So in part one of this series we considered the reason WHY we stealth camp and it was decided that this was due to land owners not allowing access to their land, be it due to greed, misunderstanding or maybe even fear - the reasons can be as different as the people who own the land we want to move across.
We can of course practice stealth camping on land we have access to also - again there are many reasons for this - fun, nature watching or maybe even traditionalism or re-enacting of the past. As I have said before I quite often image a scenario where I am a frontiersmen and everyone else are hostile natives - it amuses me to do so.
Whatever the reason for us wishing to camp and not be seen/make our presence known the skill set required isn't really that complicated to learn as long as we can apply simple rules and some common sense.
Firstly lets consider the skills of the ultimate stealth campers of modern times - the military. As a soldier myself I can honestly say that many times over the years we lay up in hides, RV's and various OP's etc often in hostile territory and often very close to civilian properties or towns but always undetected by the local population (when we wanted to be). Even in training, bearing in mind we were training for war when "fulltac" we followed a hard routine designed to make our presence invisible to any enemy forces.
Now I am not saying that all the skills used by the army are pertinent to stealth camping but they are a good foundation to work from. Of course we do not need to lay snap ambushes or practice all round defence or stand to at first or last light - indeed as a civilian acting overly cautious or stealthily we might even be viewed with suspicion but in this part of the series I want to highlight some military skills that should be at the back of our mind when we pack our gear, hike and/or decided on a camp site.
Ok, so the first thing we need to consider is why we might be seen - SHAPE, SHINE, SILHOUTTE, SOUND, MOVEMENT and COLOUR, one or more of these will be what give us away. The more of these we combine the more likely we will be seen. For example a square tarp, being an unnatural shape in nature, will stand out against a back ground of round and twisted foliage. If the square tarp is black the difference will be more pronounced. If it is Orange it will catch even the eye of those not looking for it let alone those who are. So lets consider the above.
SHAPE - as mentioned there is very little in nature that is angular, most camouflage materials are designed to break up or soften such obvious things. So where possible we should avoid erecting shelters that look like little boxes ........... if we cant do this a leaf can be taken out of the militaries book, Basha's (shelters made from poncho's) are never to be any higher than 18" above the ground, this usually means your roof is lower than the surrounding foliage and will not be sky lined or similar. Shape also includes are gear and ourselves too so keep that in mind.
SHINE - maybe this is the most obvious thing as it doesn't take much imagination to realise that a reflective surface will catch the eye. So with this in mind muted and natural colours are always wisely used. But shine can also mean light - it is odd to me how little light discipline civilians have in the woods. It took my usual travelling companion some time and much moaning from myself to learn good night discipline. Good kit husbandry can help with light discipline as 90% of the time we tend to need to use torches to find things or move stuff around etc. If we have everything packed away except our sleeping gear before last light (for example) then we will a, know where everything is. B, not lose anything and not need to use our torch to find things. Also using a torch ruins our natural night vision so try to not use a torch and use your night vision instead - if you need to try and see a object better at night try looking slightly off to one side of it you will be amazed how well that works. As I will cover later ideally we will only get our bedding out just before last light and as such this is when we pack the rest away. Also consider your fire - the light from a fire can shine through the woods a considerable distance. It is no accident that there are so many accounts of various people from mountain men and ancient warriors not lighting fires at night for fear of giving away there positions. I am not saying don't have a fire, most of the time when I am out I have one for sure. All I would say is learn to have a "discreet" one and light it after last light. Indeed there are many fire lays we can use such as the Dakota fire pit that are ideal for this, just remember to use the day light for fire wood gathering! A old saying is "Indian make fire keep warm. White man make fire keep warm gathering fire wood!" - a small fire will do everything a big fire will do generally and it will save you hard work in the process.
SILHOUTTE - again sounds obvious, if you pitch camp on the top of a hill or even in an open field anyone looking up hill will see you against the sky line - this can also be true of the individual going about tasks such as gathering fire wood. A game keeper or the neighbour of a land owner who sees someone where they shouldn't be may report it or investigate it.
SOUND - the military practice doing everything without speaking, these "DRILLS" are practiced over and over again until they become second nature. Whispered conversation is the norm on exercise or deployment to a soldier - soldiers pack their webbing so nothing rattles etc etc - civilians generally don't even tone down their voices which in town are usually raised to be heard over the background noise of cars and TV's etc but more than this even the sound of chopping wood can carry a long way so we need to practice or approach out bushcraft differently too. I remember hearing a story about Jed Smith (a famous mountain man) who reportedly would only fire a single shot when hunting, the reason supposedly was that the Indians could track down a man if he fired a second shot! Another thing people seldom realise is how far sound carries at night - like light sound discipline is a good habit to get into.
MOVEMENT - like silhouette is all about avoiding doing things that will catch the eye. Consider the fact that we are predators by nature and our eyes are forward facing as such we often rely on our peripheral vision to alert us to things we cant see - this means that someone not even looking for or at you will be attracted to you or your camp if they detect movement especially sharp, fast or unnatural movements.
COLOUR - again as mentioned colours can aid us in rescue but on the flip side they will give us away if we are trying to avoid being seen. Most animals don't see colour but we humans do and in stealth camping muted colours are best. Also consider the fact that a green tarp will look out of place if erected on a sandy beach. Nessmuk says that field grey is the best colour for the hunter and certainly this was deemed so by several armies. One thing to consider also when we consider colour is camouflage, dressing like a soldier or a hunter when hiking in the local woods might just catch the eye of someone too. Temper all your kit with common sense army surplus gear is good to use but try not to dress head to toe in DPM or flecktarn if you can help it.
Light and colour
OK so there is something to think about - if we start be practicing how not to be seen then we can work on how to camp with minimum impact of our environment and on the lives of those creatures around us be they bird, beast or man!
In the next part we'll consider how we go about locating and setting up a camp.
This will likely be in 2015, so with Christmas and the New Year fast approaching I will also take the opportunity to thank all my readers for taking the time to read my ramblings and forgive me my poor grammar and spelling. I hope that in so doing I have shared not only my love of the subject but also some gems of knowledge to enhance your outdoor lives. This year has been a good year for bushcraft and a turning point has been reached thanks to people like Dave Canterbury, that turning point has been the move back toward more traditional bushcraft.
I have also noticed that many of the bushcrafters I admire, particularly on you tube, now are not only making more of their own gear but are also proudly hunting out bargains - a positive step away from the commercial fast buck bushcraft industry that was so prevalent in the 90's and early noughties.
All of which gives me hope for the future of our hobby and the skills we cherish.
So with this in mind I wish you all a very happy Christmas and the best of all things in a healthy, wealthy and happy New Year.