Yes, you can stealth camp by the side of the freeway, and a recent YouTube video proved it.
But is setting up by the freeway interchange a good plan?
We looked into the current legality and safety of stealth camping as a backpacker or vanlifer, plus some of the gear you’ll need.
Let’s get started!
Dispersed Camping Near a Busy Interchange
A recent YouTube video addresses stealth camping near a freeway interchange. The guy in the videos, Steve, gets dropped off on the side of the road to demonstrate how best to camp this way.
Making sure no one sees him enter the woods is the first concern in being stealthy. Once in the woods, Steve finds the best place to pitch his tent out of view. He suggests wearing glasses to avoid getting poked in the eye by branches.
After going out to ensure he’s hidden, he returns to check the weather and sets up a tarp for the rain. His next step demonstrates how to cook some food and uses a cheap BBQ to cook a steak.
Noise can be an issue, so setting up away from road construction takes care of that. But what about the sound of the passing cars? It turns out that the sound of the highway creates white noise, which helps to sleep.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, Steve picks up not only his trash but trash left by other people. No matter what kind of camping you do, the number one rule is “Leave no trace.”
After he breaks down camp, Steve waits for his friend to pick him up. His demonstration is great for camping in the woods on the side of a freeway. But there are other ways to stealth camp, and we’ll look at those next.
Pro Tip: Before you give stealth camping a try, make sure you know these 5 Things to Know About Stealth Camping.
What Is Stealth Camping?
Put simply, stealth camping is camping without being seen. Some people do this in urban areas, while others venture into wild locations. So whether you’re walking, riding a bicycle, or driving a car or RV, secrecy is the goal.
Camping in the woods on the side of the road is one way to do it. Now let’s see what kind of situations people who drive vehicles might need to stealth camp.
For people living the van life, stealth camping is a regular occurrence. Having a vehicle that fits in with the area can keep neighbors from being aware of you. Also, arriving just before it’s time to sleep will limit your exposure.
For those in larger RVs, it’s more of a challenge, but keeping light from escaping is crucial for any type of secretive camping. And, when stealth camping in a vehicle, finding a location where your van or RV doesn’t stand out is best.
It’s possible for people in camper vans to stealth camp in cities without an issue. However, trying to stealth camp in a traditional RV will be evident to everyone, especially law enforcement.
Is Stealth Camping Illegal?
Stealth camping is illegal in many places, mainly to prevent people from living in their vehicles. Many who stealth camp think it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
However, cities and towns have ordinances regarding overnight parking on city streets and public parking lots. Being able to stop overnight for free is awesome, but you must know the law before setting up camp in undesignated areas.
With the rise in popularity of boondocking, many have questions about where you can legally camp overnight for free. If you don’t follow the law, that one night of free camping could come at a high price.
The legality of stealth camping varies significantly depending on where you’re at. Unless you’re on federal lands, state and city regulations on sleeping overnight in a vehicle apply.
Is It Safe?
Whether you choose to stealth camp on a quiet neighborhood street or a parking lot, the most important thing is to remain safe.
Try to find places that are still well-lit, and always trust your gut instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, keep moving. This is especially true when we’re staying in cities.
Most campers think it’s a good idea to keep your keys in the same spot and be ready to exit quickly if needed. Take the time to back into a parking spot so you can pull straight out if necessary. This is called tactical parking.
If you’ve chosen a good location, the possibility of someone knocking is slim, but it can happen. Don’t open your door right away. Check a window, or call out to try to identify the person.
Once you decide to engage with the person, it’s best to climb into the driver’s seat and talk from there. A good rule is never to open the side door to avoid giving anyone easy access to your living quarters.
Cops will always announce themselves. If you’re unsure it’s a real cop, ask for their badge number through the window. They should be able to tell you without hesitation.
What Do You Need to Stealth Camp?
A backpack is crucial for stealth camping in the woods or along a road or freeway without an RV. A decent pack can hold your tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, and other necessities like toiletries.
A camouflaged tarp and flashlight with a green lens are excellent for concealing your whereabouts. You might also want a sleeping pad and a convenient way to carry your food if it’s not in your pack.
A good weather app is also essential for any kind of camping. But if you’re camping in the woods, you’ll want to know if a storm is coming your way.
If you’re stealth camping in a car or van, use Reflectix or some other window cover to prevent light leaks. The rest of your needs are probably already addressed if you’re in an RV.
Pro Tip: Never commit any of these 7 Deadly Sins of Stealth Camping.
Use Your Head and Stay Safe
If you plan to stealth camp in your van or trailer, be sure you’re in a safe location where it’s legal to stay overnight. Plenty of businesses welcome campers if you know where to look. Popular choices for a one-night stay are Cracker Barrel, Camping World, and Walmart parking lots.
However, it’s essential to remember that not all locations are camping-friendly. Be smart and be careful out there!
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