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How to Turn Your Vehicle Into a Stealth Camper

How to Turn Your Vehicle Into a Stealth Camper

Finding a place to stay while traveling can be a drag. Hotels are more expensive than ever in many areas. Meanwhile, most campgrounds and RV parks see record bookings as camping and RVing continue to grow in popularity. So what should an independent, budget-conscious, and adventurous traveler do? Consider turning your vehicle into a stealth camper.

But what exactly is a stealth camper, and what do you need to know before your first incognito camping trip? Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Stealth Camper? 

A stealth camper is any vehicle that allows users to stay inside overnight or longer discreetly and comfortably in a way that those nearby won’t notice. Most commonly, you would modify a van or other similarly sized vehicle. Stealth campers fill a niche in the RV community for low-budget or infrequent travelers and those who want to explore more urban camping locations. 

What you should know about Stealth Camping [prevent the knock]

Where Do You Park When Stealth Camping? 

In short, you can park wherever you want to and can! By appearing to be just like any other vehicle, you can park along streets, parking lots, or other areas where cars often spend a few hours or days. This could be a big-box store parking lot off an interstate, a busy downtown city street, or a quiet lot in a state or local park that allows overnight parking. One of the best things about stealth camping is parking where you need and want to, as long as you can remain under the radar. 

How Do I Turn My Vehicle Into a Stealth Camper? 

Does a life of secretive nights in unusual places sound like your style? Here’s what you need to do to turn any vehicle into a stealth camper.

stealth camping on city street
For budget conscious travelers, stealth camping offers the opportunity to sleep somewhere for free.

Decide Where You’re Going to Stealth Camp

The first thing to consider is where you’ll use your new stealth camper. This may seem like getting ahead of yourself. Why plan your travels before you have your vehicle? Depending on whether you’ll be spending the majority of your camping time in the city versus out in nature, there are different approaches you’ll need to consider. Each offers its benefits, like proximity to notable attractions in town or unparalleled views and scenery in the wild. The choice depends on your personal preferences!

Pro Tip:  Not quite ready to try stealth camping? That’s okay! Use these tips on how to Use iOverlander App to Find Great Campsites.

Woman drinking coffee and eating breakfast in camper van while stealth camping.
Whether you have a van, SUV, or regular car, you can turn it into the ultimate stealth camper.

Choose a Vehicle That Blends In

The best way to ensure your stealth camper remains stealthy is by choosing one that doesn’t draw attention and looks natural in your intended camping locations. It should be in decent shape; no clunkers, rust buckets, or vehicles that would make you wonder why someone would choose them as their ride. If your would-be stealth camper is older or a bit nicked up, you may want to explore repainting if your budget allows.

not a stealth camper
Our flashy truck camper draws way too much attention and is not a good stealth camper

Next, avoid plastering your vehicle with stickers or decals. While they may be a fantastic memory of your travels, they’ll also attract many eyes who may or may not be happy with your guerilla camping. Finally, please keep it clean! You may not mind a little dust or grime, but a newly-washed vehicle (even an old or unusual one) is much less likely to draw the attention and ire of those near your camping spot.

Don’t Store Anything on the Outside of the Vehicle

If you’re a camper, you know how much extra gear you often have to bring along. Bikes, camping chairs, grills, and even solar panels or generators all make your camping trip more accessible or more enjoyable. However, those items sitting outside your stealth camper are a dead giveaway that someone is doing more than just parking. Remember, you want to look like a regular car as much as possible, and most normal people don’t have a reason to charge their solar panels in a random spot. 

van in park parking lot
It is important to always try to blend in and not draw attention to yourself while stealth camping.

Set Up Window Blocking

Another crucial aspect of stealth camping is preventing passersby from knowing you’re inside your camper. There are several methods you can use to do this. For example, many stealth campers may opt to tint their windows as dark as legally permissible, hiding the people inside from all but the most dedicated onlookers.

Others use shades or curtains for RVs, vans, or cars to put another physical barrier between the windows and living space. Some even use materials like Reflectix or similar products, which can also help keep your rig cool by reflecting the sun’s rays. In some cases, you can even remove or permanently cover windows that aren’t necessary for driving. 

Reflectix BP24025 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack...
  • Reflective insulation for use in a crawl space, attic, wall,...
  • Fiber free, environmentally safe, easy to install and lightweight
  • Made up of seven layers, two outer layers of aluminum foil...

Add Sound Dampening

Now that you’re out of sight, it’s time to ensure you’re out of earshot, too. Soundproofing is another critical aspect of staying under the radar while camping, allowing you to live above a whisper without fear of discovery.

Numerous sound dampening products are available, ranging from high-end products some use in music studios to more affordable ones with an adhesive backing that you can stick directly to your camper walls. Think about your camping locations; you won’t need aggressive soundproofing in nature but you might in a city. 

Woman taking selfie in camper van while stealth camping
Stay under the radar while stealth camping and don’t share with too many people what your plans are.

Add a Portable Toilet

In some cases, stealth campers may be able to wait to use bathrooms in outdoor locations. But sometimes, when you have to go, you have to go. Adding a portable toilet can be a lifesaver during an emergency. It can help preserve your stealthiness by reducing the number of times you need to leave and reenter your vehicle. Those with a high budget may modify their vehicle to include a toilet. Still, there are plenty of more affordable options, ranging from portable composting toilets to simple buckets with seats and lids. 

Pro Tip: Check out these 6 Best Composting Toilets On The Market when decided which toilet to install in your stealth camper.

camper van in Hawaii
When stealth camping, you’ll want to make it so you only have to leave your vehicle in case of emergency.

Can You Turn Any Vehicle Into a Stealth Camper? 

The stealth camper life isn’t just for van owners! Depending on your space needs and preferences, you can turn various vehicles into stealth campers. Trucks or box trucks are common choices, but you can even use small cars if you design them correctly. Stealth camping is about creativity and blending in. If you can modify a vehicle to do that, it can work well as a stealth camper. 

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Stealth Camper? 

Depending on your vehicle, privacy needs, and desires, converting to a stealth camper can be as cheap as a few hundred dollars or as expensive as $10,000 or more. If you own a suitable vehicle like a van, you can find affordable soundproofing and window shades for a DIY conversion.

You may also have professionals install high-quality soundproofing, tint your windows, or even install a basic bathroom or other water system. Part of how much you’ll need to spend will be determined by how much secrecy you want to create. Those camping in highly populated areas may need to pay more to avoid detection. 

Is Boondocking Dangerous? 9 Frightening and Odd Boondocking Experiences In 5 Years Full-time RV Life

Is a Stealth Camper Worth It?

Stealth campers aren’t for everyone. Many people aren’t comfortable in small, essential spaces, which generally don’t have standard amenities like showers or kitchens. Others might be uncomfortable with sleeping somewhere they’re not technically supposed to or having to stay quiet while camping. For these people, the cost and effort of building a stealth camper are likely not worth it. 

For others, it can be one of the most worthwhile investments of their travel life. Stealth campers can go where others can’t and experience things, unlike anything most travelers get to enjoy.

Stealth campers can help you stay in the heart of cities, feet or blocks from the most popular attractions. You can also enjoy isolated spots of the great outdoors at times most others miss. All of this can be for a low or sometimes nonexistent cost. These adventurous travelers will find the money and time used to convert a vehicle into a stealth camper are well spent.  

camper van on highway
Your stealth camping setup can help you camp around the US for free.

Where would you go in your stealth camper? Tell us in the comments!

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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