Is Stealth Camping dangerous?

Ask any Stealth camping enthusiast about the activity and they are very likely to provide you with numerous reasons to give it a go. Unfortunately what is heard much less often are the potential negatives to stealth camping.

Stealth campers always mention the need not to be seen. Often camps are setup in the dark and you leave first thing in the morning as the sun rises. Camoflaged tents and/or hammocks are recommended to make it easier for you not to be seen.

Is it legal?

Often you will be told to watch for posted "No Trespassing" signs or something similar. This is often followed with "As long as the land isn't posted then it's safe to camp". Well the correct answer is very dependent on where you are thinking of camping. In some parts of the world there does have to be posted signage. In other parts the land doesn't have to be posted.

I recall reading some comments around trespassing in Colorado. Apparently that is a place where signs don't have to be posted. What would you do if you were caught camping illegally on the land? What would happen to your equipment when you were escorted off the property or arrested. If you are thinking well I would just pack up and leave when asked you are forgetting that you didn't show courtesy in the first place when you just snuck on to their property. Why should the land owner give you the time to pack anything or even let you go freely? Perhaps a night or two or three in jail would do you some good? Selling your gear might be considered compensation for the trouble you caused them.

Is it dangerous?

During one of my Great Lakes tours I met a rider who had toured extensively. During his touring adventures he had almost always stealth camped. Altogether he likely spent 240 days camping this way. His primary motivation was to save money so that he could tour. Without the savings from stealth camping he felt that his travels would not have been possible.

He told me that the vast majority of the time he experienced no problems. However, there were four occassions when he was discovered.

One occasion resulted in a very bad scare and a night of extreme nervousness.

Another occasion resulted in being asked to leave and having to immediately pack up his belongings under the watchful eye of the local police force. He was told that he only had a few moments. Take too long and he would have to leave his stuff behind.

A third occurance resulted in a very bad beating when a group of young men out for a drink in the woods discovered him and decided to beat him up. Along with some painful injuries that made travel difficult he also lost a number of key belongings that ultimately resulted in him cutting his tour short.

The fourth and last story he told me actually happened long after our initial conversations. He had entered a more populated area after spending extensive time in more remote lands. He wasn't in a city environment so he decided to camp near a local beach. He believed that he was out of sight and well camoflaged. Unfortunately someone must have seen him because later that night he was accosted by a group of teenagers.

They threatened him with a severe beating or he could "join their party". To join he had to drink something that seemed to be a combination of urine, windshield washer fluid and household cleaners. He ended up taking the drink. After a night of being extremely sick he returned home with the tour ended.

While I've told one person's story in this section I've also heard similar stories from other people. It's important to realize that you new found hide-away may actually be a well known local secret spot used for a variety of purposes and the people who use these areas may not take kindly to your presence.

Is it ethical?

When we sneak on to private property without permission, signs or no signs it could be argued that we are stealing from others. In fact here's a quote from Tym Allison that makes a significant point.

"I live out in the country and would feel very uneasy about someone being on my property without my knowing it. If someone would ask, I would most likely allow it. It seems like stealing to me. Why not knock on a door and ask? You might meet someone interesting and the worst they can say is no."

Are there places where you can Stealth Camp?

Stealth camping is often allowed in National forests, crown lands and other government owned areas. The way to find out is to research in advance or to ask upon arrival. If you want to stealth camp so that you can enjoy a closer connection to nature then this is one way that you might consider. A permit might be required.


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