Campgrounds are cool. Dispersed camping is even more incredible. It’s you, nature, and, thankfully, quiet. It’s how camping was meant to be.
Plus, there are no rules per se – albeit don’t burn the forest down and don’t act like an asshole – and you have it all to yourself. These are where some of my fondest memories with family and friends have taken place. Away from the general public, traffic, and loud noises, dispersed camping is the most enjoyable.
Now, if you’re wondering what is dispersed camping, we dive into that and more below!
What is dispersed camping?
However, with “no rules,” some challenges present themselves.
First, you aren’t in an established campground, so there’s no table, fire ring, cleared area for your tent, or running water. Second, you’re, hopefully, in the middle of nowhere, so there’s greater chance wildlife will appear.
Luckily, these can all be managed with a couple of purchases.
Embracing Dispersed Camping
You’ll need to make a few additions to your camping box.
- Acquire a table and chairs.
- Ensure you have enough water jugs
- The most crucial of all of the dispersed camping needs. You need water, plain and simple. A good rule of thumb that I try to live by is three to five gallons per day of my trip. This is probably too much, but it allows you to have extra in case of an emergency. Additionally, if you plan to have a fire, you NEED to have extra water to put it out. If you don’t douse a fire, it’s not out.
- Research a spot to camp
- Depending on who you are and your personality, this will either be fun or the thing you hate the most. Personally, I love looking for new spots to visit. It’s also not too hard. If it’s public land, and not in a national park or state park, there’s a 99% chance you’re free to use it respectfully. Additionally, make sure you can get to it. Most forest roads are drivable in a compact car, but some can be treacherous. Don’t start your weekend off bottoming out and ruining your car on a bad road.
- Learn how safely make a fire
- This is both obvious but also not something I should breeze over. One, make sure you’re allowed to have a fire. If so, we can move to the next steps. Figure out where your ring or pit is going to go. Try to use an already established one if you can. Then, clear all debris within 6-10 feet. This will ensure any airborne embers don’t start a fire. Then, build your rock ring and aim for 6-10 inches in height depending on the wind. With the west a tinderbox ready to blow at any moment, many National Forests are banning fires. Buying a propane fire pit may be the way to go to still have warmth without the risk of a wildfire.
- Properly store food and trash
- If you’re not in a bear zone (which, to be honest, is most of the country), simply leave your trash bag in the car. Or you could tie it up onto a tree, but this poses the risk of mice or squirrels getting into it. For food, again in a non-bear area, I leave my cooler out and place a heavy rock on it, just in case something small tries to get in. If you ARE in bear country, then we have a little different scenario. If you have a metal storage container near you, use that to put all of your food and smelly items. If not, use a bear box and leave it 100-200 yards from your campsite. In the instance a bear does show up, it will go there and not to your tent. The National Park Service has more guidance here.
- (One extra tip) Bring Games
- Cornhole. Bocce Ball. Badminton. Cards. Board Games.
Wishing you all the best as you step out from your campground comfort zones and embrace the dispersed camping lifestyle!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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