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How To Tent Camp Full Time. 23 Tips For Living Your Best Life In A Tent

how to tent camp full time

Living in a tent full time can be a liberating and enriching way to live. When you boondock in a tent you can leave behind a lot of responsibilities that come with home ownership or apartment living. You can enjoy the freedoms that come with living in a tent almost anywhere. If this sounds great then you might like to know how to tent camp full time. Here are some helpful tips for living in a tent full time.

Why tent camp full time?

Why would you want to give up the comfort and luxury of a house or apartment to live in a tent? Lets look at the advantages of tent camping full time.

  • Freedom – Camping in a tent full time gives you a near unlimited amount of freedom for where you live. You can pack up and move to a new campsite any time you want to. You can camp in national parks, beaches and near almost any point of interest you can imagine.
  • Very cheap – You can save a ton of money camping. There are many places you can camp in a tent for free. There are many volunteering or work opportunities where you can earn free campsites. Even if you spend $10-$20 per day on a campsite that is still cheaper than almost any apartment.
  • Lower carbon footprint – If you care about the environment, tent camping is one of the lowest carbon footprint ways to live. You don’t have a large house or apartment to heat or cool. No yards to maintain. You remove most of your power and gas usage related to housing. The environmental impact of manufacturing a tent is far less than that of a house.
  • You can live almost anywhere – There are campgrounds near almost every attraction on the planet. Most national parks have camping. There are countless independent campgrounds. If you ask nicely many other places will let you set up camp for a bit too. If you want to move around and see lots of places, tent living can enable it.
  • Simple life – Some people just do not want to deal with all the responsibilites that owning a home can bring. Tent living can greatly reduce the amount of things you are required to do in your life. If you want a simple life with lots of freedom and few constraints, tent living is an ideal way to go.

The downsides of living in a tent full time

There are some real downsides to full time tent camping that you should know. You should have an honest sit down with yourself about all of these before you consider doing it.

  • Sanitation – There are is no shower or toilet built into your tent hooked up to a septic system or sewer. You need to find somewhere to clean and shower and dispose of your human waste. If you are camping at a campground they probably have at least some facilities. If you are camping somewhere more off the grid they may not and you will have to find alternatives. Washing in a stream can be fun but when it’s cold out, a hot shower sure would have felt nice.
  • Food supply – Without power, you don’t have refrigeration. Keeping a lot of food in a tent becomes a problem. You can hunt and fish to get food but you can’t store it very long. You can use a cooler but you’ll need a steady supply of ice. You won’t be able to load up a refrigerator with a week’s worth of food living in a tent.
  • Security – You can put a lock on a tent but is it really doing any good? If you have a car you can store valuables there. Living in a tent full time makes it more challenging to keep your possessions safe.
  • Wildlife – Bears and other large animals won’t bother you inside your house too much. They will try to steal any food you leave inside your tent. You have to always remember where you are and learn what lives in the area your setting up your tent. Take necessary precautions for securing yourself and your food from the local wildlife.

How to tent camp full time. 23 tips for doing it right

Now that we have discussed the good and bad of full time tent camping, lets discuss how to make living in a tent better. Here are some helpful tips for how to tent camp full time.

1 – Learn where you can and can’t camp

You need to learn where you can and can’t camp in an area. Are there any local ordiances for camping in parks. Do the campgrounds have time limits? Many national forests limit you to 2 weeks at a time though the park ranger may be flexible. You don’t want to get fined for putting your tent up somewhere not legal. You don’t want to come back at the end of the day and find your tent and belongings missing.

2 – How to find free campsites

If you are interested in boondocking, there are many free places to camp. I have found The Dyrt Magazine is an excellent site for finding campgrounds. They have a great complete listing of campgrounds for each state. You can filter for free or paid campsites or campsites with power or facilities. You can find their campground listings here.

3 – Volunteering for free campsites

Some organic farms actively seek volunteers for farming thier crops. They may allow you to camp on their farm while you are working there for no extra charge. This can be a great way to earn some cash and a free place to set your tent up. You can learn more here.

Some national forests and parks will allow you to camp for free in exchange for volunteer work. This can be something as simple as being a campsite host to more manual labor. You can learn more here.

4 – Choose a good campsite

A good campsite can make life in a tent much more enjoyable. Find a campsite on higher ground that where water won’t flow if it rains hard. Find something sheltered from the wind and sun can be good too. A nice view is never bad either. If you are setting up a tent with a stove jack, it’s a good iea to put the stove jack on the downwind side of the tent.

The below video gives some great advice for finding free campsites for boondocking and tent living.

5 – Get a comfortable canvas tent

Now that you have found a place to camp you need a tent to live in. The best tents for full time tent camping are large canvas bell tents or wall tents. These can give you lots of space for a bed and some simple furniture. Many of them can accommodate a wood burning stove so you can cook in them also. They are constructed of heavy waterproof canvas. See our guide for the best winter tents with stove jacks to learn more.

If you can’t afford a 4 season canvas tent with a stove jack you can use a normal tent made of nylon. These will work too. They will have less comfort features but they will cost much much less.

6 – Get carpet or flooring for your tent

You are going to live in this tent so you want to put down something comfortable to walk on. Some indoor/outdoor carpeting can be a good cheap option. It will be more comfortable than walking on bare tent floor.

Some people prefer to make a wood or tile flooring for their tent. This is another option to give your tent a more luxury floor.

If you are using a wood burning stove in your tent, do not put it on top of material that isn’t flame resistant. Use a flame resistant mat underneath the stove.

The below video and it’s series gives a look at the realities of living in a bell tent.

7 – Get a comfortable bed

You are going to live in a tent for an extended length of time. You need more to sleep on than a sleeping bag laying on the ground or a 1/2inch thick mat. You need a comfortable bed to sleep on in your tent.

For a minimalist approach, you can use a cot with a self inflating mat or air mattress. Lay a sleeping bag on top of it for sleeping.

For a more comfortable approach, you can use an inflatable camping bed (they come in queen and other large sizes). You can use an inflatable mattress in a bed frame to raise it off the ground also. This will make your tent and bed feel a lot more like a home and less like camping.

8 – Camping bunk beds work great

Camping bunk beds are another good option. These are bunk beds that come apart for transporting. It gives you 2 beds that are off the ground to sleep and store things. It doubles the usable space in your tent.

9 – Sanitation – how to stay clean

You need somewhere you can go to the bathroom and take showers. If you want to continue to be a functioning member of society while tent camping you need to clean yourself. If you are in a campground, it will probably have some level of facilities.

If you are camping in a remote location it may not. You can use a stream or pond for washing yourself. You can create a camp latrine by digging a hole.

If you have somewhere you can empty it, you can use a porta potty in or near your tent as another option.

10 – Use local beaches or a gym membership for showers

Many gyms have showers. If there happens to be one near your campsite, you can get a membership so you have access to a shower. Beaches are another place you can find low cost or free showers. Some have outdoor showers for cleaning sand off.

11 – Use propane, battery power or solar hot water heaters

Hot water is really nice to have at your tent when your camping full time. You can get a small electric or propane water heater to give you some how water supply at your tent. Some need pressurized water and will only work if your at a campsite with water hookups.

Another alternative is a solar shower. This will use the sun’s heat to warm up water which you can then shower with. This is a minimalist approach but it can work very well. It does depend on sunny weather

12 – Collect rain water for water supply

Collecting rain is a great way to obtain water for drinking or cleaning. There are tons of ways to set up water collectors. Use a several gallon water container to hold it once you have collected it. It’s best to use rainwater as a backup water supply and not your primary source of water. Hopefully, you have a source of running water nearby or at least a reliable natural source such as a stream. Rain can be a very unpredictable water supply. You never know when a drought will occur.

13 – Use a tent stove for cooking and heating

If you got a tent with a stove jack you can use a wood burning stove for both cooking and heating your tent. This beats having to go outside to cook on a fire or other camp stove especially when the weather turns bad.

If you can’t use a wood burning stove inside your tent, it is still a good idea to get a propane or butane camp stove. A fire isn’t always reliable for cooking. A camp stove set up under an awning outside can give you a good way to cook on a rainy day.

14 – Learn hunting and fishing for food

You can hunt or fish for some of your food. You can gather berries and other fruits too. Learn about the local animals and vegetation to learn what food you can get off the land where your camping. You don’t want to eat something poisonous. Do your research before eating any wild berries or mushrooms. Find out what regulations there are for hunting and fishing so you aren’t breaking any laws to do it.

15 – Invest in a good cooler

If you have power at your campsite you can run a small refrigerator inside of your tent. If you don’t have power you are dependent on a cooler and ice. You can only keep food cold for a limited time without repleneshing ice. Buy a good cooler such as a Yeti that will keep your food cold for longer on the same amount of ice.

16 – Only buy what you can eat before it spoils

Since your ability to store cold food is limited, don’t buy more than you can eat before it warms up and spoils. Learn how long your cooler can keep things cold for and don’t buy anymore than that. Food at your tent will attract animals and pests. The more you have around, the more it will attract. If you combine food shopping with hunting or fishing you can extend the amount of time you can last quite a bit.

17 – Have a first aid kit and emergency supplies

No matter how hard you try to prevent things, sooner or later accidents will happen. Have a well stocked first aid kit and emergency supplies for those times. Always have some non-perishable food for backup and fresh water. Develop a plan for contacting help if you are camping somewhere with no cell service.

18 – Use natural mosquito repellents

No matter how well you try to keep your tent sealed up, bugs will find there way into it. There are ways to help deter mosquitos and bugs from coming in and biting you. Many natural scents such as lavender, peppermint, basil, and eucalyptus are mosquito repellents. Candles made of these will help keep mosquitos out of your tent. Go here to learn about other natural mosquito repellants.

19 – Tent airconditioning (if you’ve got power) for hot weather

If you have power at your campsite you can set up a portable air conditioner inside of your tent. This can be very helpful if you are camping in a hot climate in the summer. Keep in mind that your tent walls are thin and not insulated. Your air conditioning system won’t be that efficient. It will take the edge of some of the heat and humidity inside of your tent.

20 – Learn about the local wildlife

If you are tent camping in a new area, it is a good idea to learn what wildlife lives in that area. If there are bears or other large animals, you need to take precautions with your food supply. It is good to know what you might encounter at your campsite during the day or at night. Learn what edible foods such as berries or fruit grow in the area. Learn what non-edible plants are in the area to so you don’t eat one by accident.

21 – Find volunteer work to make money

Living the nomad life in a tent lets you enjoy a lot of freedoms. Sooner or later you will need money to survive. There may be opportunities to volunteer for money near by. You can look for other small jobs or services you can offer. Setting yourself up on Fiverr can be a good way to find people looking for workers or to sell your services.

22 – Use bikes to save money on transportation

Bikes are a great way to get around from your campsite without burning gas in your car or truck. Get setup with a bike and some bags to use it for carrying groceries and other supplies. You can use it for any nearby trips from your campsite. Bikes are great for exploring new places where you can’t easily take your car as well.

See our guide to the best under $300 hybrid bikes or the best under $500 mountain bikes for some great bike choices.

23 – How to keep your valuables safe in a tent

Keeping your valuables safe in a tent can be a real challenge. There really is no good way to lock a tent. Anyone with a pocket knife can enter any tent whether it’s zippered or locked. The best thing to do with valuables is to keep them in your car or in locked storage somewhere. For things you need to have at your campsite you can try hiding them or locking them to a tree. See our article on how to lock a tent and keep your things safe for some more ideas.

living in a big tent at sunset

How to tent camp full time FAQ

Q: Can I legally live in a tent?

Yes, you can legally live in a tent. You can’t legally live in a tent anywhere you like. Many towns or housing developments have rules against tent camping in the backyard. This is to stop people from renting yard space on Airbnb. There are places you can legally live in a tent such as campgrounds or other out of the way spaces. Check the local laws before setting up a tent anywhere that isn’t a campground.

Q: Can you live in a tent full time?

Yes, you can live in a tent full time. Many people do it as a way to save money or live a lifestyle free from lots of obligations. It can be quite comfortable with the correct gear and the right campsite.

Q: Can you live at a campsite?

Some campsites and RV parks allow long term full time camping. Check with the campsite how long they will allow you to stay there before checking in. Some allow long term rentals of campsites.

Q: What should you not bring camping?

You shouldn’t bring anything you are really worried about breaking or being stolen. It is very hard to secure anything in a tent or campsite. Camping is an outdoor activity where nature doesn’t always agree with your plans. I would not take anything along I was really worried about breaking or ruining.

Some campsites may have rules for firearms or alcohol. You may want to check the local regulations before bringing those along.

Q: Can I live in a tent in the woods?

You can live anywhere within United States National Forest land as long as it’s not marked as no camping. You can live in other forest lands as well but you need to check with the owner of the land to make sure they allow it.

Q: Can you live in the woods legally?

You can live anywhere in the forest legally where camping isn’t illegal. Camping is legal in any US national forest except where it is specifically marked as illegal. Many other forest lands also allow camping for free or with a permit.

Q: What does Boondocking mean?

Boondocking is living off grid away from any development. Camping in an undeveloped place that is not a official campground or RV park. Boondocking is living off the land out in the wilderness.

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About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water.  I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions.  I decided to start Gear Craver as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.

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