Stealth Camping: What it Is, How it Works, and If You Should!

Partaking in the great outdoors, roughing it, becoming one with nature: camping has many associated taglines. This activity has fascinated city slickers and rural ruffians alike for decades, and new trends continually up the adventure ante. One such recent trend may leave you asking, “What is stealth camping?”

The answer could offer up some new ideas for covert fun.

What Is Stealth Camping?

Also known as “ninja,” wild, or free camping, stealth camping involves setting up a temporary (usually overnight) camp in a location without anyone’s knowledge. The goal is to leave no trace of your presence at the site once you’ve packed up and gone.

The question of “what is stealth camping?” begs some other important questions, namely, “how do I…?” “Should I…?” And finally, “Why should I stealth camp?”

To get this out there, we do not encourage you to go places that you cannot legally go to stealth camp. That’s illegal, so don’t. We’ll talk about the legality of the issue, below.

Recommended ReadHow to Prepare for Emergencies While Camping

Stealth Camping To-Do List

First, you’ll need the camping basics. Living or sleeping temporarily in any location requires some fundamentals — primarily shelter and sustenance.

Earthy essentials

camo tent with two others stealth camping

Therefore, depending on the length of your stay, you may need a tent or tarp that doesn’t require a headache of a setup. In addition, your shelter should be a green/brown camouflage color that blends in with its surroundings.

Recommended ReadThe Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

Keep in mind that you’ll need to dress appropriately, as well. For one, some hiking shoes, socks, and a hat would prove useful.

You’ll also benefit from a no-frills sleeping bag or hammock and some food and water. We recommend choosing foods that can be easily prepared and cleaned up, such as trail mix, protein bars, and packets of oatmeal. On the other hand, you could opt to eat before your expedition and avoid the hassle.

Remember, one of the main goals of your excursion is to avoid detection. That being said, you should avoid creating attention-getting smoke or bright sources of light. As you can see in the picture above, even camo is not subtle when lit from the inside.

You will want to keep emergency supplies on hand, though, for unexpected issues.

Location, location, location

What is stealth camping, though, without the “stealth” component? The location you choose may prove key in keeping your undercover activities under the radar.

Stealth campers recommend scouting out locations unlikely to be subject to human intruders. A high hilltop roughly 50 feet from roads or trails, for example, would probably prove too troublesome for most nosy people.

Just before dark is the best time to find a spot full of shadows, as you’ll need to stay low-key. Further, stay away from water sources, and you’re less likely to be woken at midnight with an unwanted animal visitor.

In addition, you’ll want to take parking into account. Some camping locations require a hike. Keep your vehicle in a flat location that you can easily access, but that rests far enough away from curious onlookers.

If you posed the question “What is stealth camping?” to many RV nomads, you’d likely get a smile and enough intel to fuel multiple adventures. This trend’s become a bit of a badge of honor amongst these crews. Some have even converted every-day delivery vans into stealth camping machines, according to Ben Devitt.

If you happen to have access to an RV, consider this vehicle a valuable asset in your stealth camping aspirations.

Is It Legal?

judges gavel on a black background representing law and legality of stealth camping

Come on, you know this question was brewing in the back of your mind. After all, any activity with the words “stealth,” “covert,” and “without anyone’s knowledge” attached naturally invokes fears of flashlights in the eyes and wailing sirens.

So, let’s turn our “what is stealth camping?” question on its head and ask, “Is stealth camping legit?”

Like most questions, the answer isn’t cut-and-dry. Some campers do like to make a game of trespassing on private lands just to see if they’ll get caught. The rush of rule-breaking definitely compels some stealth campers.

We do not endorse breaking any laws during your foray into stealth camping. All activities should be performed in a safe and legal manner. In fact, some landowners and even many public parks permit free camping.

Early-morning departures can diminish the chances of detection. But honesty, openness, and friendliness will go a long way if you are confronted.

Be aware that the laws do vary by state, so you should definitely double-check the civil and criminal trespassing legal dictates in your state of choice.

For safety’s sake, avoid areas with trespassing signs or that have other clear indicators of property ownership.

At the end of the day, stealth camping can be a fun and fully legal endeavor if you act in good faith.

Why Do It?

Take the above word “fun” to heart. In fact, enthusiasts would answer the “what is stealth camping?” question with an affirmative “harmless fun.”

Some love the exhilaration of engaging in a secret activity that ultimately doesn’t hurt anyone. Multiple RV dwellers enjoy making a home out of the outdoors. In addition, many cross-country travelers see this option as a cost-saving alternative to pricy campgrounds or pricier motels.

Many more just love connecting with Mother Nature in her element. In short, if you enjoy occasional solitude, self-sufficiency, and simple living, this venture could be calling your name.

Whatever the motivation, for millions, stealth camping is a secret pleasure that won’t soon fade away.

What is stealth camping for you? Gather ‘round for a few campfire tales in the comments section below.

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