Camping is undoubtedly one of the most popular modes of relaxation. That is unless you’ve encountered one too many crowded campsites.
The more popular the campsite, the noisier it will be, and the more rules you’ll have to follow. Particularly if you’re camping overnight in your RV/car, this can be annoying.
The solution? Stealth camping.
What is stealth camping? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: camping overnight undetected at an unregistered/unestablished location, and leaving undetected in the morning. It also involves leaving no trace!
Those seeking a combination of true wilderness, privacy, silence, and of course, a level of thrill will love stealth camping, as will hunters, hikers, and backpackers.
Welcome to our stealth camping guide!
What is Stealth Camping?
In the simplest terms, stealth camping refers to the practice of camping at an unofficial or non-designated campsite or remote public/private area.
The term is also applicable to RVers who decide to park overnight at an unregistered site, similar to boondocking (sleeping on free public lands or BLM). It’s a popular activity amongst many backpackers, long-distance cycle tourists, RV dwellers, and hunters.
What are the Benefits of Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping is not just for fun and relaxation; it can have a functional purpose as well. In fact, it has become necessary for some travelers who are contending with the annual increase in the popularity of road-tripping. Additionally, for RV dwellers who are having a hard time finding a docking site or can’t afford one, stealth camping can be a ready solution.
And if you can’t already tell, stealth camping is super fun! Not only does it enable you to find free camping spots, but locations previously untouched. It’s ideal for some relaxation away from the noisiness of other campers, vehicles, and even animals. Besides, the necessity of keeping a low profile so as not to get caught is undoubtedly thrilling for some.
Is Stealth Camping Illegal?
The legal soundness of stealth camping is ambiguous, as it’s based on camping at an unregistered spot. However, it mostly depends on where you are. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to do your research before you choose to stealth camp somewhere. So, if you see a “no trespassing” sign, get out of there.
Generally, however, stealth camping is tolerated in most areas as long as you don’t draw attention to yourself or make a mess. This is especially important when it comes to stealth camping in a vehicle. On that note, note that sleeping in your car is, in fact, illegal in some places. Once again, be informed.
Not sure how to go about stealth camping? There are some guidelines to follow, which we have covered below.
How to Stealth Camp?
There are some things to remember if you want to have a comfortable stealth camping experience. And of course, it requires sneakiness—it’s in the name! So, here’s a closer look at the how-to of it.
Leave No Trace
The cardinal rule of stealth camping is the Leave No Trace principle. This means removing any trace of your clandestine wilderness camp setup. This means no campfire—that’s a dead giveaway. Dispose of all waste water into a hole and bring all your garbage with you (yes, even used TP!).
Look for other telltale signs that you were there and take care of it. Even if your body has left an indent upon the ground where you laid during the night, fluff up the leaves around it, so it looks untouched. It’s the little things that can give you away, so be careful!
Arrive Late, Leave Early
The second most important rule of stealth camping. Whatever location you have picked, avoid going there when the day is bright or when there are more people around. That means arriving late. The next morning, leave as early as you can. This significantly lowers the chances of you being discovered.
Don’t Cause Trouble
Stealth camping is, by its definition, an unofficial camping act with questionable legality. Accordingly, if it turns out that you are, in fact, trespassing, just leave. If you’re sleeping and the landowner wakes you up with a gun in your face, don’t try to reason with them or argue—just get out of there. You don’t want any trouble, after all, you just came to camp in peace!
Wear Subdued Clothing
One of the reasons why stealth camping is so popular with hunters is because they already know how to keep themselves on the down-low, and one of the easiest and most crucial ways of doing that is choosing your clothing accordingly. Choose muted colors, avoiding neon stripes and other high-visibility accents. You can even go for camouflage.
The importance of this is often overlooked by many stealth campers, but you must know the law regarding stealth camping in your area. While some places are lax, others are quite hard on stealth and RV campers.
If you’re in doubt about the laws in that area, you can always ask someone. If you see signs saying “no overnight camping” or “no trespassing,” obviously don’t stay there.
Make Your Shelter as Stealthy as You
If you’ve chosen as your camping spot a location unsuitable for a stealth camping tent, you can choose to use a hammock instead. Not only do they have a low impact on forest floors, but they’re easy to get in and get out of at a moment’s notice.
Furthermore, your shelter should blend in with your surroundings. This means using a tarp in subdued colors or in a camouflage print. And yes, if your vehicle is brightly painted, it’s unsuitable for stealth camping.
Three is a Party!
Being stealthy means being quiet, even silent. And being quiet is much easier when you’re alone or with just one other person. That’s why it’s important to camp alone or in very small groups.
But even if you’re bringing along a lot of people, make sure that they know what they’re signing up for: quietude and lessened activity. Always remember not to draw attention to yourself.
Put Safety First
As a stealth camper, you’re ultimately vulnerable to some breaches of your safety. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take precautions. Try to always camp or park in an area that has a clearly defined exit point. If camping in a van/RV, keep the doors locked with your keys close at hand in case of emergencies. Most importantly, trust your instincts: if something feels wrong, just leave.
Find the Right Location
Last but not least is the place where you choose as your stealth camping spot. You don’t want to camp somewhere; there is a high possibility of someone towing your vehicle or waking you up with a gun in your face. The very basis of stealth camping is to hide away from the rest of the world. We’ve covered the basics of finding the right location in two sections below.
Stealth Camping with a Vehicle
As we have mentioned above, stealth camping is particularly popular with RVers who are unable or unwilling to dock at a registered campsite. But it’s not just RVers who can benefit from stealth camping. Here’s what to keep in mind when stealth camping in a vehicle.
The Right Vehicle Matters
While you can make most trucks, vans, and cars work to your benefit while stealth camping, it’s still important to choose a vehicle that will make things easier. As such, minivans and cargo vans are the top choices as they are inconspicuous.
As we mentioned above, it’s best to avoid vehicles that have been painted in bright colors. That also means avoiding vehicles with large/noticeable bumper stickers, etc.
If you’ll be stealth camping in the city, box trucks and construction vehicles are your friends. They fit right into industrial areas but be wary of taking them into neighborhoods.
Be Prepared Beforehand
If you remember, one of the most important rules of stealth camping is to arrive late and leave early. To be able to do this, you need proper preparation beforehand so as not to tarry or waste time.
Before you get to the parking spot, air out your van. Cover up the windows using curtains/dark shields and keep the doors closed. Go to the bathroom beforehand so as not to be unpleasantly surprised in the middle of the night.
Ensure the Cleanliness of Your Vehicle
Stealth camping in a vehicle has everything to do with inconspicuousness. The cleaner your vehicle looks, the less likely that people in the surroundings will be bothered by it. But if it’s an eyesore, you risk being questioned/bothered.
Your vehicle should be clean externally as well as internally; in the event that you are discovered, it won’t be a good look for you if the inside of your car/van is a mess.
Finding the Best Stealth Camping Locations
Now that you know the ins and outs of how to stealth camp, it’s time to discuss a very important point: where to camp. Although it’s a relatively simple process, it’s important to keep the following factors in mind.
Choose Flat Grounds
The more level the ground of your chosen campsite is, the better. Before you make camp, get low to the ground or lie down on it to get a feel of how level it is. If you detect an incline and can’t relocate to another spot, sleep with your body elevated with your feet resting on the decline.
Avoid High Spots
By this, we mean hills or highlands. This will lessen the chances of you being exposed. Furthermore, it will also keep you protected from the weather hazards associated with high altitudes, such as rough winds and storms.
Camp Near Water
This should be a no-brainer, but inexperienced stealth campers forget this crucial resource. Ensure that you are at least 100 feet away from the source of the water so as to prevent pollution. At the same time, make sure you’re close enough to access the water when required.
If you came here wondering what is stealth camping, hopefully, you now have a clear idea. Just remember to stay safe and to be informed about the rules regarding overnight camping in your selected area. And as a stealth camper, make “leave no trace” and “arrive late, leave early” your mottoes.
Good luck, and happy camping!