It’s called many things: stealth camping, wild camping, guerrilla camping, rolling off into the woods, etc. In the end, they all mean the same thing.
Stealth camping is the act of quietly finding a place away from people where you can camp for the night and then quickly slip away in the morning without being detected. The key to stealth camping is to remain hidden at all times and to leave no trace of your existence during or after your departure from the site.
Stealth camping is not for everyone. It typically takes some time to work up to, but this is how it usually works:
As night approaches, you’ll be riding your bike along the side of the road. As you ride, you come across a large forest. When there are no cars around, you duck into the trees and quickly disappear.
Making sure that you are far enough away from the road and in a safe location, you set up your tent, cover the reflectors on your bike, and simply fall asleep. In the morning, you quickly pack up your tent, walk back out to the road, get on your bike, and then continue riding.
Many people choose to stealth camp as a way of saving money. Others do it because of the incredible campsites that it can create. Whatever the reason, stealth camping is an excellent choice for the smart and prepared bicycle tourist. It is not for the scared or timid.
If you’re thinking about doing some stealth camping of your own, here are some things to consider first:
Never camp in an area that is marked with “No Trespassing” signs.
Never camp inside of a gate or fence. You are likely on someones private property! It’s even possible that you could be locked inside that gate and have to remain there until someone comes to rescue you.
Make sure not to set up your tent inside of a dry creek or riverbed. Flooding can occur quickly!
Do not make camp in an area where animal tracks or dung can be found. You don’t want to be disturbed by a bear, raccoon, skunk, or mountain lion in the middle of the night.
When stealth camping, make sure that the reflectors on your bike are covered up so that passing cars do not give away your location.
Stealth camping works best if you have a brown, green, or camouflaged colored tent. If possible, use leaves and branches to help hide your tent and bicycle.
When you leave your location in the morning, be sure to leave the place in the same condition it was in when you first arrived. Pack out all your food and trash.
Warning: If you are traveling alone and you choose to stealth camp, know that you are your own rescuer. If you get into trouble, no one is going to know where you are. If you get yourself into a dangerous situation, you are the only person that is going to be able to get you out of it.
If you’re nervous about camping in a place without permission, ask!
If you’re on someone else’s land, ask them first if they will let you spend the night on their property. Many people are more than happy to help you! You might even get a free meal or shower just by asking!
If that doesn’t work, consult the police. Find a police officer or police station and tell them that you are traveling by bike. Be upfront and explain that you are looking for a place to spend the night. Many police officers (depending on the person and the location) will gladly point you to a part of town where you can spend the evening.
This usually works best in small towns where camping out under the stars is more acceptable. In such places, police officials may even be so kind as to escort you to a private campsite in the woods. Some may even bring you food and invite friends to come and hang out with you and hear your stories.
Other officers may not directly tell you where to camp, but give you the indication that if you do roll off into the woods, they aren’t going to mess with you. Often times, the officers will want to know where you are camping, just so they can keep an eye on you and make sure that you are safe. If this happens, tell them where you plan to sleep and kindly accept their protection.
Some police officials (especially in big cities) will rudely tell you to get a hotel room or move on down the road. If that’s the case, the choice is up to you. If you can find a place that looks save, feel free to enjoy a night of wild camping. Otherwise, it might be best to follow the officer’s advice and find other accommodations for the night.
In the end, the choice is up to you. Stealth camping can be scary and dangerous, but it can also be beautiful and rewarding. Some of the best camping spots on your tour might just be in locations where you chose to do a bit of stealth camping!
Do you have a story or piece of advice about stealth camping? If so, use the comments box below to share your thoughts with other BicycleTouringPro.com readers.