Say goodbye to hookups and amenities, busy campsites, and head out into the backcountry! Off-grid camping is truly a different form of camping that allows you to be fully surrounded by nature and nothing else. True camping means no cell phone service, right?
For some, the appeal is the low cost compared to other campsites. For others, it is how little you need to do it, simply heading off into the woods with whatever you can carry on your back. Whatever the appeal of off-grid camping is for you, here is what you need to know in order to get started.
What Is Off-Grid Camping?
Off-grid camping, also referred to as dispersed camping, renegade camping, and boondocking, means camping outside of designated camping areas. You won’t have access to power, running water, or other services, but you’ll also get to camp away from crowds.
If you’re looking for seclusion and a deep connection with the great outdoors, then off-grid camping is for you! It’s an opportunity to be truly self-sufficient.
Where to Camp Off-Grid
Off-grid camping usually happens on public lands. To be truly off-the-grid, you’ll want to be away from any established roads, so you will need to hike to your campsite.
When you’re looking for a location to go dispersed camping, look into national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, and private property. It’s important to know what type of land you’ll be camping on because camping rules are different for each one. Unfortunately, we can’t just park the car and hike into the woods wherever we please. These are often the rules for the following areas.
National Forests and BLM Lands
In the United States, it’s almost always free to camp in national forests and BLM lands, unless otherwise posted. These areas will often have designated campsites that people can reserve. As their name implies, national forests are tree-filled areas with lots of greenery, while BLM lands are rockier, open landscapes.
Check the website for the specific forest or BLM area you plan to visit so you know its specific rules. This will also give you an opportunity to read any alerts or notices that have been posted for the area. If you’re on a really tight budget, this is one of the best options for free camping.
If you’re on a long-term hiking trip, camping on private property may mean knocking on a farmhouse door and asking permission to set up your tent for the night. It’s worth asking, trust me!
You can also book nights on private property through sites like HipCamp. Farmers or people with acres of land near national and state parks may offer dispersed camping on their property as an extra source of income. Although the land is privately owned, if the listing says “off-grid camping”, you should find solitude and be without modern amenities, just as you would in a national forest.
Tips for Off-Grid Camping
Once you know where you’ll be off-grid camping, there’s plenty to do to get ready. Since you’ll be away from other people and resources, it’s important to be as prepared as possible. It’s important to know that off-grid camping is better for experienced campers. If you have never been camping before or only gone a few times, get used to being in the elements at a local campsite before you start planning a journey into the backcountry.
Do Your Research
Start with the website of the area where you’ll be camping to get up-to-date on rules and regulations, warnings, and notices. It’s also a good idea to seek out information on local plant life and animals. Be familiar with the best ways to react should you come in contact with potential predators. You may also want to spend some time on Google Earth becoming familiar with the terrain of your chosen location. This can give you a good idea of where you might want to set up camp.
Always tell someone about your plan. This one is extremely important if a worst-case scenario happens. Plan out your trip carefully beforehand and be sure to tell someone your plan for each day of the trip so they know where to find you. This includes where you will be parking your vehicles as well as what area you intend to stay in each night.
Talk to a Park Ranger
No one knows the area where you’ll be off-grid camping better than the park ranger, so give them a call while you’re in the planning stages for your trip. They can tell you about limits for how long you can camp in one place, as well as alternatives for busy areas. They are also bound to have some of the best tips and tricks for the area, which could make a huge positive impact on your trip!
Pack Everything You Need
Since off-grid camping means you’ll be without hookups or amenities, you will have to bring everything you’ll need with you, as well as pack it out. Pack carefully so you don’t forget something important. But you’ll still want to pack light enough so you can carry everything in and out. Packing for the backcountry is an art, with a fine line between being under-packed and over-packed!
This is a list of suggested items to bring on an off-grid camping trip:
- Tarp or tent for shelter
- Backpack – You’ll need one to carry all of your gear and supplies to your campsite. Choose one that is durable, fits your body well, and has enough room for everything you need. Also, consider the weight of the backpack itself.
- Sleeping bag – If you’re hiking a long distance to your campsite, it’s important that your sleeping bag is light and packs down easily. Buy a three-season bag or one with an appropriate temperature rating for where you’re camping. Check the weather forecast before you leave to ensure your sleeping bag will keep you warm enough at night.
- Sleeping pad – For more comfortable nights in the wilderness, pack a lightweight sleeping pad.
- Inflatable pillow – Since you’re hiking in, you don’t want a pillow that takes up too much space. An inflatable pillow will keep you comfortable at night and pack down easily into your backpack.
- Hammock – If you’re camping somewhere with trees, a hammock is a great way to relax outside of your tent or even to sleep in if the weather is nice.
- Light – For off-grid camping, a headlamp is a smaller option that will meet your light source needs. Plus, you can go hands-free around the campsite at night!
- Food – Freeze-dried camping meals are a great choice for off-grid camping because you don’t have to worry about keeping them cold, and they fit easily into your pack.
- Water – More on this below.
- Firestarter – Bring two options, just in case. Wind-proof matches, a lighter, and a rod and striker all work well.
- Cooking supplies – You’ll need a pot and utensils to cook and eat your freeze-dried camping meals. Smaller and lighter the better!
- Multitool – A multitool is a compact way to pack pliers, a knife, a can opener, and more.
- Trowel or shovel – You’ll need one to set up your campsite as well as to bury your bathroom waste.
- Mylar blanket – Mylar blankets are so light and easy to pack that they’re worth keeping on hand in case of hypothermia or another emergency where you need to warm up quickly.
- Biodegradable wipes/toilet paper – Wipes are optional, but they’re helpful to pack if you hate feeling grimy after a few days in the wilderness. The toilet paper? Not so much.
- Paper map – If you’re without cell reception and lose your way, a paper map will be invaluable for navigation.
- Trash – Make sure you plan to pack out and minimize your trash as much as possible.
- Rat Sack – This is optional, but can be a good idea to keep critters away from your food or from tearing open your tent to get it.
Bring or Treat Your Water
You should always bring some water with you when camping, and filling up a water bladder for your backpack is a great way to do that. If you’re off-grid camping somewhere without a water source, you’ll need to bring enough with you for the trip. This will vary depending on where and when you’re camping. Check recommendations online and bring extra, just in case.
The National Forest Service warns that no water source is safe to drink from today due to contamination. You need to treat any water that you plan to drink or cook with. You can treat water by boiling it or using water purification tablets or a purification filter. Consider what is best for you and the area you will be in.
Practice Leave No Trace
To protect the environment you’re camping in and steward it for future campers, practice the Leave No Trace principles. Choose the campsite that will disturb the environment the least. So if the area you’re visiting has been camped in before, set up in an existing campsite. If not, try to find bare soil so you don’t damage or kill plants or grass.
The National Forest Service also asks that you don’t camp within 100 feet of any water source to protect the plants there, as plants near water are more delicate. You should also build campfires with care, using existing fire rings where available. Before you leave your campfire, make sure it is completely out so that you can touch it with your bare hands. Leaving a campfire that isn’t completely out can lead to a forest fire.
Off-grid camping certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but it can be one of the most rewarding ways to be outside. It is an extraordinary experience that allows you to deeply connect with nature. By researching, packing, and preparing carefully, you can have an enjoyable camping trip while preserving the area you visit.