October 20, 2005

Campsite Selection – Guerilla Camping 101.2

Draft originally posted at The Guerrilla News Network. Included here with GNN commentary courtesy of the GNN Archive.

Asset B09983 Posted By BlackPacker

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Campsite Selection – Guerilla Backpacking 101.2

For the normal camper, a paragraph suffices and thousands have written about it. Pick flat ground, free of rocks, no dead branches overhead, no gullies to route water underneath you, someplace to hang your food. For the guerilla camper though, there are many other things to consider. Such as, what if you’re in the city? What if you aren’t supposed to camp where you are? In major wilderness areas, you are usually free to camp where you like, but the same does not hold true in the urban, suburban and rural sprawl that you are most likely to encounter while traveling in developed nations.

City Camping:

Having encountered black bears, over-zealous raccoons, mosquitoes, mountain lions and a slew of other frightening of uncomfortable situations, nothing strikes a chord of fear in my soul more than the notion of bedding down outdoors in a city of a few hundred thousand. For one, humans are more dangerous than bears and sleeping on a sidewalk opens you up to more potential abuse than anywhere else. That said; I have had it happen where I passed through nothing but sprawl for three or four days, with the nearest hostile hundreds of miles away.

You best locations in the city are away from other homeless. I tend to hunker down after hours behind businesses, preferably in commercial districts, since they usually get ignored all night. The undersides of freeway overpasses, if secluded enough, are great locations and usually the uppermost corners of the embankments are leveled out and great for pitching tents. If you can be seen from a road though, don’t be surprised if the police light you up at 3am and tell you to move on.

One of the most important tools for sleeping in the city is a hostelry card. Usually for twenty or thirty bucks you can get a warm bed indoors, surrounded by people from all over the world. No cops, no hooligans trying to steal your gear and breakfast in most hostiles is an exciting process of meeting tons of new people. This card is also a good way to prove your story that you’re simply backpacking someplace and are not a vagrant.

Suburban Camping:

Camping the suburbs can be blissfully easy or intensely difficult, usually depending on the attitudes of local police, citizens and and nature of the area. Often in suburban areas, I will hang my hammock in parks or use a poncho to make a simple bivy sack under some playground equipment. At night when the local police roll through and shine their lights across the park, they are looking for shadows to give you away. Keep this in mind; hang your hammock higher than usual or pitch a lean-to in the middle of some shrubs. Also, be wary when setting up that nobody sees you. I’ve had park goers call the police on me in some of the more uppity locales.

Another option I’ve taken in suburban areas is a variation on the will work for food sign. “Walking to Ohio! Can I pitch my tent in your backyard?” works surprisingly well, especially if you look clean-cut and non-menacing. When I do this routine, I often setup outside of grocery stores, as they expose you to a wide array of people and offering to carry and load groceries for people is a great introduction. Before I got the blackpack, I used a standard OD green military sack. Often, some old vet would see me, ask if I served and I would wind up an hour later with hot food and cold beer with a sleeping spot on their couch swapping stories from our respective wars.

Rural Camping

Waking up to the blast of buckshot over your head is no good and it’s only happened to me on farmland. Generally, when passing through rural areas, I start talking to people on the roadside around five or six in the evening, explaining where I’m walking and asking them if I can set up in a corner of their field. I tell them I can work for the privilege and that I know how to mend fences, milk cows and do a variety of field work. Surprisingly, I seldom have to ask more than two or three people before finding a place and they usually let me string up in a barn or shed.

If worse comes to worse however, rural areas are wide open for stealth camping. I generally try to hang my hammock on the side of a hill a few dozen feet from the road. Do not set up in roadside ditches, as those often flood when the irrigation systems kick on in the morning. (Learned that lesson the hard way) If you must camp on somebody’s property with out permission, be respectful, quiet and hard to see. One night in Georgia, I was camped out on what I thought would be an unnoticed corner of a tobacco field, only to be woken up at four in the morning by a very pissy farmer with his very loud shotgun (The aforementioned buckshot) leveled at my head. After talking him down a bit, he still made me break down my stuff and walked me to the edge of his property. Rather than find a new place to sleep, I considered it morning, walked about a mile, made breakfast and set out for the day.

4 years ago


I can’t get enough of these guerrilla camping stories. Soon as this semester is finished, I’m heading for the hills. Good work again blackpack.

4 years ago


no gullies to route water underneath you

think small, but also think big. washes and drainages are often large, especially in the canyons of the desert country, where flash floods are a common occurance. look for plant matter built up at the bottom of trees and bushes, and even rocks. this is a good sign of a flash flood zone:

4 years ago


your advice is good for those who wish to avoid the drama of urban squats, ect. squatters can be awfully territorial. but they can also be awfully generous and sharing. it all depends, i suppose. on what, i am not sure.

4 years ago


Another great blog, thanks!

While I avoid cities, I haven’t had much problem asking people if I can camp in their fields. You’re right, it usually takes a couple though.

4 years ago


Shift Shapers, Good call. I should have through to mention that. Alot of flood plains can look like simple meadows until a good rain comes alog (Thanks to murphy’s law, always at two in the morning on a moonless night). Another good way to spot flood plains is looing in the crocks of trees for collected rocks, branches and displaced plant matter.

As for Squatters, I have ocassionaly stayed at squats and had a great time, but usually, finding squats is a haphazard premise, reliant on running into somebody who recognizes you as a traveler and invites you home. When I say avoid other homeless, I’m not refering to the homeless by choice, like myself and many on here, but the derelects found on skid row generally due to drug and/or alcohol problems. I don’t discourage staying in those locales due to the homless themselves, but because of the breed of people who prey on them, the dealers, pimps and hustlers, as well as the drunk frat boys who boot party on their way home from bars. A friend of mine was someplace in Arizona, camped out on skid row in a bivy sack. He got woken up at 2 in the morning when some frat boys returning from a local bar decided to take out their wrath on what they thought was another frail, starving, homeless guy. Imagine their shock when he jumped out of his sack and maced them. All 280lbs and 6’3 underneath some dreadlocks even I find a bit scary. When he told me this story I told him the next time it happens, he should pull out his camera first, because the looks on their faces were probably hilarious.

I just jumped around on the net for a minute looking for info on squatting here in the US. Didn’t find much. Anybody on here have a link, or some knowedge to kick down?

4 years ago


4 years ago


i live where the canyon lands of the deserts meet the san juan mountains, in el valle de las animas perdidas, the valley of lost souls. down in the canyons, a flash flood can happen when the sky above is clear. 800 ft down in a desert canyon like the one linked to the image above, there can be storms up on the mesa that you can’t even see, yet you are in the drainage of.

4 years ago


Hahaha. Even when city camping you must be wary to avoid floodplains. No, this is not a morbid Nola joke.

Back in the mid-ninties, I often hitched into Nashville to spend the weekend hanging out with the hundreds of down and out street musicians who made the place so amazing. Often, I would sleep in parks and bushes along the banks of the Cumberland river on Saturday night.

I think it was a saturday in Mid August. The city was packed, and the girls were wearing alot of skin in the southern summer humidity. That night, I slept with my backpack as a pilow with a wool blanket bed on a sandy bank of the river under a railroad bridge right by downtown. I was far enough to avoid high tide, but not high enough for high tide and the wake of a fast moving tour boat. I was woken the next morning as the river washed over my legs, soaking me from the chest down. At 7am it was already 75 out I think, so it was more humerous than uncomfortable.

The thought of camping in a dry desert valley would NEVER cross my mind, although growing up in LA, I certainly know where to find dry spots in one. I’ve woken up on islands in the “desert” during run offs from storms.

Some things also to take in mind when making “home”:

Weather; Learn a bit about how mountains and valleys convey winds, fog and storms.

Trees: Know that even in North America, heavy tree canopys in humid areas become rain forests as the moisture collects in trees. If you are going to sleep under the stars, sleep under the stars. Having to move your sleeping bag at midnight = no fun, having to close your rainfly at midnight = less fun.

Avoid valleys and hilltops. Since cold air sinks, valleys can get quite a bit colder than the hill sides around them. Hilltops, although usually warmer since the sun has been baking on them all day, offer no protection from the wind, and anyone who has had a tent come down around them in the middle of the night knows how much fun that is

This is fun.

4 years ago


awesome blogs, great writing, thanks

4 years ago


has anyone ever had three in the top ten at one time before? not that it matters, but i am really proud that these kinds of blogs are being recognized. fascinating writing BP. thanks for your time and wisdom.

4 years ago


maybe your not a perfectionist, blackpack, but i noticed guerrilla in your blog title has only one r = guerilla

4 years ago


silverbacki – there’s only one logical explaination. he cheated. (just joking)

4 years ago


“Guerilla” is also a correct spelling.

4 years ago


I was originally going to call it gorilla camping. But notice. It is also the guerrilla news network. (Look at the page title).

Thanks for the recognition, Silverback. I keep grinning when I see the top blogs. Can you believe I failed creative writing?

4 years ago


One “r” is acceptable alternative spelling of guerilla according to my dictionary.

1 Comment
  • Samuel Cook, May 8, 2013 Reply

    Great blog....
    Real informative post....these are the things i never knew about camping...Thanks:)

    Camp Stove

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