What is Dry Camping? The Ultimate Guide to Embracing Your Inner Pioneer
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Camping is a fantastic way to immerse oneself in nature and escape the rush of everyday life in the city.
That said, camping can take many different forms.
Camping can simply be pitching a tent in your backyard for a change of scenery and fun with the family, or it can be trekking deep into the backcountry wilderness to build a shelter out of whatever resources you can scrounge up.
Renting an RV to camp at a full-hookup campsite can also be a relaxing experience with more amenities and comfort if you would rather be in nature while keeping nature at a bit of a distance!
Dry camping is something in between all these other types of camping.
You might have seen content related to dry camping on social media or heard about dry camping through a friend recently.
Dry camping has been gaining popularity over the past several years for its more intimate experience with nature.
This article will answer the question, “What is dry camping?”
It will also explore the different types of dry camping, what distinguishes them, and the advantages and challenges of dry camping.
I will provide tips for a more successful dry camping trip, such as what to pack, conserving resources, and preparing for the unexpected.
Finally, this article will highlight some popular dry camping destinations so you can start planning your next dry camping adventure!
What is dry camping?
Imagine yourself camping in a remote area, far outside the city limits and farther still from any state park, with designated campsites that could be occupied by loud patrons and their even louder children.
It’s just you, and perhaps your partner and dog, and the tranquility of nature.
You discover a newfound ability to enjoy some well-earned peace and quiet without the price of an entry ticket and the hassle of a reservation.
To get here, you simply wandered off the path to pave your own way until you found the perfect, serene spot to set up camp.
You may have wandered on foot, or you brought the RV.
Either way, you have just discovered the solace that is dry camping.
Dry camping doesn’t have to come with strict criteria or secrets held by camping gatekeepers.
It simply means setting up camp without access to utility hookups such as electricity, water, sewage, or any other amenities you might have access to at a state or national park.
When I first heard the term dry camping, I didn’t know it warranted a unique name because I thought it was just regular camping. It turns out I had been dry camping most of my life, simply having a tent and some supplies and trekking off into the Jefferson National Forest somewhere to find a good spot.
Dry camping requires campers to be self-sufficient, as they must rely on their supplies, expertise, and resourcefulness for all their needs that might otherwise be met at an accommodating campground.
This self-sufficiency involves packing in your own food, water, shelter, waste disposal, and power source if needed.
There are a few different types of dry camping, but I will go into more detail on that later.
For now, remember that any camping that doesn't involve a designated campsite or utility hookups would qualify as dry camping.
Dry camping encourages a minimalist and more eco-friendly approach to camping. Fewer resources mean less impact on the environment!
Types of dry camping
As mentioned before, dry camping comes in different forms.
Each type of dry camping comes with its own unique set of advantages and challenges.
This section will look at the different types of dry camping and the qualities that distinguish them.
Backcountry dry camping
This type of dry camping involves accessing your campsite via hiking or backpacking and setting up camp in a remote wilderness area, such as a national forest or national park land, assuming you have a backcountry permit.
Backcountry dry camping offers the opportunity to connect with nature more profoundly. You won’t get a better sense of intimacy with nature and isolation from the company of others than with backcountry dry camping.
However, it also requires preparation, as you must pack enough supplies to last the duration of your trip and some extras in the event of the unexpected.
You don’t want to be so ill-prepared that you end up needing to purify your own water or fish and hunt for your food. Always mind your skill level, and don’t attempt backcountry camping if you’re not confident in your preparation and outdoor skills.
I highly recommend acquiring a gazetteer if you're planning a backcountry dry camping trip, as this unique map displays trails, streams, and primitive campsites rather than just designated roads and highways.
A gazetteer is a valuable tool for planning a good spot for backcountry dry camping.
You will likely not be able to access a spot to camp in the true backcountry by vehicle, so this type of dry camping is recommended for the most adventurous of outdoors people.
All that said, backcountry dry camping is considered the most environmentally friendly form of camping due to the need to pack light and leave behind the vehicle exhaust.
Dispersed dry camping
If backcountry dry camping sounds a little too colonial, dispersed dry camping by vehicle might be more your speed.
Dispersed dry camping is also on public lands such as national parks or forests where it is allowed.
However, instead of rigorous planning and trekking to get to where you need to be, you can typically access your preferred campsite via automobile.
You will still be setting up camp away from developed areas with designated campsites and hordes of other people.
However, you won’t quite be pioneering your way to uncharted territories in the remote wilderness.
Dispersed dry camping typically involves finding a primitive campsite with no hookups that still is accessible by vehicle.
Still, it doesn't necessarily involve camping inside your vehicle. You are merely accessing your site by vehicle.
Dispersed camping is relatively more accessible to a broader population of campers.
However, there is still significant preparation involved, so plan accordingly.
RV dry camping
Finally, we have the most comfortable and accessible of all types of dry camping.
When most think of RV camping, they’re thinking about parking the family RV at a nice campground with full hookup availability to electricity, water, and sewage.
They might even have a lovely picnic table you can utilize for eating charcoal-grilled hotdogs and hamburgers!
However, RV dry camping is just a little different.
With RV dry camping, you still might take the family RV out. Still, you won't be hooking up to any utilities, and you likely won't have access to shower facilities either.
You’ll probably be taking the RV on an excursion to a remote location via the road less traveled.
RV dry camping, simply put, is camping inside your RV in a remote location, not at a campground with hookup sites.
It differs from the previous two types of dry camping in that instead of searching for a spot to set up a campsite, you simply stay in your RV wherever you land!
Even though you are staying inside your RV, ensure dry camping is allowed wherever you park.
Tips for a successful dry camping experience
Despite its inherent challenges, dry camping is probably the most rewarding camping experience you’ll have.
With its challenges, dry camping requires planning and preparation to ensure a successful trip to make the most of your camping trip.
This section will give tips to help you plan and prepare for dry camping, whichever type you decide to participate in.
When dry camping, you likely won’t have access to resources or facilities that you might in a designated campground.
You will need to pack your water, food, and shelter (if you are not bringing your RV).
Depending on how long you will be dry camping will determine how much food and water you’ll need to bring.
With regards to water, a safe rule is to make sure you have at least one gallon for each person for each day you will be camping.
You might need even more depending on what you will be using the clean water for and if you will be doing any physical activity such as hiking.
Another part of planning is researching potential spots to set up your dry camp.
Making sure that dry camping is legal in the area you plan to be in is integral to a successful trip.
Many national parks and national forests allow dry camping, so always plan to determine which parks allow and disallow dry camping.
Here is a resource on Wilderness & Backcountry Camping from the National Park Service to learn more about dry camping in a national park.
Conserving what little resources you have on a dry camping trip is essential.
It would be best to plan ahead how you plan to ration so nothing is used unnecessarily.
Conserve clean drinking water by only using the water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and hygiene.
Use energy-efficient gear and turn off electronics when not in use.
Investing in a quality solar power bank for dry camping is also a good idea.
This one is a great option, as it has a powerful battery and is not expensive.
Respect the environment
Always practice Leave No Trace principles in nature, especially when dry camping, as you will likely not be anywhere you can dispose of trash quickly in receptacles.
Disposing of waste and ensuring you leave nothing behind will require some planning.
Do your due diligence and make sure to respect any environment you are camping in.
Pack out your trash, and follow regulations and restrictions set forth by the area where you will be dry camping.
Prepare for the unexpected
Dry camping can present its own challenges and inherent dangers, so it is essential to be prepared for emergencies or anything unexpected.
You should pack a first-aid kit with you anytime you go dry camping. A good first-aid kit should contain the following at a minimum:
Antibacterial cream or peroxide
Insect sting/bite treatment and a snake bite kit
Additionally, you should have a fire starter of some kind.
Packing a map and compass would also be beneficial in case you lose your way and don't have cell service.
Lastly, you should pack a way to purify water. Anytime I go camping in the wilderness, I bring more than one water purification method with me, such as tablets. I also pack a personal water filtration system like my LifeStraw.
Popular dry camping destinations in the United States
The United States is home to beautiful dry camping destinations if you know where to look.
From east to west, here are some of the most popular dry camping destinations in the United States.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Spanning across North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well over 500,000 acres of mountainous terrain with densely forested landscapes.
Backcountry dry camping in the park will require a backcountry permit from the National Park Service by following the information found here.
You can also find helpful information to assist in planning your backcountry trip to the Smokies at this link.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
While technically, dispersed and backcountry camping are not permitted in Big Bend National Park, there are plenty of primitive campsites designated throughout that can be accessed by vehicle to offer you a fun and rustic dry camping experience.
You can find more information on these primitive roadside campsites here.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
If you're going to go dry camping, the largest national park in the United States makes for an excellent option!
Yellowstone National Park offers nearly 300 backcountry campsites for primitive dry camping.
You will need a backcountry permit to dry camp in Yellowstone, and those permits can be reserved here.
Yellowstone National Park offers immensely diverse terrains throughout the park, including mountainous regions, rolling grassy hills, geysers and hot springs, and lush forests, so dry camping in this national park will be a truly memorable experience.
Olympic National Forest, Washington
This breathtaking forest in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States offers miles of scenic hiking trails, beautiful lakes, and towering evergreen trees.
Dry camping is permitted at one of the many designated dispersed camping sites.
You can also choose your site. Just ensure you leave no trace and return it to its natural, untouched state. If you pack it in, pack it out!
Dry camping is a unique and rewarding way to experience natural beauty more intimately.
In my opinion, there is no better way to camp than to enjoy the company of nature away from the crowds you might otherwise find at a campground.
Remember, self-sufficiency and preparation are key to a successful dry camping trip.
Always pack plenty of water, food, and supplies and prepare for unexpected emergencies with backup power, a map and compass, and a good first-aid kit.
You should also plan your destination carefully to ensure dry camping is permitted where you plan on going.
With the proper mindset and a strong sense of adventure, anyone can enjoy the solace and tranquility of dry camping!
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