What is Stealth Camping, and How Should You Do It in 2021?

 What is Stealth Camping, and How Should You Do It in 2021?

Questions about Stealth Camping? Here are tips, benefits, and helpful info about stealth camping.

Stealth camping is camping without being noticed. Some people do this in urban areas, while some venture into wild locations. Sometimes the camping is considered legal, while other times it’s illegal (which we don’t recommend!).

For many, it's done thinking it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.

We won't judge. We're just reporting.

While this isn’t something we frequently do, Jennifer and I have tried stealth camping in the past.

The key is arriving at the location late and moving on early in the morning, so you’re not detected. Plus, you don’t want to leave a trace that you were there.

Stealth camping is a terrific way to find spots that are free, secluded, or close to special attractions. If you do it right, you’ll get a good night’s sleep in a location that’s quiet and free of noise from traffic, animals, and other people. Or, that’s really close to a place you want to be, like a beach or amusement park.

Today we will discuss what stealth camping is and how to do it. We’ll give you some great tips that will help you succeed at stealth camping on your first try!

Why Would You Want to do Stealth Camping?

Now, we understand that some of you may be asking why stealth camping is so alluring. The answer is different for different folks.

For example, there are communities of full-time van dwellers, and their presence isn’t always appreciated in larger cities and towns, so stealth camping helps them go undetected.

Others travel full-time and want to be more inconspicuous when they’re in towns and the wilderness to enjoy some privacy and an added sense of security. And, take it from us; these things can be hard to find when you live in a vehicle full-time.

How Do You Stealth Camp?

Here are our top 5 tips for stealth camping:

Choose the right RV for Stealth Camping

Large RVs (towables, Class C, and Class A RVs) are fantastic, but they are very hard to disguise during stealth camping. Hence, it’s best to use a Class B RV, or maybe a B+ if it is not too “RV-looking.” 

A small B or B+ RV means you have a comfortable sleeping area and your own restroom, fridge, and cooktop. If you close the windows, your small RV can resemble a delivery van on the street to passersby.

Avoid brightly colored paint jobs and signs. The vehicle should be as plain as possible to make it easier to blend into the surroundings. Some avid stealth campers make sure there are no decals, even going as far as to remove the awning so it doesn't look like an RV. Also, try to keep the vehicle clean. Dirty vehicles draw more attention, as people are warier of things that are uncared for.

We've stealth camped on busy big city streets, in parking lots, in shopping centers, out front of 24-hour fitness clubs, in church parking lots, and in city parks. We have never had an issue or bad experience unless you count having a fitful night's sleep because of all the noise in some of the cities where we've overnighted.

Here's a video on how Jennifer and I found a place to… sort of ,,, do some stealth camping late one night:

Act Low Key while Stealth Camping

The last thing you want to do is make a lot of noise and draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Don’t clank equipment, shout instructions to your travel mate, play the TV too loud, or let your dogs bark.  

However, you don’t want to be skulking around, either. If someone drives past you, don’t try to hide. Just smile and go about your business like you belong there. The whole point is to appear as if you’re not there to interfere or cause any harm (which should be true!).

Don’t Make Yourself Too Comfortable

You don’t want to look like you’re settling in.

If you start setting up a BBQ, chairs, and other larger outdoor items, passersby will notice.

The goal is not to be noticed at all. But, if you are noticed, you want people to think you’re just passing through. You don’t want them to think squatters are moving in.

Rotate Spots when Stealth Camping

If you plan to stealth camp in one city for an extended period of time, it’s best to map out 7 to 10 locations throughout the city and rotate them. You never want to park in the same spot two nights in a row unless you have no other choice. If you get “caught” at any of the locations, don’t return.

Manage Your RV Power needs while Stealth Camping

photo of rv stealth camping in a city
Stealth camping in a city… next to the Fire Department. Photo by Simon Fairhurst on Unsplash

Managing power is a crucial task! No matter what type of vehicle you’re in, there’s no way to charge your power source while stealth camping.

So, you’ll want to figure out just how long your power will last without a hookup. Then decide which features you can’t live without. This means conserving energy where you can.

The good news is that stealth camping generally only requires a bit of power for the night. Solar panels are great to have, but they may be unnecessary. You can run your LED lights, boil hot water for coffee, power the fridge, and even watch TV with just your coach batteries. Alas, the AC needs more than your house batteries to run for any length of time so if it's really warm, you will surely need to have your windows open and a fan going… making you a little more visible (and “hearable”) to those walking past.

Safety Concerns about Stealth Camping

SPECIAL NOTE: There is one concern we have. Because of the Christmas Day, 2020 Nashville bombing that saw a Class C RV explode outside a busy retail area, police and citizens around the country are a bit skittish when they see an RV parked for long periods of time on city streets. Hopefully, that will change as 2021 moves on but because of that, we would advise against stealth camping until the Nashville incident fades a bit into the past.

Regardless if you choose to stealth camp on a quiet neighborhood street or an overnight parking lot, the most important thing is to remain safe.

We usually try to find places that are still well lit, and we always listen to our gut. If something doesn’t feel right, we keep moving. This is especially true when we’re staying in cities.

Most campers agree it’s a good idea to always leave your keys in the same spot and park in a place that you can exit quickly if needed. So, take the time to reverse into a parking spot if needed so you can pull straight out if required. We call this “tactical parking.”

If you’ve chosen a spot responsibly, the possibility of someone knocking is slim, but it does happen. Do not open your door right away. Look through a window, or call through the door to try to identify the person.

Cops will always announce themselves. If you’re not sure if they’re a real cop, ask for their badge number through the door, and they should be able to tell you without hesitation.

Once you determine that you’ll engage with the person, it’s best to climb into the driver’s seat and talk from there. Our rule is never to open the side door because you don’t want to allow anyone easy access to your living quarters.

Benefits of Stealth Camping

There are lots of benefits you can enjoy from stealth camping. As we mentioned, it’s a fun experience, but may not be for everyone.

For example, if you don’t like solitude and are looking to meet new people, this form of camping is not for you.

On the other hand, if you want to be alone, leave a smaller environmental footprint, and connect with nature, then it’s perfect for you!

Stealth camping is also beneficial to many people because it’s:

  • convenient
  • flexible
  • saves money
  • more efficient
  • allows you to camp in new places and find unique adventures

It can also be a great way to find free spots on city streets which can put you near attractions.

Jennifer and I love to stealth camp occasionally because, well,  it is kind of exciting. There’s something fun about not being noticed and being snug and cozy in our RV while all around us urban life is bustling. 

Have you ever stealth camped? What did you think, and would you do it again? Comment below and let us know!

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What is Stealth Camping, and How Should You Do It in 2021?

Jerrica Mah

10 Comments

  • I have stealth camped many times in cities, usually in a nice apartment complex parking way in the back and going dark soon after arriving and just sleeping, then pulling out before dawn. Never had any problem.

  • Just thought of this… I will get some decals saying George’s Plumbing and Heating for my RV. Might make me look a bit more legit in a lot of parking spaces. If nothing else maybe I can pick up some work. Too bad I am not a plumber.

  • We stealth camp occasionally. We generally prefer a campsite so we can do what you can’t do while stealth camping – which is to get your chairs and bbq etc out and relax knowing your safe and welcome. Stealth camping is however perfect for sleeping while on the move, and staying in some amazing places like in Utah’s back country. I’m not sure the latter is really stealth camping because there is no need to be stealth. I do however hate paying for a campsite just to sleep while on the move. We’ve often just overnight at rest stops and visitor centres – and yes arrived late and left early. We’ve never had a problem and feel better for not having wasted money on a campsite for what was essentially just the overnight use of a parking space.

  • I always stealth camp in my Roadtrek. My fridge is propane and I use battery powered lights and fan if it’s warm. I’ve stayed in hotel parking lots, Shopping malls, etc. But Casino parking lots are my favorite, food is cheap, nice restrooms, free coffee in the morning and I usually walk away with a few extra $$$. from the penny slot machines❤️

  • My husband and I have stealth camped a few times. Our favorite trick is camping on residential streets in cities with a lot of vacation homes. Start late, around 1030, be ready for bed, pull in front of the house and go straight to bed without television or lights.

  • This is a terrible article to publish at this time. Yes, you did a disclaimer about Nashville. Because of this article, more people will be camping in an RV on a downtown street which will be a red flag for police and more citizens will report it to police. It will also give people ideas on how to do it . . . like the person who commented about putting plumbing and heating to make it look like it is a company RV. Shame on you!

  • I have cut Reflectix to perfectly cover all the windows to blackout the interior. Seeing the television on or people moving about inside the vehicle is a dead give away.

  • This is a terrible idea. Stealth camping is by no means camping. Parking on a residential street in a darked out vehicle is no way camping, or safe. There are many places made to stop for a rest or overnight stop. Please don’t do this.

  • With the recent events in Nashville, parking on a downtown street wouldn’t be advisable. However, there are plenty of shopping centers, truck stops, rest areas, etc., where one can stealth camp. Like Mike/Jennifer said, be aware of your surroundings, but also take into account the folks living/working near the place you are camping.

  • Best stealth camping we did was in a relatively small town for their local festival. We found a vacant lot right on main street that was walking distance from the festivities. We parked our Roadtrek under the streetlight so that we were visible. No on bothered us at all. It was nice because we could imbibe in the local festivities after hours and not have to worry about driving anywhere.

    We’ve also parked in restaurant parking lots, with permission after buying dinner. Most of the time, the restaurant doesn’t have a problem.

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