Author Topic: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!  (Read 3512 times)

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Offline Westinghouse

Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« on: December 29, 2023, 03:15:06 pm »
You can save a  ton of money stealth-camping. Stealth and camping need articulation to define and clarify. Stealth (to steal away) is perfectly acceptable. It does not suggest illegal wrongful behavior. All the great many times I free-camped, stealth was only a means of security. I was alone, asleep, vulnerable to anyone with bad intentions. I positioned my sleep-sites to minimize the possibility that anyone might know where I was. Often I waited till traffic cleared before getting off the road and into the woods, reducing the number of people who saw where I exited the road. It was self preservation and caution.  Concealing was for one purpose, personal protection. Way too many bad actors walking the streets these days. They are in the news every day of the week around here.


Camping may be the wrong word. I call it a sleep-site. I mean, you haul the velocipede into the bush. You string up a tarp or erect a tent. You sleep a few hours. And you are gone in the morning. Somehow, that seems not to qualify as camping. If the sleep site were used as a base camp for two or three days, if it were used for cooking or had a camp fire, that would be more like camping. It is hard to define lying down on a few square feet of ground for a few hours as camping.  You need a safe secure location to sleep. Need for safety and security (stealth).  Essential small space for 6-8 hours sleep(camping). There are campsites for money. They often have the facilities for camping, such as restrooms, electricity, running water, grills. These places are set up for long term stays. Very different than a small sliver of sand in the Pines.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2023, 04:44:02 pm »
Yeah.

This blog post gives some good hints on the topic:

https://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-camp-anywhere-and-not-get-busted/

Oh, and this app, OnX Backcountry, shows the ownership status of land on its maps.  Which can give you a great hint about whether it will be legal to camp there.  Recommended.

https://www.onxmaps.com/backcountry/app

Some hints I've worked out over the years:

  • You'll have better luck finding good spots if you do so during daylight and not in the dark.
  • Cook and eat some distance from where you sleep.  That might be anywhere from five to thirty minutes of riding.
  • Lights (and similarly, reflective patches on your gear) can be seen at astonishing distances, sometimes literally miles.  Keep that in mind when you are trying to hide.
  • Vertical separation helps more than horizontal separation.  And it is easier to look up from a moving vehicle than look down.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2023, 06:00:48 pm »
Yeah.

This blog post gives some good hints on the topic:

https://tomsbiketrip.com/how-to-camp-anywhere-and-not-get-busted/

Oh, and this app, OnX Backcountry, shows the ownership status of land on its maps.  Which can give you a great hint about whether it will be legal to camp there.  Recommended.

https://www.onxmaps.com/backcountry/app

Some hints I've worked out over the years:

  • You'll have better luck finding good spots if you do so during daylight and not in the dark.
  • Cook and eat some distance from where you sleep.  That might be anywhere from five to thirty minutes of riding.
  • Lights (and similarly, reflective patches on your gear) can be seen at astonishing distances, sometimes literally miles.  Keep that in mind when you are trying to hide.
  • Vertical separation helps more than horizontal separation.  And it is easier to look up from a moving vehicle than look down.


Yes I'm planning to cycle a considerable distance along rail trails. Some of these trails go through very densely populated areas. I'll have to find a way around those areas and I'll have to get off the trail.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2023, 06:02:55 pm »
I read the article. That's an awful lot of words for such a little bit of information. I could have said the same thing in one short paragraph. But he's right. He has the experience. So do I.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2023, 01:12:09 pm »
I am the first to admit that I am not too proud to stay in a motel if the weather is lousy miserable or the camping is just too sketchy.  In practice what that has meant is that on most of my trips I can expect to sleep indoors about one night out of four.

Also, campgrounds with good hiker/biker sites are usually reasonably priced and often worth the stay.  Although there are plenty of really awful ones out there that make up for it.

I know the ACA maps and guides have some information about good camping and lodging options for cyclists, but it would be nice if there were a "tripadvisor for cyclists" or some such that would provide that information anywhere, including in the many areas where there are not official ACA routes.

One thing that is super important in wild camping is having the "eye" for choosing a well-drained campsite.  You don't want dished-in ground that will become a giant puddle and you don't want a hard-packed surface that won't drain at all.  And you certainly don't want to pitch your shelter right in someplace that will become a stream when the rain comes.

On the other hand, if I am confident of the weather and water levels, sometimes you can find fantastic camp sites on river bars.

Most of the time, all other things being equal, you won't want to camp on vegetation.  Aside from the impact to potentially fragile fauna, the vegetation is much more likely to poke through your tent floor.  A grassy campsite is okay sometimes, but expect a lot more condensation over everything in the morning.

Good campsites are discovered, not engineered.  A certain amount of preening is necessary, mainly picking up pine cones, sticks, and rocks.  But if you really feel the need to do some excavation or move around large pieces of scenery then you should move on to a better site.  A good rule of thumb is anything that would take two hands to move is probably too much.  On your way out take a few seconds to scatter the sticks and rocks on your tent platform.

At least in the Pacific Northwest, dispersed camping on USFS land is still pretty lightly used and there are plenty of places to park your bike for the night.



Offline Westinghouse

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2024, 07:39:51 pm »
I am the first to admit that I am not too proud to stay in a motel if the weather is lousy miserable or the camping is just too sketchy.  In practice what that has meant is that on most of my trips I can expect to sleep indoors about one night out of four.

Also, campgrounds with good hiker/biker sites are usually reasonably priced and often worth the stay.  Although there are plenty of really awful ones out there that make up for it.

I know the ACA maps and guides have some information about good camping and lodging options for cyclists, but it would be nice if there were a "tripadvisor for cyclists" or some such that would provide that information anywhere, including in the many areas where there are not official ACA routes.

One thing that is super important in wild camping is having the "eye" for choosing a well-drained campsite.  You don't want dished-in ground that will become a giant puddle and you don't want a hard-packed surface that won't drain at all.  And you certainly don't want to pitch your shelter right in someplace that will become a stream when the rain comes.

On the other hand, if I am confident of the weather and water levels, sometimes you can find fantastic camp sites on river bars.

Most of the time, all other things being equal, you won't want to camp on vegetation.  Aside from the impact to potentially fragile fauna, the vegetation is much more likely to poke through your tent floor.  A grassy campsite is okay sometimes, but expect a lot more condensation over everything in the morning.

Good campsites are discovered, not engineered.  A certain amount of preening is necessary, mainly picking up pine cones, sticks, and rocks.  But if you really feel the need to do some excavation or move around large pieces of scenery then you should move on to a better site.  A good rule of thumb is anything that would take two hands to move is probably too much.  On your way out take a few seconds to scatter the sticks and rocks on your tent platform.

At least in the Pacific Northwest, dispersed camping on USFS land is still pretty lightly used and there are plenty of places to park your bike for the night.




All that is certain. Pitch in the wrong place and a deluge could flood you. Higher ground drains water away. Low ground holds it like a basin. I hate preening. Only when necessary and no options. I stealth camped hundreds of nights. Mostly it was a tarp strung between two trees with edges staked down, a small poly tarp on the ground, a closed-cell foam pad on that, and a sleeping bag. Clothing balled up in a stuff sack made a good pillow.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2024, 08:21:39 am »
I am willing to pay for a picnic table, water tap, toilet (even if only a vault toilet) and the convenience of not having to search around for an acceptable spot.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2024, 10:16:55 am »
I am willing to pay for a picnic table, water tap, toilet (even if only a vault toilet) and the convenience of not having to search around for an acceptable spot.

Yeah.  All other things being equal.

Most of my cycle touring experience has been in OR, WA, and BC.  Where there are generally good hiker/biker campsite choices at reasonable prices.  Quality varies a lot though, and you can't always know in advance when you stumble into camp at dusk what you are in for.

It is a tougher choice when there aren't hiker/biker camps available, and you are stuck paying full price for a full campsite that might not be that well-suited for a tent, especially one you have to stake out.  If you are traveling in a group or meet other cyclists on the road and can share the site that makes it a bit less painful.  When you are talking $35-$45 per night (for a full on campsite, not a hiker/biker site) unless you can split it up I generally don't think it is worth it.  And sometimes you might be paying that for no water and no shade.  Which isn't worth it at any price.

And don't even get me started on how the reservation systems are blocking non-motorized travelers out of any campgrounds in some areas.

There is also the "sketch factor".  Some hiker/biker sites (like Riley Creek at Denali, Camp Four at Yosemite, and Partnership Shelter on the AT) are infamous for thefts and sometimes other crimes.  I've heard rumors of thefts at other hiker/biker sites in OR and CA as well.  Honestly I'd rather sleep in the bushes (or spring for a motel) than be a victim of a crime, even a minor one like having my phone stolen.

I am searching far and wide for someplace that has up-to-date information (probably crowdsourced) on hike/biker/kayaker camping options.  Along with current information on bicycle-friendly (and bicycle-unfriendly) lodging.



Luxury storm camp at Chinook Campground, Bay Center, WA before the atmospheric river hit.

Oh, yeah.  Partnership Shelter on the AT is right off of Highway 16 in Virginia in Mount Rogers NRA.  It was famous for a long time because you could use the pay phone to order a pizza delivery there.  Nowadays you probably could doordash food to yourself there.

Offline John Nelson

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2024, 11:53:36 pm »
I am willing to pay for a picnic table, water tap, toilet (even if only a vault toilet) and the convenience of not having to search around for an acceptable spot.
+1

I sleep better knowing that I have a right to be there, and nobody can run me off in the middle of the night. I generally only stealth camp when there is no other option available (which happens from time to time).

Offline davidbonn

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2024, 09:55:35 am »
...
I sleep better knowing that I have a right to be there, and nobody can run me off in the middle of the night. I generally only stealth camp when there is no other option available (which happens from time to time).

Yeah, sleeping better is always a plus.

It kind of depends on where you are traveling and how well you know the rules, too.

Generally I'd say on US federal land administered by the USFS or BLM you can camp whereever you like and you will be fine.  Most state lands might also be just fine.  On the other hand camping in a National Park or State Park without camping in the right place and the right paperwork is a recipe for a bad night and possibly a very bad trip.

Private land, 99 percent of the time, is a no go.  Unless you are in Norway or Sweden where you can camp politely on someone else's land.

This is also made much more complicated by some states passing laws banning camping outside of locations where it is explicitly allowed.  In Tennessee it is now a felony to camp on public property. 

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2024, 07:40:56 pm »
There is also the "sketch factor".  Some hiker/biker sites (like Riley Creek at Denali, Camp Four at Yosemite, and Partnership Shelter on the AT) are infamous for thefts and sometimes other crimes.  I've heard rumors of thefts at other hiker/biker sites in OR and CA as well. 

I'm curious to hear about these rumors. I've been bike touring around Oregon for almost 20 years (only toured CA once, can't speak much about it) and I've only heard one story about theft at an Oregon hiker/biker. This happened maybe 15 years ago at Devils Lake in Lincoln City on the coast. I was working at the Hawthorne Hostel at the time and someone said they were at the end of their tour and got their bike stolen from there. When I finally checked out that campground a year or so later, I saw that the hiker/biker was a wide open spot on a city street, less than a block and in plain view of US 101. When I stayed there, I opted for a regular campsite instead, which was a bit more secluded. Paying a few more bucks was worth the peace of mind.

Offline davidbonn

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2024, 06:08:33 pm »
I'm curious to hear about these rumors...

Both second hand stories I heard.

In September 2018 I rode from Olympia to Crescent City.  In Brookings I ran into some other cyclists who told me that some folks had their bikes and (nearly?) all their gear stolen from the hiker/biker camp at Harris Beach State Park.

This tripadvisor review also implies that Harris Beach is not a great hang:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g51780-d145586-r838473638-Harris_Beach_State_Park-Brookings_Oregon.html

In October 2021 I rode from Bellingham to Olympia via the wet side of the Olympic Peninsula.  Actually I started in Kirkland and rode north to the border (mostly along the very sketchy highway 9) and then back south along a more or less traditional route.  Anyway I met a guy riding the Coast Northbound who had mentioned he had lost a few items to thieves at South Beach and Fort Stevens.

Like I said I've heard rumors but haven't witnessed anything first hand.

To get back on topic...

You'll be a lot more successful at stealth camping, and won't get caught as much, if you cook and/or eat your meals some distance away from your campsite.  If you are moving every day anyway this is easy and this is a no brainer in bear country -- the cooked food smells are detectable by bears from a considerably distance and the bears are a lot more likely to regularly check out places where people frequently camp.  If you are just in the bushes somewhere without cooked food smells around you your odds of a peaceful night, at least with respect to the bears, go way up.


Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2024, 06:47:15 pm »
I'm curious to hear about these rumors...

Both second hand stories I heard.

In September 2018 I rode from Olympia to Crescent City.  In Brookings I ran into some other cyclists who told me that some folks had their bikes and (nearly?) all their gear stolen from the hiker/biker camp at Harris Beach State Park.

This tripadvisor review also implies that Harris Beach is not a great hang:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g51780-d145586-r838473638-Harris_Beach_State_Park-Brookings_Oregon.html



That's a definite bummer, and sad to hear that Harris Beach campground has gone downhill. But it sounds like it's thievery in general there than targeted specifically at cyclists. (And I can do without that reviewer's editorializing.) I know they are not common everywhere yet, but I definitely use the lock boxes provided in some hiker/biker sites. They are there more for animal protection, but a padlock will at least be a deterrent for would-be thieves.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2024, 12:54:03 am »
Plenty of good advice in the above posts. One piece of advice I try to adhere to concerning stealth camping is to try and stay on the uphill side of the road, all things considered.  People have a much greater tendency to look down than up when driving by.  You're less likely to be noticed by passersby. Personally, I've stealth camped lots of times and never really had a problem. However, for peace of mind, when possible, I prefer to stay at a regular campground.  It has to be pretty miserable or sketchy for me to pay for a hotel/motel, although I've done it a few times.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Stealth Camping? Sleep Site!
« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2024, 01:00:55 am »
Interesting post for me.   I camped at Harris a few years ago and can honestly say, that it is the only state park I was a bit uncomfortable in and it was largely because of the transient population. Fortunately, there were a number of other bike tourists in the hiker/biker site, so I felt relatively safe and didn't experience any problems.  Had I been the only camper around, I would have been a bit uneasy.  Just another symptom of the homeless problem in this country.