Q & A: Safety and Security While Hiking and Boondocking

Since all the excitement and drama that I shared with you in our last post, things have settled down quite nicely here in our camp.

We are still hiking regularly in the forest around us. If you haven’t read the previous post, then you don’t know that Andy got lost in the woods and had to be rescued by the sheriff’s department. Based on what we learned from that experience, we are super-careful now about following some basic rules when we go out hiking or geocaching.

Hiking is one of our favorite activities

We make sure that we carry plenty of water with us, that our cellphones are fully charged, and that we carry a backup power supply for the phone. Andy already had a good power pack, but mine would no longer hold a charge for very long, so I ordered a new one from Amazon. We both bought emergency whistles that also contain a compass, thermometer, and magnifying glass. We both carry butane lighters in case we need to start a campfire, and we both have pocketknives.

More importantly, we are careful to communicate with each other about where we’re going and when we plan to get back. When we’re on the trail, we leave markers along the way, especially at places where trails intersect so we know which way to turn on the way back. I often take photographs of road number markers or other landmarks in case I need to provide that information to rescue personnel.

And finally, we do more hiking together rather than separately now. Andy has stepped up his game and has gone on several longer hikes with me to look for geocaches. It definitely feels safer to have someone along with me when on my searches, not to mention that it’s just more fun.

Sometimes you get lucky and catch just the right light – San Francisco peaks from our campsite

Since we’re doing more hiking together now and leaving the rig unattended while we’re gone, that brings up another issue. I received this question from Pete, one of my blog subscribers, and thought it would be a good topic to address in this post:

Pete posted:

Thank you for sharing this part of your travels.
I’m thinking about security… when you park at an “un-official” camping spot without any knowledge of what goes on there how can you feel secure leaving your vehicle or panels there?

Great question, Pete!

First of all, when Pete refers to “un-official” camping spots, I assume he’s referring to the places where we boondock, which in this case means camping for free on public land, without hookups of any kind. In one sense, the sites we use (Bureau of Land Management, National Forest) are “un-official” since you can’t reserve them, there’s no site number, there’s no camp host checking up on you, and there’s no fee to be paid. But in actuality, it is still an “official” camping area–when you enter the area you are greeted by a sign that lists what the regulations are (14-day limit, how far from the main road you can set up camp, whether or not campfires are allowed, etc.). So there is still at least a sense that someone is actually in charge here, and is keeping tabs on what goes on.

Our first line of defense is location, location, location. When we are doing our research to select our next campsite, we use several apps that include reviews from campers who have stayed in that area before. Many times photos are also posted with the reviews. But even if the reviews are good, if we pull into the area and something feels “off”, we won’t stay there. If there’s a lot of trash or debris, if we hear a lot of ATVs or gunfire in the distance, or anything else makes us uncomfortable, we just simply move on.

Boondocking on Forest Road 151 in a designated dispersed campsite

One of the things we like most about boondocking on public lands is the amount of privacy you have. Right now our nearest neighbors are .3 miles away from us–a nice couple named Andy and Christine who are also full-timers in a Class C that’s just a little larger than ours. And that’s an important point–we get to know the people that are camping around us, stopping to chat as we hike by. RVers are known as a tight-knit group that look out for one another. If we see or hear of anything sketchy going on, we let each other know about it.

Statistically, thieves are much more likely to select targets in populated areas where they don’t have to work so hard. We are camped two miles down a dirt road where campers are spread out fairly thinly. Most thieves are not going to go driving down a little dirt road to find something to steal when it would be much easier to go to the mall in Flagstaff and break into someone’s car–lots more opportunity in the urban areas. Yes, occasionally RVs do get broken into, but most of the time those are in RV parks in urban areas, and not boondocking on public land in the middle of the forest or the desert.

That said, we do take sensible precautions. There are times when we both need or want to be away from the rig at the same time, to go sightseeing, hiking or grocery shopping. Here are some of the things we do to mitigate the risk:

  • Solar panels – If we’re still a little unsure about the area and if our batteries have a good charge, we have occasionally disconnected the panels and set them inside the RV while we’re gone. Generally, though, we just lay them flat on the ground rather than leaving them tilted, so that they are less obvious from the road.
  • The rig – Of course we lock the door to the rig, as well as the outside storage bay. Because we have two cats with us, their comfort and health are the most important consideration. Depending on the temperature, we can leave the overhead vents open and run the fans. We also have a couple of windows that we can leave open as they are too small to crawl through. The larger windows are left closed and locked. If it’s too hot to get enough ventilation this way, then we simply won’t leave the rig unattended.
  • The contents – I generally take my laptop with me whenever we leave the rig to go shopping or sightseeing. Otherwise there’s not much of value inside the rig, as we have our wallets with us as well. We have a very small rig, so we can’t carry much anyway. If someone breaks in, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
  • Time of day – I don’t remember a time when we have ever left the rig unattended after dark when we’re boondocking (it’s different when we’re parked in an RV park). Of course that means we’re a little more limited in things we can do or see, like having a late dinner in town or going to a movie, but we’re old homebodies anyway and we like being at home when the sun goes down.
  • Insurance – Of course, we carry full-timers insurance on our rig and the contents just in case the statistically improbable event occurs, and that gives us enough peace of mind to allow us to enjoy some time away from the rig, taking care of chores or seeing more of the area.

The safety of Maggie and Molly is our first priority when we leave the rig unattended

Our last sticks-and-bricks home was in a subdivision of a small town (population 35,000), and in general it was a “safe” neighborhood. However, we had some next-door neighbors that, due to some changing family circumstances, became more and more of a threat to the neighborhood, with the police appearing frequently at their front door. Even though we had a real house, we still felt threatened and were constantly unsure about leaving the house unattended to go on vacation. But we were pretty much stuck with the problem, since the house was stationary.

But now, living in our RV gives us the freedom to quickly and easily escape any situation that makes us uncomfortable, whether it’s the neighbors, the weather, the dust or just because we’re getting bored. When we moved into the RV, we sold the house and almost everything we owned to make this lifestyle possible. And that process of “letting go” taught us a lot about how relatively unimportant all our “stuff” is.

Yes, there’s always a risk that someone might walk off with our solar panels. They might break into the rig and take the bag of quarters that we keep under the seat for laundry machines. But by taking a few sensible precautions, and by remembering that it’s just “stuff”, we can set our minds at ease enough to go about our business and enjoy our time on the road, boondocking in some of the most beautiful locations on God’s green earth.

Life is too short to worry about the “what ifs” all the time. Get out there and enjoy it while you can!!

Hope this answers your question, Pete, and anyone else who might have wondered the same thing! Do you also have questions about our lifestyle? Be sure to leave a comment and we’ll try to address it in a future post!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

3 thoughts on “Q & A: Safety and Security While Hiking and Boondocking

  1. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.
    I have left a camp I was living in many times sometimes for more than a day but where I was from the odds of someone else happening on my camp site were negligible, again thanks for taking the time to help this old man understand about ‘boondocking’.

    Liked by 1 person

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