There is something to be said about sleeping under the stars and waking up in the morning with a breath of fresh air. Seldom do we have moments in life that are remote and removed from it all, the hustle and bustle, so it’s crucial we take the time to find ways to connect with nature.

That’s why, when we choose to camp, we like to go the wild and free route, best. Whether you call it wild camping, free camping, or some combination of the two, it’s our preferred method of camping, hands down. Get away from densely populated campsites, noises, and people, set up camp in the middle of the wild, and immerse yourself in nature.

What is Wild and Free Camping?

Wild and Free Camping goes by many different names, including dry camping and freedom camping, and describes the style of overnighting, which is completely removed from any formal campsites. With wild camping, you experience nature in its most authentic forms, far, far away from any sort of noises and crowds.

If you’re new to the concept or just looking for some tips and tricks of the trade, we’ve put together The Best Ever Guide to Wild and Free Camping.

(Note: This is one of our incredibly in-depth guides. We suggest pinning this guide to reference when planning your ideas to go hiking.)

best ever guide to free camping

CHAPTER ONE

Types of Wild and Free Camping

While wild and free camping may be known in different terms to different people, there are also other sectors of this camping style within it. Here are a few common terms you might hear about when looking into wild and free camping and what they mean.

  • Dry Camping:
    Dry camping, simply put, means that your campsite will not have any sort of water or electrical hookups.

  • Boondocking:
    Boondocking is a term that originated from RVers and refers to sites without connection to water, electricity, or sewage.

  • Dispersed Camping:
    Dispersed camping is a term used for camping outside of designated campgrounds. More specifically, dispersed camping most commonly occurs on national forests and the Bureau of Land Management land across America.

  • Backcountry Camping:
    Backcountry camping is another wild and free camping style in which you are nowhere near a road or any sort of developed area. In backcountry camping, you must carry in and out all of your camping equipment to your remote site.

  • BLM Camping:
    The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, controls somewhere in the ballpark of 245 million acres of land across America. The best part is, the majority of this land allows you to camp for free. The BLM provides a range of camping, including developed campsites and wild and free camping.

  • Overlanding:
    Overlanding is a type of self-reliant adventure travel in which the journey is your primary goal. Overland Journal offers us 8 ways to distinguish if you are actually Overlanding or simply enjoying any of these other types of wild camping.

free camping off road
  • Off-Roading:
    Off-roading requires driving or riding your vehicle on unsurfaced roads of mixed materials, including gravel, sand, mud, rocks, snow, etc. Examples of off-roading vehicles include Jeep Wranglers, Toyota 4Runners, and Land Rover or Range Rovers. Off-roading cars can help get you to remote locations for your wild and free camping.

  • Soft Roading:
    Soft roading is similar to off-roading and sometimes referred to as light off-roading. The soft road vehicle is a blend between traditional cars and SUVs, offering the versatility and styling of an SUV in a more practical and refined package. Examples of soft roading vehicles include the Honda CR-V, Honda Pilot, or our Subaru Outback.

CHAPTER TWO

Why Do We Like Wild and Free Camping?

To be honest, the list is nearly endless in terms of reasons why we are such big fans of wild and free camping. For the sake of brevity, I will give you my personal favorites:

free camping
  • Enjoy a fully immersive experience. Go farther and deeper into the wild than you might have realized was possible.

  • Live through the spirit of exploration. Know no bounds. Appreciate the wonder and awe of raw nature at your footstep.

  • See places seldom seen. Forget the overly populated tourist attractions; find the beauties of nature near to no one has experienced before.

  • Feel the thrill of new discovery. Engage yourself in the excitement of seeing new things for the first time, every single time.

  • Get away from light and sound pollution—marvel at the sky without the lights that block its natural beauty.

  • Slow down. In this age of technology, everything comes and goes in an instant. But that’s not how nature works. Slow down and teach yourself to be more purposeful and meaningful in your everyday life.

  • Fully engage all of our senses (See / Hear / Smell / Feel / Taste). How often can you say that you experience all of your senses at once?

  • Reset and recharge. Reduce feelings of stress and the effects of stress on the body and mind.

  • Integrate your true, wild nature. Discover who you are when you remove yourself from your computer and cellphone screens. Forget the overly populated tourist attractions; find the beauties of nature near to no one has experienced before.

  • Forest Bathing: It goes without saying that enjoying nature in any facet is beneficial to our general health and happiness. Still, something about that enjoyment in a forest goes one step farther for us. So much so that there is even an art form specified to fully immersing yourself in a forest.

There are a million different reasons to love wild and free camping; what’s important is for you to get out there and find out why you love it the most. Of course, as you can see on our site, we love camping in BC Parks, too. We are so lucky that BC offers hundreds of camping options – both free and paid for us to explore. 

CHAPTER THREE

How to Find Free Camping Near Me

Some of the more popular campsites these days come with a sizeable priced nightly fee. Luckily, another reason why wild and free camping is one of our favorites is that it’s free.

There are tons of resources available to help you find wild and free campsites. The trick is knowing where to look. Here are some tools that we use and highly recommend.

iOverlander
iOverlander is a website and app compatible with iPhone and Android devices, and for us, it is considered a must-have app. The user-generated software means that new sites are popping up every day. And, it’s completely free.

Our favorite aspect of the iOverlander app is that you can access it entirely offline. As you can imagine, this is a beneficial tool for when you are off the beaten path and far, far from any cell signal. While some features are inaccessible, like pictures, offline, you can use most of the app and its capabilities in crucial times of need.

Campendium
Campendium is another website and app that you can use on macOS and Android devices. Through Campendium, you can search, review, and preview campsites across America. With over 21,000 different camps loaded, some even offer a virtual tour.

While the app runs free, you can upgrade to a supporter subscription for $20 per year and enjoy additional features.

Free Campsites
Free Campsites is a website that is known for being simple and straightforward. Simply type in the area you are looking for across America and Canada, and you will immediately see free campsites with directions, reviews, and other pertinent information.

find free camping

Ultimate Campgrounds
Ultimate Campgrounds is a free website paired with two paid mobile apps, one for US Public Campgrounds and Canada Public Campgrounds. Ultimate Campgrounds has over 44,000 campsites detailed across America and Canada, with added additions every month.

The Ultimate Campgrounds app was created for all types of travelers in mind, from RVers to hikers to free campers. The only downside to the app we see is that, unlike others, there are user reviews with dated feedback, so it is hard to know real-time information about specific sites. Otherwise, this is an excellent tool for all camping styles.

The Dyrt
The Dyrt claims to be one of the world’s fastest-growing camping-based platforms that offers a free website and app access as well as an upgraded version known as The Dyrt Pro. The platform is a map-based finder with beneficial features, including “near me,” trip planning, blog, and user-driven forum.

If you opt for The Dyrt Pro subscription, which runs you $35.99 per year, you can get added features.

Our Best Ways to Find Wild and Free Camping in BC

Let’s face it; there are many options out there when it comes to finding resources for wild and free camping. We are so fortunate to have so many opportunities to explore the wild for free in BC. A big thank you to BC Parks for offering free camping at many of their parks in the shoulder seasons. We are also happy to pay during the regular season to support BC Parks.

  • Backroad Map Books – all-in-one outdoor recreation guides for Canada
  • Recreation Sites and Trails BC – interactive map from the Recreation Sites and Trails Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations in British Columbia
  • DiscoverCamping.ca – official website of British Columbia Parks
  • Parks Canada – government website for all national campgrounds in Canada

CHAPTER FOUR

What to Expect from Wild and Free Camping

The exact conditions of wild and free camping will vary based on your location, time of year, typical camping considerations. The things that set wild and free camping apart from traditional camping, though, are a few relatively universal characteristics:

  • No services – this includes showers, water, electricity, garbage, picnic tables, or fire pits

  • Cell service is hit or miss – you’ll never really know if you’ll have it until you get there

  • Fewer people – it can be a pleasant surprise to see someone who has discovered the same secret spot you have – instant shared connection

  • No dump facilities – you have to be more conscious of your waste because whatever you pack in, you have also to pack out (in a bear safe container)

  • More wildlife – areas with fewer people mean wildlife roam freer (carry bear spray)

  • More risk – be safe; share your plan, pack safety equipment, recovery gear and resources

  • Rough road conditions – you’ll often have to travel on unmaintained roads to get to your final destination and they will most often require a vehicle that can handle those conditions

  • Fire regulations – know the rules, regulations, and requirements of controlled fires in your free campsites to avoid the risk of wildfires

CHAPTER FIVE

Wild and Free Camping Gear

One of the primary characteristics of wild and free camping is that you have to be utterly self-sustained because of the lack of common resources available to you at your campsite.

We have very little space to pack everything we need in the back of our Subaru Outback, so it has to be lightweight, compact, useful, and comfortable.

Here is a list of some of our wild and free camping essentials.

Wild and Free Camping: Vehicles

Our lifted Subaru Outback has allowed us to go a little farther and deeper into the wild. Exploring and enjoying remote, extraordinary, unforgettable areas and our adventure to get there is the bigger draw.

We have recently discovered some limitations with our Subaru Outback, although we love it immensely and find it very capable. We will be sharing an entire piece about our decision to change our vehicle and the reasons behind it soon.

In short, we need more space – which means an off-road trailer. This means choosing a vehicle with a bigger towing capacity that will carry us along rocky forestry service roads like this one. Stay tuned!

Of course, you can enjoy Wild and Free Camping in spots that don’t have roads like this – loads of them. We’ve been turned around one too many times when we’ve wondered what’s on the other side.

It all depends on where you want to go, how you want to get there and what you want to bring with you.

wild camping roads
camping off road trailer organization

Wild and Free Camping Storage and Organization

As I mentioned, we have recently moved to an off road trailer to carry our gear. One day, we will get a better system, but this is what we have found for a quick fix.

Note that this image is how it looks at camp. When we travel, the kitchen bins are stacked on top of one another with our annex, sleeping bag, chairs, and bbq table stacked beside them to keep them snug. The dry food bags travel in the vehicle with us and are usually the last things we throw in before we head off.

  • Storage Drawers – we really want to get a sturdier system, but these have worked wonders in the meantime. We store all of our kitchen gear and smaller camp items in these two bins.

  • All smaller like items (like utensils or spices) are grouped in smaller containers that live in the drawers.

  • Osprey Stratos 36 – Steve’s backpack for hiking that holds all of his camera gear

  • Herschel Little America Backpack Mid-Volume – what we use as our computer bag

  • Steve and I each get a small duffle bag for our clothes and we dedicate another bag to jackets for both of us.

  • We use a toolkit to store all of our hygiene stuff – wet and dry shampoo, soap, toothbrush/paste, makeup, mirror, deodorant, razors – all of it. After fussing around with all the different storage options, we found that it was just easiest to keep all of our hygiene products in a small Mastercraft Tool Box. (I even sneak my curling iron in there because we have a Jackery!)

  • We store all of our dry food for the trip in soft bags that go above our kitchen drawers.

Wild and Free Camping: Cooler or Fridge Debate

When we first started with wild and free camping, we used our YETI Tundra 65 cooler. We loved our YETI. It was a great size, did a fantastic job of keeping this cool, and fit nicely in the back of our Subaru.

Now that we are a bit more well-versed, we are starting to go on longer trips. Because of this, we were looking for the convenience a fridge has to offer. After all, ice only lasts a few days at most.

So, we made the switch over to our ARB Zero 63 QT Single Zone and think it’s the best thing ever. I don’t think we realized some of the comforts we were compromising by sticking with a cooler until we made the switch. Now, none of our food gets soggy, and we can carry more food in the same size unit (because we don’t need space for ice). Not only is inconvenient to get ice, but it also might not even be available or practice to get it close by.

Wild Camping Power:

For our power needs while wild and free camping, we chose the Jackery. They specialize in outdoor green power solutions, ideal for wild and free campers like us.

The solar generators are small yet incredibly efficient. Also, because we are using a fuel-generator alternative, we don’t have to worry about annoying noise or fume pollution. 

We use the additional power source for a number of our devices, including cameras, phones, the ARB fridge, and our computers:

Here is our current power setup for our wild camping:

camping fridge arb

Wild and Free Camping Tents / Trailers:

Rooftop tents (RTTs) are an excellent option for wild and free tenting for numerous reasons. First and foremost, because they are stored on the roof of your vehicle, (or in our case now, an off road trailer), you don’t have to worry about taking up precious storage space inside for your vehicle, which can be very bulky. 

Because your roof top tent will put you on top of your vehicle and off the ground, you will have more safety, security, and comfort while sleeping. Creepy crawlies and larger animals are less likely to get into your tent when you are off the ground, and you can usually enjoy the comfort of a high-density memory foam-type mattress in your roof top tent. 

One of my favourite features of a roof top tent is the setup. Rather than dealing with pesky poles like a traditional tent, most roof top tents spring up on their own or require very minimal effort to put together. They are super lightweight and mobile, making them a great addition to add comfort to any campsite.

While roof top tents are more expensive than traditional tents, they are still extraordinarily cheaper than an RV. Although you miss out on an RV’s comfort features, like bathrooms and running water, you are still gaining some significant comforts for sleep, and you have the freedom to set up camp in nearly any terrain, unlike an RV.

There are some downsides to a RTT as well. Removing or remounting an RTT in between use can be a pain. A quick solution is to leave it on your vehicle through camping season if you know you will be using it frequently.

The roof top tent that we use is the iKamper Roof Top Tent (SkyCamp Mini). We also purchased the additional annex to give us more room for relaxing in the rain and changing.

roof top tent ikamper

(Yes, we are at a BC Provincial Park in this photo – as we said, we love camping in parks, too! Some parks are free in the off-season – bonus!)

camping hammock

Relaxing while Wild Camping

Part of the fun of wild and free camping is getting to sit back and soak in every moment. To do that, we like to make sure we have some comfortable gear to help us wind down and relax.

Camping chairs are often an overlooked item when it comes to camping. We started out with these Marchway Lightweight Folding Camping Chairs because they are a less expensive version of the very popular Helinox chairs. They were certainly comfortable and packed up in a very small bag.

However, when we tried these Front Runner Camping Chairs, we were sold. They are even more comfortable because they have armrests, a flexible back and they pack up far more quickly than the Marchway chairs. Done!

A camping hammock is also another fun way to get off the ground to kick your feet up and relax. We tried to save our money on this area and opt for a cheaper option since we figured it wasn’t necessary. We found the Honest Outfitters Single Camping Hammock, and I’m in love. 

We love listening to music around the campfire at night. We found the Bose SoundLink Revolve to be the best portable speaker for sound quality and battery life. The only downfall we’ve found is it’s not water-resistant. We have our eyes on this one for our next speaker. 

Last but not least, a crucial element of relaxation is not being bothered by bugs. When we are sitting around at the campsite, we use the Radius Zone Mosquito Repellent. It’s great because you don’t have to be bothered with applying and reapplying topical repellents. When hiking, we use the Thermacell Mosquito Repellent as a lightweight and portable alternative.

CHAPTER SIX

Wild and Free Camping Etiquette

The concept of wild and free camping is to explore remote and often unknown territories common to other campers. While enjoying the personal gain in enjoying these pleasures, it is crucial to keep in mind your environmental impact in doing so as well.

The mentality of the well-equipped wild and free camper is to follow safety and etiquette practices to enhance the experience for you, the people you may, or may not, run into, and most importantly, for the people to come after you.

These practices are such an integral part of wild and free camping that national organizations and programs have been established to preserve the recreational experience.

Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly! was initially launched in 1985 as a public awareness program by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and eventually turned into a nonprofit organization in 1990. Tread Lightly! aims to not only protect but also enhance recreation opportunities by promoting outdoor ethics while heightening good stewardship.

Tread Lightly! revolves around the T.R.E.A.D. Principles that calls for responsible recreation:

  • Travel responsibly – by staying in designated road and waterways and avoid widening trails
  • Respect the rights of others – be considerate of private property, other campers, and right of ways
  • Educate yourself – know the environment and your equipment well
  • Avoid sensitive areas – protect natural wildlife habitats
  • Do your part – leave your site better than you found it

Do your part to preserve the qualities of wild and free camping so that campers of the future can enjoy them in the same ways as you do today.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a national education program developed in 1990 when the United States Forest Service (USFS) teamed up with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Since then, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has followed suit.

Leave No Trace provides us with a set of environmental ethics known as The Seven Principles:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

By following The Seven Principles as outlined by Leave No Trace, you are doing your part to protect and preserve the environment for you, fellow campers, and campers of the future.

Camping Etiquette

Campsite etiquette is another aspect to consider with wild and free camping. While you’ll find most of these nuances apply to any type of camping, it is essential to remember that camping is an aspect of wild and free camping as well.

Some basic camping etiquette considerations include:

  • Consider your group size – limit the number in your group to reduce your footprint
  • Rotate campsites – to help minimize your environmental impact
  • Know your privileges – know when are where you are permitted to camp
  • Think of your ground impact – ground mats and tarps can be damaging

One of the basic mentalities to have when it comes to camping etiquette is to mitigate your impact as much as you possibly can.

Safety Concerns

Keep in mind that while safety should always be a top priority when experiencing the outdoors, while you are wild and free camping, it should be especially top of mind. Before you set off on your adventure, make sure you are prepared.

  • Check the local weather and be prepared for sudden changes
  • Be aware of hunting season and stay visible
  • Bring enough water and a water filter
  • Logging trucks have the right of way (we use a two-way radio to call out our KMs on forestry service roads)
  • Bring proper recovery gear
  • Know the local laws and restrictions

In addition to these safety concerns, you also want to be mindful of fire and wildlife safety in your area.

Campfire Safety

Due to the nature of wild and free camping, fire safety is a critical consideration. Often you will not have designated fire rings/pits meaning if you want a fire, you will have to be extremely careful and responsible about how you handle it.

You should always keep a close eye on any fire restrictions in the areas you plan to go wild and free camping. You can quickly check an up-to-date list by state by looking at the BLM website or find your local provincial restrictions like BC Fire Bans and Restrictions. Remember that although fire is a lovely addition to any campsite, it can soon turn into a nightmare without the proper precautions.

Here are a few tips regarding fire safety you should always keep in mind while wild and free camping:

  • Use dry firewood – wet wood causes popping which can send embers flying through the air
  • Don’t travel with firewood – firewood may carry pests and foreign threats to natural habitats
  • Dig into the sand – reduce the amount of wind hitting your fire and spreading sparks
  • Clear the area – have a minimum of two feet cleared space in each direction
  • Have a plan – keep a shovel, water, or some way to extinguish the fire nearby in case of emergency
  • Fully extinguish any fires – before going to bed or leaving your site, make sure your fire is completely extinguished

Not only do you need to plan for a safe fire, but you have an emergency plan in mind as well. Have a planned evacuation route if your fire gets out of control, and you need to abandon it entirely.

Wildlife Safety

Enjoying nature in its purest form also means embracing the wildlife that lives amongst it. While it can be fascinating to capture glimpses of wildlife you might have never seen before, it’s important to remember they are a part of a very delicate ecosystem.

There is also some very large and very dangerous wildlife out there that tend to like to be in less inhabited areas. Always be cautious and keep in mind these tips for wildlife safety:

  • Don’t leave food outside – secure everything before you go to bed or burn it in your fire
  • Sit opposite to each other – reduce the ability for something to sneak up behind you
  • Avoid fresh kills – decaying or recently killed animals will attract predators
  • Look out for dens – watch for tracks, scat, or other signs of predators nearby
  • Keep bear spray always, just to be safe
  • Don’t wander – refrain from wandering alone, especially at night
  • Wear ankle boots – and long pants to keep your legs protected
  • Tuck your pant legs – avoid creepy crawlies
  • Use bear boxes when available – they are there for a reason

Researching local wildlife in the area can help you know what is out there and what to be prepared for. Regardless, you always want to be mindful and considerate of natural habitats.

CONCLUSION

Wild and free camping is becoming increasingly popular, but there are many things to consider if you are just starting your adventure. Rather than be intimidated, educate yourself to know what to expect and aren’t caught off guard. And always prioritize your safety and have fun!