One of my favourite parts of overland travel has to be camping out. After spending a day travelling through a country at your own pace, be it on foot, by bike or car, you develop a connection and an appreciation for nature and the land. As the day draws to an end, Mother Nature 9 times out of 10 will reward your days efforts with a stunning place to lay your head for the night where you can sit back and enjoy the stars and the moonlit landscape around you, connecting with you in a way that most tourists will never understand. The icing on the cake is that this priceless, soul enriching experience is free.
There is an art to selecting the perfect wild camp and a bit of effort in your selection will pay dividends on your experience, here are some of my top tips for selecting a stealth camp site:
Take Some Time To Look
Yeah you can get away with pitching your tent almost anywhere secluded at sunset and be gone by sunrise before anyone sees you, but this method means you don't get to really make the most of your surroundings. The best places are rarely on the side of the road so you will need to put some effort in by heading down side roads and trails to find them. I generally start looking about 2hrs before sunset because half the fun is in exploring your area. Having said that, life has taught me never to settle for the first/easy option. If you find somewhere nice remember where it is and keep looking for a little bit longer, you never know what's around the next corner.
Make sure you are not on private land
The last thing you ever want is to get a knock on your car window or your tent from someone asking what you're doing on their land and then asking you to move on. In North America this also includes Indian Reserves. As the Native cop above said to us "Of course you're not allowed here; you're white". We were nearly arrested and our car was going to be impounded because it was considered as trespassing on Reserve land, even though there wasn't a single sign anywhere saying it was!
Make sure you are well hidden
The more hidden you are from a road and the fewer people that can see you the better. Again,this reduces the chance of someone coming and asking you to move on because sometimes time you never can be too sure if you are on private land. It's also good on the safety and noise front because when you're in a tent, everything seems louder and closer. It's amazing how much people walking near your tent can disturb your nights sleep.
If however you're on a road trip and your car has blacked out windows and you can't be seen in the back, you can generally get away with parking anywhere because you just look like you are parked up. A friend even managed to spend a few days sleeping in downtown Toronto in his Dodge Caravan!
Find back country roads
By back country roads I mean a dirt road that heads out into the countryside. These generally have very little traffic on them and are a prime place to start looking for a nice secluded site where you are unlikely to be disturbed by people or police. The further you go down an unmarked trail the better.
Look for water
Use your map to find rivers, lakes and oceans in your area. These generally have an abundance of hidden areas that boast amazing views. If it's a little too populated for your liking, just follow the banks or the shore until you do find a quiet spot. Lakes and rivers also have the added bonus of doubling as a bath and a washing machine.
If you don't think you're supposed to be there, leave early
There will be times when you don't have any choice but to camp where you're pretty certain you shouldn't be camping (ie a National Park). In cases like this I avoid setting up camp until the sun is setting, that way if someone does see you they won't think anything of it. Whereas if they saw your tent and said you had to go, finding a new spot in the dark is going to be very difficult. If you suspect you might be somewhere you shouldn't be, aim to leave before 6am as this is probably the earliest a park ranger or warden will start doing a patrol. There could be a fine of sorts if you get caught.
Don't be afraid to ask
If you are limited on space and you think there is a high possibility that you will be on someone's land, go and ask them! People generally don't mind if you camp behind their petrol station or even in their hangar (above), it's just courtesy to ask their permission first so they know that you're not a threat and don't spend the night wondering who you are. It will give you some piece of mind too.
In the west, even campsites are pretty pricey these days. On a road trip around Canada in 2016, the cheapest Provincial Park campsite we found was still $13 a night and some were as much as $26, which drastically increases the cost of your trip. Not only is free camping a money saver but you can also find yourself waking up with views from your bed that money can't buy and a silence that campgrounds just can't offer. That and it's actually quite fun and exciting trying to find that perfect spot and staying hidden from people.
Building confidence with wild camping is a great way to free yourself from the problem of finding somewhere to stay and to also save yourself a lot of money. The more you do it, the more comfortable you'll be with it and the more comfortable you are with it, the more you'll do it. Wild camping really is the ultimate in freedom and will totally change your travel experience.