With more people embracing full-time #vanlife and more road-trippers chasing their next adventure, stealth camping is catching on. But what is it exactly and how is it done? We’ll give you the lowdown and help you decide if it’s a type of camping you should try.
What Is Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping is camping in a vehicle without attracting attention or notice. (That’s where the “stealth” part comes in.) You can think of it as “secret” camping. Sometimes it’s illegal (which we don’t encourage) but sometimes it’s not. Many overlanders and full-time van dwellers choose stealth camping for convenience, safety reasons, or to guarantee their privacy.
But you don’t have to be a full-time traveler to go stealth camping, anyone can do it. Maybe you’re on a long-haul trip and just need to stop somewhere for the night to sleep. Or maybe you’re camping in the backcountry and you want some privacy and solitude. There can be many reasons that people choose to stealth camp. But whatever your reason, the basics of this type of camping are the same.
Where To Go Stealth Camping
As we’ve said already, sometimes people go stealth camping in places that are illegal to do so. We can’t recommend that you do this, but we can suggest some places where you could try stealth camping that might be legal. It’s up to you to check with local authorities or property owners, however, to make sure.
- Public lands like BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands: These are a good option if you’re looking for a backcountry experience or somewhere that’s truly off the grid.
- Parking lots of certain businesses: Cabela’s and Cracker Barrel allow overnight parking/camping at their locations nationwide and some other businesses (like Bass Pro Shops or Walmart) are known to allow it too. Do your research.
- Casinos: Some casinos are known to allow overnight parking or camping in their parking lots.
- Truck stops: Depending on the truck stop, they may have designated spots for RVs.
- Rest stops: Rest stops are another common overnight spot for travelers.
How To Go Stealth Camping
Ready to give stealth camping a try? Here are our top tips.
Choose the Right Vehicle
Not every RV or van is a good vehicle for stealth camping. The bottom line is that you want to use a vehicle that’s inconspicuous, so choose a van like a Sprinter or a smaller RV like a Class B RV. Save the big rigs for RV parks and public campgrounds. It’s also best if your vehicle allows you to be completely self-sufficient and includes amenities like a toilet since you won’t have access to public facilities.
In order to not attract attention, avoid using a vehicle with a brightly colored paint job, eye-catching (and memorable) decals—and keep the vehicle clean. Dirty vehicles tend to attract more notice—and suspicion.
Prep Your Vehicle
Since you’ll be stealth camping, you’ll want to take a few extra steps to ensure your privacy and not attract undue attention. Before you go camping, run through this checklist:
- Remove exterior accessories. Camping accessories like awnings could attract attention. Better to remove them for stealth camping.
- Install interior window coverings. Choose blackout curtains or a similar type of window covering. The goal is to prevent anyone from looking in and also to keep the vehicle dark when viewed from the outside.
- Hang blackout curtains between the cab and your sleeping/living space. This adds an extra measure of privacy and reduces light that’s visible from the outside, especially light that may be visible through the vehicle’s windshield.
- Make a plan for the essentials. Know ahead of time what you’ll use for electricity, water, and bathroom facilities. It’s best if your vehicle is self-sufficient in these areas.
- Consider your vehicle’s noise levels. Loud vehicles are hard to overlook. Consider ways to reduce the noise your vehicle makes (like getting that muffler fixed). Also, don’t run generators or air conditioners.
Time Your Arrival and Departure Well
If possible, it’s best to show up at your stealth camping spot after dark and leave before sunrise.
Stay Inside Your Vehicle
When stealth camping, it’s best to not look like you’re camping. This means no fires or cooking outdoors, but it also means that you shouldn’t set up chairs or any other equipment outside your vehicle. This not only helps you stay inconspicuous, it makes it easier for you to leave the spot quickly if you have to.
Avoid playing music, running appliances, watching loud TV, talking loudly, or letting your dog bark while you’re staying in your overnight spot. You don’t want to give people reasons to be suspicious. (And speaking of dogs, bringing a pet while stealth camping is probably not a good idea anyway.)
Don’t Act Suspicious
Although you want to keep a low-profile, don’t be creepy about it. If someone sees you, appear friendly and act like you belong there. Chances are, the person will just move on.
Choose Your Spot Wisely
Park your vehicle near cover like trees to help camouflage it. But also consider lighting. If you’re stealth camping in a city, it’s actually better to camp in well-lit areas for security reasons (even a single streetlight is better than nothing). Also, avoid camping in areas that have “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs. If you do, you’re just inviting trouble.
If someone approaches your vehicle, don’t open your door or allow them access to your vehicle. Instead, speak to them through the driver’s side window.
Change Your Location Every Night
Never stay more than one night in the same spot. That way if anyone notices you the first night, you’ll have moved on by the next day.
Have An Exit Strategy
Park in a place where you won’t be blocked or locked in somewhere. You want to be able to make a smooth and quick exit if you have to.
Follow Leave-No-Trace Principles
Another important part of stealth camping is removing all evidence of your overnight stay. Take all trash with you and leave the spot just as you found it. It shows respect for the area and makes it easier for all the stealth campers that will camp there in the future!