Campgrounds can be great, they offer secure lodging with plenty of amenities. However, campgrounds also mean that you will almost always have neighbors. Additionally, they can be located near the hustle and bustle of local tourist attractions.
If you are looking to camp somewhere a little more secluded, either to avoid company or to forgo paying booking fees, consider stealth camping. Stealth camping describes camping in a private or public area away from others and usually packing up and leaving before you are detected.
Used by hikers and bikers, stealth camping can be a way to camp when there are no designated camping areas. Stealth camping can be done legally or illegally, though we only recommend opting for the legal type.
What is Stealth Camping?
Also known as wild camping, stealth camping is a hobby well known by long-distance cyclists and hikers alike. It involves setting up camp at unestablished sites, away from others, and often without seeking permission in advance.
Depending on where you are planning on stealth camping choosing not to obtain permission can make the activity legal or illegal. If you are on private land and do not get the owners blessing your camping there can be considered illegal. If you are on public land that allows camping, such as national forests, and set up your tent in a remote spot it will likely be legal.
Stealth camping does offer solitude and nature in its purest form, but also lacks a few things. There will likely be no amenities, ie bathrooms and hookups, as you are not at a campground. You will not have others around in the case that you need help or even need to borrow an item.
Another benefit of stealth camping is that you are less likely to have unwanted guests. Bears, raccoons, and other animals usually are more apt to visit crowded and established sites where people frequent. Therefore, when you choose a remote and random site you may be less likely to have a bear visit.
Stealth camping usually only pertains to minimalist camping and not car camping or camping with a motorhome. This is because stealth campers usually hike, bike, or boat into remote sites.
How Do You Stealth Camp?
Stealth camping begins with choosing the perfect campsite. Choosing the right site takes skill and strategy. You don’t want to pitch your tent on just any old patch of land.
- Legal vs. Illegal Camping
If you want to camp legally, check up on any rules and local ordinances prior to camping. Look for signs, check government websites, and consult rangers if necessary.
- Check for Animal Activity
When you have found an area in which you want to camp, you should survey your surroundings. One item to be aware of is bear activity. Bear’s activity can be identified in a few ways.
Look for signs that a bear has frequented the area. This can include claw marks on trees and logs, bear droppings, and fish or other animal carcasses. Additionally, berry patches can be particularly tempting to bears and do not make good campsites.
Trails made by other animals could also mean that there will be deer or other wildlife using the paths at night. This could lure predators and mean that you will have to deal with animals passing by during the night. Finding an optimal campsite takes practice and observation.
- Survey the Scene
Other considerations include flat land, flood zones, and dead trees.
Widowmakers are another term for large dead trees or branches that have the potential to fall over in gusty winds. You do not want to camp under or near dead timber.
Additionally, don’t set up camp in a dry or soft creekbed. This is because during a heavy downpour the creek or river bed could quickly become a raging river or flood basin.
The final consideration is making sure you have a safe place to build a fire. You likely won’t have a fire ring but could build your own with rocks. Alternatively, you could dig a pit in a sandy area or soil. Avoid dead grass and trees that are highly flammable and search for a flat hazard free area.
- Finding a Secluded Spot
With stealth camping, the goal is to find somewhere private away from others. And if you are hiking or biking through, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Seclusion is often for your own safety. It is better not to be highly visible or easily accessible to those passing by so as not to be an easy target for theft or mugging. Furthermore, it is best not to risk other campers being careless with fire or their garbage. Reckless neighbors could attract bears to your campground or accidentally set things ablaze.
- Leave No Trace
As the name stealth implies, you don’t want anyone to know you have been there. The term “leave nothing but footprints” suits stealth camping very well. Be sure to carry out everything that you carry in. Clean up all of your trash and leave nothing behind.
Know When to Start Finding a Site
This is especially true if you are biking or hiking. You should give yourself at least an hour to find a good camping spot. Finding this spot before it gets dark will be extremely helpful.
If you are not in a remote area, you may have to spend some time finding a suitable location to camp. If you are passing by a town or city, you want to have enough time to pick up any necessities before setting up camp. A town or city can also be helpful in providing a sense of safety. It may be wise to spend a few minutes absorbing the atmosphere or vibe before choosing to stop for the night.
If you time it right, you will have found a decent camping spot by evening. Setting up camp at dusk will help you be able to see just enough while remaining under the radar.
Stealth Camping in Its Truest Form
True stealth camping involves not letting anyone know you were camping there. This means leaving absolutely no trace of human activity.
Sleeping in a tent, especially a large tent or one that is brightly colored, can be a dead give away. Also, sleeping on the ground will compress the grass or leaves and make an indentation. Therefore, hammocks can be a great alternative.
Hammocks will not compress the ground and can keep you elevated and out of sight. Hammocks can also be beneficial when there is no suitable terrain to set up a tent.
You may also want to avoid creating an open fire. This can attract attention. Open flames or unshielded lights are not very subtle either. You want to try and remain as undetectable as possible.
Non-traditional Stealth Camping
A camper van may also be used for stealth camping. Typically this is done by unassumingly parking them on a street and living out of them. This is appealing to some because it offers a bit more flexibility while being (usually) free.
You still must obey no trespassing signs, local laws, and ordinances. It can be a bit more difficult to stealth camp in a campervan long term as you won’t have access to electricity or running water. However, one notable rock climber named Alex Honnold lived in his van for years while traveling to favorite climbing destinations. Therefore, it is possible!
Stealth Camping Safety Tips
- Community. There is actually an established and growing stealth camping community. This community largely conducts conversations and activities online via forums and groups. Aside from swapping ideas and tricks, the stealth camping community can offer meet-ups, events, and a way to overcome an otherwise lonely lifestyle.
- Theft and Personal Safety. Most stealth campers camp on their own. Because they are alone they can appear to be an easy target. There are a few ways to avoid this. Don’t leave your campsite for long periods or travel great distances away. If you are camping in a campervan or tent consider leaving two pairs of shoes outside so that it appears that you are not alone. Finally, don’t leave valuables unattended; either take them with you (the better option) or hide them very well.
- Blend in. Opt for a tent, hammock, or a one-man bivy that blends into your surroundings. Choose a natural shade like green or brown instead of orange, red, or yellow.
- Legal and illegal. At all costs try to find somewhere legal to park this will save you a lot of trouble.
- Obey the rules of stealth camping. Stealth camping requires strategy, planning, consideration for laws and property owners, and safety consciousness.
An Intriguing Way to Camp
Stealth camping, or wild camping, is really just camping in an undesignated location. It can be a great way to camp for free, avoid crowds, and reconnect with nature. However, you are strongly urged to stealth camp only where it is legal. Additionally, it is important to take steps to ensure you are safe while remaining undetected.
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