Stealth camping can be a great way to save time and money. Wondering if stealth camping is legal? And if it’s safe? Let’s take a closer look at stealth camping tips and considerations.
Stealth camping is camping overnight in a discreet (or undetected) way in an area not designated as a camping area. It usually refers to camping in a town or city, either on the side of a street or in a parking lot.
Camping in an undesignated wilderness area is dispersed camping.
Table of Contents
5 Stealth Camping Considerations
Five things to consider before stealth camping:
- Proximity to 24-hour bathroom facilities
- Street parking availability
- Keeping the locals happy
I’ll go into more detail about these considerations below.
Is Stealth Camping Safe?
Stealth camping can be safe, but this depends on the area where you want to spend the night. It’s best to spend time carefully researching the area before you park for the night.
To get started you could research the safest areas on your route, for example searching the safest areas in Canada, or the U.S.A. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to research the unsafe/dangerous areas as well to know where you’ll want to avoid stealth camping.
Once you narrow things down you can take a closer look at the specific area, searching the safest small towns/neighborhoods where the law allows overnight parking.
This type of camping is best done in a vehicle, usually a van or small RV.
Stealth camping in a tent is not the best idea because of vulnerability, and the laws restricting tent camping in cities and towns.
Keep in mind that you won’t have bathroom facilities unless you’re in an RV with a water/waste tank. So if you’re the type of person that needs the bathroom in the middle of the night you’ll need to feel comfortable using a 24-hour rest stop in the area.
A security system could help keep you safe while stealth camping, check out this post for a great option.
And don’t forget about keeping warm in cooler climates, here’s a great post with some tips on how to stay warm.
Is Stealth Camping Legal?
If an area allows overnight parking and you are in a van or an RV you may be alright, but if you are tenting you’ll probably need to find another area.
A tent is not a good option for stealth camping because of the laws prohibiting tent camping in many urban areas, including public parks, and beaches.
Camping in a tent is not very “stealth” because the idea of stealth camping is to go undetected, a tent is a very visible sign that someone is camping.
It’s important to check the bylaws in the area you want to stealth camp in before you try. Even if they allow overnight parking they may have stipulations that exclude various types of vehicles, or sleeping in the vehicle while it’s parked.
- Truck stops, the areas used by long-haul truckers, are possible locations for stealth camping. These areas often have showers and restaurants. Again it’s important to check the rules/requirements in these areas before camping the night. Also, there will likely be a lot of noise throughout the night with trucks coming and going so if you’re a light sleeper this may not be a good option.
- Walmart parking lots have become known as great spots for stealth and “not so stealth” RV camping, but even this needs research because each location has its own rules.
Rules for this type of camping may be different for citizens compared to non-citizens.
If you’re not careful you may have law enforcement asking you to move in the middle of the night, or fining you for breaking the law.
Stealth Camping vs The Locals
And what about the locals? You don’t want grief from anyone in the area while you’re trying to get a night’s sleep.
To avoid being a nuisance it’s probably best to choose a location where the street is not crowded with other vehicles parking overnight.
Densely populated areas may not be the best option, but you’ll also want to blend in as much as possible, so look for an area with some other vehicles. For blending in, many people use a van or truck for stealth camping. Scouting things out in advance is a good option.
You’ll also want to be as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to yourself, no loud music or running your generator. It’s always best to practice leave-no-trace camping, and that goes for stealth camping as well, so make sure no garbage is left behind.
Even if this type of camping is legal in the area the last thing you want is the neighbors calling the authorities about you. A parking lot/rest stop that allows this type of camping may be your best bet.
9 Tips For Stealth Camping
- Use a vehicle that easily blends in, a van is probably the best bet.
- Do your research to make sure your spot is legal. This will make it less likely that you’ll be asked to move, be fined, or get towed.
- Be as quiet as possible.
- Don’t discuss your plans or location with anyone who does not need to know, keeping you safe and stealthy. And increasing the likelihood that your spot will be available the next time you want it.
- Try not to “look” like you’re sleeping in your vehicle. For example, leave the vehicle through the front doors dressed for the day.
- Use a blackout curtain between your front seats and sleeping area because putting up window blinds in your front windows may be a giveaway.
- Arriving after sunset and leaving before sunrise may be your best bet for stealthiness and a solid night’s sleep.
- For your own safety don’t sleep with earbuds or white noise so you can be aware of your surroundings.
- Cycling through a few different locations will help you go undetected.
3 Stealth Camping Videos
Here are some short videos about stealth camping that might help you decide if this type of camping is right for you.
Stealth camping in a parking lot with a 4Runner.
Stealth camping in a van in NYC.
I hope those videos were helpful. Here’s more about the RV Living lifestyle.
Learn more about other types of camping: Guide to Walk Up Camping.
Stealth Camping and You
Have you tried stealth camping? If you have please share your experience on this post.
To get started, you might consider finding a Walmart or similar area where you know for sure you won’t break any laws, get towed, or irritate anyone. Few things irritate me more than having my night’s sleep interrupted, especially by a paranoid stranger or law enforcement.
Stealth camping may be a good option if you’re passing through an area, but I don’t think I would want to plan an extended stealth camping trip. How about you?
- About the Author
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Dena Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outdoor gear and guides.
She loves being outside and has hiked the Galapagos, explored the Andes Mountains, and camped and explored her province’s backyard.
She also blogs about travel at Storyteller.Travel and photography at Storyteller Tech. Dena is a partner at Storyteller Media, a publishing company she started with her husband, Bryan.