Adventure, Primitivism, Travel

Why Stealth Camping is a Bad Idea

Photo by Zane Selvans

Rogue reader Clair wrote to ask me:

Did you do anything to prepare for sleeping outside, in unknown places, possibly getting noticed by police or property owners, on your adventure?

This is euphemistically called “stealth camping,” (translation: trespassing) and it’s a bad idea.

Stealth camping has an air of legitimacy among backpackers, primitivists and adventurers, not because it’s legitimate (it’s mostly illegal) but because it makes you feel legit: a true daredevil who bows to no ruler.

Adventurer Benjamin O. Jenks captures it well:

I could care less what the naysayers think, I love it. Every night is an adventure. What you sacrifice in hours of sleep, you make up for in feeling a pure injection of freedom.

I was thrilled to add stealth camping to my arsenal of tricks when I began my Great Adventure. After doing it eight times, I removed it from said arsenal, hoping never to go back.

A Response to Clair

I don’t consider it unethical and I’m not biased against it. But the reality is it is an impractical way to go. Here’s why.

First there is a nervousness or stress that comes with sleeping somewhere you could be evicted from. Shelter should feel secure. But if a farmer or owner sees you in the evening they might confront you with weapons or call the authorities. It’s one thing to be told to leave before sunset, another to be awoken at 3 am and chased out, possibly without your gear. And certainly with nowhere else to go.

By skill or luck this never happened to me. I’ve either been undetected or ignored. But from the moment I set up camp to the moment I fall asleep, to every noise I hear at night—I am aware of the risk.

From a [primitivist] point of view, you would not set up your nest in a cave you know to be occupied by a bear or a cougar. Why would you set it up in hostile territory managed by humans with guns?

I find that the extra stress also means I feel less rested. And it means I cannot follow a natural sleep cycle. I have to be up early before someone could find me.

There is a second reason I don’t do it, which is much closer to my heart. Instead of stealth camping I simply knock on a door and ask. I explain my journey and say, “Do you know anyone in the area who will let me camp on their land tonight?”

If it’s close to sunset you can be more direct: “Do you mind if I camp in your yard?”

This is a very different experience.

When you stealth camp you set yourself up as a loner. When you ask permission, you make friends. They learn your story. Sometimes they offer you food or a place in their home. They give you water. You play with their kids, and maybe some aspect of what you’ve learned about adventure will inspire those kids one day.

Humans are social animals. We survive because we have a tribe and a network. When you camp out you have a choice to either refuse that social heritage and behave like a raccoon, or embrace our biggest strength and form relationships with new friends. A lot of travelers enthusiastically encourage stealth camping, but I view it as a poor survival choice. Life is much happier when you befriend your neighbors. Even your posture will change if you have to hide from people or lie to them.

When you knock on the door sometimes they will turn you down. Other times you make life-changing acquaintances. It’s worth it.

Respect to Benjamin, but I didn’t feel a pure injection of freedom, I felt my ass dragging and exhausted from sleep loss. Maybe it matters more when bicycling than when hitchhiking like he did. But the main reason people stealth camp is to save money—to travel for free—and that’s the irony:

You can travel for the same price of zero dollars just by making friends and asking the landowner.

If you’re planning an adventure, learn to talk to strangers. It will earn you hot showers, hot meals and maybe even hot sex. Three things that are better than buckshot and angry dogs.

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Adventure, The Great Adventure, Travel

Gear Drive Results

Over the past few weeks I’ve run a gear drive here on Rogue Priest. The purpose of the drive was to raise half the cost needed to purchase high quality, reliable gear for the Great Adventure.

I’m pleased to announce that the Gear Drive was a complete success.

In the original post I set a goal of $860, and you exceeded that goal with a grand total of $870! The other half of the money needed for gear was saved by yours truly.

Over the past week, I’ve purchased the following items, thanks in part to all you wonderful donors:

  • 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad notebook computer
  • Hennessy Asym Classic camping hammock (this has built-in mosquito netting and a rain fly, outperforming most bivies and tents for comfort on the trail)
  • Apple iPhone 4, lightly used, for a bargain price of $265—and not tied to a service plan!
  • Sleeping bag rated to 25° (plenty for the places I’m going)
  • Circuit backpack from ÜLA, holds 69 liters and up to 35 pounds
  • Rope, carabiners, dry sack and other odds and ends

Of course there are still items to pick up—shoes and water bottles are high on the list—but the biggest items are taken care of and the rest are on the way. This week I’ll be setting up the hammock and testing it out.

None of this would have been possible without all the support that dozens of people showed throughout the gear drive, and my sincerest thanks go out to each and every one of you. And thanks also to everyone who tweets, shares, comments and follows along. You guys are an inspiration to me.

If you weren’t able to make a donation, there are plenty of ways to get involved. The best is to live the adventure yourself: travel freely, seek your legend and live for your ideals. If you can’t go yet or you already found your dream, help a traveler next time you have a chance.

The road is as cheerful as the people we meet.

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The Great Adventure

Gear Drive

Here’s what scares me. It’s not just walking, biking and paddling farther than most people drive. It’s not the Mexico border, or the Amazon rainforest. It’s that it all starts so soon.

To calm myself I’ve been assembling my gear. Recently, readers asked what exactly I’m taking with me. What do you take to walk 8,000 miles?

The answer isn’t clear. I’ve priced everything out and I have a wishlist, but the money I’ve saved isn’t nearly enough. There are going to be some tough choices. 

Photo by Beth Varro.

Here’s the dream team:

Shelter

$160 — OR Highland Bivy (like a tent coffin!)

$180 — 20°F rated sleeping bag, for my toesies.

Backpacking

$225 — ULA Camino Backpack (designed by backpackers, for backpackers)

$30 — A week of food… very, very simple food.

Gear

$60 — “MyBottle” water bottle with purifying straw. Sexy.

$45 — Gerber super lightweight hatchet. Perfect for home defense.

$140 — Shoes! Final pick TBA (so suspenseful)

$27 — Outdoor Research Drysack. Keeps my laptop dry even underwater!

$7 — Every adventurer carries rope.

Electronics

$300 — Smartphone. (My first ever, don’t tell anyone.)

$485 — Smaller, lighter notebook computer. So’s you can still read these blog posts.

Grand total: $1659

I’ve saved $800 toward this, leaving $859 to go. And I’d like to ask you to help.

One of the things I’ve learned over and over from experienced backpackers is that gear is vital. The right equipment keeps you safe from injury and lets you tough out the worst conditions.

To help secure that gear before I go, I’ve started a donation page. Many of you have asked how you can help as I get ready to leave, and if you’re able, this is the best way. Please click below and help support the Great Adventure.

Any size gift helps. You can sponsor a specific piece of gear, or give your lucky number. The amount is totally up to you.

As a special incentive…

  • If you give $50 or more I will send you handwritten postcards from three cities: Minneapolis, St. Louis and New Orleans.
  • If you give $100 or more I’ll give you a private meditation lesson. We can do the session “in person” by Skype. And you get the postcards, too!

Gifts of any amount are truly appreciated, and will help me out every day. Thank you!

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Adventure Prep, Uncategorized

Upright Sleeping

When my sister lived in a Buddhist retreat, she slept in a box.

This is not the first thing that comes up when you ask what it’s like to spend three years completely sealed in retreat. And as she prepares to take her ordination as a nun, it may not seem like the most important part of her spiritual practice. But for 1600 nights in a row, if she was closing her eyes to sleep it was in the confines of about a 3′ × 3′ wooden container.

It’s not as awful as it sounds. The point is, essentially, that lamas should sleep sitting upright. This way they can do their nighttime practices in the full lotus posture, sleep right where they are in front of their shrine, and wake up to start their morning practices without moving. Or something like that.

But to most people it has no appeal. It’s hard to explain that the box is not a crate, or that it’s quite comfy when you add some pillows. Before her retreat I suggested she stop mentioning this particular part of what she’d be doing. It makes it sound like some kind of extremist cult.

The past few weeks she’s regaled me with the reality of sleeping upright. Several times I watched her peacefully drift off to sleep in improbable places. Her back is board-straight and she moves with grace. It has its perks.

Then I began to think about the applications of sitting upright to sleep. I have no intention of sleeping in a box, but I have this whole “walk 7,000 miles” thing. It will include a lot of nights sleeping outside—probably about 1600—and I’m open to anything to make that easier. Some of the benefits of upright sleep:

  • You stay warmer. The vertical orientation of your body is far more efficient heat-wise.
  • Warmer means no sleeping bag. One lap blanket is all you need. When backpacking, that means less weight to carry.
  • If you wear glasses you can leave them on while you sleep, handy if you need to get up suddenly at night.
  • You can use a smaller tarp over your head and less mosquito netting (no tents here).
  • You develop strong neck and back muscles.
  • When you wake up you’re completely lucid, never groggy. Zangmo and I can’t figure out why this works, but it does.

These are powerful incentives to see if I can acclimate myself to upright sleeping before I start the Adventure. But that’s just two months away! Challenge accepted.

My kid sister Zangmo in her box.

Zangmo told me that when she first started it took her about three months to get used to, and involved intolerable pain and stiffness. However, we don’t believe that’s necessary to learn to do it right: she resisted upright sleeping for a long time, and had bad posture at first.

So I set a piece of particle board against one wall of my room, culled through the pillows and cushions in the house, and fanaggled about an hour of consultation with my resident lama. I’m going to try it for myself.

How will it go? Expect an update next week. In the meantime, has anyone else ever slept sitting up (by choice or out of necessity)? Do you have any other unusual sleep methods that might be of use to fellow adventurers? Hit the comments and speak up. I’d love to learn.

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