I’ll be riding the C&O in a few weeks (in fact, just did a stealth camping overnight as I type!).
Be sure to join the show live August 30, 9pm ET! Topics TBA, but we’ll do an AMA so bring your questions or shoot them my way via social or email!
The Lab: Stealth Camping Revisited
More thoughts on stealth camping on bike tour (check out Pedalshift 161 for my tips)
Law enforcement perspective
Thanks for the recent episode on stealth camping. Probably no topic has the breadth of opinions among your listeners as this. Maybe pannier pronunciation.
I’ve been [in] law enforcement…for 15 years. In that role I’ve managed these types of contacts regularly. I like to apply the principles you discussed when dispersed camping on tour, but like you, avoid explicitly prohibited areas.
I wish to emphasize the safety points you made about when you are contacted (i.e. caught), especially by law enforcement. Those consequences need not be dire if you keep your head.
Whether law enforcement or private individual, keep your voice low and keep your hands visible. This is not the time to be rumaging through your equipment.
Your legal status, if you are contacted by law-enforcement, is likely “detained”. You’re not under arrest, but nor are you free to leave. This is not the time to start packing up your stuff and huffily proclaim that you’ll “just leave”. Follow the officer’s directions. Remember that he doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve, and more likely than not is going to treat you with great caution.
An officer has about 20 minutes (case law) to confirm or dispel his suspicions that you’ve committed either a civil infraction (you know, camping where camping isn’t allowed, posted or not), or trespassing. During this time you are in the same legal situation as if you’ve been pulled over by an officer for a vehicle traffic violation. Behave accordingly. You must identify yourself (at least with a verbal name and date of birth). You do not need to present a photo ID or driver’s license if it’s not a traffic offense. He may ask you questions. Remember that if he’s just investigating a civil infraction, you don’t have 5th amendment rights to not incriminate yourself with statements. Shush, because it’ll be used against you.
The consequence will vary from a warning and “OK, you can stay just tonight!”, to a criminal notice (arrest without booking) for Trespassing. In [my particular state], this… probably won’t be applied unless you’ve previously been told not to be at that location.
Another possibility to consider is that in my jurisdiction the violator can be expelled from all parks for anywhere from 48 hours to a lifetime, depending on the offense. Expulsions for 30 days are common, and can really put a bind in your travel plans down the road.
Of course, all this only applies to my jurisdiction. Your mileage may vary, as you say! The best thing you can do is make your peace with being caught ahead of time. Be comfortable with the foreseeable consequences, and you can then just relax.
PS People are going to stealth camp, might as well do it as low impact and safely as possible.
Downside of stealth camping… no facilities to clean up in!
Richard Wizensky has a solution;
On days that are light, I keep a towel and a spray bottle of witch hazel available – add a few drops of essential oil for bonus smell. The witch hazel works to kill odor producing bacteria like alcohol but doesn’t dry your skin.
Techniques for finding spots
Google maps! I use the satellite view to see where there are big clusters of trees and pick a few good spots. Going to street view can be super helpful to get the “on the ground” look and then you can go from there.
Good resource from a big time stealth camper… Douglas Conlin – YouTube channel
. He’s a 100% stealth camper and did an interrupted tour from Michigan to Tennessee last year (in the winter, no less). Quite the character, but seeing how he scopes out stealth sites is a real lesson. He vlogged his trip so you can see a bunch of his camp sites. A few are bolder than what I’d choose, but that’s all personal preference.