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Avoid These 7 Things That Will Give You Away When Stealth Camping

Travel days don’t always go as planned, and campsites can get snatched up quickly. This can make it stressful to find a spot to park to get some sleep. To make matters worse, we see more restrictions on overnight parking. This often forces nomads to test their luck by stealth camping in various locations. The risk of getting caught and receiving a citation or moving in the middle of the night is always possible in these situations.

Today, we’re sharing seven things you should avoid doing while stealth camping. Let’s get started!

roadside trailer stealth camping

What Is Stealth Camping?

Traveling nomads commonly stealth camp in conversion vans or other small drivable RVs. When stealth camping, the goal is to blend into the surroundings and appear as inconspicuous as possible. You want to attract as little attention to you and your vehicle as possible to get some rest for the night.

This camping style is common in cities where local rules and regulations often prohibit overnight camping or people sleeping in their vehicles. These ordinances often directly affect those traveling in conversion vans and RVs. Out of desperation, these travelers will find an inconspicuous spot to park for the night where they hope to avoid attracting attention.

Is Stealth Camping Illegal?

In most cases, stealth camping is typically illegal. Many cities create restrictions that prohibit camping or sleeping overnight in a vehicle. The idea behind stealth camping is to appear as inconspicuous as possible to avoid getting caught. While some law enforcement and individuals may turn a blind eye to someone stealth camping in a luxury conversion van compared to a beat-up van held together with duct tape, both instances are illegal if a city prohibits it.

Pro Tip: Curious to know more about legally stealth camping? We uncovered Is Stealth Camping Illegal? and how you can legally camp.

Avoid These 7 Things That Will Give You Away When Stealth Camping

If you do receive that unlucky knock on a window in the middle of the night, you may have to go on your way. You may get questioned by law enforcement if they get involved, but you’ll probably be on your way as long as you’re respectful. However, if you avoid doing these seven things, you can drastically reduce your chances of getting caught. 

1. Making It Obvious

When stealth camping, the goal is to blend in as much as possible to the surroundings. You don’t want to do anything to attract attention and make it evident that you’re planning to stay overnight in your vehicle. If you’re stealth camping, don’t pull out gear or treat the spot like a campsite. Keep the camping chairs and other gear packed away to make a quick exit in the morning or the middle of the night if necessary.

rv ambulance stealth camping
Once you choose your stealth camping spot, stay inside your RV and try not to draw attention to your RV with bright lights or loud sounds. Is this an ambulance or and RV?

2. Staying Multiple Days

Individuals and law enforcement likely won’t think much of a vehicle parked in an area for a single night. However, if it becomes a common occurrence, it’s likely to attract negative attention. If you stay consecutive nights in the same location, it will look very suspicious, especially if you’re not moving during the day.

To be successful at stealth camping in an area, you may need to rotate between several spots to avoid getting caught. Once you land on residents’ or law enforcement’s radar, it’s not easy to stealth camp in an area.

When stealth camping, try to park amongst other vehicles to not stand out like this guy.

3. Not Using Window Covers to Block Light (and Curious Gazes)

You may love the large windows in your vehicle because they allow you to enjoy the beautiful landscapes while boondocking, but they’re a nightmare for stealth camping. Not using some sort of window cover invites light into your vehicle and allows others to see in when walking by. It only takes one curious gaze from a passerby to see everything.

Many experienced stealth camping nomads will purchase or create window covers for all the windows in their vehicles. They’ll also often use a covering to block the view through the front windshield to the living space. Whether you’re using tinted windows or window coverings, you want to reduce the visibility into your vehicle. 

4. Making Excessive Noise

Making excessive noise will quickly draw unwanted attention to you and your vehicle. If those living or walking nearby aren’t happy or don’t feel safe with your choice of parking, they may contact law enforcement.

Luckily, controlling your noise is relatively easy to do. If you’re trying to minimize your noise, dial back the volume when watching movies or listening to music. If you’re camping with a dog or other pet that tends to make excessive noise, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep them calm and quiet while you stealth camp.

Pro Tip: No campsite for the night? No problem! Find out Can You RV Park Overnight on the Street?

5. Showing Up Early and Leaving Late

When you’re stealth camping, you want to minimize the time you spend parking in one spot. You risk being in the way or noticed by showing up early or leaving late. You’ll typically want to wait to find a spot until after dinner and leave right after eating breakfast. Doing so can help reduce the chances of drawing attention to yourself or being in the way.

big rig stealth camping
Big rigs always stand out, showing up late and leaving early reduces the chance of getting caught and also lessens traffic and full parking lots for big rigs.

6. Parking Alone

Blending in is the key to not giving away that you’re stealth camping. If you want to succeed at that, you can’t stand out. You want to look like a regular vehicle parked in a location. Parking alone will cause your vehicle to stand out, especially in an empty parking lot. If there aren’t other vehicles there, it’s likely to draw attention.

Areas neither too crowded nor too empty are your best options. This is why many stealth campers will utilize parking lots for 24-hour stores or hospitals. Vehicles parked in these lots for hours likely won’t stick out or draw attention.

7. Spending Time Outside

When you’re stealth camping, you’ll need to spend most of your time inside your vehicle. If you’re outside of your rig, it will draw attention to the fact that you’re there and settling in for the night. The least amount of time you can spend outside your vehicle, the better. Experienced stealth campers will often never have to leave their vehicle once they park for the night.

Pro Tip: Not sure if the uncertainty of stealth camping is for you? Instead, find campsites with our tips on How to Use the iOverlander App.

Try to minimize spending time outside of your vehicle when stealth camping.

Can You Stealth Camp Anywhere?

Some areas are more friendly than others when it comes to stealth camping. You can’t just park anywhere and camp. You can try, but some areas have law enforcement or security that enforce their restrictions on overnight parking. While some locations may give you a stern warning and ask you to leave, you may wake up to discover a citation on your windshield in the morning in other locations.

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

Is Stealth Camping Worth It?

While stealth camping can be risky, it’s a great way to camp when you’re in a pinch and looking for a spot to park. If law enforcement asks you to leave, be respectful and leave promptly. However, if you follow the tips we’ve provided, you’ll stand a good chance of going unnoticed. The more you’re able to stealth camp, the more you’ll be able to recognize safe places to stay and have a smoother stealth camping experience.

Do you do stealth camping? Tell us your tips in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

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Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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