Dispersed Camping vs Campground Camping

If you are a camping enthusiast, you probably have heard about dispersed camping. There are so many different ways to go camping and dispersed camping is gradually gaining popularity.

Dispersed camping is normally compared to campground camping and in this article, we have highlighted these differences and similarities.

What is the difference between dispersed camping and normal camping?

What is dispersed camping?

Campground camping is where you head to a camping ground, get a campsite and pitch a tent. You may also find cabins and other accommodation facilities in a campground.

On the other hand, dispersed camping is where you camp outside of any designated camping ground. This means that you have to look for a camping site yourself. Many people drive into a forest or national parks and other secluded spots for camping.

It is an isolated form of camping.

Dispersed camping is the most flexible form of camping. You have the freedom to choose where to set up camp. If you are in a campground, you can only pitch your tent in areas reserved for camping.

However, this does not mean that you can camp anywhere. Some places are restricted to any form of camping.

Where can you camp when doing dispersed camping?

The easiest way to find areas for dispersed camping would be to contact your local forest service office.  They will direct you to areas you can camp and will advise you on areas to avoid when doing dispersed camping in your state.

You may also contact a forest ranger if you want to do camping in the forest.

Some places are restricted for dispersed camping. These include wildlife management areas, national grasslands, specific parts in national parks, close to built-up areas, close to places with camping grounds, and places designated as picnic areas.

You can also consult Google Maps to look for places designated as public land or online resources such as the Campendium.


There are no amenities available to you when you decide to do dispersed camping. Unlike in normal camping grounds where they have these amenities ready for campers, you have to survive on your own when doing dispersed camping. That means you have to carry your amenities.

In most cases, even getting a cellphone reception when doing dispersed camping can be an issue. That is why you should carry a printed map just in case you get lost.

Figure out what you will need for the camping duration and pack everything right. Do your research to figure out what kind of risks exist in the area you have chosen to camp so that you can protect yourself.

For instance, wildlife might pose a security hazard when you are camping by yourself in the forest. You will be camping in their natural territory and some might feel threatened by this.

Consult the local forest service office so that you can be well prepared for such an eventuality.

Permits and restrictions

Because you are not allowed to camp anywhere you choose, you need to seek consent from the relevant authorities. In some states, dispersed camping is restricted to a specific number of persons camping in one location and the number of days once chooses to do dispersed camping in one location.

In most cases, regulations only exist because the state wants to protect natural resources in areas such as heritage sites and national recreational areas.

How to pick a good camping spot

The best place to camp would be in places where others have camped before. The soil is probably already compacted. You should preserve nature by using the same spot instead of cutting down bushes and trees to create a new spot.

Make sure that the site is level but with good drainage to prevent water from flowing into your tent if it rains.

What to carry when going dispersed camping

This depends on how long you plan on camping. You should carry enough supplies to take care of you for the camping duration.

Water and food

If you are camping close to a source of water (such as a spring or a river), have a backup water cleaning and filtration system to ensure that you have clean water all the time.

MSR TrailShot Pocket-Sized Backcountry Water Filter

The MSR Trail Shot is a lightweight and affordable hand pump filter that works well for shallow water and has a pre-filter attached. It works by drinking straight from the Trail Shot or filling bottles directly.

Check out this camping water filter on Amazon

Your food should last you for the duration of camping.

Trash disposal

In the spirit of zero trashing and leaving no trace, carry bags to store your trash. You will find a way to dispose of this trash the right way. Normal camping grounds have a trash disposal system as one of the important amenities.

Dispersed camping does not have this amenity.

Sleeping arrangements

Carry a tent and a good sleeping bag if you are not going to RVing.

Hyke & Byke Katahdin 0°F Cold Weather Mummy Hiking & Backpacking Sleeping Bag - Synthetic 625 FP 4 Season Sleeping Bags for Adults - Ultralight Includes Compression Stuff Sack (Charcoal Gray, Regular)

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly sleeping bag that offer a wide option check out the Hyke and Byke bag. It’s  affordable, comfy, warm and ideal for beginners, car campers, and those that aren’t as concerned with weight and bulk.

See this backpacking sleeping bag on Amazon

Make sure the tent is solid and strong enough to protect you from the weather elements you will experience when doing dispersed camping.

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL mtnGLO Backpacking Tent, 2 Person

Having ample space in your tent is important for comfort and for keeping your gear dry. For the best overall dispersed camping tent for weight, space and quality we recommend Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL found here on Amazon. It’s quick and easy to pitch, ultralight and come with a very roomy interior.


Carry clothing that is suited to the weather and atmospheric conditions of the place you choose to do your dispersed camping.

Safety items

Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight Medical First Aid Kit .7 - Lightweight, Waterproof Medical Kit

Carry safety items such as flashlights, first-aid kits, and other tools you may deem necessary for your comfort and safety when camping.

We bring a reliable headlamp on every camping trip we take, regardless whether we’re not planning on being out past dark.

As an extra measure, always inform someone about your location so that it becomes easier to get rescued if an emergency occurs.

Bear canisters can also be a good security item when camping in the woods. Also, pack bug and mosquito repellents. These little bugs are nasty.

If you are camping in places prone to bears, secure your food in containers the bears cannot open. Camping grounds offer bear lockers to store food and other precious items campers do not want to lose.


Bucket toilet in a pop up tent for use in a camper or camping

You need to be responsible and take care of the camping spot well. Since you do not have access to toilets, you need to figure out how you will dispose of human waste.  In some spots you’ll be asked if you have a “portable” toilet in your possession.

To dispose of solid human waste you should carry paper or plastic bags that are specifically engineered containing enzymes and polymers to break the waste down. They’re called Wag Bags, Restop, or Biffy Bags.

Look for a collection or disposal area to safely dispose of waste or in reusable toilets (e.g., bagless systems) and not matter how tempting it might be, never leave toilet paper or human waste on the ground.

If you enjoyed this post, check out How to Find Free Campsites.

Thanks for reading and happy trails!

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