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Monday, April 11, 2016

Spot the stealth camper



Let's play: spot the stealth camper. Stealth camping is free camping, sometimes in places where sleeping in your vehicle is not technically allowed.

First we'll do the beginner round. Spot the campers at a Walmart. Not every big box store allows overnight camping. There are even apps that keep track of the ones that do. This is not really stealth camping as it's allowed. Even so there are rules. Keep your vehicle self contained. If you have slide outs keep them in. Do not set up folding chairs and grills out in the parking lot. An overnight camper shouldn't look any different than if someone was parking their RV while they do some shopping.

Spotting big RVs is easy. Let's move onto vans. Vans make pretty good mobile living spaces. They have enough room for basic comfort, yet they fit into a normal parking space. Look for either blackout curtains or panel vans with no side windows at all. Solar panels are a dead giveaway. So are generators hanging off the back on a cargo buddy. These smaller vehicles are more likely to try to stealth camp where not technically allowed.

People living in regular passenger cars often use sun shields in the windows to keep people from looking in. A give away is that often the only people using them are those who are sleeping in their cars. The expert level of car camping belongs to those who can blend in and don't use sun shields or curtains. This level of stealth is not for everyone. The car may just look like it needs a good cleaning, but under those Burger King wrappers is a person in a sleeping bag. Ta Da!

The real pros are those who can stealth camp in a place like Key West. It's a small island and the cops know everyone who belongs on it. If a strange vehicle is parked on a residential street for a few days they will assume someone is urban camping. Cops in small towns play “spot the stealth camper,” at a professional level.

Sometimes they can be fooled by really clever stealth vehicles. I had the pleasure once of looking over a homemade stealth vehicle based on a cube truck. It looked like a regular unmarked delivery truck. Only when camped in the country did the folding stairs, skylights, and side windows pop out. The vehicle was put together like a Swiss watch. All closed up, it looked like any other small delivery truck one would see parked on a city street.

Then there was the guy who had a pickup truck with a cap on the back. It had really good graphics for a phony business. The truck looked like a contractor's pickup, but had a nice camping arrangement inside. The driver went around wearing a yellow hardhat and carried a clipboard.

When playing this game, remember that if you can spot the stealth camper, cops probably can too. That's why I tend to “camp” on private land where it's allowed, or at least ignored.

-Sixbears


22 comments:

  1. I've seen a few folks who I could tell were living in their cars. They didn't seem to be organized enough for me to think of them as "pros," though.

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    1. That might be because they didn't plan but ended up in their cars. It's tough out there.

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  2. The 1990 Westfalia is perfect for that. I don't take it out enough. There's this thing about a job that gets in the way.

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    1. I was tempted to get a Westfalia years ago and even made an offer on one.

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  3. More a commentary on the topic, not the post:

    There's an adage about a bucket full of crabs. If one crab starts to climb out of the bucket, the others will pull him back in. This whole stealth camping thing seems similar to me. In the words of Shakespeare ... much ado about nothing.

    Please don't misunderstand. It is real and as you described (to the limits of my knowledge). I just think we've all become even more crab-like in recent years. After all, who should really give a shit if someone is sleeping in his van? And if they do care, don't be a busybody and call the over-militarized cops who will surely inflate and exacerbate the situation (see, it's already a "situation" now!!). Instead, why not think of some truly helpful way to interact with the stealth camper? After all, very few people are sleeping in their cars in Walmart parking lots by choice. Failing that type of helpful interaction, maybe we should just mind our own business.

    I'm all for helping people who find themselves in that predicament, especially if I can simultaneously stick it to the "concerned citizens". You know, those people who seem to thrive on schadenfreude; who can't just be satisfied that they have more than enough, but seem compelled to see that others have less than the minimum.

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    1. When traveling long distances in the converted ambulance/veggie van I'll "urban camp." Why pay for a hotel when all I'm going to do is sleep? There's a perfectly comfortable bed in the van.

      I've met a whole range of people. Some are doing it for a few weeks or months. Many people have jobs, but they are temporary or seasonal. Others are full timers.

      Quite a few use a mix of stealth camping and campgrounds. That's what I do myself.

      Some people get really upset with anyone who'd not living a "normal" life. Sad really.

      Some folks end up sleeping in their vehicles. Others are there because that's what they want to do.

      Had a nice visit with a young lady who worked as an EMT. In the summer she worked in Canada. Florida in the winter. Lived in her van the whole time and loved it.

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    2. Good summary of motivations and types. Earlier, I was referring to those there involuntarily. Spent a few summers stealth camping by choice. Loved that. My standard way of traveling long distance. One winter less voluntarily. Didn't like that quite as much. Never tried Wal-Mart.

      I generally don't think of myself as libertarian, but when a person can't pull over on a trip and sleep until morning without bothering anyone, it might be time to sign up.

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    3. One of the last places you'd want to stop at are "rest areas." Many states don't actually allow you to rest in them. There are some that are pretty good, but I left one of the "good" ones in the middle of the night as it didn't feel safe anymore.

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    4. Yeah, though ironic, I know rest areas are "right out". Sort of proves my point. To my way of thinking, stealth camping works best when the vehicle is out of sight as well, where possible.

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    5. There are some good places on public lands that work out really well. National Forest, BLM, etc.

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    7. I wonder if that is true only for federally owned lands or also for state owned, such as state forests?

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  4. Been living out of my 89 dodge for over 6 years now.By choice always on public lands met lots of interesting folks. Never done any stealth,but can spot them pretty quickly. Cheers!

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    1. Congratulations for making it work for you. There are some cool folks out there living the life.

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  5. So THATS how it gets done ... those are some pretty sneaky strategies. The Utility work van for example sounds good - who gives these guys with the orange day glo striped mesh vests a 2nd glance ?

    What are opportunities along the public beaches like ? Do the local PD poke and prod to see if the vehicle is supposed to be there ?

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    1. It's not that easy on the beaches anymore. For example, in Key West it's illegal to sleep in your vehicle. Of course, if they bang on your door at 3 a. m. everyone denies that they were sleeping.

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  6. Follow the money trail. No one makes any money off you when you stealth camp. That is why it is illegal in some places and frond on in others.

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    1. And let's not forget the other money aspect: If you learn how to do or get something without needing money, then those with money lose some of their power to lord it over you, because at least in that one case, their money no longer makes a difference.

      I'm sure such a condition makes them cranky and prone to push for new local ordinances to outlaw previously simple, sensible, and free things according to natural law.

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    2. They hate us for our freedom.

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  7. Dont try Key West. Those who live in vans and cars here either rent a space (like we do) to park on private property or stay on friends' property. Not only will the cops go after any van they can't see into,but , especially now that Trumans Annex has been made no overnight parking, local van dwellers will call the cops themselves on non locals to run them off so they can have a space to sleep.I love it here, but it can be brutal, and expensive.

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  8. I've been to Key West a number of times. In recent years they took away my parking spots so I don't even try anymore.

    However, I am tempted to anchor out on a sailboat and dingy in. That can be sketchy so I might break down and pay for a mooring.

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