2023 will continue to see more rule changes for and restrictions on dispersed camping/boondocking in the United States. These changes and restrictions accelerated since 2020 as more and more people headed into the backcountry to camp, in part due to the pandemic.
2023 Update to My Book Camp for Free
I’ve just released an updated 2023 version of my book Camp for Free: Dispersed Camping & Boondocking on America’s Public Lands. The 2023 update includes the rule changes, restrictions, and other trends I discuss below.
Important: if you bought the book before 2023, you don’t need to buy the 2023 version. Everything I discuss and link to below is covered in the original 2020 edition; I just placed a bit more emphasis in the 2023 update (and the 2022 update from a year ago).
Here are the topics that received increased emphasis in the 2023 and 2022 updates, some of it word for word. (And again, this is all covered in the original 2020 edition, just with a bit less emphasis.)
The main change for 2023 is an increased focus on…
Using Apps to Find Dispersed Camping/Boondocking Sites and to Navigate in the Backcountry
Gaia GPS and Caltopo are the main apps for this. I use both. Here’s the link to all the 2023 updates: why and how to use Gaia GPS and Caltopo for dispersed camping/boondocking.
I made more changes in 2022 than I did in 2023. Note again that all the below were discussed in the original 2020 version, but got more emphasis in 2022.
Leave No Trace, Including When Dispersed Camping/Boondocking
“Higher numbers of people doing dispersed camping in recent years has led to increased bad behavior, including driving and camping in forbidden areas, leaving trash, not properly disposing of human waste, and not following campfire rules. This has led officials to restrict dispersed camping in some areas. You must take full responsibility for your actions and the actions of your travel companions: follow Leave No Trace principles and all local regulations. (See “Chapter 6: Dispersed Camping Best Practices” for full details.)”
Don’t Start a Wildfire When Boondocking/Dispersed Camping
“Most dispersed camping in the United States occurs in the West, which is prone to major wildfires. Make sure you understand how to safely have a campfire and use your camp stove, and always follow current regulations on campfires and stove use. Never drive your vehicle off-road: not only does it cause environmental damage, it can also spark a wildfire. Finally, properly extinguish anything that is burning or hot, from cigarettes to everything else. (See “Chapter 6: Dispersed Camping Best Practices” for full details.)”
Pack Out Your Poop, at Least Most of the Time
“You’ll also need to pack out your poop in popular areas and in the desert. As more people use the backcountry, the ever-growing amount of poop out there is becoming a serious problem. Packing it out is especially important in desert environments where it’s difficult to dig holes and the soil cannot break down poop quickly. There are several ways to pack it out, including commercially available bagging systems, but you can also do it yourself with a combination of zip-lock bags and other plastic bags.”
And I advocate always packing out your toilet paper. I use a large zip-lock bag that I then put inside another plastic bag.
Boondocking and Dispersed Camping Safety: You Are Responsible!
“Dispersed camping and boondocking involve inherent dangers. Weather, natural hazards, road conditions, actions of other people, and the knowledge, skills, and actions of you and your party all affect your safety. This book provides no guarantees of the safety of you and your party: you assume full responsibility, including following all laws.”
Increased Restrictions on When and Where You Can Do Dispersed Camping/Boondocking
There are three main reasons for increased restrictions:
#1. Closure of National Forests and Other Public Lands During the Height of Wildfire Season
Wildfires, especially in the western United States, have greatly increased in severity in recent years. Thus many national forests prohibit all visitors during the peak period of wildfire danger, which is typically from sometime in August until the first major storms hit in October or later.
#2. People Not Following the Rules
Unfortunately, the boom in the popularity of dispersed camping/boondocking has led to far too many people dumping trash, having unsafe or illegal campfires, and driving off-road and in other prohibited areas.
Some areas are just too full of people, far more than an area can sustain.
Takeaway: This is why you always need to do your research first, especially calling the agency in charge of where you want to do dispersed camping/boondocking.
Best 2023 Dispersed Camping/Boondocking Apps and Websites
Here’s my updated list of dispersed camping/boondocking apps, websites, and Facebook groups for 2023, which I update regularly.
And See My 2023 Dispersed Camping/Boondocking Complete Gear Checklist
I’ve created a complete list of what to take dispersed camping/boondocking. I even cover what you need to bring for your dog.
Let me know if I’ve missed anything!
Camp for Free in the Backcountry
My book shows you everything you need to know to find and enjoy secluded dispersed camping (boondocking) spots in the backcountry:
- Public lands where you can camp for free
- Researching the best locations
- Finding the best camping spots
- Backcountry safety and ethics
- What to take