Friday, April 13, 2012

"Stealth" Campsites for Solo Backpacking

Some of you may be wondering what I mean by "stealth" camping when I backpack solo.  I use this term to refer to camping in an unestablished or pristine site which is out of view of the main trail.  (Note: it does not mean camping illegally.)  My primary reason is it makes me feel safer as a solo female.  When I am in a group, I prefer to stick to established sites to lessen our collective impact on the environment, but when I'm solo, I go stealth on certain trails or if I'm within a mile or two from a trailhead where I feel more likely to encounter non-backpacker types that I think could give me trouble.

In choosing a stealth site,  I find somewhere that will have the smallest impact from my presence.  Most often, this means choosing a site where no one has camped before, rather than further developing a lesser-used site (a basic LNT principle).  Sometimes, stealth sites require effort to find.  In addition following LNT guidelines (i.e. away from water and sensitive areas), plus the hammock-specific guidelines (i.e. to stay warmer and out of the wind), my goal is to find something hidden.   But if I take the extra time and follow my gut instincts, I can always find a spot.  One of the biggest advantages of hammock camping is more options for where I can camp-- I am not restricted to flat ground or bare dirt, and I believe I make much less impact on the environment when I hang.

When I leave the trail to find a site, I take care that no one else is watching where I am going.   After I set up, I walk back up to the main trail to be sure I am truly hidden from view.  When I leave my hammock site, I turn around and take a photo of where I leave the main trail and note any distinguishing trees or rocks so I can find my way back and not get lost.  Then, I walk along the main trail to check that my hammock is not visible.  Honestly, this may sound totally paranoid, but it makes me feel safer.  When I'm on the AT or the Foothills trail, I feel safe and don't bother, but I like doing it in other areas.
Looking down at my stealth site from the main trail.
When I camp in a pristine site, I follow basic leave no trace practices (UPDATE: for a great review-- see this post).  I take extra care to avoid walking around excessively and trampling plants.  I disperse my impact by taking different routes to walk around the site, so I don't make any trails.  I never have a fire, and I don't move logs.  Usually after I set up, I get into my hammock and go to bed early.  If I have any energy, I go for a night hike and watch the stars.  The next morning, I pack efficiently, playing games to see the fewest number of steps and motions I can take.  Then, I move the leaves around to eliminate any trace that I've been there.  If I pick my spot carefully and watch where I walk, there is no sign I was ever there, which makes me happy.
The other thing I love about stealth camping, though, besides the safety factor and my reduced impact on the environment-- is the feeling of being in the wild, how the forest smells so fresh and unspoiled, and how it looks so pristine when I peer out of my hammock.  That's what really makes it all worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I live in a stealth Sprinter RV, have backpacking friends who use hammocks and so will try both out!