What is Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping is a specialist hobby where you set up camp in an unofficial area with the aim of staying below the radar. Often, the location you choose to camp is prohibited or restricted in some way. Stealth camping might not be completely illegal, but it is usually frowned upon. If your stealth camp is successful, you can spend the night in this grey area before sneaking off undiscovered the following morning.
Another goal of stealth camping is to impact the land as little as possible. To leave no trace and to avoid disturbing anyone, even from light or noise pollution. In fact, stealth camping shares many similarities with wild camping. Both require discretion, planning, and a dash of good luck!
Stealth camping clearly comes with an element of risk. There’s a chance you may be caught and there could be some consequences. However, for many people, this is all part of the thrill and excitement! To give you the best chance of stealth camping, here are some tips to help you get started.
Choose Proper Stealth Camping Equipment
A key component to a smooth night of stealth camping is choosing a suitable tent. This can make or break your camping trip. If you pitch a large, brightly-coloured tent on a barren hillside, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. However, if you choose a low-profile tent in camo or muted colours, you will blend into the landscape much more effectively. It’s worth investing in a decent 2-man tent that you can rely on for future adventures.
If you want to go stealth camping in a particularly exposed area, you need to choose an even more discrete set-up. A bivvy bag allows you to sleep inconspicuously even in the most challenging of locations. You may not have the best night’s sleep, but if your objective is to camp in secret, this may be a price worth paying. If you’re worried about rain, a low-hanging tarpaulin can give you slightly more protection from the elements.
Using the Landscape
To alleviate the pressure of stealth camping, use the landscape to help obscure your position. Nature areas are filled with locations that are ideal for pitching a tent that is either camouflaged or fully hidden from view. Before you pitch for the night, scan the surrounding area for human activity. Look for walking paths, gates, properties, or any areas where there may be access points.
After you’ve scoped out your surroundings, start looking for some concealed spots that are away from clear lines of sight. Bushes, trees, and walls all make excellent protection. The lay of the land may also help you when stealth camping as hillocks or divots can swallow your tent amongst the physical geography.
If you are interested in stealth camping in urban areas, you can still use the landscape to your benefit. In city parks or around AONBs, you can find patches of dense foliage or greenery. If you pitch in shadowy spots away from street lamps, you will be concealed in a nook, hidden in plain sight. It will be a nerve-racking night, but you’ll be pitched in a secret location and that’s what stealth camping is all about.
Light & Darkness
Naturally, it is easy to remain out of sight at night. This is a key part of stealth camping, so it makes sense to utilise darkness as much as possible. Try to pitch your tent at sundown and pack up camp before sunrise. You can explore your desired location during the day but if you wait until dark, you will reduce the chance of gathering unwanted attention.
As mentioned, the same goes for artificial light. When stealth camping in areas with street lamps, avoid the bright downwelling areas and pitch your tent in pockets of shadow. Headlamps from cars can also illuminate your tent so it’s best to camp away from any public access roads.
Maintaining Your Cover
After all your planning is done and your tent is pitched, the night has only just begun! You can still be discovered at any time. To ensure your stealth camping trip goes off without a hitch, there are a few actions that are best avoided. Don’t camp in big groups as you will attract more attention. Try to stealth camp solo or in pairs.
Don’t light a fire under any circumstances. This draws attention by acting as a beacon and it is illegal in most National Parks and nature areas. Try to refrain from playing loud music and keep your voice at a normal conversation level.
Of course, you will need to use a headlamp once it is dark. It’s possible to buy a flashlight or torch that has a red filter on it. This allows you to see what you’re doing while not blatantly signalling to others your position.
As always, leave no trace. Make sure your campsite is clear of trash and try not to damage any vegetation. This is important for the future of wild and stealth camping. It ensures you don’t mark the landscape and ruin it for others. It also allows you to return to a spot in the future with the knowledge that it will always look the same.
Overall, stealth camping should be a fun and exciting experience. These rules aren’t here to put you off camping, they are recommendations that will allow you to enjoy your trip even more. Don’t be too afraid of getting caught when stealth camping. It isn’t the end of the world. Often, you will be asked to move on and that should be the end of it.
When you go stealth camping, be flexible to the situation. You may have to move your tent in the middle of the night if the location is unsuitable. You might also need to visit multiple locations in the day before you find an area you deem acceptable. This can be tiresome but it’s part and parcel of the adventure. Just consider it another challenge that makes the experience of stealth camping all the more invigorating!