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What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed Camping

There are 2 types of camping. Campground camping and dispersed camping.

The dictionary defines dispersed as ‘to separate and move apart in different directions without order or regularity; become scattered. Campgrounds are orderly, and regular. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great campgrounds; but if you’re tired of being right on top of the people you are trying to get away from by going camping, dispersed camping just might be for you. 

Dispersed camping is camping anywhere that’s not a developed campground. There are no services such as toilets, trash removal, picnic tables, or fire rings. You are as out in nature as you can be. There are extra responsibilities to adhere to when dispersed camping. These responsibilities help keep everyone safe and leaves the are for others to enjoy as well.

Some guidelines for dispersed camping:
  1. Use an existing campsite. Camping where others have camped before minimalizes the environmental impact of camping and helps leave the area around the campsite pristine and the reason to go out & camp.
  2. Be prepared. Know before you go what amenities you will need to provide for your outing. No trash service? Be prepared to take your trash with you. No restrooms? Be prepared to dig “cat holes”.
  3. Follow Leave No Trace principles. For more on this, click here.
  4. Pack it in, pack it out! I just got back from a campout where there was trash everywhere. It was sickening the amount of trash that was left behind. We found that all the trash effected our camping experience because we were cleaning up after others instead of enjoying ourselves.
  5. Bring more water than you think you will need. If you’re camping near a creek, consider a water filter. This one works awesome!
  6.  Know where you can & can’t camp. Many states have restrictions such as not camping within 1 mile of a developed campground or not camping within 1/4 mile of a watering hole (camping closer denies wildlife access to the water). If a sign says “no camping” don’t camp there. Most local sporting goods stores have maps and can tell you where you can camp.
  7. Adhere to all fire restrictions. We are located in the Southwest and frequently, the area has fire restrictions due to the dryness of the area. If there are restrictions, listen. If you think you can’t camp without a campfire, try camping without a forest!
  8. Don’t cut live trees for firewood. There is usually plenty of downed & dead firewood around; use that. Besides, live wood doesn’t burn very well and smokes a lot.

Dispersed Camping

What if you gotta go?

As mentioned in # 2 above, dig a cat hole. A properly dug cat hole will allow your waste to biodegrade, won’t disturb other visitors, and animals won’t dig it up. In most locations, 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter will work. In arid or desert locations, dig 4-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. 

When digging a cat hole, select an inconspicuous site at least 200 feet (70 steps) from the nearest trail, campsite, or water source, including streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. The best sites have deep organic soil with a dark rich color and good exposure to sunlight to aid in decomposition. Avoid areas with water runoff, particularly above water sources, which might erode your cat hole and carry your waste  into the local water supply. 

Check local regulations on burying toilet paper. Use non perfumed paper, and as my grandfather used to say “you only need a few squares”. Hygiene products (wipes, tampons, etc) should never be buried.

What to dig with? A small trowel works perfectly. They are usually lightweight and sturdy enough to dig the hole size needed. We like this one. 

Bottom line is that if you really want some privacy, dispersed camping is for you. If you prefer the amenities described above, campground camping is best for you. If you participate in dispersed camping, please follow the guidelines above. 

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