Stealth camping is the act of secretly camping in a public or private area (sometimes legally – sometimes illegally) and moving on the next morning without being detected.
Stealth camping is an excellent way to not only find free places to camp, but is also a great way to discover excellent campground locations, get a good night’s rest in a quiet location and secure a night’s lodging away from the hustle and bustle of other people, animals and vehicles.
In this article you will find my 50 best tips for stealth camping anywhere in the world. Be sure to watch the video below… and at the end of the article I encourage you to submit your own stealth camping tips or stories in the comments section.
Camp above any nearby roads or trails. People tend to look down more than they look up… and climbing uphill is difficult, so it is less likely that others will come looking for you if you are up high. Plus, from up high, you can look down on others who might be approaching your camp.
Use a brown, green or earth-toned tent to blend in with your surroundings. Camouflage works wonders when it comes to stealth camping.
Cover your tracks. Be sure to cover up or hide any foot prints or bicycle tracks that might lead people to your campsite. Even broken branches can lead a person to your camp, so try not to disturb the nature surrounding your stealth campsite.
Don’t make a fire unless you absolutely have to. Smoke and light from a campfire attracts attention.
Look for animal tracks in the area and avoid camping in locations where moose, bear, wolves, racoons, skunks and other animals may frequent or use as sleeping locations.
Don’t make camp on the other side of a river, estuary or canal. These sources of water may flood overnight and cause you to get stuck.
A dirt road will turn to mud overnight in a rainstorm. Be sure you have an exit strategy for the following morning.
Be quiet. Don’t draw attention to yourself by making a lot of noise.
Don’t camp in an area where you might easily be discovered by dogs. A dog on a walk with his or her owner will quickly give away your location.
Know how to set up and break down your camp quickly. Sometimes speed is your best ally.
You are your own source of rescue. If no one knows where you are and you get sick, hurt yourself, or otherwise get into trouble, you are the only one who can get you out of the situation. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of stealth camping.
Know what the law is. Each country treats stealth camping differently. It’s totally common and acceptable in some parts of the world, and totally illegal in other parts. Do you research before stealth camping to avoid being harassed, fined or thrown in jail.
The best time to find and set up a stealth campsite is just before it gets dark. If you set up camp too early you might be discovered by people who are still out for the day. If you set up too late, on the other hand, you could find yourself trying to pitch your tent in the dark.
Avoid pitching your tent in the dark. Not only can you not scout out the location of your campsite as well when it is dark, but any flashlights or headlamps you might use will give away your location.
Break camp early. Wake up, pack your gear and hit the road before most people are even awake or outside.
Leave your campsite in the same condition it was in when you first found it. Pack out all trash and make it look as though you were never there. This benefits both you and future stealth campers who might come after you.
The harder it is for you to get to your campsite, the less likely it is that other people will find you. People are generally lazy and will usually give up before navigating to difficult locations.
Don’t camp on the other side of large fences or gates. Even thought the fence/gate is open now, it might be locked in the morning. You don’t want to get trapped inside a fence or gate and then be unable to escape. Plus, you might also be climbing into a cage of some kind with a bear, mountain lion or other dangerous animal (This happened to me once. I jumped a fence and found myself inside a cage with a mountain lion).
Be able to call or signal for help if you get hurt, sick, etc. Carrying a flashlight, mirror, whistle, cell phone, or satellite phone might be a good idea.
The best stealth campgrounds aren’t always the most scenic. The goal is to blend in – not to stand out.
Don’t use lights at night unless you absolutely have to. Lights attract attention and can sometimes be seen from several miles/kilometers away. If you must use your light, use it for only short periods of time and in short bursts (like a firefly).
Sometimes (but very rarely) the best hiding spot is right out in the open where people passing by will think, “I guess you are allowed to camp there?”
Never get caught. Never.
If you do get caught, play dumb and/or if necessary, offer to leave. There is no need to get in trouble for stealth camping. Simply pack up your campsite, move on and find somewhere else to spend the night.
Be willing to change camping spots if after a short while you realize the campsite you picked out initially is unsafe or in a location where you might be discovered.
For a speedy getaway, don’t use a tent. Instead, just sleep on top of your sleeping mat (under the stars) or consider the use of a compact bivy sack.
Don’t camp in an area that could be flooded with people early the next morning. Just because the place is empty in the evening doesn’t mean it will be empty when you wake up the following day.
The larger your group, the more likely it is that you will be discovered. Groups take up more space and make more noise, thereby attracting more attention to themselves.
Don’t camp in areas where there are “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs. Not only will you not have the excuse of saying you didn’t know you were allowed to be there, but these are generally areas where people, land owners and the public alike are on the lookout for stealth campers like you.
Use shadows to your advantage. Hide in dark spaces – under trees and bushes (for example) where you are not easily spotted.
Avoid camping in places where children might play. Not only are kids good at climbing into small spaces and building forts in and under trees, but if they do find you they will surely run home and tell mommy and daddy about the strange person they saw camping in their play spot.
Sometimes simply asking if you can camp somewhere is the best approach. Don’t be afraid to ask locals, land owners and even the police where you can find a good place to camp for the night.
Don’t camp in a place that could flood or fill with water. This includes dry riverbeds, empty swimming pools, drainage ditches, etc.
Don’t arouse suspicion. Don’t let anyone see you going to or leaving from your campsite. If you must be seen, be seen on your way out of the campsite – just as you are leaving. By then you are already on your way and there is little anyone can say or do if they discover what you’ve been up to.
Wear earth-colored clothing to blend in with your surroundings. Change your clothes, if necessary, before you even begin looking for a stealth campsite for the night.
Remove all lights, reflectors and white, light or flashy material from your tent, bicycle, backpack or other gear so as not to be detected by flashlights or passing automobile headlamps.
Beware of landmines, animal traps, quicksand and other hidden dangers that exist in some parts of the world.
Keep an eye out for hunters. Know when hunting season is and stay out of areas where you might be mistaken for a deer, bear, bigfoot or other such animal.
Watch out for surveillance cameras that might be mounted in the area. A camera that catches you coming or going from your campsite might be all it takes to get you in a serious heap of trouble.
Avoid areas frequented by geocachers. Many stealth campsites are located in the same areas that are frequented by these GPS treasure hunters. Learn more at www.geocaching.com.
Get over your fear of the dark. Stealth camping doesn’t have to be scary. Worrying about animals, bigfoot, ghosts or other creatures that go bump in the night will only add to any anxiety you might have about your stealth camping experience.
The more practice you get with stealth camping, the easier it becomes. Finding places to sleep each night becomes easier, because you know what to look for… and you’ll begin to relax and enjoy the experience the more you do it.
Avoid camping in areas covered in large amounts of poo. This means avoiding areas that are frequented by cattle, sheep, goats and other farm/herd animals. The animals could quickly inundate your campsite and the animal’s tender/herder will easily spot you.
All the regular camping rules still apply. Avoid camping in the wind. Don’t camp under anything that could fall on you in the middle of the night. Sleep on flat ground. Hang your food if animals are in the area, etc.
Don’t set up camp right away. Find a spot you think might be good and then wait a little while. Scout out the location. See if anyone walks past. Notice what animals are in the area. Listen for other campers that might be in the area. Note the wind direction, etc. After you are sure that this location is a good place to settle down for the night, then go about setting up your campsite.
Know your way out. Be sure you can find your way from the campsite back to the road or trail that you came in on. If you wake up in the morning and the ground is suddenly covered in snow, for example, finding your way back the way you came might be extremely difficult. Use a compass or a GPS if necessary to find your way back to the road/trail.
Keep moving. Never camp in the same place twice (or for very long). The longer you stay in one location, the more likely it is that you will be caught or that people in the area will object to your choice of campground.
Camp in an area where even if you are discovered, people won’t mind you camping there. This usually means avoiding abandoned buildings, behind people’s homes or businesses, public places where people or children or present… and instead camping in forests, desolate beaches, wild valleys, etc.
Don’t feel guilty when you stealth camp. Stealth camping usually isn’t illegal. Most of the time, stealth camping simply means that you are camping in a wild, undeveloped, unfenced area in an attempt to get some sleep, remain out of sight and experience a peaceful night in a wilderness situation. Don’t feel like you are committing a crime (unless you are) just because you’ve decided to stealth camp.
Have fun. Remember that the whole reason you are camping in the first place is to have fun, enjoy the outdoors and get a good night’s rest. If you aren’t having fun and generally enjoying yourself, you’re doing something wrong.
Now it’s your turn! What other tips, ideas and suggestions do you have for other stealth campers? Leave a comment below with your feedback or some stealth camping stories of your own.