All About Stealth Camping

This kind of bicycle touring is not for everyone. I get strange looks in the staff room when people ask me about my vacations. "So, Allan. If I understand you correctly you spent your vacation in Europe, riding your bike during the day on canal paths and quiet local roads and at night you slept in a hammock in the forest and...I don't even want to know about the sanitary arrangements."

I am a lecturer, and as such I spend my days communicating with others. One of the reasons I enjoy stealth camping so much is that it allows me to completely get away from everyone and everything. Stealth camping is a solitary pursuit. Talking, campfires and almost any activity except meditation, reading or sleep in your campsite will draw unwanted attention.

In fact, stealth camping is much more than any definition. It is about being self- reliant, able, green and above all committed. In this post I hope to be able to encourage those touring cyclists to consider camping as an alternative to staying in hotels or B&Bs. Further, I will be posting information related to stealth camping.

This all started on one of my first long distance tours. I had been credit card touring (bike touring and staying at B&Bs) for some time when I found myself biking between Leamington and Port Dover, Ontario. It didn't seem like that far on the map but as the sun went down I realized that I did not have a place to stay for the night. This was early in my touring days, and I had no back up. If I had no place to stay, I had a serious problem. That was the day I learned to always have a backup.

Today I am using a Hennessy hammock. Because of their asymmetrical design, I can lay flat. The entrance way is from the bottom, so there is no instability. Further, it sets up in a couple of minutes and because of the design, compactness and light weight are ideal for bicycle camp.

There still appears to be some confusion about various types of bicycle camping. I insist that there are at least 3 sub- groups:

Wild Camping

This is popular with backpackers who are in wild areas and simply camp where they find a convenient spot. This is not a campground and no fee is paid. The latter is similar to stealthing, but no hiding is required.

Gypsy Camping

This also is similar to stealthing but there is no attempt to hide and often the camping takes place in public areas like parks or on the side of the road. Sometimes it is with land owners permission. No fee is paid.

Stealth Camping

As stated earlier in this journal, stealth camping is staying overnight in a location which is out- of- sight, unmarked, unimproved without any permission. If readers have concerns about the legal side of stealthing, I draw their attention to my page on trespass or go to my videos.

Stealth camping can be defined as:

"camping overnight on land that is unmarked or signed, unimproved, unfenced and away from habitation without anyone's consent or knowledge using the Leave No Trace principles."

Finding the right spot is the most difficult part.

By definition stealth camping should take place;

That said, I've camped in the middle of roundabouts, in city parks, beside canal paths and rail trails and in deep woods and bear country. Each one has afforded a good night sleep and after a while you will develop a sense of an ideal spot. Since you don't wish to be caught you should choose a location that is either behind heavily wooded areas or well back from roads, trails and paths.

Some further hints; try to keep away from water sources as they attract wild animals. They get up very early and even the smallest animal sounds like a bear when you are awoken at 4:30. Twice I've had nocturnal visitors to my site. Not knowing what else to do, I started barking like a dog. It seems to work.

Where NOT to Stealth Camp

Any place public is not a good stealth camping site. There are still many places that are good potential sites but are security concerns. When I'm looking, I check the ground first. Not for rocks or water, but for signs of garbage or other litter. A nice quiet spot with beer can litter and/or signs of fires can mean it's a 'bush party' site. You don't want to wake at 2:00 am by a bunch of drunk teenagers bent on partying. Look for signs of previous campfires. Also check for discreet trails or paths. Any worn area on the ground or between trees means it might be a path. Camping too close to water can mean you visited at various times (usually early morning or late evening) by a variety of fauna. You might think this a charming feature until you are woken by a bear sliding under your hammock on the way for a drink.

Stealth Camping on Crown Land

Much of Canada is made up of crown land. In other words the land isn't owned by anyone, must be owned by Queen Elizabeth, and her servants, the provincial governments. This is what Ontario says about camping on crown land:

"Residents of Canada may camp free of charge on Crown land for up to 21 days at any one site, except where posted otherwise."

Non- residents of Canada

If you are a non- resident of Canada, 18 years of age or older and wish to camp on Crown land north of the French and Mattawa rivers, a Crown Land Camping Permit is required, unless:

You are a non- resident that is 18 years of age or older and are renting a camping unit (a camping unit can include a tent, trailer, tent- trailer, recreational vehicle or camperback) from a commercial outfitter in Ontario. You are a non- resident that is staying on a watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation, anchored on a Crown land water bed and not located within a regulated (green) zone map link or other signed prohibited area. You or a member of your immediate family owns property in Ontario, although access to regulated (green) zones remains prohibited.

Where to Stealth Camp

What Next?

Once you have found the spot, remember that you should only go there to sleep. Cooking or hanging around only increases the chances of being spotted or attracting other unwanted visitors such as bears, raccoons, dogs et al.

I discuss the legal aspects of stealth camping in my page on trespass, but as a rule, if a site is not marked signed, fenced, improved or near habitation, you are not trespassing.

Typically this is what I do: In the morning I wake from my stealth site just before dawn. I pack up quickly and leave the site without anyone seeing me. I bike for a while looking for a place to make breakfast. Often good breakfast sites are town parks or bridges where there is a place to put my Trangia stove. Once I'm cleaned up (and there will be more info on personal hygiene) I start my days tour in earnest. When practical I stop to pick up food and potables to replenish the ones used. I usually carry about 2 days food plus some emergency rations.

At lunch I try to have my big meal. There are two advantages to that. One is that I can buy something that requires refrigeration and eat it before it goes bad. Secondly, I find a less full stomach makes for a better and longer nights sleep. Visit your Auntie in the nursing home. They also have their big meal at lunch time.

After lunch I bike for a while to burn off a few carbs and set sight for my distance goal for the day. Once I'm a few kilometres from my goal I start looking for spots to camp. They should be remote, well- camouflaged from paths and roads. I must also have trees because I use a hammock, but that really has never been a problem. During the summer in doesn't get dark until late. That's okay because you probably won't be resting more than 8 hours, so 10 pm to 6 am is okay. In spring and autumn the nights are longer. If you go to bed too early you might find yourself waking when it is still quite dark. There are two solutions for that. If you are camping near a town or village, you might head into a restaurant or pub to write you journal until about 10 or 11 pm. In the United Kingdom there appears to be a pub every several kilometers and conveniently they are marked on the British Ordnance Survey maps as "PH" for Public House. Very civilized.

Something else you should be aware of is that the forest wakes early. If you are in the deep woods birds and animals get moving before dawn. If you are easily disturbed by noises, plan on being woken about one hour before sunrise. Animals such as deer and rabbits seem to be more active at that time and you might be woken up by the birds that start to sing really early. I spent 6 weeks in a rain forest once. You go to bed at sundown because around 4:30 or so the noise starts. By sunrise the birds and monkeys are at full voice and sleep in quite impossible.

I was looking for a good stealth camping spot. About 20 metres from the road I came across a car that had smashed into a tree. The incident had happened some time before. Enough time had elapsed that any physical evidence of the vehicle leaving the road and travelling at some great velocity before hitting the tree had been erased. I approached full of great trepidation. Were there still bodies in the car?

That is a common fear with many stealthers. Is this hobby safe?

There is really no definitive answer to that. Anything we do comes with risks. Any action we take; riding a bicycle or walking along the street comes with inherent risks. Those who are successful are cognisant of the risks and manage them accordingly.

Risks related to stealth camping have to do with site choice, unpredictability factors and best practises. This web page will explore all three factors and help you choose if the benefits out way the difficulties.


Copyright 2015 © This site is the intellectual property of Allan Stokell