Skip to Content

5 Things to Know About Stealth Camping

Campgrounds all across the country have experienced record-breaking levels of guests. They’ve reached capacity on more than just weekends and holidays. This has caused many campers to consider alternative options, like stealth camping.

However, we don’t recommend just packing up your stuff and heading out for a stealth camping trip.

We’ll share five things you should know about stealth camping before you give it a try. Keep reading if you want to have a smooth experience.

What Is Stealth Camping? 

When you stealth camp, the goal is to go undetected. Those who practice stealth camping typically do so in urban settings that restrict sleeping in vehicles overnight. However, some campers will head out to the wilderness and attempt to camp without getting caught.

You’ll find stealth campers in different types of vehicles. Conversion vans are some of the most popular options, but people also use standard passenger vehicles and tents. With a few modifications, you can have a comfortable place to stay the night. If you stealth camp often enough, you’ll likely stay in places you could never have imagined.

Is Stealth Camping Illegal?

The legalities of stealth camping can be somewhat inconsistent. Many cities and local municipalities have tightened restrictions recently regarding overnight camping. If you stay in one of these areas, it is most definitely illegal. 

It’s also illegal for you to park or camp on private property without an owner’s consent. These strict laws have expensive fines, so most stealth campers try to blend in and attract as little attention as possible, especially from law enforcement.

RV parked in parking lot at night while stealth camping.
Depending on where you are trying to park for the night, stealth camping may or may not be legal.

5 Things to Know About Stealth Camping

You need to know a handful of things to have a smooth stealth camping experience. Let’s dive in. 

1. How Do I Start Stealth Camping?

Many people first give stealth camping a try out of necessity. They’ve run out of options for one reason or another and need a place to stay for the night. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right?

Some people fall in love with it because they have no other place to go. Whether your travel day didn’t go as planned or the campground was full, you can start stealth camping by finding a spot that seems safe.

The best sites won’t have much traffic, and where you won’t be in the way.

2. What Do You Need for Stealth Camping?

The most important thing you need for stealth camping is a place to sleep. While many choose to sleep in conversion vans or RVs, the most important thing is that you are safe and as comfortable as possible.

You want to blend into your surroundings and not attract attention to yourself. Window covers help keep anybody from looking in or seeing you inside your vehicle.

You’ll also need some food and a way to use the restroom. Depending on where you park, you may use the bathroom at a nearby gas station or 24/7 business. However, if you plan to do this often, you’ll want to invest in a camping toilet.

Keep In Mind: There are many unspoken rules to follow when camping for free. Make sure not to do any of these Don’ts of Free Camping.

Couple stealth camping inside camper van looking at sunset over ocean
While it is always nice to wake up to a view, you’ll want to make sure nobody can tell from the outside that you are sleeping inside of your vehicle.

3. How Do You Stealth Camp in a City?

Stealth camping in a city can be challenging, especially in areas with strict overnight parking. If you can find a spot on the street or in a parking lot that won’t be obvious, give it a shot. However, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you camp in an otherwise empty parking lot.

You want places with some traffic, but not so much that it’s noisy. Many stealth campers have had tremendous luck by parking in parking lots at hospitals. Most people coming and going have other concerns and won’t pay attention to the other vehicles in the parking lot. 

However, we don’t advise you to take the chance of parking anywhere that has signs prohibiting overnight parking. It’s not worth the risk.

4. Where Can I Sleep Stealth Camping?

One of the easiest places to stay is anywhere that has legal street parking. Places like hotel parking lots, 24-hour stores, and big-box stores like Walmart and Cabelas work great.

Some businesses and locations are more hospitable than others, and you won’t have to be as secretive about stealth camping. However, always attract the least amount of attention to yourself.

Keep an eye out for any signage that prohibits overnight parking. Businesses and private property owners don’t want just anyone coming and setting up camp on their property. So if someone approaches you and asks you to leave, don’t fuss about it. Pack up your things and move on your way to find another spot.

Pro Tip: We uncovered how you can Legally Camp in a Walmart Parking Lot. Take a look!

Red and white camper van parked for stealth camping
Come well prepared for stealth camping to avoid any potentially dangerous situations.

5. How Do You Stealth Camp in a Tent? 

If you want to stealth camp in a tent, blend in as much as possible. Choose a tent with natural colors and not bright and flashy. If you can find a camouflage tent, then that’s even better. You want to maintain as little footprint as possible, so make sure your tent isn’t too large. 

Find one just large enough for you to lay down and get some sleep. You’ll likely spend most of your time outside exploring the wilderness during the day anyway.

Is Stealth Camping Safe? 

Stealth camping can be safe if you take the proper precautions. Never practice stealth camping in any area where you do not feel safe or see signs of seedy activity. 

We recommend that you leave as quickly as possible if you find yourself in an unsafe situation. Have a plan to protect yourself and if you get a knock at the door, look out the window before opening the door. You never know who might be on the other side.

Is Stealth Camping Worth It?

Stealth camping can be a great way to camp, especially when desperate. It can allow you to camp close to activities and get an early start in the morning. It’s also a great way to break up long travel days to not press your luck by driving tired. Make sure to prepare so you can have a great time while stealth camping.

Have you ever tried stealth camping? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: