Stealth Camping: Dos and Don’ts
Not everyone wants to pay for over-priced campsites full of RVs only to be kept up by loud children and families singing Kumbaya through the night. Luckily, there are alternatives. Camping doesn’t have to be a tailgate experience in a developed “camping” area with rangers constantly on patrol making sure that nobody gets out of hand and burns the forest down.
Stealth camping frees campers from the boundaries of state-authorized recreation and provides seclusion, beauty, and adventure. When you just want to get away from the crowds and avoid high prices, or if you’re out of options, stealthing it can make for a peaceful camping experience. However, there are some general guidelines that should be followed in order to keep from disturbing the forest and, of course, keep from getting caught.
Always Cover your Reflectors
Stealth camping is mainly done by long-distance bikers. Unlike backpacking, there aren’t many developed campsites along secluded highways, so popping into the woods when you’re out of energy is always a good option. But this rule goes for recreational stealth campers as well. Once you’ve picked your spot and pitched your tent, Make sure to hide any reflectors that may be on your equipment. Tents, shoes, jackets, and bikes usually have reflective material for your safety. Make sure to hide these once the sun goes down or your cover could be blown. You never know whose land you might be on!
Always Hide your Tent
Even if you put yourself deep into the woods, a tent can be visible from quite a distance, especially now that they’re being made in bright, fluorescent colors. If possible, cover your tent in vegetation or pitch it under a tree with low-hanging branches. If you set up camp at night, be aware of what your site will look like in the morning once the sun is up and people are active. Whether you’re off a road or have picked a campsite in an exceptionally beautiful “restricted” area, you’ll want to be able to keep your tent low and camouflaged.
Always Wake up Early
You’ll want to be out of your campsite before anyone has the chance to know that you were there. This means having breakfast on the go and being fastidious about packing up your gear. The last thing you want is to sleep in and have some gun-toting local stumble upon your secret campsite. The best way to move quickly in the morning is to cowboy camp at night. Camping without a tent is often more enjoyable and it keeps you much more hidden if a car happens to roll by in the middle of the night.
Never Camp Near Restriction Signs
Never camp near signs that say anything about private property, no trespassing, or restricted access. First off, if you do happen to get caught, you’ll want to be able to play dumb. Stupidity is your first line of defense when detected. It’s not easy to play dumb when there’s a Private Property sign above your head.
Never Camp Inside a Gate or Fence
Most gated areas should be written off as no-camping zones. When in a gated zone, there’s a safe bet that you’re on someone’s property. It could be the property of a nice old grandmother who will give you warm quiche in the morning, but it could also be the property a drug-lord; booby trapped with fishhooks hung at eye-level, and locking snares, and explosive mines. You don’t want that.
Never Camp in a Dry Creek Bed
It may look like the most flat, clear space in the area for camping, but creek beds can fill with water very quickly. They’re also temporary trails for anyone or anything that might happen to be in the woods with you. Pass up the low-level, flat, sandy space for something that will keep you dry and off the beaten path.
Never Leave a Trace
Just because you aren’t in an established campground doesn’t mean that the ethical guidelines of the outdoors don’t apply. Pack it in, pack it out. If you are courageous enough to build a stealth fire, destroy the ring and cover the pit. Pack out all of your trash, and for Christ sake, bury your poop. This will keep anyone from being alerted to stealth campers in the area and keep the pleasant site you picked available for the next camper who happens to sneak on by.