Knowing how to stealth camp when you’re bicycle touring will help to save you money on tour while enabling you to find some memorable and off-the-beaten-path camping spots that you’re not able to enjoy if you’re visiting a campground.
The problem with campgrounds is that they can be expensive and they’re typically full of people so you’re not able to truly experience all of the beauty that the nature around you has to offer.
When you’re stealth camping while you’re on a bicycle tour you can find some amazing places and not have to worry about dealing with other people.
You’re able to roll in somewhere late in the day, set up your camp, sleep peacefully throughout the night and then roll out early in the morning without bothering anyone.
Of course, if you plan on camping on private property you’re going to want to remember that it’s against the law to trespass and spend the night sleeping on property that someone else owns.
This is something that you want to keep in mind although if no one actually finds out that you’re camping and you follow Leave No Trace principles then I can’t see how it’s a problem, especially if no one ever knows that you’re there.
In this post I want to talk about how to stealth camp and how to find proper spots for stealth camping when you’re your next bicycle tour.
How to Stealth Camp Effectively
Start Looking for Somewhere Early
One of the biggest problems I’ve run into when I’m bicycle touring and looking for a place to camp is that I start my search too late in the day or I keep looking for the perfect spot.
It takes time to set up your tent or hammock and if you don’t find somewhere until just before nightfall you could be stuck setting everything up in the dark.
If it’s too dark you’re also unable to get a good look at your surroundings and it’s hard to determine whether or not where you are is a suitable place.
I would recommend looking for a place to camp about one hour before the sun starts to set.
Once you find a suitable place you can either decide to stay put or you can continue looking for somewhere else.
The problem with continuing to look for a better, more ideal spot is that you start cutting into the amount of daylight hours you have and again it’s possible to run out of light, which will leave you stuck setting up in the dark.
At night, or late in the day, you don’t want to be using your flashlight or headlamp to get everything set up properly because this will only give away your position and have a detrimental impact on how stealthy you’re being.
So basically, make sure you start looking for summer to spend the night at least an hour or so before the sun sets and simply go with the first spot that looks suitable rather than wasting time searching for the perfect spot.
Scout Ahead with Google Maps
If you’re bicycle touring with your laptop or smartphone use Google Maps to scout ahead for a suitable stealth camping spot.
To do this effectively you’re going to want to either pull up the Google Maps site or app.
Then, try to estimate how far ahead down the road you’re going to be when it’s time to find somewhere to spend the night.
Once you have a general idea start looking for large green spaces on the map like forests, including national or state forests, and anywhere else that looks like a suitable area.
You should also keep an eye out for any recreational trails that you can ride onto and just pulled the side to set up for the night where you won’t bother anyone.
Look for Logging or Access Roads
One of the best way to find a suitable spot is to keep an eye out for any logging or access roads.
Depending on where you’re cycling through there might be plenty of logging roads and all throughout most of rural North America and Europe there are access roads that local companies and public entities use to gain access to phone towers, power lines and other infrastructural based features.
These roads aren’t usually visited very often and they tend to be quite secluded so it’s easy to cycle down them for bit and just head to the woods a short distance away from the main road where no one is going to see you.
Some of the most ideal stealth camping spots I’ve had have been right beside these access roads and I definitely recommend looking for them while you’re riding a long or trying to find them in advance using Google Maps.
Avoid Residential Areas
One thing you want to avoid when you’re looking for somewhere to stealth camp on your bicycle tour is any residential areas.
Homeowners aren’t too keen on seeing people hiding out in the woods nearby to their homes and they’re bound to confront you or call the cops if they see you walking your bike into the forest or if they spot you moving around and setting up your tent/hammock right before nightfall.
You might get lucky with finding a good spot in a local city park or a wooded area near some homes, but I recommend avoiding these spots and trying to stay somewhere less residential.
Use a Dark Tent
One of the key components to remaining stealthy is not to stand out.
There are plenty of tents that are designed using materials that are bright red, orange, yellow or blue and if you want to remain hidden from sight and you don’t want someone to be able to easily spot you then you’re going to want to pick up a tent or hammock that’s much darker in color.
You don’t have to go with the standard camouflage pattern, but any darker colors make a suitable choice to use if you want to stay stealthy.
For my stealth camping set up I’m currently using a Hennessy Hammock, and they come dark green, but anything that’s dark blue or black is a good option as well.
Cover Your Bike
Apart from not being seen because of the color of your tent you also want to make sure that the reflective lights on your bicycle can’t be spotted from the road as well.
If you just leave your bike standing upright during the night it’s possible that someone driving by will see the reflection and come investigate.
It’s a good idea to lay your bike down flat on the ground and cover all of the reflective lights so that they won’t give off any reflections when you’re sleeping.
You don’t have to pick up a dedicated cover, you can just use some of your clothes and even any of the covers or bags that your tent or sleeping back come in.
Look for Higher Elevations Along the Road
When people are driving or walking by somewhere they’re much more likely to look down and straight ahead rather than looking up at something.
This isn’t the most important thing and as long as you’re able to find some good cover you’ll be okay, but it doesn’t hurt to look for any slight roadside elevations that you can easily roll your bike up and set up your camp.
What I have found with these roadside elevations is that right as you get to the top you’ll typically find a larger area of flat ground that’s better suited for camping on.
Avoid Game Trails
Hopefully you found a spot before it’s too dark so before you set everything up try to make sure that you’re not going to be spending the night directly in the path of a game trail.
It’s easy to spot game trails, just look for any crisscrossing tracks or narrow trails through the brush or woods around you.
If you notice any then it’s like that animals are frequenting this area and unless you want to get spooked in the night or risk having a deer run directly into your hammock I recommend looking for a more suitable spot without any game trails.
Hang Around Before Heading In
Once you’ve found what you think is a great spot for you to stealth camp, try not to rush in right away and get started.
Hang out for a minute or two and try to judge whether or not there’s too much traffic or if you’ll be able to be spotted from the road.
Listen to see if you can hear anything going on nearby and look to see if there are any people walking around that might see you head in.
Once the coast is clear and nothing too obvious or suspicious comes up then feel free to roll your bike into the woods and prepare your camp for the night.
Never Have a Fire
One of the easiest ways to announce your positions to the world and to get kicked out from your camping spot is to have a fire.
I would recommend avoiding having a fire at all costs, unless it’s freezing out and you need to quickly warm-up.
If you’re cooking or making something to eat it’s a good idea to do this before you head to your stealth camping spot.
Having a fire is not only damaging to the environment, but it’s also going to give away your position and if you’re cooking you might also attract bears, rodents and other unwanted wildlife.
Be Honest If You Get Caught
If you do happen to get caught camping on someone’s property or your approach by somebody wondering what you’re doing your best bet is to just be honest.
Instead of coming up with some elaborate lie about why you’re there I recommend being completely upfront about what you’re doing, who you are and why you’re there.
Most of the time, if you tell someone you’re just bicycle touring and you needed somewhere to spend the night because you’re traveling on a budget and you don’t want to shell out for expensive campgrounds or other accommodation, it’s likely that they’ll be more interested in what you’re doing rather than apprehensive about it.
Even if you’re approached by the police just be honest, polite and if you’re ever asked to move be sure to agree and look for somewhere else to stay.