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Low Cost Stealth Bivouaking (Camping) in the USA

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Low Cost Stealth Bivouaking (Camping) in the USA


Last year, I did a four month long cycle tour from Gig Harbor out to the Pacific Ocean, up into Canada, diagonally across Washington, across Idaho, part of Montana, through Yellowstone, diagonally across Wyoming, and down into Denver.

I avoid campgrounds because they can be very noisy. The last few campgrounds I was in were that way. Campground fees can also be up to $30 a night and that eats away at the travel budget very quickly. By the way, I've posted my travel budget below for the four months.

I talked to other cyclists who said their biggest expense was campground fees and they had similar observations about them being noisy places and not always conveniently located.

I'd like to share my expertise in this area and get some feedback to see if any of you have ideas on how I can be even more creative. Before I do, I'd like to go into how important I think it is to be responsible when stealth camping. I'm really not camping because I don't have a fire, I don't make any noise, and I leave no trace of my stay. I'm often in at dusk or after dark and I try to be out at or before sunup. I have never had a negative experience while stealth camping.

I have camped on construction sites (next to the portable toilet), in church parking lots, church playgrounds, church lawns, industrial parks, closed campground loops (in the off season), regional parks, provincial parks, park and ride lots, rest stops, boat launches, school playgrounds, ball fields, baseball dugouts, city parks, city squares (usually with permission), backyards (always with permission), tree farms, forests, next to a grain elevator, next to a fire station, the edge of a wheat or corn field, the road side behind some sagebrush, empty homes that are for sale, next to an orchard, abandoned homes, abandoned businesses, on gravel bars next to a river, next to restaurants, and so on...

I used to carry a tent large enough to accommodate my bicycle and all my gear and still have room to sleep. That was very handy from a security standpoint. I don't like to leave my bike outside of the tent but now I must. Any advice or observations about that would be helpful. I carry a camouflage tarp to help hide my tent when I camp in the woods. In places where I can't hide, I don't bother with the tarp. With the tarp, I've had people walk very near the tent who appeared never to notice it.

One of my biggest challenges out there is the wind. I've tried to cook in wind that would just put my stove out cold. The only thing to do is use it in the tent or eat my food cold. Food is another subject I'd like to discuss at length (but maybe in another post). : ) Speaking of food, I'd also like to talk about bears. Food attracts bears and though I've not had any trouble, I've heard a lot of stories that freak me out. I do hang my food where there is a high probability of bears.

Churches have to be the places I have felt the most welcome. Most of the time, nobody says anything to me, they just wave and smile and go in and out. When I have been confronted at churches it was always like this, "Hey, do you have everything you need? Feel free to come in and get water or use the bathroom..." But I do choose wisely. I don't camp at those huge mega churches, only the more quaint little ones.

When I awake, I might read for a few minutes just to keep my mind active and then I usually pack up and get ready to ride, often without first eating. I prefer to ride a little before I eat and hopefully find restroom facilities. I figure, the sooner I'm out of there, the less likely anyone is to even know I was ever there. I'm cautious about disturbing anyone or scaring anyone. That and once packed, I can easily ride away if somebody challenges my right to be there. While my tent is pegged down and my gear strewn about, I'm stuck being there until I pack up. So I'm quick to pack up in cases where I might be spotted in the morning hours.

Of course, there are places I have camped where I've been able to stay all day and all night and all day and sometimes another night. Nobody ever saw me. That is quite relaxing. And sometimes you need a period of rest. I did that up in Canada.

I always carry plastic bags for my garbage and I strap them to the load on my bike. I dispose of them when I roll past a grocery store or gas station. I take steps to avoid having to relieve myself in some pubic way where it would be very inappropriate to do so. I always keep it in the back of my mind that I'm representing all cyclists when I'm out there.

During this four months, I had heard of WarmShowers.Org but I never did check it out. I still have yet to stay with anyone who hosts here. I have stayed with many, many people along my rides. The generous invitations seem to come along at just the right times.

Here are my expenses for the four month period.

Month 1 (April 15 to May 15):
Groceries - $500 -- Food is expensive in Canada!
Meals Out - $164
Lodging - $597 -- It rained a lot and it was cold out.
Campground Fees - $0
Total - $1,261
Average Day - $42

Month 2:
Groceries - $350
Meals Out - $135
Lodging - $87
Campground Fees - $0
Total - $572
Average Day - $19

Month 3:
Groceries - $412
Meals Out - $389
Lodging - $154
Campground Fees - $6
Total - $961
Average Day - $32

Month 4:
Groceries - $290
Meals Out - $180
Lodging - $0
Campground Fees - $18.54
Total - $488
Average Day - $16

I'm curious how my experience compares to other people. I think I could get by on a lot less.

Have a nice weekend!


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Stelth Camping

Nicely done! I usually end up looking for a campground because I like a shower and running water/picnic table (in the USA/Canada, not so in Europe). I do like $5 or 6 hiker/biker spots at some Forest Service facilities.
I normally have not been on a super tight budget but... When I read CGOAB journals I find many folks think like I do and if it has been many days in a tent and wet "forever" I will hunt up a reasonable room and try to dry things out. Actually have gone coast to coast in the USA plus one Atlantic Canada tour plus 4 European tours and never wild camped except in a couple of abandoned campgrounds in Czech Republic.
I like State/Provincial/National Park camping facilities BUT find price structure very rigid and very expensive. When I mention that I only need a small spot for my 1 person tent and will only take a single brief shower the response is: But you will occupy a entire camping "space" just like a family tent or RV. Well Duh, I don't need to, you just make arbitrary stupid rules. Find many private campgrounds will not charge or take $5 cash and be happy. Yes some camp grounds are way to noisy but seems people do not camp much these times and most are fairly empty.

Like your style and approach though.

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Private Campgrounds

Hi Joe,

I'll have to try to ask for a cheaper rate at private campgrounds as you suggest. I've never tried that but it seems like a reasonable request.

I have avoided private campgrounds because they are often so expensive. When I've used them, they've always charged me the same rate as an RV. Some of them wouldn't even let me stay because I wasn't self contained. Oh well...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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thru rider not look forward to stealh camping in usa but will do in a pinch...stealth camping comes with the possibility of being asked to move along at 3am, this will impact on my days ride...just the nagging thought of being asked to move has an impact on my sleep...i dislike very much, setting up in the dark, and i like to putz around and move slowly and deliberately in the morning...stealth camping somehow leaves me mentally in a hurry to leave...i have stealth camped on a few occasions in the usa, some of the places were so remote that i felt no stress about setting up in daylight, enjoying the sunset, or tearing down in my leisurely fashion in the morning light enjoying the sunrise, and it is usually in those moments in the morning when i decide to stay or leave, to study the map or hand wash some laundry..i suppose the sun rising and setting as i relax beside a jiffy john would be just as seems to me, that if camo was part of my gear, my mental attitude would lean more toward "hiding out" and not so much "camping out"...the crux of it, for me; i need and cherish a good nights sleep, waking up after a stealth camp or a motel room, or a strangers home or a campground, my own bed or where ever, i am grateful to have awakened again internal dialogue is amusing and leisurely, very low stress...not sure what changes i would go thru if i made stealth camping my regular mode of operation, i suppose i could get acclimated to most anything, even using camo...after many many nights of stealth camping, i certainly would save a nickel, to then spend it...on what?...probably on tequila, i would need an attitude adjustment..

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camp fees

I found the camp fees insanely high if you are a cyclist or hiker with tiny tent - I only need a 6ft by 6ft space! I once was 'squeezed' onto a site - You could have got about half a dozen tents in the area I was put in - crazy.

Reading others books re travels, often just asking around gets a place to put the tent up in the kind places mentioned, so does seem possible to not use the large expensive places, but not tried it myself.

I just lock my bike up outside the tent rather than take clobber like big tents, tarps etc. I think people are not as likely to steal/mess with it as we think and it's our paranoia. I've never had a problem and in small places I often don't even lock it up when nipping into a bakery of somewhere. plus with mega tiny tent and no tarps you are harder to spot.

cooking and wind - I cook under the fly sheet, not in the tent. Can cook under it in any weather no problem, and it's a tiny tent - just ensure the stove is under the highest bit.

Anyone wanting to be really discreet could opt for a brown gortex bivvi bag for sleeping out, but I wouldn't want to just travel with that alone - being zipped up in a bag can be a bit claustrophobic!

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