Living in a Tent Full Time – Here’s How to Do It

There are any number of reasons why a person might live in a tent full time. Perhaps they’ve had a stroke of misfortune and don’t have any other choice; maybe their job demands it, due to the nomadic nature of the occupation. Or perhaps it’s by choice, as a way to recenter themselves and escape from the noise.

Whatever the case, pursuing this type of lifestyle can feel intimidating and uncomfortable for those of us who are used to a certain level of comfort and convenience. But is it doable? And what do you need to know in order to pull it off? We’ll cover these things and more, down below.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tents for long-term living should be spacious, durable, and insulated, like canvas bell or cabin tents.
  • Dispersed camping is a favorite option, but there are typically time restrictions (14 days) in most places.
  • For long-term camping, agreements with landowners or paying rent may be necessary.
  • Bringing your own toilet and finding alternative ways to wash clothes can be necessary.
  • Simplifying belongings allows for more flexibility in travel and a reevaluation of priorities.
  • Lack of security, potential wildlife threats, and sanitation challenges are significant drawbacks.

Is Living in a Tent Full Time Doable?

woman sitting in a chair next to a tent and fire pit

Before we dive into the technical side of things, let’s answer one important question: Is living in a tent full time even doable? And in addition to that, why would you want to do something so extreme, by choice?

To answer the first question, yes, it certainly is doable. Your gear, the type of tent that you plan to live out of, and where you’ll be camping all contribute to the viability of this lifestyle. Hypothetically, it’s possible to live full time out of any tent of your choice. At the same time, I guarantee you won’t last more than a couple of weeks (or days) inside of a NEMO Hornet tent, or something of an equivalent size. There’s no space for comfort in a tent that size, which means no camping cot or mattress, no standing room, and probably no tent heater either.

For long term tent living, you’ll want to look into the tents that are used for glamping. Canvas bell and cabin tents are durable, spacious, and insulative, making them ideal for when you want to stay in a more permanent location. But, we’ll get more into the side of things a little further down.

Suffice it to say that living in a tent full time can work, and it doesn’t have to be as unpleasant. As long as you prepare yourself properly, and plan out the logistics, it can be an intoxicating experience that you’ll have a hard time giving up.

Things to Consider:

Living in a tent full time isn’t something you can just dive into without a plan, though. Naturally, you can’t just camp anywhere you want for as long as you want to. Campsites require reservations, and dry camping on public land has various restrictions as well. Here are a few of the major points to consider before packing your bags and pitching your tent:

Location

orange and yellow tent by lake and mountains

I think it’s fair to say that most of you will still have a car filled with worldly possessions that won’t fit inside your tent. After all, you’ll need a way to get to civilization to buy food and other necessities, and living purely out of a backpack for several months or years just isn’t doable. That being the case, you’ll need to find a safe, secure, and legal place to park your car overnight.

There are a number of ways that you can go about this, but the easiest is by downloading an app to show you parking locations. Park4Night is a nice option, but mostly shows information about places in the EU. iOverlander, Camperstop, and Campercontact are also effective, especially if Park4Night isn’t working out for you.

And then there’s the all-important matter of where you’ll be pitching you tent…and for how long. Dispersed camping is my favorite way to go, but most places will only let you stay for 14 consecutive days before you’re required to leave. Or rather, the specific verbiage is “Dispersed camping is generally allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period,” courtesy of blm.gov. Most campgrounds will only allow you to reserve a spot for 14 days as well.

So, if you want to hop around every two weeks, it’s certainly a viable option. That nomadic lifestyle may even sound attractive to you, but the key to making it work is by finding your campgrounds well in advance. Keep a detailed planner so you always know how long you’ve been in one spot, and where you’re going to be traveling when your time is up.

On the other hand, that two-week time limit might sound like a nightmare, if you were hoping to set up a more permanent residence. For long term, single location camping, you’ll have to make an agreement with whoever owns the land you’ll be living on. Perhaps it’s your own land, which makes things easy. Otherwise, you may have to pay rent or help out with various chores around the property, if someone lets you live on their property.

Gear

blue backpacking red sleeping bag camping gear on a wood surface

Like most things that come with living in a tent full time, you’ll need to put some serious thought into your gear. There are the essentials, like a tent, sleeping arrangements, food, water, clothing, and (ideally) some way to regulate temperature. But aside from the basics, there are a few other items that you’ll want to have for long term tent living.

  • First Aid Kit. Perhaps this one is a no-brainer, or something that you would consider to be one of the “basics.” Regardless, a first aid kit is an essential piece of gear to keep with you in case you get injured or sick.
  • Batteries. You’ll probably have electronics that use batteries, like a flashlight, that will need replacements eventually. Otherwise, getting a portable power source is perfect for recharging things like your phone, lantern, and laptop.
  • Trash Bags. No matter how much you try to avoid it, you’ll accumulate a large amount of waste eventually. Campsites are notorious for not having dump stations, which is why you’ll need to pack out your own trash. Trash bags are cheap and multifunctional, so make sure you bring plenty!
  • Duct Tape. Make a temporary patch for that hole in your tent, cover a blister, or use it as a trail marker. Duct tape has a surprising number of uses on the trail, and is one of the most versatile tools that you can keep in your arsenal.
  • Satellite Phone. You’re not always going to have cell service when you’re camping. When disaster strikes, a satellite phone can keep you connected to people who can offer aid in times of need.
  • Fire Starter. Starting a campfire is harder than it looks. Whether you’re going with the traditional fire pit, or you’re trying to pump some heat out of your wood stove, a fire starter is invaluable for camping.
  • Multitool. Specifically, a multitool with a sturdy knife. All of the other additions you get with a multitool are helpful, but at the end of the day, a sharp knife will be one of the most useful things you own.

Amenities

man and child showering outside by a van

It’s something we take for granted in our day to day lives, but hygiene is tough to maintain when camping full time. Things would be different if you were living out of an RV, but this article assumes that you’ll be tent camping. In which case, you won’t have direct access to a shower or even a toilet, in some places.

Many campgrounds come with restroom facilities that allow you to take care of your personal waste. However, some don’t provide anything of the sort, and when you’re dispersed camping, you’re on your own in the truest sense. Showers are even harder to come by, and washing machines are unheard of. So how are you going to keep yourself and your belongings clean?

Well, going to the bathroom will be one of the easier problems to resolve. If a campground doesn’t have facilities, you can always bring your own toilet – whether it be a composter or a seat with bags. And if you don’t feel like spending the money, just pop a squat behind a tree or bush. For proper Leave No Trace protocol, check out our guide here.

At any rate, showering and washing your clothes will take a little more effort. Laundromats work great for cleaning clothes, though these may not always be available, depending on where you’re camping. Sometimes, you may have no choice but to wash them by hand. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by partially filling a trash bag with clean water and detergent before shoving your clothes inside. Seal the opening as best as you can, and jostle the trash bag around, imitating the spin cycle on a washing machine. Once you’re satisfied, give them a good rinse, and hang them to dry.

Hypothetically, you could give yourself a shower in the same way that you clean your clothes. You can either pour water over your body and wash yourself between rinses, or you can wet a towel and wipe yourself down. It might not feel as thorough or effective as you’d like, but it gets the job mostly done.

Want to take a more thorough bath? One hack is to buy a gym membership, assuming you’re close to one, and use the shower there. Otherwise, some churches have showers that they may be willing to let you use as well.

Work

Many people decide to live in a tent full time because of their job. Bloggers, guides, and National Park employees are only a few professions that occasionally demand full-time tent living. That being said, if you decide to pursue this lifestyle, you won’t be able to get away with unemployment forever. Considering the recent boom in remote work, living like a nomad is a lot more reasonable than it ever used to be.

However, remote work often requires Wi-Fi and/or cell service. Coffee shops and libraries work in a pinch, but again, you may not always have easy access to such locations. Generally speaking, your best bet is to hotspot your laptop using your phone. Mobile data is a lot more prevalent than public Wi-Fi, so I’d recommend getting an unlimited plan, assuming you don’t have one already.

The Pros of Living in a Tent Full Time

woman lying in a tent reading a book

Once you’ve got your system down, living in a tent full time can actually be quite relaxing. While there are some large upfront costs (think tent, sleeping arrangements, heating, cooking, etc.), you’ll have the ability to save a lot of money in the long run. The cost of your monthly mortgage or rent is likely equal to the price of a very nice tent. You won’t have to pay a water bill, gas bill, electric bill, or internet bill, and it’s likely you won’t be paying as much in fuel for your car either.

Spending more time outdoors can also have a positive impact on your health. Plants release phytoncides, which have been shown to help people take in more air, regulate body functions, and lower stress. And of course, that extra exposure to sunlight will help with your vitamin D levels too.

And don’t forget about the benefits that come from paring down your belongings. For starters, if there’s a place that you want to visit…great! Just pack up everything you own and hit the road. While you’re at it, why not stay there for awhile and absorb all of the things that location has to offer?

Second, it forces you to reevaluate your priorities. It’s easy to value our luxuries and creature comforts, often to the point of neglecting the truly meaningful things in life. When you’re living in a tent full time, you give up on most of the worldly possessions that you’ve held near and dear for so long. In doing so, you open your eyes to a whole new world of living in the moment, pursuing the things that matter, and escaping from the daily rat race.

The Cons of Living in a Tent Full Time

As you might expect, living in a tent full time isn’t without its fair share of challenges. Less comfort is the obvious one, but there are many more pressing matters than simple comfort. For example, you’ll notice that there’s a distinct lack of security when you’re living in a tent. If you’ve ever lived in a house, perhaps you experienced what it’s like to have an alarm system and door locks. In a tent? Yeah, think again.

Of course, it’s not just human invaders that you have to worry about. Bears, raccoons, coyotes, and other animals can wreak havoc on your setup, and can pose a threat to your safety as well. Always store your food properly, and keep a can of bear spray on you for good measure.

Then there’s the matter of sanitation. While camping itself isn’t necessarily unsanitary, it does force you to live without modern facilities that aid with cleanliness. After you use the bathroom, how will you wash your hands? When you’re done preparing food, how will you clean your cookware? Did you make sure to boil or filter the water before using it to clean yourself and other objects? Failing to take care of your sanitary needs can quickly result in illness, making your new lifestyle far less enjoyable.

How about bad weather? Tents are supposed to provide protection against the elements, but we all know that they’re inferior to a house or an apartment. The walls and floor may leak when exposed to enough water, and extreme temperatures can leave you feeling miserable. That’s why it’s so important to find a waterproof shelter (and possibly coat it with a waterproofing spray), in addition to a tent fan or air conditioner for hot weather, and a tent heater for cold weather.

Make it Enjoyable, Not Just Bearable

man sitting in a blue tent with a dog

Everyone has their own reasons for living in a tent full time. Some are forced to, due to their financial situation, while others live that way because their job demands it. Some even do it for fun, or because they want to escape from humanity for a period of time.

Regardless of your reasons for living in a tent, it’s important to keep a positive attitude and find joy in the little things. It will be a difficult experience, especially if you’re used to having a bed, temperature regulation, and convenient access to food, water, and other necessities. However, when done properly, it can be an extremely rewarding experience that will change your outlook on life.

Are you up for the challenge?

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

6 thoughts on “Living in a Tent Full Time – Here’s How to Do It”

  1. Even though you discuss it, are there specific locations, places, parks, campgrounds, etc. where you can live in a tent in one area permanently? A lot of people have advice on how to live in a tent all year but no suggestions on where such locations actually exist. Any specific advice would be helpful.

    1. Hey Rick, great question! To the best of my knowledge, there are no campgrounds or parks that allow permanent camping. Public land (such as National Forests, BLM, and WMA land) has a time limit on how long you can stay in one place – usually 14 days or so. For a more permanent setup, you’d have to look at privately owned land, whether it’s your own property or the property of someone who is allowing you to live there long term.

  2. I’m tent living now in Austin, TX and have been here for 1 year now. This was not by choice a decision, but I became an necessity when lost my job and had nowhere else to go. It has been bearable. The heat right now is killing me though and the winter was pretty brutal and I am trying to get out of here, but I am finally about to get a generator (donated by another homeless person) and I just got a brand new gas grill today that was found by the dumpster of a hotel that’s close to me. So sometimes it can be OK you just have to make sure you have those little amenities (a/c, heating, running water, electricity etc) we’re used to when living in a dwelling and the worst thing for me has been a snake being in my tent and dealing with a couple of rats, and that just has to do with where I am.

    You definitely appreciate those little things in life a lot more when you have to cart in your water, find somewhere to shower, don’t have electricity and freeze yourself to death and Catch your beanie hat on fire, or sit pouring with sweat in a puddle of your own sweat.…..LOL…. Anyway, y’all wish me luck that things either continue to get better or that I get out of here soon out of the woods literally lol lol lol

  3. If I can find a place made of solid concrete with no water heater and no more plumbing than just one shower and one toilet and electricity I’ll take it if the price is right. I might even stay there for the rest of my life especially if I have a guarrantee that nobody but me will ever come on the place. All 4 walls and the roof can be made of solid concrete and no inside at all. If the place is no bigger than 20ft by 20ft, I’d be willing to give it go. If I live on the road I can do janitorial work from place to place. I’ve janitorial skills that include stripping of the old wax and buffing.

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