Camo Your Camp

by Eric Soares on April 26, 2011

How Sea Kayakers Can Blend in at the Beach

Dave Whalen wears camo in camp, puts a camo tarp over his tent. My homemade camo job on my tent fly is in the background.

Dayglo orange is the color to wear when camping at 14,000 feet on Mt. McKinley.  You want to be highly visible against the snow should you need rescue.  And it’s legal to camp in the mountains, so there is no problem with bright colors.  But on the beach, where camping is often frowned upon, especially in California, you should not draw unwanted attention by the constable.  The solution?  Camo.  Camo your camp, your body, your gear, your tent, even your boat.   Here’s how.

Gear bags should blend in with the surroundings.

It’s easy to camouflage your body.  You can wear desert camo, which can be purchased at dime stores, or you can make your own camo clothing, as I do, or even wear aloha shirts with beach scenes printed on them.  When it’s warm, you can blend in by wearing hardly anything at all, ahem. Your gear bags can be neutral colors such as sand, grey, and brown, or be a mossy oak or desert camo pattern.  It’s up to you.

Brightly colored tents can be covered with camo to look like a mossy rock or a bush.

Tents are big and must blend in with sand, rocks, and driftwood.  It’s tough to find a reasonably priced camo tent in colors other than woodland, so the answer is to cover your tent with a camo tarp or netting, or to do like I did and spray paint your tent and tarps an appropriate camo color.  If you place rocks and driftwood around your tent, it should fit in fairly well with the surroundings.

The white-hulled boat looks like a bleached log and the other kayak is covered with camo.

Sea kayaks are another matter entirely.  First, don’t leave them on the sandy part of the beach, where they are highly visible.  Instead, haul them up to the driftwood zone and place them so they look like logs.  There aren’t a lot of camo kayaks available, but some have white hulls which look like bleached logs from a distance.  You can add camo netting to make them blend in better.  As you can see from the photo below, using rocks, driftwood and brushy material is an excellent boat camouflage.  How many boats do you think are in the picture?  That’s right—two! 

These two gaudily-colored 16-foot kayaks are well camouflaged using natural materials.

Camp fires are problematic on beaches which do not permit fires.  The best and safest plan is to forgo a fire.  When it is legal, make a small fire that is not easily seen, and remove all traces afterward.  Be sure to clean up your camp and make it so the next high tide removes any trace of footprints.  Now that’s keeping a low profile. 

In the evening, Dave Whalen slices driftwood to build an inconspicuous camp fire.

I am not advocating that you camp on a beach where it is illegal, though it is possible I may have done it a couple of times in my life.  I don’t remember….  Regrettably, many of the beautiful wild beaches in California and elsewhere in the U.S. have strict no-camping policies (except in designated pay campgrounds, away from the beach, full of cars driving by, people shouting, dogs barking, music blaring, garbage stinking, generators droning—all the stuff we hate).  This is a shame because it is typically okay to camp in the mountains, or on BLM or National Forest land.  Why can we not legally camp on a secluded beach?

Even when camping at a legal beach (such as on the Lost Coast), it is fun to practice blending in with your surroundings, and making it so others are unaware of your presence.   Anyway, who wants to look at a garish orange tent?  Not me.

What do you think?  Is it wrong to camp on a pristine wilderness beach if the authorities say no?  What do you do to reduce your visibility on the coastline?  Do you have a beach camping story to share?  Please post your comments below.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Fat Paddler April 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Funny, most of the photos of Tsunami Ranger camps (in your books) show rows of neatly lined-up brightly-coloured Tsunami kayaks in formation – clearly done for the press shots prior to the task of hiding camp from the police, oops I mean from the paparazzi.

I of course would never consider “commando camping”, or any sort of trespass-type activity. In fact I would never consider doing anything naughty or adventurous, ever. Just ask my wife. It’s only out of sheer curiosity that I have thought long and hard about stealth tactics either for approaching taboo territories or for overnight stays. For example, if one was to approach a naval vessel at night.. oh hang on, you may already have experience on that one.

I’m sure there are plenty of *other* paddlers out there however that think of staying overnight in hard to reach places, so the advice is great for *them*. They’ve probably already bought camping equipment in stealthy colours I’d imagine.

What about daytime stealth missions Eric? Clearly you’d never partake in such things, but if you were to advise those that would, what advice might you have? For example, what would you advise this cretin in his red boat to do next time?

http://fatpaddler.com/2010/08/stealth-paddle-mission-the-hunt-for-the-plastiki/

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Mark April 27, 2011 at 7:34 am

No trace is a big part of it, be free and respectful. The no camp rules come from people being abusive with opportunities they have.
Be inspired be free !!

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Robin Thacker April 27, 2011 at 7:59 am

There are thousands of us out there already….you just can’t find us. 🙂

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Eric Soares April 27, 2011 at 8:41 am

Thanks Robin, Mark, and Fat Paddler. It’s heartening to know there are thousands out there already, keeping a secret and CLEAN camp, who can’t be found. I won’t be looking for you, but should our paths cross, I’ll give you a tip o’ the hat.

And to FP, yes the camp pictures in our books are somewhat set-ups of boats lined up neatly. In truth, we used to be less concerned with hiding, as most people did not seem to care. But since, oh, about 2001, suddenly, authority types are very concerned about kayakers. This is ridiculous, as 99.9999% of terrorists from desert countries can’t swim, are deathly afraid of a body of water bigger than a mudhole, are too lame to learn a complex activity like kayaking, and are unlikely to storm a remote beach and wreak havoc on the driftwood.

And the authorities get really suspicious of kayakers near the Golden Gate bridge, though they ignore all the big powerboats that pass hourly. Go figure. As for being stealthy in the daytime in a red kayak, I suggest the “hide in plain sight” strategem. Yep, as you approach something of interest (like a pier, Barbara Streisand’s “private” beach, or a yacht owned by a villain in a James Bond movie), look stupid with mouth agape. If challenged by a junkyard dog (that is, a security guard), with a big grin say loudly, “I’m a tourist from Kansas!” Then paddle away slowly and awkwardly, as if you can barely wield the paddle. That usually works for me!

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Fat Paddler April 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

A brilliant strategy indeed! I’ll even wear an Aloha shirt and carry a big camera around my neck to look even more like a Yankee tourist. 😉

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gnarlydog April 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

In my locale, sadly a lot of beaches near populated places are closed to camping.
Gradually over the years authorities have forbidden us from enjoying the simple pleasure of sleeping outside.
I believe the reason is a combination of overpopulation in areas where before very few would bother to camp but mainly caused by the blatant abuse from a few irresponsible ignorant campers that have repeatedly trashed the place and caused a public nuisance.
I applaud you that you mention to remove all traces of your stay (illegal or not).
Most likely if campers would not abuse the beach in the first place camping would be still allowed in most places now.
Fires are a sticky situation.
As an avid camper I love fires however over the years I have come to the conclusion that are suitable only in the most remote locations.
Often camp fires cause scars to the land (it’s not always possible to have a fire below tide mark).
These days I prefer my “Candlefire”. I was thought how to make the simple ingenious device by a Californian. For details on how to make a “fire” that does not use local resources and leaves not traces check: http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com/2009/04/diy-candlefire.html

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Lawrence Geoghegan April 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Just makes me so happy to think that I live in an area that has 1000’s of beaches to camp at /on legally without having to hide

Too many people just destroy what they have

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Eric Soares April 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

It’s too bad that people destroy what they have, as Lawrence mentions, and then regulations crop up to protect the wilderness, which is a good thing–up to a point. Although I personally don’t think small campfires on beaches or in rocks or dirt “scar” the land in any appreciable way, wildfires obviously do and should be avoided at all costs. What I have never liked is when partyers make a huge bonfire and break bottles and such and then leave a big mess.

I think Gnarlydog’s Candlefire solution (link to his blog to find out how to do it), is a reasonable alternative to a fire. My question: Can you cook sausages on it?

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Moulton Avery April 27, 2011 at 10:25 pm

What a bunch of scofflaws! No wonder I feel so at home. I think this is a grand topic and thanks, Eric, for the camo tips etc. I’ve always gotten a big kick out of seeing how well I can erase any sign that I’ve spent the night on a particular spot of ground. Add the camo angle and you’re half a step away from Nirvanna, where all the sausages are free, plentiful, and well prepared. G-Dawg and FP: If that “Candlefire” contraption can’t make the blessed sausages sizzle, just go for it and invent one that can! You can do it, lads!

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gnarlydog April 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Eric and Moulton,
the Candlefire has been tested with marshmallows but not with sausages, yet.
I usually travel with tuna-can size Candlefire but I have made once a large one out of a wide shallow tin. It took a lot of wax to fill but it burned larger and brighter than most civilized campfires I usually see. The bonus of the Candlefire it’s that nobody gets smoked out like sitting around a conventional camp fire.
It should be Fat Paddler to report on the suitability of the Candlefire sizzling sausages since he is always the one mentioning them 🙂

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David Winkworth April 28, 2011 at 3:37 am

Nice to be in inconspicuous Eric!
Why would any self respecting paddler want to look like a downhill skier?

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Fat Paddler April 28, 2011 at 6:59 am

Why use the candlefire for sausages when a Trangia does the job so well?? I cooked up sausage sandwiches for the Team Fat Paddler lads twice last weekend, both times on remote beaches out in the bush. Hmmm, sausages…… *drool*

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Eric Soares April 28, 2011 at 9:07 am

Dave, you would be surprised that here in America, downhill skiers don’t look like orange popsicles anymore! Many (including myself) have been influenced by the hippie snowboarders who go for the grunge look. I wear an olive green jacket, a grey helmet, and black snowboarder overalls when I ski.

Okay FP, for us non-Aussies, what in blazes is a Trangia?

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Rainer Lang April 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Trangia is the legendary Swedish alcohol stove.

It’s a non -pressurized, open bath fuel reservoir that produces a nice cooking flame; once it reaches vaporization temperature. Basically, you add the alcohol and light it, the flame spreads through a multi orifice ring at the edge of the fuel reservoir, which looks like a gas stove flame. Great to cook on. Yes it will sizzle sausages.
An ultralight option is the Trangia Westwind. It’s a tripod pot support made by MSR, that holds the Trangia spirit burner. I’ve used these for years, and they’re a great back up device in the event you’re not cooking on a fire. I use denatured alcohol, shellac thinner. Check on youtube or Google it. They’re very compact and efficient.

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Eric Soares April 28, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Ah, so. Thank you Rainer!

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Fat Paddler April 29, 2011 at 5:51 am

And fool-proof! Mine comes packed like a little pillow but includes two pots, a frypan and a kettle in one tiny package. Good for sausages, coffee, or heating up spiced mead after dark… 😉

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Doug Lloyd May 3, 2011 at 1:52 am

What do you think? Is it wrong to camp on a pristine wilderness beach if the authorities say no?

Yes, it is wrong. Mea culpa, however. Recovering comando camper. As ambasasdors to the sport our behaviour and practices must be exemplary or thou shalt leave no good legacy, my good professor. Yes, have fun with your blogs, fellow paddlers, but do things and promote things that make the sport look good to others. I realize I have pretty damn good freedoms here in Canada — but then I’d like that to have some continuence. However, I have noted some of your camo tricks and should their be a post 2012 zombie apocalypse I’ll be prepared. Note to self: camo kayak sails.

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Eric Soares May 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

Camo kayak sails would be perfect, Doug! Now you’re catching on.

Doug makes a good point when he says we are all ambassadors of sea kayaking and must do our best to make the sport look good. What he doesn’t say, but is also true, is that if we don’t try to look good, if we flout the law and flaunt our indescretions for all to see, then we will be regulated by Big Brother, and that would be lousy for us.

We must find the middle way between “doing what we want and damn the torpedoes” and “Yes, officer, I’ll be glad to pay $50 for the privilege of piddle paddling in a paltry pond with big fishes eyeing my every move.”

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davy jones locker May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

search for woodgas stove its made out of old cans is small and hot enough to cook on

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dan lewis May 27, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Way to go Eric! I agree wholeheartedly with camoing our camps. I do it out of respect for the wildlife, and for other paddlers.
I’m not a fan of the military, or their camo look, myself, but even a set of old-school green helly hansen-type raingear with brown gumboots works real good in the world of the rainforest kayaker.
I often get to visit beaches with no human footprints around, and it feels sacreligeous to desecrate the beach by walking around. I look for rocks or cobbles to walk on, avoid walking in pockets of sand, and if the beach is all sand, I walk in my own tracks to avoid footprints everywhere. One good blow and my little trail is gone!
Fires: check out the Bush Buddy stove (http://www.bushbuddy.ca/). It is light, burns anything, and is our primary cookstove when camping. It gives the joys of having a fire, but when you’re done you can pack the ashes out or at least not leave a firepit.
Another good trick is setting up your kitchen in behind the beach logs, under the branches of a big spruce or cedar tree. We often get to watch wolves and other such people from our camo kitchen where we will spend hours just watching the waves, whales and wildlife.

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Eric Soares May 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

Thanks, Dan. You practice an elegant way of camping–and just being–on a pristine beach. I prefer to hop from rock to rock over walking in sand, because it is fun!

I’ll check out the Bush Buddy. Mahalo.

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Bushbuddy vs Solo January 22, 2012 at 7:49 am

If you like the bushbuddy, check out the Solo Stove. Same design, better build, less expensive but a tad heavier. http://www.solostove.com is their site.

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