Living in an RV, on the road, full-time, makes you completely aware of the costs associated with the nomadic lifestyle. Besides the cost of the rig itself you also incur the costs of “everyday life” (healthcare, food, clothing, etc), the cost of travel (gas, lodging, rent/lease), and the cost of entertainment should you choose. It can be mind boggling to say the least. That is why I spend quite a bit of free time thinking about how to decrease those expenses while not decreasing opportunity. It seems that a section of people including bicyclists, hikers, RVers, and a few others, have also pondered – but with great success – a way to “stealth” camp and come out the other side.
I have only become acutely aware of stealth camping in the last few months via “boondocking” or the art of staying in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services. It is every bit a form of tiny house living but to a most extreme measure. Your house is anywhere you choose it to be. Boondocking is only one form of stealth camping and it seems that for every passion there is a form of stealth camping to match.
Stealth camping on bike (also referred to as guerrilla camping or free camping) refers to the practice of finding a quiet spot away from people if possible where one camps for the night making leaving behind no trace that they were ever there. And while it may in some way be about saving money by not paying for a campsite it seems more about experiencing the open road to the fullest; at least to this group. It is about pulling over on the road, ducking into the brush, unsaddling your bike, and stretching out your road weary legs. It is a seemingly simple task but it also requires the ride to be observant (you don’t want to camp on private property, a heavily traveled roadway, or in the middle of an airplane runway), cautious, and prepared. In fact, most bicyclists who practice stealth camping recommend you carry with you the following to make your camping more enjoyable:
- Identification Cards
- Foil emergency blanket
- Baby wipes (and disposal bags) for quick sanitation
- Change of underclothing
- Sleeping Mat
- Sleeping Bag
- and A LOT more!
Allan E. Stokell’s fully loaded camping bike in front of Caerphilly Castle in Wales.
There is quite a bit of information available online regarding bicycle stealth camping. For a robust list of tips visit the Bicycle Touring Pro.
In my estimation stealth camping seems most advantageous for hikers. For instance, on the very popular Appalachian Trail there are shelters and overnight dwellings available at multiple spots along the entire hike. However, the distance from one to another may be exceptionally short or alarmingly long. I have heard from some hikers that on the Maine trail there is a camping spot every 10 miles. The average thru-hiker accomplishes 13 miles a day though so oftentimes a long day will end smack in the middle of the stop stations. There is nothing left to do but stealth camp or wild camp.
The legalities surrounding stealth camping can vary greatly by state, city, or even local municipality. While pitching a small tent on the side of a state highway in Alabama may be fine it may not be fine in Arizona. Hikers interested in being a camping ninja should be familiar with the state law at least before taking their first step.
Stealth camping for the hiker can be a bit of a burden though. Not only do you need to think about food and water for the hike but to some extent (especially for camping) you have to think about lodging, medical emergencies, communication, etc. No one can enjoy hiking with a 100lb. pack. Ideally a pack – for camping or not – should not exceed about 35lbs. That is quite a task when you are trying to pack food, food prep gear, sanitation implements, a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a small tent, layered clothing, and other objects such as a camera, a journal, or a guide. At to that the unwritten law of leaving the site as you found it you may have to have knowledge on fire starting and extinguishing in safe manner as well as trash and sanitation disposal. A great resource is Stealth Camping online.
photo courtesy of JJ Harrison
It goes without saying that stealth camping with an RV is a bit harder than any of the previously mentioned hobbies. Finding a remote location for any sort of vehicle can be quite a challenge. But with the number of unpopulated areas still left in the United States (and serviced by paved roads even!) it can be done. It is important to understand that boondocking or stealth camping in an RV is a bit of a different practice. While many don’t like the word boondocker it has become common vernacular and really just stands for RVers who camp without any sort of hookups and are totally self-reliant. This includes water, sewage, electricity, etc. It also means no camping fees and no park regulations which can oftentimes be the biggest perk involved save the ability to spend time in some of America’s most visually breathtaking spots without any disturbance. There are four considerations when boondocking. Neither is truly more important than the other but all four must be adequately prepared for. Boondockers need to consider water, food, waste, and power.
Water can be supplied by the on-board freshwater tank to which you can augment with water carriers, extra tanks, bottles, etc. It is recommended that you have at least 1 gallon of drinking water per person per day but in addition a boondocker may want to shower, wash dishes, prepare food, etc. Food can be as fancy or as simple as you like. If a boondocker cooks using propane the only consideration is, of course, the propane and perhaps the refrigeration needed to keep the food from spoiling prior to cooking. Even cereal can become an obstacle as milk is needed and milk must stay refrigerated and refrigeration requires power! Waste is both human and garbage. An RV has a black tank so that is not a problem. However, each flush uses water which comes from the holding tank (water) and is powered by a water pump (power). One may want to consider outfitting their RV with a composting toilet instead. As for garbage, it can be disposed of as normal but should be put in a large, black, heavy duty bag at the end of each day and then secured either in the back of a pickup in a box or something similar in order to keep critters out. Power comes in a few forms and is dependent on the type of RV and the boondocker themselves. Think on-board generator, portable generator, batteries, solar, wind, etc. It is important to remember though that even a camper slide relies on power to move in and out.
photo courtesy of The Snowmads
THE NEW KID
As of late the tiny house trailer crew has taken an interest in stealth camping too as there has been a significant visible rise to the stealth camper. Sometimes referred to as the “Bug Out Bunks” or “Get Out of Dodge” trailer these stealth campers are pretty fascinating as they are outfitted much like traditional tiny houses or RVs yet they are done so within the confines of an enclosed utility trailer. I first became aware of the fad in late 2012 when I saw the ‘Over The Top Cargo Trailer‘ on the Small Trailer Enthusiast website. The idea is that one takes an enclosed cargo trailer and converts the interior to a well appointed camping rig. This is so it can be parked almost anywhere without raising any suspicion as to what is inside. With on-board generators, solar power, comfortable beds, water holding tanks, commodes and showers, and much more these new kids on the block are certainly part of the future of the stealth camping set.