What Is Dispersed Camping: What You Need To Know

Rilor Staff
Update: February 25, 2023
Table of Contents

What is dispersed camping, and why should you care about it? Is it something that you should practice or try any time soon?

A Quick Overview

In a nutshell, camping is an excellent leisure activity. If you want to take a break from your mundane everyday life, then heading outdoors is the way to go. Many households in the United States are into this activity. 

Keep in mind that not all camping is designed to be the same. For instance, dispersed camping is a practice that pushes campers to head out to a more remote and secluded location. This is directly opposite to traditional camping, where people are supposed to go to established or developed campsites. 

Before you engage yourself in dispersed camping, there are specific things that you need to learn and understand about this outdoor activity. After all, it requires more preparation and planning. At the same time, you should also heed certain regulations. 

What Is Dispersed Camping

The best way to define dispersed camping is to dispel various misconceptions about it. 

Dispersed camping is not informal camping, contrary to popular belief. It is not similar to squatting or illegally trespassing in private or protected areas to bug out. 

Furthermore, dispersed camping is not camping without bringing anything. That's not the actual purpose of this endeavor. Doing such is reckless, especially if you are going in a backcountry. By all means, this is not camping without a tent. 

At the same time, dispersed camping doesn't require people to have reservations or a camp host. But this doesn't mean that you will not be seeing or encountering other people. 

The core of dispersed camping is to camp or settle in an area outside a designated camping site. Basically, it is a means of camping without paying fees. So parking your RV somewhere safe is a type of dispersed camping. Searching for a flat area in the forest or valley is another form of dispersed camping.

Areas Suitable for Dispersed Camping

As we have mentioned earlier, dispersed camping is not permission for you to trespass or invade some other's privacy. While there's no real need for you to subscribe to established campsites, you need to seek permission from agencies or entities that own the land where you want to camp. 

For example, national park authorities want to ensure that natural resources are being preserved. So that also means that they are quite strict when it comes to people who want to sleep overnight with their sleeping cots or sleeping bags. 

In some cases, some entities prohibit individuals or groups from pitching tents in areas within the 100-foot periphery of waterways or establishing campsites. 

So when can you do dispersed parking? 

In the United States, areas that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management allow dispersed camping. The same thing is true with lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. But it is restricted to settle in areas that are designated as "closed." 

To be on the safe side, you should contact the land managers or owners first before you head out. And in most cases, this means that you will be required to secure a permit first. These permits may have a cost, too, but they are not that thoroughly expensive. For instance, the National Park necessitates people to secure a backcountry camping permit. The price for these permits varies from one area to another, but it doesn't go over $20. 

Don't ignore these permits. If you are caught camping in managed areas without a permit, you will receive a hefty penalty.  

What’s The Ideal Spot For Dispersed Camping

Once you have secured the necessary permits, you can already start preparing for the trip. But within the location, where are the ideal spots where you can camp? 

Dispersed camping on forests and agency-managed lands can be a little tricky. It is not the same for all. Based on our experience, dispersed camping means that we have to follow an existing path or service road. While we are traversing the path, we look at all sides until we see a broad area where we can set our tents. 

Whether you like it or not, most of these areas are pretty remote. Access to the internet or cellular services would be close to impossible. The only form of communication that works in these places is two-way or CB radios. 

If you are lucky, you will be able to find spots that are almost "established." They don't have facilities like those you can find in campsites. However, they are pretty decent enough to remove the need for cleaning or clearing the area. 

How Long Can You Stay In An Area For Dispersed Camping

The duration varies from one place to another. Some areas allow people to stay and camp for up to seven days. After that, land managers will require them to leave. 

Securing your permits is one way of knowing how long your trip will be. It is alright if you shorten the duration, but it is prohibited to overstay. Again, violation of the permits could result in penalties. 

For you to be able to maximize your time off the grid, make sure that you arrive early. Don't go to the location in the later part of the day (or the day after your original arrival date). Being punctual saves you from panic and hassle. You don't have to cram, as well, which saves you time and energy. 

Planning is an integral part of any camping trip. And one of the things that you need to identify is the duration of your jaunt. 

Necessary Items To Bring When Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is cumbersome if you are not going to prepare for it. One of the things that you need to remember is that this trip will require you to go somewhere remote and distant. Don't expect that you will see facilities and amenities in the area where you are going to camp. 

Because of this fact, there are a couple of things that you need to bring for the trip. Here are some of them. 

  • Tents - Identify how many of you are going on the trip. Furthermore, know the terrain and weather conditions. Make sure that the tent you bring can protect you against the elements. 
  • Navigation tools - These things are quite essential at this point. You need to secure the map of the area. Compasses and GPS devices are also useful in case you will get lost. 
  • Food and water - Pack enough food and water for your trip. Plan your meals ahead of time. Secure the necessary cookware, too, such as stoves, coffee makers, etc. For water, one person should have at least a gallon per day. But if your reservoir runs out, you better pray that you have a portable filtration system. 
  • Insect repellent - Bug nets and insect repellents will keep the critters away. They could also save you from dangerous mosquito bites. 
  • Bear-proof storage containers - If you are heading to bear country, you have to store your food in bear canisters and odor-proof bags. It's also not a bad idea if you bring bear spray. In some cases, you might want to legally carry a firearm for added defense. 

Read on to learn more about how to hike in bear country

  • Containers or trash bags - Always remember the Leave No Trace principles whenever you are doing dispersed camping. No one is going to clean after your leftovers and garbage. Most of the areas you will visit don't have trash cans, so it is your duty to clean up your mess. 
  • Sleeping amenities - Sleeping bags and sleeping pads are essential to have a comfortable sleep in the wild. Camping cots and pillows could add extra comfort to your zzz. 
  • Safety tools - Always put your safety as a top priority whenever camping on non-established camping grounds. We are pretty sure that you have heard or read scary tales of unusual or harrowing encounters of people while camping. Those things could happen to you, as well. Don't rule out those possibilities. Prepare for the worse. Bring knives, emergency kits, first-aid kits, flashlights, and whistles. These things can help you survive. 

Read on to learn more about surviving camping emergencies

Final Thoughts

Overall, dispersed camping is the least conventional way of exploring the outdoors. But by all means, it is a fun and refreshing way to experience camping and backpacking in general. 

But before you head out, make sure that you heed the things we listed here. Always secure a permit, prepare for the trip, and pack all the essentials. After all, there are minimal resources out there that resemble convenience. So it is really up to you to pack all the items that you need for the trip. 

And, of course, it is not a bad idea to practice camping safety. Always be aware of your surroundings, and make sure that you have back-up plans when SHTF takes place. 

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