Boondocking Safety

Multiple people have asked in comments recently about safety while boondocking so I thought I’d write my thoughts about it here where everyone can see.

How safe is boondocking?

In short, I don’t think boondocking is any less safe than any other kind of camping. The lower population density out in the desert means fewer marks for criminals, and they’d have to drive farther to find them. Why drive miles down a dirt road just on the chance they could find someone worth stealing from when in a town they’re all but guaranteed to? Most RV related thefts and break-ins happen in RVs that have been in one place for a while, where the criminal can keep an eye on activity around the RV and judge when they’re least likely to be seen by anyone. In order to do that for a boondocker, the person would need to drive out to the boondock area several times, which brings me to my next point.

It’s harder to hide out in the desert. After a day or two you learn who else is camping near you by sight if not in person, it’s easier because there are fewer people to account for. A vehicle without a travel trailer or ATV is going to be more conspicuous coming into a BLM area than a neighborhood where people are constantly coming and going. People will notice. Experienced criminals don’t want to draw attention to themselves. They benefit the most from their crimes when no one notices what they’re up to. And it’s easier to remain anonymous in a city among a sea of people than in the boonies.

So where’s the danger?

I think the most likely chance for harm or theft in the boonies comes not from premeditated crime, but the random kind. A couple of guys get to drinking and decide to take a joyride and in their judgment-impaired state, see an RV out in the wilderness and dare each other to mess with it. If they were thinking clearly they would leave it alone, because the chances of their actions blowing up in their faces is higher than a professional would risk: someone might be in the RV with a gun, or the cops could get called and they’d end up arrested, but they won’t be thinking clearly until the alcohol wears off.

Knowing that random acts of violence could happen on the road can be scary, but the truth is these encounters could happen anywhere. In the grocery store parking lot, at a gas station, at your home before you started traveling. You’re no less safe now than you’ve been at any other point in your life, and the chances may actually be slimmer because again, you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

How to mitigate the risk

There are things you can do to protect yourself. If you carry a gun, look carefully into the gun laws in the states you’ll be traveling through because they aren’t universal and some permits don’t carry over. Mace (or hornet/bear spray) is also an option. If you do have one of these, make sure they’re within easy reach, none of them will do you any good tucked in a drawer or buried in the bottom of your purse. If your car has an alarm, park it close enough that you can hit the panic button from inside your RV and have it sound.

Some single women also like to leave the illusion of there being more than one person in camp, by putting out two chairs, or a big pair of men’s boots at the door. Whether you carry a gun or not you can put a pro-gun or hunting sticker on your vehicle. Dogs are also good protection, even a small one will make noise when someone gets close to the RV.

The #1 best thing you can do to stay safe

But as always, I use common sense as my biggest weapon. If a place doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t look kept up or the people are behaving furtively, don’t stay. Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re towing, remain hooked up the first night just in case the vibe is off so you can leave in a hurry. Parking with at least one other RV in sight gives you another set of eyes to watch for trouble. Lock your doors at night, if you need to go out carry a big flashlight that can double as a weapon, or even your car keys can do serious harm if you hold the keys between your fingers while throwing a punch. If you have portable solar or a generator either bring them in when you leave or buy a thick chain and lock. Close the blinds when you leave so your stuff isn’t visible.

Yes, I do leave my Casita behind while boondocking and take the truck places, having that flexibility is one of the biggest reasons I opted for a truck and trailer instead of a small motorhome. If you’re worried about having your RV stolen while you’re gone you can put wheel locks on it, I have a hitch lock on mine being a trailer. Like putting a chain and lock on a generator, it won’t deter a serious thief with the right equipment, but it’ll stop the casual ones. Again, it’s just a matter of chance, and to me the chance is small enough to be worth the risk. I have an emergency fund and a plan in case the worst should happen and the Casita were to be stolen, and that does a lot to alleviate any worry I might feel.

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  1. Kevin Feltner on August 31, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for the info, Becky. I put the down payment on my Scamp yesterday. I stayed in a 16′ Casita over the weekend to get a better idea of space.

    Since I plan on boondocking alone, I wondered if I should carry a gun. What do you do? I don’t feel completely comfortable with guns, but I also want to be safe.
    Kevin Feltner recently posted..My night in a tiny camperMy Profile

    • Becky on August 31, 2016 at 5:22 pm

      Congrats Kevin, I bet you’re feeling pretty excited about picking up that Scamp!

      Only you know if it’s right for you to carry a gun or not, if you’re not comfortable with one I’d actually suggest against it, since in a situation where it became necessary to use it, if the person threatening you was more comfortable and better with guns that you are they could get it away from you and then you’d be in real trouble. Just my two cents.

      • Mark on November 28, 2016 at 6:34 am

        Hi Becky, what a brilliant site you have here and I find it incredibly interesting your experience and the comments posted!

        I would like the opportunity to contribute some thoughts if I can.
        Having a firearm or any weapon for that matter is only a deterrent in the initial
        stages of a defence situation. What comes next is a whole world away from what most of us will ever experience!
        The ‘what comes next part’ is where you need to understand yourself. You may not be in control of your opponent but your best chance is control of yourself.
        Preparation is everything! if you are to engage in a situation you probably know
        already that you are capable and if you don’t, you should seek some training.
        With reference to what Kevin (Hi Kevin!) said about whether he should have a firearm on his travels, I would say to him and anyone else who presents a weapon in a confrontation that the answer to ‘what comes next’ you should be fully prepared for or avoid completely going there if you can.
        I know the whole self defence subject is a minefield and cannot be answered simply or quickly but what I am trying to do is help people to understand the big difference between having a weapon and being prepared to use it if they have not really considered it before.
        I have finished with my happy 2 cents worth!!! lol! and look forward to posting some positive comments on the RVing lifestyle.

        • Becky on November 30, 2016 at 4:47 pm

          Yes Mark these are good points,it’s something I touched on in an earlier post about solo safety but it’s always good to keep bringing it up so others think about the ramifications before a situation presents itself!

  2. Jack Nimble on April 2, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    A good, thoughtful post. Thank you. I agree that common sense is your best weapon. I did carry bear spray and a taser at all times, but it was more for animals when I used to walk Jack. On our side is that a thief doesn’t know if we have a weapon or not. And yes, I have one of those long, big flashlights in case I need to clunk someone on the head. (LOL) I also picked up a sensory light. I’m not sure how much protection it will afford, but I’m sure a thief doesn’t want to be seen. I think I’ll install it on the back of the trailer and turn it on at night.

    • Becky on April 2, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Not a bad idea Nimble. Glad you enjoyed this post, thanks for commenting!

  3. Ron on March 31, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Great article. I prefer not to live in fear, then the bad elements already win. That and a 12 ga. With 00 buckshot and i feel pretty secure…..long guns are generally easier to carry in a vehicle than Handguns…but there are still rules to follow. Best advise is to avoid the areas as the article mentions.

    • Becky on April 1, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Ron.

  4. G. Martin on March 30, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Finally had a reason to shop on Amazon and used your affiliate link. Safe travels and keep the blog posts coming.

    • Becky on April 1, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks Martin, hope you continue to enjoy IO!

  5. Linda Sand on March 30, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    “Whether you carry a gun or not you can put a pro-gun or hunting sticker on your vehicle.”

    I advise against this. It might make a thief think you have a gun worth stealing.

    • Becky on April 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      But who’s to say the gun is kept in the car Linda? It’s not my thing, but I know some people who do it. To each their own.

    • nikita on June 5, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      I was just about to type the same comment. I actually put my NRA stickers on my pistol box, not the outside of my FJ for this very reason. 🙂 Many thieves will assume there are shotguns, long guns or ammo inside to steal, even if the owner might be carrying their handgun elsewhere, since most NRA members own more than one firearm.

  6. Diane Ely on March 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    RV Sue installed a large truck horn on the exterior of her Casita, to repel humans or bruins intent on breaking in. (I guess this would work only if she’s there to activate the horn, unless she has it wired to go off when she’s out.)

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Yeah, she installed that after a bear tried to break into her RV (with her in it) on the boarder between UT and WY, I remember that post. 🙂 It’s hand operation only as far as I know but you bring up a good point.

      My truck has an anti-theft alarm, and I can hit the panic button from inside the Casita and it’ll make quite a racket. Updated the post to reflect this. 🙂

  7. Sandy Wetzel on March 30, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Great post. It was suggested to us at a Escapees Boot Camp that wasp spray is safe to carry – so far – as bear spray and mace are illegal in many places.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Sandy!

  8. Dawn from Camano Island on March 30, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Becky, great post! We live without fear but exercise caution.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      Glad you liked this Dawn!

  9. Swankie on March 30, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I have solo boondocked for going on seven years now and NEVER had any problems. Nothing stolen, nothing disturbed, even when I leave my camp for several days. I have left things out, of great value to no one but me, and not had anything “walk” off. I don’t experience feelings of “fear” to the same degree that many people do, and don’t know how to explain that, other than the fact I am not a petite woman, and I am very strong. Maybe that makes me look like someone people should not mess with… I don’t know. But I feel safer in the wilderness than I feel in the cities (and I usually don’t feel too unsafe in cities or urban areas). It just is what it is. People should just go for it. Some of the things newbees worry about in the beginning, will fade with a little experience. Start out by camping with or near people you know… and expand from there.
    Swankie recently posted..Wrapping up another Quartzsite winter and on to the AZ Trail.My Profile

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Well said Swankie, thanks for sharing!

  10. Jim@HiTek on March 30, 2016 at 10:51 am

    And these days with nearly universal coverage by cell phone towers, it’s doubly difficult for would be thieves because they have to be aware that the owner could call 911…even out in the boondocks.

    And even though a boondocker these days might have some cell phone bars, my point is, when you choose a boondocking site, be sure you know how to direct law enforcement to you. Keep a notepad next to you and write down each and every turn or sign you pass, as well as distances, as you make your way to a camping site. Make note of any local names for the area or nearby landmarks so you will have it written and won’t have to depend on memory.

    If you have GPS, write down your coordinates too so you’ll have them at hand.

    Other than being prepared, nothing to worry about really. I love being out in the great desert near Quartzsite, or in the forests of Oregon, miles from anyone, all by myself.

    BTW, Becky, I went and visited the Boyce Thompson Arboretum yesterday. Weather was cloudy and coolish. Actually wore a jacket and hat. But it was sooooo worth it. What a great place. And the cactii were nearly all ready to bloom. Place should be a riot of cactii blooms here in a couple weeks.

    And nearly all the plants were so healthy. You don’t often see so many healthy plants in the wild.

    I’m all stiff and sore today from the walking and hiking the High Trail but I’m really glad I made the effort to visit the arboretum.

    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Jim@HiTek recently posted..Finally…a new RV…My Profile

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks for sharing Jim.

      Glad you got to visit the Arboretum! It was cool here as well, that front that came through on Monday. It is a really special place isn’t it? It’s easy to see that the place is well cared for. Enjoy the rest of your time in Tonto.

  11. Jodee Gravel on March 30, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Yes and yes. As a full-timer, I know you are more safe boondocking than we are in an RV park. As a mother, I know yours worries about every minute you are “out there by yourself”!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..More Playing in the Forest and ‘S’ Doesn’t Stand for SpringMy Profile

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Indeed Jodee.

  12. Loup Garou on March 30, 2016 at 4:53 am

    For those times when you leave the site unattended, you can use a game survilance camera to keep an eye on things. If upon your return, something is found to be amiss, you might be able to get your stuff back.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for sharing Loup.

  13. John Hussey on March 30, 2016 at 3:06 am

    How do you choose your boon docking locations? Or, how do you find your boon docking locations?

  14. SnJ on March 29, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    In general I agree with your post. In the specific area you are at it may be a bit different. We have camped out there or near these areas dozens of times per year. We have had friends/acquaintances have things taken by desert bandits. At one point we would lock down our ATVs and valuables at night since the thieves will come into your camp at night to survey what to steal. It happens and the best you can really do is take precautions not to become a victim. Secure your valuables, if you can’t afford to replace it – take it with you when you go out. Camping in groups (of known people) increases your security as well. I used to camp solo near what was a smuggling route (according to ICE) and never had a problem following the basics I mention. If you need a visual of what the reality is, go to homestead valley and checkout some of the great iron work on the doors and windows of many of the homes. Bottom line – it’s not the act of boondocking that’s dangerous, it’s the actual location that can be dangerous.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      That’s why I put away my solar and lock everything up at night and when I leave SnJ, it’s just common sense. As I said in the article, every now and then I pull into a place and it doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the look of the area, or the way the people behave, but I trust my gut. I’m not getting that feeling here right now, although another blog reader said she came out here to camp once and it didn’t feel right and she moved on. There’s a good bit of overflow camping coming from Joshua Tree this time of year so a fair number of people around. If I was all alone out here I wouldn’t stay.

      • SnJ on March 30, 2016 at 11:31 pm

        Gut instinct developed over a length of time and data points of experience is always helpful. In absence of the data points of experience I would recommend some research. Better to be informed and a bit fearful than fearless and ignorant of the risks.

        A side note, the border patrol uses rescue beacons in several of the remote areas of the desert and advertise a 1 hour response in most cases. They do this primarily for the illegal immigration routes but I always thought it would be a good thing if they could put them at the more popular boondocks areas. Look for the beacons and water caches when you’re out hiking the remote areas of the Mohave.

  15. Ron on March 29, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Living in fear is not living. We Winter 2 miles north of Mexico. So many have asked us aren’t we scared? Of what I say, my shadow. Love the friendly people and the culture.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      I have a solo friend who winters down in Mexico Ron, she rents an apartment down there. She says the people are friendly and she’s never been in a dangerous situation. The world isn’t as dangerous as we think, it’s just that the news reports every bad thing that happens, and all of the stories of kindness aren’t sensational enough to make ratings. Sad, really.

  16. Rich on March 29, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    I’ve noticed in several of your pictures (including the one in this post) that you park your truck in front of and perpendicular to your Casita. Is that in any way a safety measure, or is it done for other reasons?

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      Oh, I always park the truck in front of the Casita so that the view from my windows isn’t impeded Rich (Casitas don’t ride far off the ground). Parking it perpendicular is the quickest way to get in and out, so it’s convenience. 🙂

  17. Jackie on March 29, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Thank you Becky for this post. Common sense and intuition is great companions when traveling. I’ll be starting my adventure in my camper in May. Looking forward to it.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      You’re welcome Jackie, I’m glad you found this helpful and I wish you the best! One month to go, I bet you’re excited. Safe travels and happy trails. 🙂

  18. Jeff on March 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I am certainly ‘Not Fearless’! But a conservative,rational approach makes sense. In any situation it only makes sense to be aware of your surroundings and aware of what does not belong. Becky is spot-on with her logic that no one will be looking for a ‘score’ on a dirt road on BLM land. However, if an easy score is serendipitous the rules may change, but that’s such a low percentage again I defer to Becky’s judgement – don’t let fear be a decisive decision in your solo choices.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Well said Jeff. Fear is a useful tool, as long as a person doesn’t let it get out of control.

  19. pamelab on March 29, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I like your rational and positive thinking, Becky. Anyone can scare themselves into never going or doing anything! Fear can paralyze you. My motto is to “Be Fearless”. Thanks, Becky. Happy Trails. I really enjoy your blog!

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this post Pamela. Fear can be paralyzing. I’d rank it right up there with “money” for excuses people give for not getting on the road.

      I think fear can be a useful tool. It makes us look over our actions carefully for flaws, it makes us go the extra mile to help ensure success. But if a person lets it get out of control, it can be damaging. That’s a good motto you have!

  20. Sheila Hagadone on March 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    You’re so right – it can happen ANYWHERE.
    Why let FEAR govern your life?
    ENJOY, LOVE & be SAFE!
    Happy travels,

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      You’ve got it Sheila. 🙂

  21. Rick in Tampa on March 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Good thoughts. I follow a lot of Youtubers who single boondock and I’m always concerned about their safety out in the desert being all alone. In organized commercial parks, you have others nearby who can assist you in times of trouble.

    • Becky on March 30, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      I’ve given the subject a lot of thought Rick, it’s my parent’s #1 concern.

      As for having people nearby who can help, sometimes crimes happen in a matter of seconds, most are over in minutes. I think having people nearby is great for having extra sets of eyes to watch for trouble, but when an actual crime is in progress, does it really make much difference? Do you have have time or the opportunity to call for help and wait for it to arrive? Would your neighbors be able to do more than the police would? Unless you’re talking about support after a crime, which is true. But when your house is on wheels, you can find that support after the fact just as easily.

    • Cass on May 24, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Can you provide links to these single you tubing rivers? I’d love to follow them!

      • Becky on May 24, 2016 at 10:14 pm

        Hopefully Rick will answer Cass, it’s been a while since this post went live and there’s a good chance he won’t see it. I personally don’t follow YouTube channels as I don’t have the data for it. 🙂

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