Hiking and Boondocking Etiquette

We’ve spent several months in the southwest now and have spent lots of time hiking.  We’ve also been boondocking or dry camping when possible.  I’m oddly proud to say that we’ve had hookups for only 11 out of the last 40+ days – and that was when we had guests.  Here are some pet peeves of mine related to hiking and boondocking.

Boondocking perfection – tucked into Kaibab National Forest, two miles from the entrance to Grand Canyon NP

 

Boondocking Etiquette

Some of these topics don’t apply to our definition of dry camping – which is going without hookups at an actual campground.  Most established USFS campgrounds have no hookups and are considered dry camping.  What they do have, however, is designated campsites, trash services, and a camp host that hopefully enforces some rules.

 

Music and Phones

Our favorite boondocking spots are usually on USFS roads where we have no neighbors nearby (sometimes none in sight at all).

The Fox with Lake Powell and Lone Rock in the background in Page, AZ

But, in popular places like Sedona, AZ, that’s not really possible.  I understand that having other campers nearby is part of the deal sometimes.  A lot of the time neighbors actually add to the experience since you get to make new friends and have interesting conversations with like-minded people.

Boondocking neighbors in Sedona, AZ

But when people are sitting in front of their campsite 20 feet from our RV and spend several hours straight having conversations on speakerphone, it gets old.  We’re out here for the peace and quiet of nature – not to be forced to listen to your conversation with your bros.

The same applies to music.  If you like to blast your music loud enough that every explicit lyric can be heard within a quarter mile, please either stay home or find a place to camp with no neighbors.

 

Generators

Generators are a part of boondocking.  Most people don’t have a solar setup elaborate enough to run everything, so a generator is usually at least part of the repertoire (which is also our scenario).

Zamp solar controller showing the batteries are full after a day of sun and some generator time

One of the reasons we went with Honda generators is that they’re pretty quiet.  Under a light load with eco-throttle mode on, it’s not loud at all.  Honda generators are expensive though, so I get that not everyone is willing to invest in them.

Our generator setup

That being said, running your extremely loud, construction-grade generator all day and well into the evening is offensive.  If a constant high-voltage feed is necessary for you to enjoy nature, you’re doing it wrong!  Of course some people have medical reasons for needing power – but in that case, a super loud construction generator is probably not what they’d have.

And by all means, please obey quiet hours when you’re dry camping in an actual campground.

Quiet hours are usually really lenient. Who needs to run a generator past 10pm?

 

Your Stuff and your Trash – Leave No Trace

The general rule of boondocking in national forests is that you can only camp in previously disturbed areas.  These are pretty obvious – there are often tire marks, an area where RVs have been parked, and a rock fire ring.

Boondocking in Moab, Utah near Arches NP (visible in the distance behind the Fox).  Note the plentiful fire rings.

Let’s try not to disturb the area any further, okay?  Having a solution for where your trash goes is a necessity.  When a strong gust of wind comes through, your trash shouldn’t be at risk of blowing away.  And neither should your tent, the blanket you draped over a tree, or your pile of empty beer cans.

An amazing adventurer boondocking setup in Sedona, AZ

 

Fires

Speaking of trash, one place where it should not go is in your fire.  There are few things worse than having the smell of burning plastic from someone else’s fire woft in through open windows on a nice evening.

This is not to be taken lightly in places where it doesn’t rain. Ever.

Also, if you have a camp fire, it’s your responsibility to make sure it’s completely out before you leave.  It blows my mind that people leave with a fire still smoldering in the desert.  The vegetation is bone dry and would catch incredibly easily.  We’ve witnessed good samaritan neighbors hauling their own water to vacated sites to drown out smoldering fires – at least some people care!

A great boondocking site in Sedona, AZ with a campfire still smoldering (the camper had just left)

 

Forest Roads

Forest roads are still public roads.  They have speed limits and are shared by all.  I understand that it’s fun to blast down them on an ATV.  But they’re not ATV trails and they’re not there for your personal enjoyment.  Especially when there’s an OHV-specific trail (for off-highway vehicles, like ATVs) literally down the road!

Going for a walk on a forest road in Sedona, AZ

ATV/off-road vehicle use is fine – and I’d love to have one – but it only takes a few bad experiences to give a bad impression.  This became a problem while boondocking in Sedona due to the many ATV/RZR rental places nearby.  Rental companies drop the vehicles off at the forest road entrance and suddenly the forest road is the rider’s personal off-road course and speed test track.  There’s an OHV loop that intersects with the forest road – please use that for high-speed jaunts!

Calla enjoying an unused, dead-end forest road near Grand Canyon NP in AZ – how’s that for a back yard?

 

Hiking Etiquette

 

Read the signs

A fair number of parks post signs with current trail conditions, hazards, and relevant warnings/info on information boards at visitor centers or at trailheads.  Read them!  They’re written by the park rangers who know the trails and the area better than anyone else.  Perhaps certain parts of the trail are impassable, or the water source you’re counting on is currently dry, etc.  It can be useful stuff.

This sign is no joke – it was posted on the Bright Angel trail in Grand Canyon NP. It descends down for thousands of feet in elevation – then you have to turn around and come back up!

 

Kill the music

This one should be so clear and obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately that’s not the case.  No one wants to hear your music blaring from your phone or speaker while hiking.  Most people hike to get away from daily life and to enjoy nature – which decidedly does not include your music.  Seriously, leave it at home.

 

Going down the trail?  Get out of the way!

This is a big pet peeve of mine.  Many trails only have space for hikers to pass in one direction.  The general rule (and one usually covered by the signs mentioned above) is that hikers going up have the right of way.  So if you’re going down the trail when others are huffing and puffing their way up, step off to the side and let them pass!  This is particularly frustrating in popular parks on weekends.

 

Stay on the trail

Many national parks (and hiking trails in general) exist in extreme climates.  It’s challenging enough for native flora and fauna to survive without humans stepping on everything.  When a sign specifically says not to go somewhere, don’t go there.  It’s amazing how many people blatantly ignore these signs and decide to blaze their way through a fragile native area just to get a picture for social media (I assume).

Funny but true

 

Do you have any pet peeves or etiquette violations related to boondocking or hiking?  Let us know in the comments!

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Etiquette in general seems to be getting lost on our society. Sad to hear that the boondocking experience
    can sometimes be a testament to that as well.

    1. Fortunately we’ve had far more positive experiences than negative experiences while boondocking. Thanks for reading, Ted!

  2. Despite some negative experiences you folks are damn lucky. This would be impossible in lager parts of Central- Europe.
    Either it’s against the law, the defined areas only for tents, little RV’s or the country is simply to small….

    1. Thanks for the comment, Peter! That’s really interesting. We certainly feel lucky to be able to do this.

      Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply