November 5, 2005

Sight Unseen – Guerrilla Camping 101.7

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

Sight Unseen – Guerrilla Camping 101.7
Asset B10394 Posted By BlackPacker

Camouflage is one topic that is seldom covered in backpacking manuals, simply because hiking down the Appalachian Trail does not require you to sneak. However, if you are going to be walking any considerable distance without trails, you will find yourself crossing many right-of-ways and being forced to camp in locations where you are not wanted. Thus, camouflage is an essential task for any Guerilla Camper.

Camouflage is also a matter of courtesy and I wish more traditional hikers would begin to utilize it. While every hiking book talks about “leaving no trace�, is seems no one has considered “having no trace� of any importance to campers. It seems every tent out there is safety orange, fire engine red, sky blue or a combination of all three and few things bother me more than finding a hidden spot overlooking a gorgeous meadow, only to watch some guy set up his signal flag tent in the middle of the vista. Please, be inconspicuous, if only to not annoy me.


There are two parts to successful camouflage, equipment and action. Equipment is something best handled at home. Before “moving�, which often entails lots of sidewalk hiking and dubiously legal camping, I take the time to check all my gear. This allows me to inventory as well as check for damage and wear.

I begin with a small bottle of acrylic paint and a can of cheap, flat black spray paint and start by unpacking everything and laying it out as neatly as possible. I start with my pack, using the acrylic paint to paint buttons, slides, snaps on the pack and scratches on the frame. An excellent paint for this purpose is sold as surplus stores as M-Nu. If the frame is too scratched, I will take it outside and repaint it with the spray paint. I then repeat this with my ponchos, my hammock, my coats and my shoes. Eyelets, guy hooks and anything else shiny gets painted over. I then take my tent stakes and give them two coats of spray paint. This does not last long, but the only goal is to eliminate shine on the tops of the stakes. When they get shiny again, I cam always mud them over. In today’s littered America, no one notices anything shiny in the bushes anymore anyways.

Then I repack everything as it will be for the trip. I put on the pack and jump up and down, listening for the slapping of straps, jingling of loose catches. I wrap offenders in a single layer of electrical tape and repeat the process until the only sound is the occasional squeaking of my hip strap.

My equipment is now officially stealth.


In practice, camouflage requires attention to 8 factors:

1: Shape and Outline – Few things stick out like a straight line or a human silhouette in the woods. Tent and tarp ridgelines are obvious even if the tarp is of a camouflage pattern. To hide tarp ridgelines you can add sticks under the tarp to give the top of the ridgeline a crumpled, irregular outline. The best bet is usually to pitch the tarp as low as you are comfortable with. I have pitched tarps low enough that raising my head in the morning was impossible, requiring instead for me to slide out of my sleeping bag.

2: Color and Texture – Remember that red tent? Nothing gives you away more than brightly colored gear. A red tent is an eviction notice. Even if you opt not to go with camouflage, choose tents and tarps in earth tones and neutral darks, which allow you to hide in. The same hold true with clothing, but try for darker colors. Camouflage clothing is often self defeating for the guerilla camper because it is conspicuous anywhere outside of hunting preserves. My only camouflage is my shell clothing and my ponchos. I wear khakis when hiking so I can spot ticks on my legs, but when trying to be inconspicuous in the woods, I’ll slip on my shell pants.

3: Shadow – While natural shadows provide good hiding places, your shadow can give you away easily. The shadow of a shelter at dawn can stretch across an entire valley. You can avoid this by pitching your tarp to the west of natural cover such as trees, rocks, or ledges.

4: Shine – This is mostly covered by preparing your equipment at home, so the sun doesn’t cast reflections off brass or aluminum snaps and grommets. However this also takes into account your tent material. Unfortunately, most plastic tarps and waterproof fabrics are naturally shiny. This can be alleviated by scattering dry dirt along the ridge of the tent. The left behind dust will dull the reflectiveness of the fabric. DO NOT USE MUD. Mud is shiny, hard to clean off and once dry becomes obvious as it cracks and crumbles. The reflection of eyeglasses can also be diminished by sprinkling dust on them, but don’t bother, you’ll probably just wreck your glasses.

5: Movement – Movement has a distinct effect on human vision. Our nervous system is attuned in such a way that if something moves we will instinctively look at it. It’s the reason why you can’t sit in a pub without constantly looking at a TV and its one reason a loose tarp flapping in the wind is painfully obvious even if it blends in perfectly.

6: Noise – The other reason a flapping tarp is obvious is the rhythmic snapping of loose corners and slack ridgelines. Pitching the tarp lower often alleviates this as well as additionally hiding the shape and outline of the tarp.

7: Scent – Scent is important no matter where you go, but usually not for human antagonists. Even in the middle of a national park you will find residents who it is best to avoid. The smells of campfires, food and cooking all attract wildlife. This can be fine if you are only expecting raccoons, but in area with bears you should keep all food at least 500 meters from camp and do all cooking at least 750-1000 meters away from camp. If you are doing stinky cooking (A hungry man can smell cooking bacon from two miles) don’t do it where you aren’t supposed to be. You can always cook a mile down the trail.

8: Light –Do not use flashlights after dark. If you must, diffuse the light through a dark colored sweater or t-shirt. If possible use a red lens filter, Maglites have an accessory pack with light filters, and Tikka’s Taktika headlamp has a switchable white/red filter. The same holds true with campfires and the telltale sparks of lighters and matches. On a cloudy moonless night, a cigarette can be seen from over a mile away, and the quickest way to get a ranger to your stealth site is a smoke trail.

By keeping these factors in mind, both while moving and while camping you will be much less likely to attract unneeded attention to yourself.



Once in a while the daunting idea of backtracking two miles is too much when you encounter no trespassing signs. Often, I have encountered gated communities, golf courses and even public drives which the residents have chosen to close to the public. One must not forget train yards, either. At these times it is useful to move stealthily.

Sneaking into a train yard requires a different approach to making it through a gated community. Sometimes it is enough to simply be inconspicuous while at other times you will need to be nearly invisible.

Inconspicuous is easy. Shave and put on a clean shirt. Walk upright and smile a bit vacantly as if you live in the neighborhood and are just returning home from a nice hike with your gigantic homeless backpack. Often you’ll never even see anybody. If somebody is out watering their lawn, smile and nod. Congratulations, you’ve just joined middle America. If stopped, feign ignorance, nothing is as believable as an ignorant suburbanite.

Invisible is hard. Dark clothes, a dark pack and no jingling is imperative. If you sound like a herd of eight reindeers you’re not making it far. Recheck for sounds, especially sloshing which is most common. If possible put all water in one container or top it off before moving on. Tape or pack anything that is jingling or slapping. You will seldom need anything as over the top as facial camouflage, a dark scarf or handkerchief around the face and mouth will work for this and then you don’t look like rocky raccoon in your mug shot.

Moving is best done upright, unless your silhouette will give you away. Slowly place the ball of your lead foot on the ground. Listen closely for branches of leaves. If you hear it, move you foot a few inches and lower it again. Slowly place your weight down on that foot, and move your trail foot forward placing it on the ground in the same way. This is much easier done on gravel than through leaves. The trick to not dig as you place your foot. While moving, consciously consider noise, light, shadow, movement and silhouette. Do not climb fences, instead, look for gaps. Go over walls and obstacles with a low profile, by swinging your torso atop it then swinging your legs over as low as possible. If you must cross open areas, look for long shadows and move quickly and quietly, keeping as low a profile as possible. Move slowly and deliberately and resist the urge to run across open areas.

If you must crawl, the best way to move is by doing a modified push-up onto your hands and toes and crawling forward with one leg and arm at a time. The trick is to not shift your weight abruptly. I find it easiest to hover my body a few inches off the ground with my hands at chest breadth apart. Do not drag yourself as it leaves an obvious trail and makes too much noise.

I will be honest, I have seldom needed to become “invisible� to go anywhere, but when hiking with friends a playful game of stalking can be fun, especially with people who have watched too many “madman in the forest� horror films. Be careful though, sneaking under the picnic table and grabbing an ankle can get you kicked in the face.


When to be seen.

Just as it is occasionally important to go undetected, there are occasions when being obvious is life saving. If you are ever in hunting areas, on or off season, do not attempt to go undetected. I carry two “safety orange� nylon pennants about a foot long. They weigh nothing, and I seldom think of them. If passing through hunting preserves, I always pitch my tarp in the middle of a clearing with the flags on either corner of my ridgeline. During turkey season I’ve seen guys blindly firing shotguns into bushes at the slightest scuttle. If there are guns around, do not go stealth. It is always better to be accosted for trespassing than shot for being a turkey.

4 years ago


I decided to skip mentioning camouflage makeup. I can’t imagine it being of use, and have never had reason to since the officers stopped making me do it. In my opinion, it’s gross.

The leg is almost better, so I’ll probably get to leave town on monday. Might have one more by then. Thanks again for all the feedback everybody.

4 years ago


You forgot lack of cotton.

I play airsoft from time to time. It is sort of like paintball, but hurts like hell when you get hit. A few of the guys who play have taken it to an exstreme level and used night vision scopes, since my friends and I cann’t afford such nice equipment to take out the other team, we use camcorders. turns out that these camcorder’s work better, when the opposing team wears cotton fabric camoflage.

Cotton Glows.

4 years ago


Interesting note. The only time I’ve used NVGs has been in military situations, and BDUs don’t glow. Does all cotton glow or only white? Do you know what causes it?

4 years ago


That’s funny! Spray paint is also good if you’re required to wear gold shoes for work.

4 years ago


Wilderness Survival Manuals > Survival, Evasion, and Recovery > Chapter I – Evasion > Camouflage

a. Basic principles:

(1) Disturb the area as little as possible.
(2) Avoid activity that reveals movement to the enemy.
(3) Apply personal camouflage.

b. Camouflage patterns (Figure I-1):

(1) Blotch pattern.

[a] – Temperate deciduous (leaf shedding) areas.
[b] – Desert areas (barren).
[c] – Snow (barren).

(2) Slash pattern.

[a] – Coniferous areas (broad slashes).
[b] – Jungle areas (broad slashes).
[c] – Grass (narrow slashes).

(3) Combination. May use blotched and slash together.

Figure I-1. Camouflage Patterns

c. Personal camouflage application follows:

(1) Face. Use dark colors on high spots and light colors on any remaining exposed areas. Use a hat, netting, or mask if available.
(2) Ears. The insides and the backs should have 2 colors to break up outlines.
(3) Head, neck, hands, and the under chin. Use scarf, collar, vegetation, netting, or coloration methods.
(4) Light colored hair. Give special attention to conceal with a scarf or mosquito head net.

d. Camouflage patterns (Figure I-1):

(1) Avoid unnecessary movement.
(2) Take advantage of natural concealment:

[a] – Cut foliage fades and wilts, change regularly
[b] – Change camouflage depending on the surroundings.
[c] – DO NOT select vegetation from same source.
[d] – Use stains from grasses, berries, dirt, and charcoal.

(3) DO NOT over camouflage.
(4) Remember when using shadows, they shift with the sun.
(5) Never expose shiny objects (like a watch, glasses, or pens)
(6) Ensure watch alarms and hourly chimes are turned off.
(7) Remove unit patches, name tags, rank insignia, etc.
(8) Break up the outline of the body, “V” of crotch/armpits.
(9) Conduct observation from a prone and concealed position

*Also See: Movement*

Post Modified: 11/05/05 00:26:19
4 years ago


4 years ago


Totally random thought. The other day, one of my students came to class with a camo t-shirt on, with the words “Ha! Now you can’t see me!” on the front. I laughed my ass off.

4 years ago


Man, I am so with you about the technicolor hiking gear. My brain cannot reconcile what is going on in people’s heads when they bring crap like that into pristine natural settings.

4 years ago


I dunno, it seems that most of the clothing is earthtones…which is great. And it’s actually quite possible to find a backpack that’s not that funky- mine is sort of gray-green and olive. I think one of the worst offenders is actually outerwear and other waterproof stuff; jackets, gloves, hats, tents, bivi sacks, etc. I have yet to find a tent that’s not fucking iridescent; mine is charcoal and white, which is OK, but it’s got a yellow rain fly.

It occurs to me that a lot of this stuff is so bright to increase visibility, such as to searchers looking for somebody lost.

4 years ago


That is the reason, Snark, to make sure you can be found. But some on. How many people who ‘need to be found’ are running around with tents? As for outerwear, I havn’t found much better than surplus gortex ECW (extreme cold weater) shell gear. It’s light, packs tight, and is camouflage. Still get wierd looks in the city though.

We used to joke about being invisibile in the army. Flip our collars up and start acting up. “You can’t see me. I’m not here.” Then again, in the military position of rest, you are to keep your right foot planted. When placed at rest, most of my squad would start shuffling in circles, like our foot was nailed to the groud, so I guess we were all a little goofy.

4 years ago


Oh yeah, was just going to write someting and stumbled upon the first draft of this article. I felt I rambled too much in it so I didn;t use it.

Camouflage is one of those things particular to a guerilla camper and not every kid with a backpack. If you are moving from place to place off established trails, Say, walking from Atlanta to Nashville, you will often have to impede on a variety of right of ways, camping in fields, under freeways, beside train tracks and in some of the most pristine wilderness you can imagine. There are a lot of people who don’t want you sleeping in those places and the best way to convince them they do is by not letting them even know that you’re there.

Camouflage is about more than not being seen, it’s about not being detected. Picking up your trash, hiding your scorch and burying your crap is camouflage. You do it so the next guy to come along can share in the feeling of being the first person on earth to see this undisturbed land (while setting his tent up on top of your cat hole). Camouflage is about not buying a BRIGHT RED tent and annoying the hell out of me by camping in a meadow my site overlooks, and making at least a moderate attempt to blend into the wilderness.

Civil society is all about standing out. When I leave society, I don’t want anything that advertises itself. No camping gear should be bright orange, except for a small nylon flag you use when camping in hunting preserves. Yes, sometimes you WANT people to know you’re there.


Camouflaging a campsite is not difficult if you choose the correct gear. Make or buy your gear out of earth-tone fabrics, brown, green, black and tan that occur naturally where you will be traveling. I don’t own anything white because I don’t do much snow camping, and when I have, I’ve always hoped to be found, cause it almost guarantees a ride to warmer environments. Yes, sometimes you really want people to know you’re there. Now, as you walk through the evening, look for places the same color as your tent or tarp.

Tan – Scrub, dry grasses, summer meadows, sandy areas, concrete.
Black – Conniferous tree clutsters, ledge shadows, under freeways.(But why?)
Green – Grass, bushes, etc. If you can’t find green in a forest…
Brown – Fallen tree trunks, dirt. See green.

Creating camouflage:

You can always use materials around you to create natural camouflage, but it has its limits. Do not try to cover a two man tunnel tent in grass. This is just another reason to go with tarps or ponchos; you can pitch them in a variety of ways to work with your surroundings.

The most important part of camouflage is hiding the outline. With tents and tarps this will always be the ridgeline, the straight strip along the top that works hardest to keep you dry. To break up the ridgeline, You can fold pleats in the fabric of a tarp, and tuck plant remnants into the folds. You can also pitch the tarp extremely low, allowing you to hide behind tall grass. Often you can find natural features, such as crevices that allow you to pitch the tarp almost flat. There is a place I found in California where two trees had grown in such a way next to a dry creek bed that it was actually possible to hang a hammock underground. If I hadn’t found it at nine in the morning, I would have stayed.


what do you think?

4 years ago


I’m lovin’ these posts, people need this information. I know there’s tons of ‘survival’ manuals out there, but I’m just finishing up Bradford Angier’s ‘How to Stay Alive In the Woods’, and I’m wondering what books, (besides the obvious Army Wilderness Training Manuals), you’ve read, and can recommend. I need to go on a trip…a hell of a long one, and learning long forgotten skills would sure as hell help me out.

4 years ago


Is the B.C. rollin’ through the barracks for inspection later or what? M-Nu’s a life-saver. haha. good stuff BP—all the guerrilla camping sections. I was an 11B, so I know what yer sayin’. Army issu ECW gortex gear works very well—I was stationed in Alaska, so I frequently put the gear to the test—expensive, but well worth it if you’re gonna be out in the cold or rain.

4 years ago


I’ve been a guerilla camper for over a year now too and I love the bit about fixing noisy gear and sloshing. I have been stalking so long that it becomes force of habit to stalk everywhere at all times making as little sound as possible.

I started practicing stealth techniques playing Airsoft in Vancouver with Canadian Forces guys. When it comes to woodland camo, CADPAT all the way. Many times I have crawled past enemy snipers, had enemy almost step on me, or hidden in plain sight with CADPAT. It really is too bad that it is so conscpicuous in civilian life to wear all CADPAT. However, in the United States most people don’t recognize the pattern and its digital nature almost makes it fashionable as opposed to scary.
A CADPAT Catalog

My 100L+ CADPACK).aspx
I wanted one third-line pack to pack them all and in the compression straps bind them. The LRPP swallows several smaller lighter sub-backpacks that compartmentalize second-line kits like my clothes and computing gear. And it has some military extras. Nice to know I can use the rapelling harness if I have to rapell off a building in a hurry carrying a 120L load. And the price isn’t as much as it seems because it is in Canadian dollars.

By the way Wolfe, I recognize you. We always meant to get together foar an airsoft op some time but never managed to. IR camcorders would be an interesting hack. Night fighting is psychologically harrowing as it is, but against people with NVG it is like being up against the invisible Predator.

With the exception of some wilderness trips I have stayed mostly urban and sought to maintain access to civilized staples like the convenience of a hot shower every morning.

What I love about your guides Blackpacker is the amount of field-testing your words clearly reflect. You have been there and tried things on a long enough timeline to discover Mean Times Between Failure and what is worth carrying when you are traveling long distances. Thank you for sharing your experience and I do hope you produce a book.

By the way, check out Patrolling, one of the shows my friend Sean Kennedy The Fucking Man has put together. Many of the episodes deal with guerilla camping survival techniques.

Patrolling with Sean Kennedy


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