Living in a Tent Year-Round: Your Ultimate Guide

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on May 2, 2024

The smell of fresh air, the rustling of leaves just outside, and the rhythmic patter of rain on your tent fly; these sounds and sensations aren’t foreign to anyone who has spent significant time camping. Having spent a good portion of my life, across various terrains and climates, enveloped in the embrace of tents, the idea of living in one year-round may sound extreme to some, but it’s not entirely outlandish.

Imagine waking up daily to nature’s symphony, making your coffee over an open flame, and gazing at a canopy of stars each night. Living in a tent full-time is indeed an adventure, but it’s also a lifestyle that comes with its own set of rewards and challenges. In this guide, we’ll delve into the ins and outs of living in a tent year-round, drawing from the vast sea of personal and collective experiences of outdoor enthusiasts.

How to Live in a Tent Full Time & Year-Round (4 Different Ways)

Living in a tent year-round isn’t just about pitching a tent and calling it a day. The process is intricate, and the lifestyle choice can vary widely based on preferences, budget, and long-term goals. Let’s delve into the four different ways you can embrace this lifestyle.

1) Regular Tent Camping: The Nomad’s Choice

The regular tent camping lifestyle resonates with those who crave freedom. Moving every couple weeks means new neighbors, new landscapes, and an ever-changing backdrop.

Dispersed camping, especially in areas like national forests, offers the added benefit of being free. This method, however, lacks amenities. While waking up next to a serene lake one day and atop a quiet hill the next is exhilarating, it can get tedious without access to basic facilities.

Opting for campgrounds can provide the convenience of restrooms, showers, and sometimes even laundry facilities. But this comfort comes with a price. While undoubtedly cheaper than a typical rent or mortgage in many urban areas, the costs can accumulate, especially if you’re staying at popular campgrounds in peak seasons. This also doesn’t give you the same kind of seclusion you may have using other methods.

2) Permanent Tent Setup: Staking a Claim

Having the rights to pitch your tent on a piece of land, be it yours or someone else’s, offers stability. This method allows you to set up a more comfortable and elaborate camp, possibly with more substantial structures (like bathroom facilities) or outdoor furniture. This option often feels more like a ‘home’ than the other tent-living methods. The downside is that you cannot change locations like you could with the other three methods listed here.

Depending on the location and the agreement you have with the landowner, you might find yourself part of a community. On the flip side, if you’ve secured a secluded spot, it can offer unparalleled privacy and serenity.

3) Heavy-duty, Long-term Tents: The Balance Between Stability and Mobility

Canvas tents, yurts, or other heavy-duty tents combine the mobility of camping with the sturdiness closer to a permanent structure. Equipped to handle a range of weather conditions, they often feature more room and can be fitted with amenities like wood-burning stoves (which helps with winter camping – see below).

Moving a canvas tent isn’t as simple as folding up a regular camping tent. Besides the physical effort, you also need to navigate local laws, especially if you’re frequently on the move. Research and planning become essential to avoid potential legal issues. Plus, the more complicated your setup becomes, the more complicated it gets to move, which will quickly become a hassle.

4) Alternative Tent Living: Trading Labor for Lodging

Places like national parks, farms, and even some private enterprises offer accommodation in exchange for work. This kind of arrangement can offer a blend of stability and mobility. While you might be rooted in one place for the duration of your job or contract, once it ends, you’re free to move to the next opportunity. Plus, it offers more creature comforts like regular access to restrooms and hot meals.

Engaging in work-exchange or volunteering in off-grid communities not only provides shelter but also an opportunity to learn. From organic farming techniques to sustainable living practices, the skill set you can acquire is vast. Plus, these setups often foster a sense of community, making it ideal for those looking to connect with like-minded individuals.

5) The Biggest Alternative

Still looking to take life on the road but want more stability and access to basic comforts? Perhaps consider living full-time out of a van or RV. You get the best of both worlds with the ability to move frequently, but also access to essentials comforts like a soft bed and electricity. In exchange, it’s the most expensive option (especially the cost of a van!), but it can be well worth the investment for your comfort.

Benefits of Living in a Tent

The journey of tent living, with its spectrum of challenges and rewards, offers a life less ordinary. As you embrace the outdoors, you not only benefit personally and financially, but you also contribute to the well-being of our planet. The list of benefits may go on and on, but here are our top points for the advantages of living in a tent full time:

Simplify and Prioritize: One of the primary benefits of tent living is the profound simplicity it introduces to your life. Gone are the unnecessary belongings, the cluttered spaces, and the societal pressures to constantly upgrade and upscale. Instead, living in a tent nudges you towards a minimalist lifestyle, where every item has a purpose. This decluttering isn’t just physical – it’s mental too. With fewer distractions and possessions, you can focus on what truly matters, leading to a recalibration of priorities and values.

More Time in Nature: Perhaps the most evident and enriching benefit is the unparalleled access to nature. From the lullabies of crickets at night to the gentle rustle of leaves in the morning, the rhythms of nature become your daily soundtrack. Regular exposure to nature has been linked to reduced anxiety, enhanced creativity, and a heightened sense of well-being. In the digital age, where screens often dominate our lives, such immersion in nature serves as a rejuvenating antidote.

Saves Money: For many, the financial freedom that comes with living in a tent is liberating. Without monthly rent or a mortgage, utility bills, and other associated costs of living in a traditional home, the savings can be significant. Even if you opt for paid campgrounds or invest in high-quality camping gear, the overall expenses are typically a fraction of standard living costs. This financial relief can enable earlier retirement, allow for more travel, or simply provide a buffer for unexpected expenses.

A deck or patio can help keep your tent floor in good shape.

Freedom and Mobility: Depending on your tent-living setup, you have the potential to wake up to a new view every fortnight. This mobility allows you to experience diverse landscapes, climates, and cultures. Even if you’re in a more permanent tent setup, the sheer act of living untethered to a brick-and-mortar home provides a sense of freedom that many find exhilarating.

Lowers Your Carbon Footprint: Living in a tent inherently reduces your consumption. Less space means less heating, fewer electrical gadgets, and a reduced need for artificial lighting. Plus, the very act of being so close to nature often cultivates a greater consciousness about waste, leading many tent-dwellers to adopt sustainable practices, such as composting, recycling, or using solar-powered devices. In essence, your ecological footprint shrinks, aligning your lifestyle more harmoniously with the environment.

Personal Growth/Challenge Yourself: Life in a tent isn’t always idyllic sunrises and gentle breezes. There will be storms, both literal and metaphorical. Facing and overcoming the challenges of tent living – from confronting isolation to battling inclement weather – fosters resilience, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. This lifestyle pushes you out of your comfort zone, promoting personal growth in unexpected and rewarding ways.

Good for Your Health: The health benefits of outdoor living are multifaceted. From the physical aspect of setting up camp and engaging in outdoor activities, to the mental well-being benefits of reduced stress and increased exposure to nature’s therapeutic effects, living in a tent can positively impact your health. Moreover, reduced exposure to pollutants commonly found in urban environments can lead to better respiratory health over time.

Downsides of Living in a Tent Full Time

Every lifestyle has its pros and cons, and tent living is no exception. While the downsides are tangible, many find that the benefits outweigh these challenges. However, it’s essential to enter this way of life with open eyes, understanding, and preparing for the potential obstacles you might face.

Bad Weather/Exposure to All Elements: While waking up to a gentle morning sun filtering through your tent can be magical, the romance quickly dissipates in the face of a howling storm or a relentless heatwave. Tents, even the sturdiest ones, offer limited protection against the whims of Mother Nature. Torrential rains can lead to leaks, strong winds might challenge your tent’s structural integrity, and extreme temperatures can make day-to-day living uncomfortable. Being exposed to such elements requires preparation and often, a robust mental attitude.

Animals: Nature’s inhabitants can occasionally be a bit too curious for comfort. From critters rustling about at night, squirrels making off with your food stash, to the potential threat of larger animals, living in a tent means sharing space with wildlife. While encounters often lean towards the harmless side, there’s an undeniable risk, and precautionary measures become essential.

Sanitation and Utilities Can Be a Challenge: The daily conveniences of a traditional home, like a hot shower or a flushing toilet, become luxuries in tent living. Depending on your location, you might have to devise alternative methods for waste disposal, water purification, and personal hygiene. Living without easy access to utilities demands creativity and a willingness to adapt to less conventional methods.

Remote Locations and Health Care: A secluded spot beside a tranquil lake or deep within a forest offers peace and serenity. However, this remoteness can pose challenges in emergencies. Immediate access to medical care, be it for injuries or ongoing health issues, is not guaranteed. This limitation necessitates a well-stocked first aid kit and possibly some basic medical training.

Basic Shopping Needs and Social Activities: The logistical challenge of obtaining daily essentials, from groceries to other supplies, is heightened in remote camping spots. A simple task like getting fresh milk might necessitate a long drive. Additionally, tent living can limit social interactions. Regular activities like catching a movie with friends or dining out become less frequent and require more planning.

Lack of Community: While tent living can offer a deep connection with nature, it can also lead to feelings of isolation. The lack of a static community means constantly adapting to new environments and neighbors. While some cherish this solitude, for others, the absence of a consistent community can be challenging.

Struggles with Legality: Living in a tent isn’t as straightforward legally. Many regions have laws against long-term camping, especially on public lands. This constraint often necessitates regular movement, careful research on permissible camping sites, and occasionally, brushes with local authorities.

Tips for Full Time Tent Living

Integrating these tips can elevate your tent living experience from mere survival to thriving. The key is preparation, understanding the environment, and ensuring you strike a balance between comfort and the rawness of nature.

1. Purchase a High-Quality Tent

Investing in a durable, high-quality tent is paramount when considering living in one full time. Your tent becomes your home, sheltering you from the elements and providing a safe space. Look for tents known for their longevity and weather resistance. Remember, it’s not just about immediate comfort, but ensuring your tent stands the test of time through diverse conditions.

2. Protect the Exterior of Your Tent

While a good tent is designed to withstand varying weather conditions, adding an extra layer of protection can further its lifespan. Consider applying additional waterproofing or utilizing a fly sheet to shield the material from prolonged sun exposure, rain, or snow. This not only prolongs the tent’s life but also ensures better insulation and fewer leaks.

3. Pick a Strategic Location

Your camping location plays a crucial role in your daily life. While the allure of remote spots is undeniable, ensure it’s close enough to access basic necessities. Being within a reasonable distance from a town or store can save you from many logistical headaches, especially if you run out of supplies unexpectedly.

4. Ensure Access to Basic Utilities

Before settling on your preferred location, assess its utility access. Whether it’s a connection to electricity, the potential for solar power harnessing, or a clean water source, these fundamentals can drastically improve your quality of life in the wild. Planning for these needs early on avoids complications down the line.

Solar panels are more easily installed on a vehicle or permanent structure.

5. Consider the Winter Climate

Seasonal changes, especially winter, can pose a significant challenge. Ensure your chosen location has a winter climate you’re prepared for. While some areas offer a mild cold season, others can be brutally freezing, requiring specialized gear and provisions.

6. Invest in Comfortable Furnishings

Your tent’s interior should be a haven of comfort. Lay down carpets to soften the ground, invest in a warm and comfy bed, and ensure you have the necessary amenities. Just because it’s tent living doesn’t mean you should compromise on the basic comforts of a home.

7. Wildlife Protection

Nature’s critters can be both a delight and a menace. Ensure your food storage is secure to prevent attracting unwanted guests. Whether it’s bear-resistant containers in bear-prone areas or elevated food caches, these precautions are vital not just for food preservation but also for your safety.

8. Rainwater Collection

Harnessing rainwater can be an efficient way to meet some of your water needs. Set up a collection system to gather, filter, and store this natural resource. However, always ensure you’re abiding by local laws when using this method and make sure to properly filter and purify any collected water before consumption.

9. Educate Yourself About the Locale

Understanding your surroundings can enhance your tent living experience. Familiarize yourself with the local flora and fauna, as this knowledge can prove useful, whether it’s identifying edible plants or understanding animal behavior. Additionally, being aware of the area’s typical weather patterns and common issues helps in better preparation.

How to Live in a Tent in the Winter

Embracing the crisp air and serenity of a winter wonderland from the confines of your tent can be an exhilarating experience, but it also presents a set of unique challenges. When living in a tent during the colder months, preparation and adaptability are crucial.

Your tent transforms from just a shelter to a life-saving cocoon against the harsh elements. Prioritizing insulation becomes paramount; a combination of a high-quality winter sleeping bag, thermal layers, and ground insulation can make a world of difference. It’s also wise to ensure your tent’s ability to withstand the weight of snow, and to frequently clear off any accumulation to prevent sagging or potential collapse.

Equally important is the need to combat condensation inside the tent. As you breathe and live within this space, moisture from your breath and daily activities can accumulate, leading to dampness or even frost inside the tent. Adequate ventilation, even in the cold, helps mitigate this issue.

Moreover, having a reliable heat source, whether it’s a portable heater designed for tent use or a safe campfire setup nearby, ensures warmth and comfort throughout the winter months. The allure of winter’s tranquility is undeniable, but it’s essential to approach it with respect and proper preparation.

Resources for winter camping:

Where Can You Live In A Tent Year Round?

Living in a tent year-round requires careful consideration of location. While the idea of perpetual camping is romantic, not all places are conducive to it, either because of natural challenges or legal restrictions.

It’s essential to recognize that while many places allow camping, continuous, year-round tent living might not always be permitted. Always prioritize safety, respect local regulations, and be prepared to be flexible in your living arrangements.

Private Land: The most straightforward option is owning or leasing private land. This provides the most control over your environment and reduces the potential for legal issues related to long-term camping. It’s important to research local zoning laws and building codes before setting up, as even on private property there can be restrictions against living in non-traditional dwellings like tents.

Sierra National Forest in California limits campers to 14 days at one campsite.

Campgrounds: Some campgrounds, especially those in mild climates, operate year-round and offer long-term rates. While this can be a more costly option compared to dispersed camping, it offers amenities like restrooms, showers, and sometimes even laundry facilities. Plus, it makes it much easier to winter-over in a more permanent setting.

National Forests & BLM Land: In the U.S., Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territories and National Forests usually allow dispersed camping for up to 14 days in a 30-day period. After this duration, you’d need to move at least 25 miles from your original location. While this method requires regular movement, it offers a variety of scenic landscapes.

Work Exchange Programs: Some farms, retreat centers, and even national parks offer accommodation in exchange for work. This arrangement can sometimes be in the form of tent accommodations, giving you a chance to live in nature while also having a source of income or sustenance.

Mild Climate Areas: For comfort and safety, you’ll want to choose areas with a relatively mild climate if you plan on tent living year-round. Coastal regions, certain islands, and places with consistent temperatures and fewer extreme weather events are preferable. For example, parts of the Pacific Northwest, while rainy, have relatively mild winters.

Intentional Communities & Eco-Villages: Some communities around the world are dedicated to sustainable living and alternative housing solutions. Joining such a community can provide a supportive environment for tent living, though it’s essential to understand and respect the community’s norms and rules.

Overseas Options: If you’re considering living abroad, many countries offer beautiful landscapes perfect for tent living. Whether it’s the countryside of New Zealand, the beaches of Southeast Asia, or the forests of Scandinavia, each region has its own set of rules and regulations regarding long-term camping. Always research local laws and cultural norms before setting up tent.

Can You Live In a Tent for a Few Months?

Absolutely, living in a tent for a few months is not only feasible but can be an enriching and transformative experience. Many people take on extended camping trips, whether it’s a long-term nature retreat, seasonal work, or simply an adventurous sabbatical. Such a period can provide a deep connection with the natural world, a break from the rigors of modern life, or a unique challenge that fosters personal growth.

However, it’s not as simple as just pitching a tent and hoping for the best. To successfully live in a tent for several months, preparation is key:

  1. Planning: Before embarking on your tent-living adventure, thorough research and planning are essential. This includes scouting potential locations, understanding the climate and weather patterns of your chosen area, and familiarizing yourself with any legal restrictions or requirements.
  2. Gear: Since you’ll be relying on your equipment for an extended period, invest in high-quality, durable gear. This doesn’t only pertain to the tent itself but also to sleeping arrangements, cooking equipment, and storage solutions.
  3. Sustainability: Think about daily needs like water, food, and sanitation. If you’re in a remote area, how will you replenish your supplies? How will you handle waste? Solar chargers can be an excellent way to keep essential electronics charged.
  4. Safety: Being in the wild for an extended period exposes you to potential risks, from weather events to wildlife encounters. It’s essential to have a well-thought-out safety plan, including a way to communicate in emergencies, a first-aid kit tailored to your environment, and knowledge about local wildlife and how to handle encounters.
  5. Mental Wellbeing: Living in a tent can be isolating, especially if you’re in a remote location. Ensure you have ways to stay connected, be it through occasional trips to populated areas, a reliable communication device, or by bringing along good books and journals.
  6. Exit Strategy: Before you start, have a plan for the end of your tent-living period. Whether it’s returning to a permanent residence, transitioning to another form of travel, or something else entirely, having a clear plan can help you adjust when the time comes.

Is it Illegal to Live in a Tent Full Time?

The United States offers some of the most beautiful and diverse public lands – and they’re all yours to use and explore (in accordance with the law, of course).

It is LEGAL to live in a tent and your vehicle full time in the United States, as long as you do it safely and know how to do it properly. The legality of living in a tent full-time is a multifaceted issue that depends on several factors like location, land ownership, local regulations, and the duration of stay. Here’s a breakdown to give a clearer understanding:

  1. Private Property: If you’re on your own land, in many places, it’s generally legal to camp. However, local zoning laws might have restrictions against “dwelling” in non-traditional structures or vehicles for extended periods. Such laws are in place often due to concerns over sanitation, safety, or property values. Always check with local authorities before deciding to live full-time in a tent on your property.
  2. Public Lands: In the U.S., public lands like National Forests and Bureau of Land Management territories typically allow camping, but usually with limits on how long you can stay in one place (commonly 14 days in a 30-day period). After reaching this limit, you’d be required to move a certain distance from your original spot. Continuous, year-round residence in one location would likely be illegal.
  3. Campgrounds: While many campgrounds are designed for temporary stays, some offer long-term rates. However, even these might have restrictions on how long you can reside there. Before setting up long-term, it’s essential to discuss your plans with the campground management.
  4. Urban Areas: Camping in city parks or other public spaces in urban areas is often illegal. Many cities have laws against vagrancy or homelessness that, whether intentionally or not, make it illegal to sleep outside or in unauthorized places, even if you’re doing so by choice in a tent.
  5. Intentional Communities & Eco-Villages: While these communities might be more accepting of alternative living arrangements, they still fall under local jurisdiction and zoning laws. It’s essential to ensure that living in a tent full-time is compliant with both community rules and local regulations.

How to Decide if You’re Ready for Tent Life

Transitioning to full-time tent living is a significant change, one that demands thorough consideration. Posing the following questions to yourself can provide clarity about your readiness to embrace tent life wholeheartedly:

  1. Why am I Doing This? The first and most fundamental question is why you want to live in a tent full time. Is it for financial reasons? A desire for a simpler life? An urge to connect deeply with nature? Understanding your motivation will help sustain you through the challenges.
  2. Am I Prepared for the Elements? Living in a tent exposes you to all kinds of weather conditions, from scorching heat to chilling cold, from torrential rain to howling winds. Are you ready and equipped to handle whatever Mother Nature throws your way?
  3. How Will I Manage Basic Needs? Think about water, food, sanitation, and other essentials. Do you have a plan to obtain clean water? How will you store and cook food? What about showering or bathroom needs?
  4. Can I Handle the Isolation? While tent living can offer unparalleled serenity, it can also be isolating. Are you comfortable with prolonged periods without social interactions or ready to find ways to stay connected with society?
  5. What About Health and Safety? Do you have plans in place for medical emergencies? Are you knowledgeable about first aid? How will you ensure your safety from potential threats like wildlife or unwanted human intruders?
  6. Am I Financially Prepared? Even if you’re seeking to reduce expenses, the initial setup for full-time tent living can be costly. Plus, you’ll need money for ongoing necessities. Have you budgeted for unexpected expenses?
  7. How Will I Maintain my Tent and Equipment? Tents require regular maintenance to remain habitable and safe. Do you possess the necessary skills and tools to make repairs or perform maintenance?
  8. Do I Understand the Legalities? Have you researched where you can legally camp long-term? Do you know the rules and regulations of camping on public and private lands?
  9. Am I Emotionally Prepared? Beyond the physical challenges, living in a tent can be an emotional journey. You might face moments of self-doubt, frustration, or even regret. Are you prepared mentally and emotionally for these ups and downs?
  10. Am I Willing to Adapt and Learn? No matter how much you prepare, unexpected challenges will arise. Are you adaptable and open to learning from experiences, both good and bad?

If, after pondering these questions, you still find the idea of tent living appealing and feel ready to face the challenges, then you might be poised to make the leap. Remember, tent life isn’t just about surviving—it’s about thriving in a more simplified, nature-integrated lifestyle.

Tents You Can Live in Full Time

If you’ve decided that long term tent living is the perfect fit for you, here’s some resources to help you pick the right tent. Make sure you look for tents that have the right durability, spaciousness, and weather protection you need.

FAQ’s

Is it possible to live in a tent all year round?

Yes, it’s very possible to live in a tent all year round. It takes the proper gear, careful planning, and a sense of adventure. It’s not for everyone, but the people who do it live full lives full of many advantages you don’t get living in a traditional home.

Is it safe to live in a tent full-time?

While many live in tents without issue, safety depends on location, awareness, and preparedness. It’s essential to be knowledgeable about local wildlife, weather conditions, and to have a plan for emergencies.

Will living in a tent full-time save me money?

While initial setup costs can be significant, long-term tent living often results in savings, especially on rent or mortgages. However, costs like campsite fees, maintenance, and utilities still apply.

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With over 60 years of experience in the outdoors, we don’t just talk about outdoor gear or recommend a good hiking trail.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

When I'm not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, 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. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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