The United States is the proud supplier of TONs of public, federally owned land. If you own a car, a bike, or literally any means of transport you can access it. Whether you’re in Idaho, Texas, or Florida, dispersed camping is possible, and we’re here to help with 10 easy ways to camp without impact.
First: What really is dispersed camping? It means no campsite, no facilities, no cell service. Just you and the great outdoors (plus a few regulations you need to follow). Oh, and it’s as free as America.
If you’re into backpacking or want to try your hand at the non-KOA camping experience, here’s what you need to know:
- You can pitch your tent in just about any National Forest or public land under the Bureau of Land Management or Wildlife Management Area (withstanding weather and other restrictions, like shooting).
- When camping on public land, you may stay in one area for up to 16 days. After 16 days, you gotta pack your bags and move at least 5 road miles. In the grand scheme of things, this is decently manageable.
- Groups of 75+ people need a special use permit. Reach out to the nearest District Office to apply for a free permit.
- You must set up camp 100 ft away from any water source. This ensures you won’t contaminate the water while relieving yourself and keep the fish biting while you’re catching lunch.
- Follow the Leave No Trace guidelines!
- Lastly, before heading out, it’s a good idea to contact the local Forest Service office for any additional restrictions, especially for fires and/or bear and mountain lion sightings.
Tips and tricks for the dispersed camper
The idea of loading up your truck, kissing your lovers goodbye, and braving the backcountry sounds so cool—but it’s important to be fully prepped before going out.
After all, you don’t want to end up in bear territory without knowing how to protect yourself, right? Stay strapped (with knowledge) before going out, and stick to our 10 easy ways to camp without impact to have an amazing, environmentally friendly and focused trip.
10 Easy Ways To Camp Without Impact
If you’re going to be anything, be efficient. Pack light, but pack right. To start, you’ll need a first aid kit, extra batteries, a portable light source, and weatherproof apparel.
Using DECKED’s modular drawer system, you’ll be able to stock up on necessities until it’s time to go on foot. Then, when you set out, you can simply take a DECKED D-Bag packed with hiking essentials with you. Lastly, you can rest easy knowing non-essentials and any extra food is safely locked up in your drawers from bears, tigers, lions oh my!
Don’t be a loner
Unless you’re the next Bear Grylls, solo camping is best left to the veterans. For your first trip, consider truck camping with a buddy or significant other.
If you insist on going solo or even if you’re going with friends, it’s highly recommended that you let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone for. That way if you don’t make it home for dinner, your significant other knows where to come looking.
You can’t (and shouldn’t) watch TikToks while under the stars
When you run out of cell service, the great outdoors gets A LOT bigger. Before you head out, make sure to scout out dispersed camping areas, check up on local flood and mudslides warnings, or closed access roads. Lastly, don’t forget to take a paper map or trail with you.
Though, if you find yourself in a Blair Witch situation, you’re on your own.
Say goodbye to picnic tables, outhouses, and RVs with satellite dishes. Out in the wild, you need to stay self-contained and make do without amenities. Keep stock of your items and don’t be afraid to cut a trip short if you’ve run out of a major necessity (i.e. biodegradable toilet paper).
And don’t forget toilet paper.
Don’t trash this earth, it’s the only one we got
Pre-plan your waste down to the last chocolate wrapper. Focus on biodegradable alternatives for cleaning supplies and as many “non-earth-damaging” materials as you can. Carry extra trash bags for non-biodegradable waste. Dump greywater away from any water sources.
It’s the great outdoors after all—let’s keep it that way! I know I don’t want to live in a concrete jungle, not sure about you.
Don’t drink nasty water
If (insert your favorite survival show, for me it’s Naked and Afraid) has taught us anything, the last thing any of us should be doing is drinking from an untreated water source, unless you can truly confirm it’s a fresh spring. Drinking untreated water is a good way to catch giardia aka beaver fever, and a host of other waterborne parasites that can land you in the hospital or on the toilet for days.
Pack several gallons of water (at least 1 gallon per person a day), or purchase purification tablets, filtration pumps, and filters. These second options are a good way to stay lightweight if you’re going long distance on foot, bike, or horseback.
Control your campfire
Whether you’re car camping or hitting the family cabin, you’re going to need to stay warm. Be sure to check up on fire restrictions.. This is particularly important if you’re out west, a good chunk of the wildfires in the west are started from poorly managed campfires.
Outside of developed campgrounds, you’re also going to need to pre-purchase firewood and kindling (or go full caveman and scavenge for dead or downed wood). Cutting or damaging any timber is strictly prohibited under National Park guidelines.
Travel and camp on stable surfaces
Aim for a flat, spacious area with not much foliage and a clear line of sight. Your campsite must be at least 100 ft away from the base of any cliff or rock shelter, so you can avoid the human pancake factor. This also goes for lake or riverside camping. Not only will you avoid water contamination, but the animals who frequent the local watering hole.
A flat surface will keep you from having all the blood in your body running to your head or feet.
The DECKED camping setup is a favorite amongst the most experienced of campers because it actually:
- Creates a wider surface to sleep on in your truck bed…
- Organizing all your gear UNDER this flat surface so you’re not sleeping in your closet.
Respect your fellow mammals
We like to think of ourselves as kings of the jungle (re: forest), but we’re not. As residents of this big blue marble, we must respect wildlife, big and small.
Leave no trace
Live by the Leave No Trace principle: Pack in, pack out. Get comfy with using poop bags and/or learn how to dig a cathole 200 ft away from any water source. Respect local and historical structures and artifacts. Do not try to pet the wolf.
A good rule of thumb is to leave every campsite in better condition than you found it. Limit waste with DECKED’s secure and versatile storage items, such as their detachable Crossbox and D-Box for easy transport to and from your truck.
Most of all, have fun. Nature is pretty neat and can teach you a lot about yourself. Also, fresh air tastes a lot better than city air.
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