Setting Up

Before setting up camp, it's important to survey the area for potential hazards. Check for uneven ground, rocks, or any other obstacles that could cause damage to your RV or make your stay uncomfortable. 

Avoid setting up camp downhill from where water could potentially flow. Taking a few minutes to assess the area before setting up camp can save you from getting stranded!

2. Park Your RV Nose Out

Always park with your RV’s nose pointed out toward your exit. This often requires you to back in, so be sure to follow Rule #1 before you pull in. 

In the military, they call this ‘tactical parking’ because it enables you to leave quickly. When boondocking, it ensures you can make a quick exit in case of an emergency.

If you’re not confident in your reversing skills, check out this “Backing Up an RV” Learner’s Kit.

3. Take Bad Weather Seriously

weather Unwritten Rules of Boondocking in Nature

When snug in our houses or even in a developed campground, it’s easy to underestimate the dangers of bad weather. But when out on your own, bad weather can leave you stranded and worse.

Take weather forecasts seriously. Don’t make the mistake of thinking “Meh, it’ll be alright” and forge on with your plans. Be willing to alter, postpone, or cut short your plans to ensure your safety.  

Weather conditions can change quickly, and when boondocking, you may not have access to cell service or internet to check weather updates. Therefore, it's also important to have an emergency and weather radio with you at all times.  

Here are some additional weather safety resources we recommend:

4. Don’t Rely Solely on GPS

As convenient as GPS apps are, they can be unreliable in remote areas. Plus, they can leave you lost and stranded if you don’t have cell service or your device’s battery dies. 

You can learn why you should not trust GPS completely from others’ deadly mistakes.

 The best boondocking practice is to keep a road atlas and/or local map with you wherever you travel. You can check out the other travel guides for RVers, too.


Mike and Jennifer's Summer T-Shirts for your next adventure

You MUST Know these UNWRITTEN RULES of Boondocking in Nature 1
Your Adventure Awaits! New colors and designs are waiting for you.

5. If Someone Else Is Camping Nearby, Move as Far Away as Possible

One of the biggest reasons people boondock is to get away from the crowds of campgrounds and enjoy some personal space. Therefore, it's important to respect your neighbor's desire for space and move as far away as possible if some are nearby. 

Keeping your distance is just being polite and ensures everyone has a peaceful stay. Besides, you probably want your space, too!

6. Let Loved Ones Know Where You Are

Just like when you go hiking, you should always let someone know where you are. At the very least, tell them the region you are in (narrowed down as much as possible) and when they should expect to hear from you again.

If you do not check in at the designated time, they can try to reach you or send the cavalry if need be. Plus, if they have an emergency on their end, they will know where to look for you. 

There is a very useful app, called Life360, that can help keep you and your loved ones connected while traveling. Learn more about how Life360 can set your family at ease, or how you can use Google maps as a free alternative.

7. Watch Your Campfires & Don’t Burn Trash

Campfires are a highlight of the camping experience, but we all know how devastating fires can be if uncontrolled. When boondocking, take extra care in clearing all dry materials away from the fire pit, even if you’re using a portable fire pit. 

Always douse your fire and cover it completely with dirt before leaving it unattended. Also, never burn trash in your fire as that goes against the “leave no trace” pledge all campers are encouraged to take. 

When you burn trash, it often leaves remnants and excess ash. Plus, smells might remain that attracts animals and insects, thus disrupting their natural ecosystem. 

8. Never Dump Your Grey Tanks on the Ground (Or Black Tanks!)

Dumping your grey tanks on the ground is illegal in most places and also draws insects and wildlife. Again, this defies the “leave no trace” mission boondockers support.

Additionally, never dig a hole and dump your black tanks, as it is illegal and unsanitary. It disrupts the ecosystem and can dangerously contaminate the ground and nearby water sources. Always properly dispose of your waste in designated dump stations.

9. Know Your Wildlife Safety!

5 Basic Snake Safety Tips Every RVers Needs to Know

When boondocking off the beaten path, you’re more likely to encounter wildlife like bears, snakes, ticks, spiders, and more. You’re in their territory, after all. 

Be sure to not leave any food out in the open and be very thorough when cleaning up after a meal. Clean up crumbs that drop off picnic tables and avoid leaving any food or trash out in the open. 

You certainly don’t want to attract a bear that may decide he wants what’s inside your camper, too. Nor do you want raccoons, squirrels, and opossums to steal your food and create a mess in the process. 

It’s also vital you know what to do in case you encounter potentially dangerous wildlife. Here are some resources to help:

10. Don't Let Your Pets Run Free

Boondocking is an excellent opportunity for pets to enjoy the outdoors, but you should only let them run free in very specific circumstances. 

First and foremost, they must be well-trained for you to even consider letting them loose. We have heard too many horror stories of campers losing their pets because they didn’t come to their commands. Even a well-trained dog can get carried away by his excitement. 

Secondly, you should not let them run free if other campers are nearby. It’s bad etiquette to leave your dog off-leash when others are around, even if they are well-trained. Other people may be scared or uncomfortable with a dog being loose. 

Thirdly, be very mindful of dangerous wildlife in the area. As Rule #9 advises, you must be aware of wildlife safety, including for your pets. Your pet will not react rationally if it encounters a bear or snake, plus ticks pose a big risk to pets.

So, overall, carefully consider if and when you should let your pet roam free. Even if you want to let them off leash, consider using a portable dog fence or a virtual portable fence like the SpotOn GPS Dog Fence we use. 

Check it out at https://rvlifestyle.com/spoton. For $100 off, use the promo code RVLIFESTYLE100. 

Looking for a way to keep your dog on your property without using a physical fence? Check out SpotOn GPS Dog Fence™

SpotOn works almost anywhere — but you need a lot that’s at least ½ acre

Why? Because you’ll need to allow for the fence alert/warning zone. The effective boundary for your dog is 10 feet inside the fence boundary that you walk. Walk your planned boundary with SpotOn's dog collar and your phone or draw your fence in the app. Truly, watching this video will show you how cool this technology is! True Location™ technology builds on conventional GPS and makes it better, giving you the most reliable fence boundary that never requires calibration. So your dog can have a great adventure without risking a great escape. Get professionally-developed training programs that’ll have your dog using SpotOn in a few simple steps!

Unwritten Rules of Boondocking in Parking Lots

The above rules are mostly for boondocking in nature, but we have several resources (& unwritten rules!) for boondocking overnight in parking lots. Here’s a list for you to check out:

Boondocking & Dry Camping Tips

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

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.

Prefer to read than watch? Read the companion blog: Essential Tips for Boondocking & Dry Camping.


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Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-04-28

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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