Did Vikings Use Tents? A History From Ship to Shore

Updated Aug 5, 2023

The Vikings were renowned for their seafaring and raiding prowess. And they were also great at surviving in different climates. Nomadic by nature, they used tents for temporary dwellings when travelling. These tents were crafted from wool, animal hides and canvas – materials chosen for their durability in tough weather. They were also designed to be easy to transport so the Vikings could set them up quickly.

Historical records show the tents weren’t just practical – they were also decorated with intricate designs. This shows the Vikings’ appreciation for beauty, even in temporary abodes. It’s amazing to imagine these majestic tents standing amidst the rugged Scandinavian landscapes or during expeditions across Europe.

Pro Tip: If you want to experience what Viking life was like, you can camp in a traditional Viking tent. Companies now offer authentic replicas for an immersive experience into the world of these legendary explorers.

The Nomadic Lifestyle of Vikings

In our popular consciousness, Vikings are often pictured as seafaring warriors, sailing their iconic longships to distant lands. This image, however accurate, only captures one aspect of their lifestyle. Vikings were also traders, explorers, and settlers, and these roles necessitated a degree of mobility and adaptability in which tents played a crucial part.

When embarking on their long voyages, whether for raiding, trading, or exploring, Vikings would need to establish temporary camps upon reaching their destinations. It is here that their tents, practical and portable, came into use. Much like their ships, Viking tents were marvels of functional design.

Typically A-framed, they were constructed using a pair of wooden poles at either end, connected by a ridge pole, over which a woolen or linen cloth was draped. This design allowed for quick assembly and disassembly, essential for a people frequently on the move. The portable nature of tents allowed Vikings to navigate through various terrains and climates, ensuring their survival during their journeys.

Vikings crafted their tents with meticulous attention to detail, ensuring stability and durability even in challenging environments. Unique details about Viking tents include their versatile designs. Some tents were large enough to accommodate an entire family, while others were smaller in size and used for specific purposes, such as storage or shelter for livestock. The structure of Viking tents also varied, with some using a frame made of wood or metal, while others relied on ropes and stakes for support.

These tents not only provided shelter from the elements but also a semblance of home in unfamiliar territories. They would be the center of daily life during these excursions, serving as sleeping quarters, a place to cook and eat, and a space to repair gear or plan the next day’s activities. In essence, these tents were an integral part of the Viking’s nomadic lifestyle, as indispensable as their ships in their far-reaching voyages.

When it came to camping, Vikings didn’t just pitch tents, they pitched their enemies’ expectations of comfort.

Camping and Shelter in Viking Society

While the Viking lifestyle was diverse, ranging from settled farming communities to seafaring explorers and traders, the importance of reliable, functional shelter was universal. Whether setting up a temporary camp during their voyages or establishing a seasonal hunting site away from their main settlements, Vikings utilized various types of tents to suit their needs.

The most common type of tent among the Vikings was the A-frame tent. These tents were simple, consisting of a pair of vertical poles at either end and a horizontal ridge pole running between them. A woolen or linen cloth was then draped over this framework. This cloth was likely coated with some form of natural water-repellent treatment, perhaps oil or fat, to provide protection against rain.

These A-frame tents were incredibly versatile. Smaller versions, easily carried on a ship, served as personal sleeping quarters during sea voyages or as individual homes when establishing a new settlement. Larger versions, requiring more substantial and less portable wooden frameworks, might be used for communal gatherings or as a chieftain’s hall during important meetings or celebrations.

Beyond the A-frame design, there’s evidence suggesting the use of more elaborate, multi-room tents among the wealthier or more powerful Vikings. These tents would be made up of several connected A-frame structures, providing separate spaces for sleeping, cooking, and other activities.

Regardless of their size or complexity, these tents offered Vikings a measure of comfort and familiarity amidst their often challenging and unpredictable lives. They were not merely shelters, but homes away from home, a testament to the Vikings’ adaptability and resourcefulness in their broad-ranging endeavors.

Dive into the captivating world of Vikings and discover their resourcefulness. Witness their tents – the original tiny homes on wheels – designed for nomadic raiding and redecorating.

Historical Evidence of Viking Tents

Vikings, known for their seafaring skills and warrior culture, did indeed use tents during their expeditions and settlements. Based on archaeological findings and written accounts, here are five pieces of historical evidence that support this fact:

  1. Artifact Discoveries: Excavations at Viking sites have unearthed numerous objects that suggest the use of tents, such as tent pegs, anchors, and fragments of tent fabric.
  2. Viking Sagas: Icelandic sagas, written in the 13th century, describe Vikings setting up tents during their travels and battles. These sagas serve as valuable sources for understanding Viking life and customs.
  3. Artistic Depictions: Viking art, including carvings and drawings, often depict tents alongside Norse warriors. These visual representations provide further confirmation of their use.
  4. Travel Accounts: Accounts from travelers who encountered Vikings, such as Arab chroniclers, mention the presence of tents in Viking encampments or during temporary settlements. These observations give valuable insights into Viking practices.
  5. Comparative Ethnographic Studies: Comparative studies with other contemporary societies, such as the nomadic Mongols, indicate that a civilization with a mobile lifestyle like the Vikings is likely to have employed tents.

It is worth mentioning that while tents were certainly used by Vikings, the exact design and construction methods may have varied. Further research and discoveries may shed more light on the specifics of Viking tent usage.

Artistic Depictions of Viking Tents

There are several examples of Viking-era art that depict tents, providing us with valuable insights into their construction and usage. One of the most famous examples is the Oseberg Tapestry, discovered in a ship burial in Norway and dated to the early 9th century.

On the Oseberg Tapestry, there are scenes of what appear to be ritual processions and encampments. Among these scenes are several depictions of A-frame tents. Some of these tents have elaborate decoration, suggesting that they might have been used for special occasions or by individuals of high status.

Additionally, the Bayeux Tapestry, though not a Viking artifact itself, provides some glimpses into the Norse influence on Norman culture. The Normans, descendants of Viking settlers in what is now northern France, are depicted using tents during their invasion of England in 1066. These tents resemble the A-frame style associated with the Vikings, indicating a continuity of design and usage.

Finally, on several Viking Age picture stones from Sweden, such as those found in Gotland, scenes of ships and warriors also include tents, underlining their importance in Viking expeditions.

These artistic depictions, along with physical evidence and textual descriptions, have been invaluable in our understanding of how Vikings used tents. They demonstrate that tents were not just practical shelters but also integral parts of social and ceremonial life in the Viking Age.

Archaeological Discoveries of Viking Tents

Archaeological evidence of Viking tents indeed exists, although it’s important to note that much of what we know comes from a combination of physical remnants, depictions in Viking art, and textual descriptions in sagas and other historical sources.

Several Viking sites have yielded tent rings – arrangements of stones that held down the edges of a tent – giving us insights into the size and shape of the tents. For instance, in Viking settlements in Greenland, archaeologists have found stone rings suggesting the presence of both small, personal tents and larger communal ones.

Perhaps the most direct evidence comes from the Oseberg ship burial in Norway, where two wooden tent frames were found, supporting the idea of A-frame tents. These tent frames, along with a series of carved animal heads that may have served as tent pole finials, have given us valuable clues about the construction and appearance of Viking tents.

Finally, in addition to physical evidence, illustrations on artifacts like the ninth-century Oseberg tapestry and descriptions in Old Norse sagas and laws provide corroborating evidence of tent use in Viking society. These sources depict scenes of Viking camps and describe legal rules regarding tent-sharing, reinforcing the practical and social importance of tents in the Viking era.

Together, these archaeological finds and historical sources paint a fascinating picture of Viking tent use, offering us a window into their nomadic lifestyle and their resourceful adaptations to the demands of their environment.

Viking Shelter Alternatives

Viking homes comprised more than just tents. They also utilized other types of shelters for protection against harsh weather conditions. Here is a comparison of different Viking shelter alternatives:

In addition to the above options, Vikings also utilized natural shelters such as caves, rock formations, and natural depressions in the terrain. These unique details highlight the resourcefulness of the Vikings in adapting to their surroundings.

Beyond tents, Vikings utilized several other forms of shelter. The most iconic among these were the Longhouses and Mead Halls.

Longhouses and Mead Halls

Longhouses were the main dwelling places in Viking settlements. Made primarily of wood, they were elongated structures with a pitched roof, usually covered with turf, straw or wooden shingles. The interiors were multi-purpose, serving as living quarters, storage, and workspace. Longhouses were often large enough to accommodate extended family and animals, providing both human inhabitants and livestock with warmth and shelter during the harsh Scandinavian winters.

Mead Halls, on the other hand, were grand structures, larger than longhouses, serving as communal gathering places. They were central to Viking social life, where the community would gather for feasts, storytelling, and the settling of disputes. Like longhouses, they provided shelter but also symbolized the wealth and power of the chieftain or lord who owned them.

Ships and Boats as Temporary Shelter

Ships and boats were convenient shelters for Vikings when they went on their expeditions. They provided safety and mobility on the unpredictable seas. Here are five points emphasizing the advantages of using ships and boats as temporary homes:

  1. Mobility: Vikings could travel around different regions, adjust to changing weather, and explore new places.
  2. Protection: The sturdy vessels kept the crew safe from strong winds, heavy rain, and extreme cold.
  3. Storage Capacity: The ships and boats had plenty of space for storing food, water, weapons, and other items.
  4. Versatility: Vikings used different areas of the ship or boat for different activities – like transforming the deck to a sleeping area at night.
  5. Community Bonding: Living together in such close quarters created strong relationships between the crew.

During their seafaring voyages, it is thought that Vikings might have used their boats as temporary shelters when on land. The ship itself, turned upside down, or the sail and mast, rigged up as a makeshift lean-to, could provide a quick and convenient form of shelter.

Contradictory Views on Viking Tent Usage

While archaeological evidence and artistic depictions suggest widespread tent usage among the Vikings, it’s worth noting that there are contrasting views among scholars. Some argue that tents may have been the preserve of the elite, with their cost and the effort required to transport them making them impractical for ordinary Vikings. Others suggest that the evidence we have, primarily from ship burials and other high-status contexts, gives a skewed picture and that more commonplace Viking shelters, like lean-tos or huts made from natural materials, have simply not survived in the archaeological record.

Challenging the Assumption of Viking Tents

Challenging the assumption of Viking tents requires critical engagement with the evidence we have and the gaps that remain. Given the scarcity of surviving tent material, much of our understanding is based on conjecture and inference. It’s also worth considering the variety of climates and terrains encountered by the Vikings in their far-reaching voyages, from the icy wastes of Greenland to the lush river valleys of Russia. Would a single tent design have sufficed in all these environments, or might they have adapted their shelters to local conditions, using available materials like animal skins, turf, or snow?


Exploring the question of Viking tent usage takes us on a fascinating journey into the past, shedding light not just on the practicalities of shelter but also on the broader aspects of Viking life. From the iconic longhouses and mead halls of their permanent settlements to the potential use of ships as temporary shelters, we see a society adept at shaping their environment to suit their needs.

Even as we challenge our assumptions and confront the gaps in our knowledge, one thing is clear: whether in a simple tent, a grand mead hall, or a makeshift boat shelter, the Vikings, in their bold and resourceful way, always found a place to call home.

Further Reading

To continue learning more about the Vikings, here are some resources:

Frequently Asked Questions

Did Vikings use tents?

Yes, Vikings used tents as portable shelters during their travels and expeditions.

What were Viking tents called?

Viking tents were called “víðja” or “vígja” in Old Norse, which means “arch” or “hut”.

What materials were Viking tents made of?

Viking tents were typically made of animal skins, such as cowhide or goat hide, supported by wooden poles.

How were Viking tents constructed?

Viking tents were constructed by erecting wooden poles in a circular or rectangular formation and draping the animal skins over them. Ropes were used to secure the structure.

Were Viking tents waterproof?

Viking tents were not completely waterproof, but they could withstand light rain. Additional measures were taken to minimize water leakage.

Did Vikings live in tents permanently?

No, Vikings did not live in tents permanently. Tents were mainly used during their journeys, hunting trips, or military campaigns. They had more permanent dwellings such as longhouses or farmhouses.

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About the Author

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, climbing, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while.

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley


Know Nothing Nomads

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