Stealth Camping

My hammock is shown here in an open environment. Even in this setting it is difficult to see clearly.

My hammock is shown here in an open environment. Even in this setting it is difficult to see clearly. In the woods it blends into the vegetation becoming virtually invisible.
Click to enlarge.

While reading journals or talking to fellow bicycle tourists you will occasionally come across the term stealth camping. You might also hear guerrilla camping, free camping and a few other similar terms. You may have even wondered what people are talking about when they use these terms.

Stealth camping refers to the practice of finding a quiet spot away from people if possible where you camp for the night making great efforts to leave absolutely no evidence of your presence either while you are on site or after you leave. Most people believe that stealth camping is largely about saving a few dollars by not paying for a campsite. While it's true that you can save some money this way, it is also possible to experience the great outdoors in a much more connected way then you can in a typical campsite and for me that is where the attraction lies.

A typical campsite is to the woods as a modern washroom is to an outhouse. That seems like an exaggeration until you experience it for yourself.

At a typical camp site you do have the opportunity to meet people, take showers, do laundry, often buy supplies and do a number of nice things. You also have to deal with noisy neighbours occassionally and of course you do see wildlife in the form of raccoons, skunks, chipmunks and squirrels.

In the woods you aim to be hidden so you are typically quiet and seldom are there people around. In some ways the woods seem more empty of wild life until the sun sets and you hear the outrageous noise of the animals settling down for the night. While stealth camping on my way around Lake Michigan I captured a memory when a red fox trotted through my camp site just as night fell. It was too dark for a picture so the memory is all I have from that moment. It's one that is unlikely to ever happen in a campground.

Stealth camping is something that takes some time to work up to but in many ways it works extremely well when bicycle touring. One of the biggest fears that people have when touring is being unable to find a place to sleep at the point when they want to stop for the night. This can indeed be a problem with stealth camping but it's not generally as difficult to find a hidden campsite as it can be to find a commercial campground.

Basically it works like this. You bicycle along until you feeling like stopping for the night. Once you've decided to stop you start looking around for likely locations to camp. As dark falls you locate a quiet place away from human occupation and preferably somewhat distant from rivers (since that's often a place where both humans and animals tend to visit). Once you've determined that there are no posted warnings about trespassing or things of that nature then you quickly move the bike off the road and to your campsite. After covering the bike so that reflections from passing cars don't highlight your position you setup your shelter and go to sleep.

In the morning dawn arrives and with it you depart leaving nothing behind to even show your presence.

You will note that no where in this writeup have I mentioned eating at the campsite. All bear safety books talk about not eating or storing food at the same place as where you are camping. I carry a Bear barrel with me on tour so when I eat well before reaching the campsite and once I arrive the bear barrel is placed a significant distance away from my camping location. Bears aren't the only wild life to be aware of but the precautions you take for them should also work for many other types of animals too.

I will confess that sleeping in the woods can be scary. Part of this is just the sensation of being in a somewhat alien environment alone. I believe that this experience brings back our instinctual memories making us more aware of the soft noises that surround us.

Stealth camping is not for everyone but in your progression through journals you will discover that many people have done so in quiet woodlots, national parks, remote forests and even in remote sections of rail trails. The goal is to pick places where you are unlikely to cause problems for others or yourself.

With a bit of forethought you can easily experience a wilderness camping experience unlike the ones that many of your friends and colleagues experience on their family vacations.


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