Stealth Camping


– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 9:17 AM EST –

I'm not very supportive of the stealth approach. If I were in a place I really should not be, I probably would not be able to easily fall asleep anyways. My one exception would be an emergency or urgent landing due to weather, sickness, etc. on private land where the landowner is not there to ask. Otherwise, courtesy and respect are good rules to go by.

yep do it all the time
ALL my gear is Stealth like OD green and or tan. Including my Boats. Even if there is an approved campsite I try to be stealthy, Folks wont bother you if they don’t know your there. I always wondered why backpacking gear is mostly “fruity colored” hardly blending with the environment. Kind of hard to be stealthy in a lime green boat, with an Orange tent!

Up here, where access to privately owned islands along the coast is precious and sometimes precarious, I wonder if making a regular practice of camping outside of the permissible areas might lead to more private land owners deciding against allowing any access to paddlers. My understanding is that by using very good discipline and observing the limitations private owners put on the use of their land, we help keep those spaces open for our use.

Maybe it’s not such an issue in other areas, but around here I get the impression that being cooperative gets us farther than sneaking around and pissing off landowners.


– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 11:40 AM EST –

Better to beg forgiveness then ask permission. It’s also easier to do this when you don’t look like the uni-Bomber. Unfortunately many Outdoors types look like vagrants! Shaggy beard, scruffy appearance etc. I have found folks seldom question people that “LOOK” like they know what they are doing. While doing trail work on a section of the Palmetto trail that runs near and on Fort Jackson I never got hassled by the MPs, however I am “retired” but don’t “LOOK’ like it. My friend who does look like the ‘Uni-Bomber” got hassled by the MPs all the time. It was funny.

Is there really any other way?

– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 11:12 AM EST –

Throughout almost 50 years of backpacking I’ve always been a “stealth camper” - also called, “not sticking out like a sore thumb.”
“See but don’t be seen.”

When caught, a simple “Gosh, I meant no harm, I never leave anything, and I never take anything” - add to that a smile, and an apology (this always includes leaving no fire-rings, cut vegetation, or trash).

I have explained to numerous state troupers my desire not to become road-kill after becoming sleepy behind the wheel.
They would then often thank ME, and add, “Leave by morning.”

Depending on the circumstances, you are indeed better off asking permission, esp. in semi-urban areas with a better likelihood of being spotted.

When my dad took us kids down small rivers in rural Wisconsin, we’d often pull up on a grassy bank somewhere to camp for the night. “You kids stay here and be quiet,” he’d tell us as he hiked up to the nearby farmhouse to ask permission. 90% of the time, he’d come back with the OK. Half of those times, the farmer and/or his wife would come down an hour later with beer for my dad and brownies for us kids, just to see the novelty of passing strangers having an adventure in their back pasture, I guess.

And a friend who rode his bike from coast to coast after college said they’d often arrive in a small town and head right for the police department to ask directions to a place to camp. Often, the local deputy would escort them to a nearby park or wayside, probably posted “No Camping”, and then check on them every few hours thru the night.


Wish I’d been more stealthy
Was camping on the Greenbrier River in WV with my grown son and nephew on a small island that I’d camped on before and only one cabin in view far down stream on the opposite bank. When we made camp at 5pm, I noticed a woman on the far bank looking at us…so I waved…no response, not a good sign, but she didn’t say anything to us. We continued setting up, eat dinner, and had a small fire going. At 8:30pm the woman reappeared on the bank with the deputy sheriff and screamed at us to get off her land. I complained to the sheriff that it would be completely dark in 10 minutes and unsafe to continue downriver…he didn’t care. He said he’d come back with a john boat and arrest us if we didn’t leave. We loaded up and took off…my son and nephew in a dagger legend and I in a Wenonah Rendezvous. The best that can be said for the experience is that I got to paddle class II rapids in the pitch dark with a mini maglite between my teeth. We were all experienced whitewater paddlers and I was familiar with the small rapids below, but it was still quite a thrill and I’m glad we did it…damn sure won’t forget my headlamp again.

Done properly…
If done properly, the landowner will never know that you were ever there and will have nothing to complain about. I am all for being legitimate every chance I get… however, in areas where access is already locked-up, I’m all for a little stealthly civil disobedience.

like Maine is a lot like where I live in Northern Wisconsin…not interested in sneaky or in activities that require sneaky or skulking either.

Best Wishes from a land owner


Good story… every location is different
It reminds me that we (here on pnet) paddle in a huge variety of different situations.

Where I paddle, it’s overly restrictive public lands that are the issue. I live near the Channel Islands National Park. Also known as the “American Galalpogas” Incredible paddling!.. but horendous limitations on access. The majority of the land area is off-limits unless a Ranger is actually holding your hand. Legal campsites are very limited and too far apart for most to paddle between. There is also a huge chunk of land on the largest island that is owned by the Nature Conservancy.

You can ask for permission all you want, but the answer will ALWAYS be a firm ‘No!’.

The real answer is stealth camping.

Yeah, often enough
I wish the shores of the nearby Great Lakes were uniformly public domain, like the seashore in Oregon.

Where it’s not, and when it’s private but rustic, I’ve been known to make a discreet camp, as outlined throughout this thread. Much of this land is owned by absentee fat cats anyway, and I always leave it cleaner than I found it.

On a recent visit to Florida, I found countless miles of prime beachfront gated off with no access. Worst of all, the vast majority of these condos and oversized mansions were vacant, so even the fat cats weren’t there to appreciate what they so jealously guarded.


Hail and Tornadoes…
caused me and a buddy to camp on private property once. When we took off it was hailing pretty bad, however as the day went on it turned into thunderstorms. It was getting dark so we decided to set up camp.

Around 8 or so we are sitting by the fire and out of nowhere a huge Spotlight was shining on us from across the river. 'What in the hell you think you’re doing on my property" the farmer yells!! Wetold him it was an accident and we would leave no trace. He didn’t really buy it so we went to plan “B”

My buddy says- Sir, I have $20 in my pocket and in the morning I will hike up to your house and leave it for you… The farmer liked that idea and agreed to let us sleep there.

So what would any good folks do, probably what we did- before first light we packed our stuff and headed downstream without paying!!! We knew the river went under a bridge downstream and prayed he wasn’t there waiting for us— and he wasn’t.

It’s the way it should be. If you’re not causing any destruction, not bothering the land owner, leaving no trace, and keeping it low key, it shouldn’t be an issue.

I support laws that would allow access to private property in these ways – just like they allow in Norway.

I’d gladly let people camp on my 40.

Fires are NOT stealthy!!! They just scream “Look at me” I am a redneck and am going to burn your property up!!! The also leave a “trace”

not what I would do
If I tell someone I’m going to pay them in the morning, I pay them in the morning.

that’s the case here

Brings back memories - I used to do it all the time. I’d sometimes camp on posted islands that usually had a duck blind, hunting shack, or a field that might be tilled by the owner every few years. I’d use a single burner camp stove if I felt the need to cook, pull the boat back from the water, sometimes sleep under it with a tarp, or pitch a small tent in a low depression surrounded by trees so as not to be very visible. I’d come in late and leave early.

There were some abandoned gravel pits near the river that were very nice too. Pull the boat out and stash it behind a log and pack in to an out of the way corner. They were owned by corporate hunting clubs and saw pretty heavy use during hunting season. One had a target range that I avoided. They were too large for anyone to patrol regularly and to see the camp one would have had to practically walk into it. Those were good times. I bet slot machines were more fun back when they were illegal also.

I don’t do it much now mostly, I suppose, because where I now paddle there’s plenty of legal camping on sandbars. I prefer to be legal but in a pinch I’ll stealth camp rather than paddle in unsafe conditions. They can take me to a nice safe jail if they feel some compelling need to - better than paddling in a serious storm or in tricky water without light.

Then don’t have a fire.

stealth camping
I paddle through sparsly populated areas, but yet the land is still owned by someone, usually. Sometimes the house might be miles away. I just camp quietly, leave no trace, have had no problems so far

Try Asking

– Last Updated: Apr-09-09 9:12 PM EST –

I have never been turned down when I've asked permission to either hunt or camp on posted land in NE Pennsylvania.

At one time I also owned and lived on a large tract of land in PA. and I never refused anyone who asked first. My neighbors all felt the same way.

Due to our screwed up legal system, you also have to remember there are liability issues you have to consider when you are a landowner. A trespasser can get hurt on privet property and end up suing the landowner.