All posts tagged tenting


Earlier this week, I posted this notice to the info section of the AT Hiker app (iPhone version). I’m posting it more publicly here, partly to get the word out, but mostly to spark some discussion. The move is probably going to be controversial among people who have used the app, and I didn’t arrive at the decision to do this lightly. In the end, I decided that listing so many heavily impacted, unofficial campsites on the over-crowded section of the AT is a burden on the people who maintain the Trail, and I’d rather do what I can to help them than make their lives harder for my own personal gain.

At the request of land managers in the southern three states of the Appalachian Trail, I will be removing many of the unofficial tent sites from the AT Hiker app soon. Many of the waypoints will remain as landmarks or water sources, but without the “tentsite” icon, and won’t show up in the “next camping” tool or the databook list of campsites.

The reason for removing many of the unofficial campsites is that, as many of you know, there will likely be increased crowding on the trail in the coming years due to the films “Wild” and “A Walk in the Woods”. Land managers and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy are doing everything in their power to limit the negative impacts of those crowds on the trail, especially in the southern states where the heaviest use of the Trail takes place. We are all hoping that not listing some of these unofficial campsites will lead more hikers to choose established and maintained sites (like shelters and official campsites), which consolidates the campsite impacts to smaller areas.

I understand that for many of you who purchased this app, the abundance of unofficial campsites is a major draw, and I sympathize. I can’t stand overcrowded campsites and shelters, and I like to know that I’ll be able to camp elsewhere to avoid crowds. But, also like many of you, the Appalachian Trail was a major positive influence on my life and I’d like to do what I can to ensure that it retains some semblance of wilderness for future generations. Each of us needs to do our part to protect this trail that we love.

I encourage all of you who enjoy any part of the trail to contact the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (www.appalachiantrail.org) to find out what you can do to help. There will be a great need for volunteers in the coming years to protect and maintain the trail. I hope you will join me in supporting the efforts of those who work so tirelessly to ensure the continued existence of the trail.

There’s a phrase that Appalachian Trail hikers use so often, I think they’ve forgotten what it means: stealth camping. The term is used when someone camps in a tent, but not at an official campsite. The idea is that you’re tenting in a way that nobody notices you. That’s the idea, at least. I’ve heard the term applied to just about any tenting in any place. And I think we hikers need to kill the term and find a better one, because there’s usually nothing stealthy about stealth-camping.

The phrase probably came about as a bastardization of Leave-No-Trace camping, the idea of which is to leave your campsite in a way that no one can tell that you camped there. But as you walk along the Appalachian Trail, or any major hiking trail in the East, it’s hard to miss the sites where people have tented. Fire rings, packed dirt devoid of undergrowth, detritus from camp kitchens and lost tent stakes– you might as well put up a flag to say people had camped there.


So let’s start calling it what it is: tenting. If you’re tenting anywhere within view of a major hiking trail, you’re probably not “stealth”. And if you’re camping in a site that has clearly had dozens of other tents set up on it, you’re also not being stealthy. Sometimes it’s best to camp on those heavily impacted sites, in order to consolidate the environmental damage done by tromping through undergrowth on the way to a campsite, but you don’t need the pretense of “stealth” versus just plain tenting.

And if you really want to be stealthy, go back to the origin of the term, and take a few hints from Leave No Trace.