Tents don’t get a lot of recognition when it comes to long-term survival and living. Most people consider tents to be either a short-term shelter solution for camping and backpacking, or an emergency shelter for preppers while they take time to build a “better” shelter.
While it’s true that tents are not as sturdy or well insulated as other types of shelter, tents can be made into suitable homes for the long-term with a little bit of planning.
Don’t believe me? Well read on. If you are considering moving into a tent long term, I’ll show you why it’s possible and what to keep in mind.
Best Tents for Long Term Living
There are many different types of tents out there, and some are more suitable for long-term living than others. The type of tent that is best for you may not be the best for everyone.
Location, weather, your long-term survival plan, and other extraneous factors will impact the type of tent that is most practical for you.
You should take time to learn about the different tents available, because I don’t recommend skimping on the quality of your tent and they can be expensive. When I am researching a big purchase, I like to try to find someone who owns it in my area. If I can see an example in person, it makes it easier to know the best option for me.
I’ve found that most people who enjoy the outdoors and spend time practicing prepping and survival skills are willing to share their tips with others.
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Canvas tents are a great option for long-term living. In fact, I think that canvas is by far the best option.
Canvas is more durable than traditional nylon camping tents and it is insulated to keep warm in the winter and is also breathable to keep cool in the summer.
Canvas tents can be large enough to have multiple rooms, which means more room to ventilate a cooking stove or fire.
You can purchase a canvas tent that is lighter weight if you are intending to bring it hiking before you set up the location, but it might be difficult to bring the tent and your other supplies. If you are planning on moving from place to place back-packer style, I’d recommend you look at the nylon tents for ease of use.
The yurt is an iconic canvas tent that dates back thousands of years to Central Asia. A yurt is a great option for long-term living and has been used as a primary home for centuries. It is circular in design with poles for support and can be deconstructed to move with nomadic groups.
Here’s a time-lapse video of a yurt being constructed.
As you can see, yurts are relatively easy to construct but it is easier with some help!
The outside of yurts is made from a variety of materials, and you can add warm and drying layers on top during the wintertime and rainy seasons. The canvas is breathable for people in hot climates, and you can mesh windows and doors for breathability.
The circular nature makes the yurt very strong and durable against high winds and inclement weather. If you don’t want to spend time thinking about the integrity of your tent structure, a yurt might be the way to go.
While you can technically move a yurt, I don’t recommend that unless you are living with a group or have no other option. It’s too heavy to reliably move and unless you are an expert, you might damage the yurt over time. For that reason, choose your location wisely.
You can always make a square canvas tent and easily build a foundation to beef it up. The example below shows how you can raise a foundation to protect your tent, and yourself from the elements. This can work great but won’t be as strong as a circular design.
If you put up a traditional rectangular tent, use lumber to reinforce the roof lines and entry way and make it more structurally sound.
Either way you decide to go, canvas tents are a solid choice for long-term living and provide flexibility to satisfy your needs. If you need somewhere to start, check out Canvas Camp. They make excellent canvas tents and have a wide variety of sizes, stoves, and accessories.
I don’t want to give nylon tents a bad rap. They play an important role in outdoor excursions and survival, and I own several. The reason that nylon tents are great is because they are lightweight and easy. Unfortunately, this affects the durability of the tent, and you might find it challenging to deal with the elements if you live somewhere with 3-4 seasons.
If you are planning to backpack and move a lot, I’d recommend looking at a nylon Kelty tent.
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While I haven’t lived in one long-term, I have had the same Kelty 2-person tent for over 10 years. It has endured many severe and unexpected rainstorms, road trips across the US, and has been hitched on tough terrain, yet it doesn’t have any holes or tears.
If you are going to try to make a nylon tent more durable for the long term, you absolutely must waterproof your tent. Many tents are already waterproof, but you’d be mistaken not to purchase a waterproof sealant to touch up. I’d also bring a couple of tarps for extra rain protection and plan on building a mini structure around the tent to help insulate if you live somewhere cold.
Remember that since you can’t build a fire or safely cook inside of a nylon tent, you’ll need to think about space for that elsewhere at your campsite.
Where to Pitch Your Tent
Almost as important as what tent you buy is where you put it. Even a so-so tent can endure long-term if it is carefully placed and protected from the beginning.
If you are planning on living in a tent long-term, I recommend finding one place and sticking with it. It’s easier on your gear and easier for survival. If you are constantly moving, you risk running out of supplies because you cannot build reserves. It might become difficult to identify patterns for hunting and fishing, or you might get stuck without water, if you are constantly on the move.
Find somewhere that is flat and ideally has easy access to fresh water. Don’t put your tent too close to the water because you do not want to be in the flood plain if it rains. Also avoid rocky areas that might damage the floor of your tent. If there is a spot of soft vegetation you can put your tent on top for some extra cushion.
You also should choose somewhere that is not exposed to the elements so that you can cut down on wear and tear on your tent. Setting up around deciduous trees will help to keep your tent cool in the shade during summer, and warm in the winter sun. It will also protect you from the wind and exposure.
Temperature Control in a Tent
The location of your tent impacts the temperature inside, but it is important that you think about additional ways to heat your tent in winter and cool your tent in summer.
If you have a canvas tent, add warm outer layers that are thick and keep in the heat. You can also use this technique with a nylon tent but be careful about putting too much weight on the tent poles. If you are living in a nylon tent, you will need an excellent quality sleeping bag to help you keep warm. Look for one that is 4 seasons so that it can handle the cold.
I highly recommend adding wood-burning camp stove for long-term living in a canvas tent. You can heat up your space and cook indoors at the same time. Most tent stoves include a chimney so that you can filter excess smoke from your tent. In the summer you can bring the stove outside to keep the tent cool.
This Winnerwell stove is a great (albeit pricier) option. It is lightweight and the stainless steel is designed to last for many years.
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To stay cool in any type of tent, you must keep it in the shade during the heat of the day to avoid it heating up. You should also have ventilation that allows hot air to escape. Nylon tents usually have mesh siding that is great for ventilation. If you have a canvas tent, many have flaps on the ceiling where you can release heat from the top of the tent. Do this occasionally throughout the day to keep it cooler inside.
Sanitation in a Tent
Living in a tent for the long-term can feel disorganized and dirty if you aren’t prepared from the beginning. When you don’t have any furniture, all your supplies are sitting on the ground, and it can be easy to lose track of things. Your food and water can become contaminated if they are haphazardly put in contact with things from the outside.
Have a logical routine for entering the tent and use it each time. I’d recommend taking off shoes and dirty outer clothing before entering to avoid tracking it inside. If your tent is large enough, have an “entry area” with a doormat to catch dirt and place for those belongings.
I’d also recommend that early on you create an area of the tent that is designated for food, water, and essential supplies – like a ferro rod. By keeping all your food in one spot in the tent, you can make sure that it is sanitary and free from contamination. Keeping other essential items close to your food makes it easier to find things that are important, and you need quickly.
When you live in a tent without any running water, it can be easy to neglect your own hygiene. Since you will be spending a lot of time outdoors and in a small space, you must also remember to bathe and practice good hygiene so that bacteria doesn’t get into your living space.
You should also regularly wash your clothes. A clean lake or stream will work in a pinch, or you can purchase a portable wash bag like this one.
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It might be gross, but you also need to think about where you will go to the bathroom. As easy as it is to stop and pee anywhere, some careful planning for a toilet area around your campsite will benefit you in the long run by cutting down on smells, animal activity and contamination at your site.
Do not put your bathroom area within 200 feet of your camp site or any potential water source. You don’t want it to get washed into your site or water supply during a storm, and you don’t want to attract any wildlife.
REI makes a candid video about how to poop in the woods. It’s relevant and teaches some good basic skills about hygiene at a camp site, even though it’s geared toward camping.
Safety in a Tent
While it’s important to protect yourself from the elements when living in a tent long term, you also need to protect yourself from predators and outside threats. Depending on your setup, you might be the only person living in a secluded area. It’s no surprise that even the sturdiest canvas tent can be penetrated by something that really wants to get in it.
If you are living in an area with predators, you will want to keep food outside of your tent. Bear bags are great to hang food between trees and other high objects. They prevent animals from being attracted to your campsite and from eating your food.
You can always build a more permanent door for your tent for added security, but I don’t recommend taking this as your only step. You should also equip yourself with a weapon for protection from any wild animals that might wander into your tent during night. The weapon can be anything from a gun to a bow, to a machete, or baseball bat. Pepper spray and air horns are also great defensive items for your tent.
Even though we consider predators to be larger animals, remember to think about keeping out smaller pests like mice and rats that might bring disease into your tent. Many rodents can make you sick and carry ticks and bugs with bacteria. Sealing up cracks in your tent, keeping it organized and removing food will help to keep out small critters.
Is Living in a Tent Right for You?
If you’ve read this whole article, there’s a good chance that you are seriously considering living in a tent long term.
It is doable and can be a great experience for people looking to get out into nature or disconnect from the stress of everyday life. Tent living encourages people to spend time outside and be active. It is great therapy for someone who wants to simplify their life.
Living in a tent is also inexpensive. It cuts down on costs associated with maintenance for conventional homes and on all the “stuff” that we buy to fill them. Knowing that your living space is limited makes it precious and encourages you to only keep the items that you really need.
Living out of a tent is not for the faint of heart, it will be difficult and trying at times. But, if you are prepared and thoughtful from the get-go, you can happily survive in a tent for the long term.