Retired law enforcement officer Bryan Appleby shares his extensive experience with stealth camping in a large truck camper rig. No Walmart or Cracker Barrel stores necessary.
When I hear about folks talking about stealth camping, my first thoughts go to the stealth aircraft of our nation’s military, not in an RV. But, if I can successfully stealth camp for two weeks in my 48-foot long truck camper and trailer, in a historic bungalow neighborhood in a large Pacific Northwest city, so can you.
How can this be possible? Well, I have been living full-time in a truck camper for almost six years. In that time I have stealth camped with my truck camper and trailer set-up on many occasions, and in many different locations. Putting this another way, I have learned how to confidently, and easily, hide a large truck camper and trailer, in plain sight. With a few suggestions below, so could you!
This is not sleight of hand, just common sense, good planning, and experience. In this article I’ll share with you all of the above in hopes that you too can enjoy the many benefits of stealth camping. No Walmart? No driveway? No campground? No problem! Let’s go stealth camping.
Why I Stealth Camp
There are many available overnight parking spots, for RVs, including big box stores like Walmart and restaurants like Cracker Barrel. These types of businesses are often excellent choices for a secure and available overnight parking and dry camping. From my own observations, these are very popular with many traveling in their RVs.
Above: Surprise awakening as the local fire department trains at my overnight alternate parking, near some big box stores
However, these choices often come with night time noise, traffic, and people. Worse, it’s not uncommon for a semi-truck to pull in next to your camper, late at night, with their engine and/or refrigerator cooling equipment operating through the night. This can be very disturbing for many that were otherwise looking for a good night’s sleep. This is one the many reasons why I stealth camp, but it’s not the most important reason.
Above: Stealth camping next to a retirement home complex might be more quiet than big box store parking lots
I recently visited my son in the Pacific Northwest. He lives in a location without a driveway and on a street with a steep hill. The closest RV Park/campground to his home is over forty-five minutes away. There are no local Walmart or big box stores nearby because it’s a turn of the century community. If there were, overnight parking would be prohibited. This is where you draw upon your stealth camping skills!
Above: This stealth camping location has a city park on one side and the residential homes across the street. By utilizing the side of the property and parking far enough from the intersection and driveway, it makes this a good choice.
Above: When met with the challenge of visiting family and/or friends, one sometimes needs to find a location to stealth camp for a few nights. By checking the nearby streets on Google Maps one is often rewarded with a good location to park and stealth camp.
While the majority of my truck camping time is spent well outside of populated areas boondocking, there are times when I want to visit friends and family within their residential communities. Like in the aforementioned example, sometimes these friends and family have accommodations that work with my rig, but not always. Since I live full-time in my truck camper rig, and enjoy visiting family, the solution is to stealth camp.
Fortunately, stealth camping opportunities abound everywhere I travel. Before we get to those opportunities, there are some rules and regulations one should become aware of.
Overnight Parking Law Enforcement Tips
As a former law enforcement officer, I can easily share that there are rules for everything. There are local law enforcement entities conducting checks and enforcing rules, almost no matter where you plan to stealth camp.
Please consider the following rules when making decisions on where to stealth camp.
1. Do not stealth camp on private property without written permission from the property owner. Some property owners (residential and business) will grant this permission if you simply ask, but do ask permission before staying the night. There are exceptions and, as your stealth skills improve, you will find empty lots are good opportunities.
2. Most municipalities prohibit parking a motor vehicle in one spot for more than 72 hours before being considered abandoned and subject to removal. Keep your selected stealth camping location within this period.
3. Motor vehicles must be properly registered and valid at any time they are parked or operated on a highway and/or roadway. Make sure your vehicle registration is current and easily visible, without effort, by a passing enforcement authority.
4. For a motor vehicle to be properly parked, it should not be more than 12-inches from the edge of the roadway, pavement edge, edge marking, and or curbing. The front of the vehicle must be parked facing the direction of the traffic flow, and not less than 15-feet from a driveway, fire hydrant, traffic control device, or the corner of a street as it intersects with another.
5. Be aware that local authorities can create additional rules and ordinances including enforcement of RV use on streets and private property.
Preparing a Truck Camper Rig for Stealth Camping
Above: Stealth camping in an open space area near a popular Air Museum in Arizona. This site was found by checking on satellite maps.
The truck camper you choose has a strong impact on your ability to stealth camp. The way you use your camper, and prepare your camper, also has a considerable impact on the balance towards successful stealth camping.
Here are some specifics to keep in mind when selecting and preparing a truck camper rig for stealth camping:
1. If stealth camping is a priority, I strongly recommend a non-slide truck camper, or a slide-out camper that can be entered and fully-used with the slide-out(s) in. For example, my Lance 1191 model (now discontinued) can be fully used with the slide-out in. This is very important for stealth camping if you are planning on stealth camping often.
2. It is also important to be able to enter and exit the camper with the entry steps retracted, or be able to retract the steps once inside. Just remember that the steps are retracted when you go to exit the camper! I have done this a couple of times.
3. The interior of the camper should have window coverings sufficient to block as much of the interior lighting possible. Pay particular attention to sky lights.
4. One should have their belongings organized and activities completed, or curtailed, prior to arriving at a stealth camping location. For example, have your meals and any shopping completed and put away before entering your stealth camping location.
5. Once in the chosen stealth camping location, minimize anything that generates light and sound including interior lighting, radio, television use, loud talking, door slamming, as well as loud diesel engine sounds.
Selecting Stealth Camping Locations
Once you become familiar with the rules and regulations and have prepared your vehicle for stealth camping, finding a stealth camping location is probably your next challenge.
The following are some of the steps I use in finding stealth camping locations:
1. Ask for overnight parking recommendations from a local resident, local church, local police officer, or the local fire department. If it’s a small town, you can even ask at the local post office. All of these locations have been great sources for finding a place to stealth camp for the night.
Above: While waiting for a weather delayed mailed packet, I stealth camped in an undeveloped cul-de-sac, one block from the local post office.
Above: Smaller towns have shopping areas with nearby empty parking areas that are good stealth camping locations.
2. Closed and abandoned businesses and empty parking lots are often good locations for stealth camping overnight. Your ability to find these locations should increase as your stealth camping confidence grows.
Above: With the lack or traffic and quiet evenings, industrial and business parks are a great alternative for big box parking lots. Often these are found within blocks of big box locations.
Above: This is the Google Map view of the above scene of stealth camping on the gravel shoulder, across the street from a large shopping area.
Above: You have many choices in an industrial area to camp. Many of them are off the street in the areas of future business parks with all the streets and infrastructure installed.
Above: These many locations on the Google Map above just happen to be around a truck camper manufacturer located in Lancaster, California.
3. Industrial parks are often busy during the day, and quiet at night. These areas can be good places for stealth camping. These areas are my first choice for stealth camping. Neighborhoods are a good choice for stealth camping as well. Due to the fact that many grandparents travel in RVs and visit their kids and grandkids, it would not be out of character to see a truck camper in a neighborhood.
Above: By looking at a Google Map ahead of time, you can see that an airport is nearby, which could potentially lead to a good place for stealth camping. Small town airports provide exceptional stealth camping locations.
4. Use satellite imagery, available through search engines (Google and Bing in particular), to scout for possible stealth camping locations. Or simply get in your get around car, bicycle, or motorcycle, and go explore locations where it would be expected to find RVs parked overnight such as next to and in nursing home and retirement campus parking lots.
Above: This is classic stealth camping with a school athletic field on one side, neighborhood and industrial area to the front.
Above: In smaller towns, look for areas of long curb expanses where football fields and baseball diamond complexes allow exceptional stealth camping locations.
5. In small towns there are many locations that have city parks that allow overnight parking, by just coming in and stealth camping at the curb. Small towns often have sports complexes, such as football fields or baseball diamonds and these afford excellent locations to park along the curb, pavement edge, or gravel pull outs.
Above: With many neighborhoods there are locations where streets have no houses that face the curb. There are often locations used for day time parking for those coming into the neighborhood for week day work.
Above: Google Map location of the location above showing that parking was available on the street where the homes do not face the curb, featured in the previous photo.
6. Look for locations where a street does not have homes facing the curb. Avoid parking directly in front of a home as home owners tend to be territorial about the curb space in front of their homes. Also avoid obstructing and or encroaching on intersections, sidewalks, and/or driveways.
7. Observe how surrounding vehicles are parked. Vehicles facing the wrong way, on the wrong side of the street, or covered with dust are good indicators that there is a less aggressive parking enforcement environment suitable for stealth camping.
Above: Dry camping at a dairy farm sometimes comes available by just asking while visiting these small stores. This is often how I replenish my milk and eggs needs without traveling into towns. It is also an overnight camping opportunity.
8. Most contacts by parking authorities arise from a citizen’s complaint. Often these situations may be avoided by walking up to the adjacent home or business, introducing yourself, and sharing that you are the one in the truck camper. Sharing your intention to stay for a day, or two, as well as what brought you to this neighborhood is a benefit.
Most people just want to know that you are not a threat, that you are friendly, and – paramount – when you are leaving. Having done this many times, I have never had a bad experience. Many have been added to my list of postcard recipients, and followed-up with an extended invitation to return and visit these new friends.
Above: Looking at the Google Map above you can see the small park in town
Above: Small town city parks offer possible stealth camping and an opportunity to meet many friendly people that live in these communities and recently, being invited to a town’s barbecue!
9. Don’t overstay your welcome. Leave when you stated you will leave. Generally three nights in the same location should be the maximum.
Be a Good Neighbor, Even When Stealth Camping
Above: Stealth camping in a residential neighborhood with a church compound across the street from my spot.
We have all seen cars, trucks, vans, and RVs parked in front of homes in residential neighborhoods, as well as on side streets. When I stealth camp in a neighborhood, I want my rig to appear just like one of these aforementioned vehicles. You want to appear to be parked overnight, for a day, or two, as if you were visiting a friend and/or family member in their neighborhood.
Above: It is good to blend in with the other vehicles in the neighborhood
The same golden rule should extend to when you are on the road. It should also apply to how you interact with the people you meet. In doing so, you will reap the benefits of your kindness.
Speaking of being a good neighbor, here are my golden rules of being a good neighbor, when stealth camping in my truck camper.
1. Be cordial with your surrounding neighbors. It never hurts to smile, wave, and say, Hello!
2. Do not use a neighbor’s trash receptacles, water, electricity, or property.
3. Do not set out chairs or grills, as if you’re at a campground or beach.
4. Keep your truck camper clean and in good appearance, with minimal items hanging off of it.
5. If there’s some trash on the ground, or street, pick it up and take it away.
6. Leave your stealth camping location in better condition than when you arrived.
Additional Stealth Camping Tips
1. When possible, scout stealth camping locations during the day. With a location in mind, arrive after sunset. As soon as possible, the following morning, move on.
2. Never leave valuables in your truck visible through the windows. This includes phones, GPS devices, cameras, and electronics.
3. When traveling with pets, try walking them prior to your stealth camping location for the night. When not possible, stay to the street and sidewalk areas and pick after your pet.
Above: Avoid the temptation of stealth camping with your slide out like the trailer in this photo
4. Refrain from putting a slide-out out. Even if it’s on the street side of your truck camper.
5. If you have a pop-up truck camper, keep the top retracted when possible. If you can sleep with the top down, this is preferable for stealth camping. If that’s not possible, extend the top and keep the pop-up window flaps closed. Over time you will learn when extending the top is appropriate.
6. If needed, level your camper quietly, including the use of ramps. If the location is too steep, find a more suitable location.
Stealth Camping: A Real Option
Above: Sometimes when you ask people, they provide some amazing places to stealth camp. This photo is right inside a National Park, can you guess which one?
Stealth camping is an important skill for any truck camping enthusiast. The next time you want to visit a friend and/or family member in a neighborhood, or avoid a big box store parking lot, having these tools and confidence to stealth camp could be invaluable.
Do you stealth camp with your truck camper? We’d love to hear your Stealth Camping story.