Imagine a scenario in which you are on a 7-day backpacking trip and you’ve decided that you want to get off the beaten path.
You have walked all day and are exhausted from the constant grind of elevation gain after elevation gain and all you can think about is finding a little shelter.
There are no designated campsites within 10 miles, just you and wide open spaces.
This is stealth camping.
Stealth camping or “black ops” camping is setting up a shelter in a location that is not designated nor designed for a campsite. It’s wildly popular among backpackers, hunters, and cyclists.
For the record, I do not condone camping on private property in any way, shape, or form. For the sake of fun let’s imagine a scenario where it may happen accidentally or otherwise.
Table of Contents
What Exactly is Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping is the act of camping like a ninja, no you don’t have to wear a silly suit with the mask that covers basically your face and yield a Hatori Hanso blade.
It’s more to the effect of getting in and getting out without being seen, leaving nothing behind, and leaving no sign that anyone was ever there.
If you find a fire circle, or a lean-to, or any signs of previous life than you are doing it wrong.
Stealth camping is finding an undisturbed piece of earth that you can quickly make into a bed for an evening, and leave without a trace.
Is Stealth Camping Illegal?
This entirely depends on where you decide to set up for the evening. Camping on private property is illegal and the last thing you need is to wake up to an angry man or women with a firearm in your face and/or police officer in tow.
No, stealth camping is not illegal.
Yes, stealth camping can be illegal.
I do not endorse illegal activities. That being said, there are times when you just gotta find a place to sleep.
If you are far away from civilization and there are no obvious signs that you are not welcomed, most of the time, you will be just fine.
If you see signs clearly stating that it is private property, this is an obvious sign that the owner of that property does not want you there. I try and avoid places like this as they can lead to confrontation.
The fact of the matter is that most of the time you are stealth camping you will be trespassing in some way, shape, or form.
The ultimate goal is to not be seen and to leave no trace that you were there. I would like to think that most people would be cool with that.
Begin looking for a site early in the afternoon, if you wait until dusk or at night finding a suitable campsite becomes exponentially more difficult the darker it gets. Finding anything in the dark is a complete pain in the ass, and when you are looking for a more or less hidden place to rest your head the challenge increases.
This is where your true skill as a black ops camper comes into play. Where do you set up your camp that will have the least impact and the least exposure to prying eyes.
We want to avoid hacking down any large swaths of grass, bears, dogs, people, and everything else that can disturb our evening. Avoiding any creek beds or places that look like there has been water runoff, getting soaked in the middle of the night sucks ass.
A good practice is to avoid camping 200 ft from any and all water sources, following the leave no trace guidelines.
The whole idea of stealth camping is to not be seen or heard.
Dogs are not your Best Friend
I love dogs, have had dogs, and will always love dogs. Not when I am stealth camping, they are your worst enemy and have an uncanny ability to blow up your spot.
Stay away from any place where you hear dogs barking or see dogs in the general area. There is nothing worse than having to boogie out unexpectedly in the middle of the night being chased by the neighborhood Pitbull.
You avoid not only a bite here and there, but also, a super agro property owner who will be none too happy when you make an uninvited appearance.
People have guns too, that scares the shit out of me.
This may seem like a no-brainer and it is. Sure, stealth camping is often times, done on private land.
Sure, stealth camping is often time done on private land you may be saying to yourself, yea no shit.
You don’t want to pull off to the side of the road in a busy neighborhood, that would be the opposite of stealth camping.
If you are forced to camp in a place that has a bunch of people makes an effort to camp on a football field, a park, cemetery, or any place that seems obvious. If you get busted in the middle of the night the authorities tend to be slightly more forgiving than a private landowner who may view you as a threat and pull out a big old gun.
One of the main tenants of stealth camping is to not be seen, the easiest way to achieve this is by more or less hiding your camp.
This doesn’t mean digging a trench or climbing a tree, usually, you can find somewhere in the bushes or behind a tree that will work.
Take a step back after you have built your stealth camp and take a look from different vantage points and make sure you are hidden.
Easy Breakdown and Setup
Get in and get out.
Setup and breakdown need to be easy and quick. You’re not going to cook breakfast and have a cup of coffee during a black ops stealth camping operation.
It is important to be able to jam out ASAP.
A camping hammock is a perfect solution for minimal exposure, it keeps you off the ground and if you have a camouflage cover, relatively hidden. Finding two trees to set up your hammock is simple depending on the terrain, keep that in mind.
In terms of setup and breakdown, a hammock is the fastest and easiest way to bug out. You only need to use a couple of tree straps and have a hammock on deck, slap it around a tree and hang it at a 30-degree angle and your all set. A hammock is a great way to go completely stealth, give it a shot.
Dangers of Stealth Camping
People. The most pressing danger when stealth camping is getting discovered by someone while you are camping somewhere that you knew you weren’t supposed to be.
For the most part, people are pretty cool about camping as long as you’re not being an asshole and damaging your surroundings, however, there are dicks everywhere.
Predators. Camping in the woods you always have the inherent danger of the animals that call that place home. The lines between our worlds are getting more and more blurry with the enormous population growth globally.
Anytime that you camp in the woods you are going to have to be aware of animals, avoid leaving food out is the worst idea. For sure don’t leave food out.
Private Property as a stealth camper is something that you will inevitably come across and may even camp on.
All in all most people are pretty chill as long as you respect their property, if I can I will ask for permission before crashing out in what is clearly marked as private property.
There are shitheads everywhere, and there is a chance that you end up with someone who is none too happy that you chose their land to camp on. Be polite and ask for forgiveness and explain the urgency of your situation. Keep your fingers crossed too.
As they say, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and this holds true with stealth camping.
Stealth camping is a fact of life for anyone on the road for long periods of time and knowing the best practices is going to save you heartache and headache.
Keep your mouth shut about any stealth spots that you find and plan on re-using. We love secrets, and love sharing them with just one person.
Be selective with your location, aware of your surroundings and cognizant of dangers around you. Avoid camping on private property when possible, and most importantly, have a good time.