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Pirate Camping 101 : An Introduction

By Nick H-J

On this trip we have been doing some makeshift camping from time to time.  At this point in the trip it typically happens around 6 pm daily.  We find a spot, we set, up we camp.  After several weeks of this, in many different environments, I realize I like something about it.  I like the idea that I can just duck into an unnoticed corner in the middle of a city and camp. I can drive off-road into the middle of nowhere and set up shop for the night.  I can just camp, wherever I want.  I have dubbed this method of camping: Pirate Camping.

There is the ‘roadside-pull-off’, the ‘back-country-wagon-circle’, the ‘urban-bivy-bag-in-a-bush’, the ‘hotel-parking-lot-sac-out’.  There are as many forms of pirate camping as you have ideas on how to pirate camp.  It’s not a hard concept to grasp:  You just camp somewhere you don’t have permission to camp.  Some would say it could be called ‘just sleeping somewhere’, and it could be… I have ‘pirate camped’ quite by accident on the lawn of a friend’s house after a particularly good party and woken up with a nasty hangover wondering why I was on the lawn.  These days however I’m going out planning to pirate camp, whether it’s in the back country of Arizona, on a golf course in west Texas, or a block off Beale St. in Memphis.

A question you might be asking right now is: ‘what’s the difference between pirate camping and what homeless people do every night?’.  Good question… Nothing, except that I have the luxury of doing it by choice (my friend Emily, who provides services to the homeless in Durham N.C., would be quick to point out that some homeless are doing it by choice as well).  So really the only difference is I’m writing about it in a clever and witty way as to make it sound trendy and hip.  In fact one of the interesting things about pirate camping is that you can have a wide variety of camping experiences.  Go without much in the way of gear, sleep in a city, and it will likely change your ideas about what its like to be homeless night after night.  Go out into the wilderness and sleep under the stars where there isn’t another person for fifty miles and you might have a new appreciation for nature.

Another question you might be asking is: ‘if I want to go camping why the hell would I want to go sleep on the streets or in a wheat field under the stress of being discovered by someone, when I can have a nice camp site complete with picnic table, hot showers and toilets at my local KOA?’  Here are the reasons I choose Pirate Camping:  It’s free it’s fun, it’s sneaky, and most importantly camping at KOA is douchy.  If you are going to go camping, go camping.

Part of the reason I like pirate camping is that I’m doing something ‘illicit’ that benefits me and doesn’t hurt anyone else.  Sure it only costs $8 to camp in a park, and I suggest you pay that $8 and not pirate camp in state and national parks.  Parks use camping fee revenue to do improvements and maintenance.  Chelle and I have in fact purchased an annual pass that gets us into all of America’s national parks, and we encourage you to support our national and state parks.  If however, you are interested in keeping that $8 (and when you are camping 15 out of 20 nights, like we are, it adds up quickly) thats when it’s time for some Pirate Camping.

I will be posting tips and tricks on pirate camping as we continue along. So stay tuned, and send me pics and stories of your pirate camping adventures and I’ll get them up on the site.

Pirate Camping 101 (Cliff’s Notes)


1. No fees payed.

2. No Permission to camp at your site.

3. Unless your bringing your mama along to clean up after you, clean up after yourself (no littering etc.).

4. No other rules.

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2 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Yes! Thanks so much Matt – I love to hear stories like this. I appreciate you sharing this with our readers!

    I can’t wait to try out some pirate camping in Europe :)

    1. Rochelle on September 11th, 2009 at 1:48 pm
  2. I just returned from an 18-day trip through Europe (mostly Spain, France and Italy) with my wife and kids ages 7, 9 and 11, and “road-side camped” — what we called Pirate Camping — for 6 nights.

    The first time we did it was out of necessity. We got to Bunol, Spain, for La Tomatina, the huge tomato food fight, late at night. The whole town probably has 50 only hotel beds and there were 25,000 people there. So we drove up a small dirt road out of town and slept in the car. We brushed our teeth with bottled water and used baby wipes to wash our faces.

    We actually enjoyed it and found it so convenient that for the rest of our trip, if we were driving late we just planned to sleep in the car so we could get a good start on the morning. We slept off small rural roads every time but once, when we slept in the back parking lot of a small grocery store in Levanto, Italy. The employees arrived in the morning and parked next to us, but they just walked into work ignoring the people asleep in the car next to them.

    The freedom and simplicity of pirate camping is one of my best memories of our outrageously fun trip.

    2. Matt E. on September 11th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

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