5 to Stay Alive: Tips for Stealth Camping

What the hell is stealth camping you might ask? Well depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different answers, but in a nutshell it’s camping in a spot so as not to be seen by others and leaving no sign that you were ever there. Stealth camping can be in an unauthorized or otherwise non-permissive area, might be on private property, or in a legitimate spot just away from other campers because you want some peace and quiet or maybe you’re anti-social, like me.

Here are 5 tips to help you stay hidden.

Beware of the road not taken

…or less taken, most definitely the road often taken. What I’m saying is stay away from the damn roads, as well as trails, paths, streams, ridgelines and any location people use to get from one place to another easily. In the military these areas are called “natural lines of drift”  You need to find that spot that’s thick and nasty the place no one is going to waste time going through. When you do find it, take your time getting in and cover your tracks so as not to leave an obvious path.

Shhhh! The squirrels are listening

How often when walking along a trail do you hear things long before you see them? Especially while in clear forest or open terrain, and even more so at night. This should go without saying but be quiet. No clanking pots and pans or chopping trees. Keep you movements deliberate and pay attention to what you’re doing. Oh, and by the way, all that dense foliage will also help dampen sound.

She blinded me with science a 200 lumen headlamp and a fluorescent pink backpack

Save the space station signaling devices for use in “normal” camping situations or emergencies. Not only will the bright colors and lights give you away, it will also kill your own night vision. If you do need to use a light source keep it low and filtered (more about night vision and filtered light). Forego the campfire, if you have to heat food, use a small backpacking stove, and cook while it’s still light out. Daytime is no exception. Reflecting sunlight will catch someone’s attention at a good distance.  Beware of the location of the sun and any reflective items you might have exposed.

Damn, you stink!

Just like light and sound, odor travels. There are lots of stories of the Viet Cong being able to smell U.S. soldiers in the jungle and vice versa due to their difference in diet. Back in my Recon Platoon days, I remember being able to pick up on cigarette smoke (I’m a non-smoker) quite easily. In the morning during traditional “hygene time” a platoons worth of deodorant, shaving cream and baby wipes travels a mile.  Now admittedly this is a bit on the extreme side, but don’t make it obvious. Beware of the wind direction (affects sound too) especially when cooking. As mentioned before, no campfires, minimize the cologne and perfume (chances of getting lucky are slim anyway). Don’t smoke, but If you have to, mind the wind direction.

Keep it on the down low

No, not that kind of “down low” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I mean keep a low profile. There’s no need to be building the Taj Mahal of shelters. You want your tarp, tent or hammock low to the ground. Don’t silhouette yourself against the skyline, stay in the lower areas but beware of possible flooding.

Now I’m not saying go all Rambo the commando when you hit the trail, you’re just gonna freak people out and look like a moron.  I tend to use gear and clothing that are earth toned. not only does it allow me to blend in, it also brings out the color in my eyes, but I digress. That’s not to say everything I own is olive drab and khaki, but if I know I might need to pop off the trail before I get to the designated camping area, I’ll pack accordingly.

One final note, and I didn’t include this in the list but it needs to be mentioned, leave the area the way you found it. “Leave no trace” applies just as much, if not more to stealth camping as it does to standard backcountry camping.

Not good
Not good
keep trying
Getting better, but needs some work.
There you go!
That’s the idea

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