Can You Leave Your Tent Unattended When Camping?

Last Updated on 23/09/2022

Can You Leave Your Tent Unattended When Camping

In this article we answer the question, can you leave your tent unattended? We share our views on the risks and when it is probably okay to leave your tent when camping. You will learn some tricks and tent security tips to deter thieves, where to stash your valuables, and what to do with expensive gear.

Can You Leave Your Tent Unattended When Camping?

You can leave your tent unattended when camping but at your own risk. Campsites are generally pretty safe as there are plenty of other people about but that doesn’t mean there aren’t criminals about too. Camping in the wilderness means there isn’t anyone else to keep an eye on your things but it also means there aren’t many people about in general.

If you have access to a car then your gear is no doubt safer in that than in a tent although it may increase the risk of having your window broken. Sometimes you have to be ok with leaving your expensive sleeping bag and sleeping pad inside your tent. Other times you might want to keep everything with you at all times apart from your tent which you can leave up.

It is generally good practice to leave a little note on the zip to say that everything is ok and you will be back shortly with today’s date on it. This is so that any well-wishing passers-by know that the owner of the tent is ok and no authorities need to be alerted. The idea that you may be back imminently may be enough to deter an opportunistic thief.

Can You Leave a Tent at a Campsite Unattended?

Campsites and RV parks are fairly safe places to leave a tent because about 99% of other people are like you and just looking to enjoy some time outdoors. You obviously need to judge for yourself what kind of campsite you are staying at and whether any of the other campers seem dodgy. My best tip for leaving tents at campsites is to get friendly with as many people as possible and ask them to keep a watch over your tent while you are away.

As long as you have paid your campsite fees nobody should be messing with your tent but again, you can leave a note on your zip using a piece of paper on some string. You need to make sure all of your rubbish is picked up and any camping gear that could blow away is secured. You should also double-check all of your guy lines to make sure the structure is secure.

Do You Leave Your Tent When Camping in the Backcountry?

Can You Leave a Tent at a Campsite

Sometimes you want to explore the area around where you are camping or go on a day hike without packing your tent up. But is it safe to leave belongings in your tent when camping in the wilderness? We think so but it is a good idea to leave some kind of note on your tent so that someone doesn’t come across it and assume you might be lost or in danger.

If you are leaving just a tent and no car then you should keep any valuables on you and then leave your tent set up with your large items left inside. In the middle of nowhere, it is more likely for local wildlife to come and poke their noses about than other people. The only other people out in the middle of nowhere will be hikers, hunters, and outdoors people – most of which have a healthy respect for others.

If you know you are going to be leaving your tent up unattended then you can proactively seek a sheltered spot that is unlikely to be spotted by anyone passing by on nearby hiking trails or roads. There are some tips further down on how to cover yourself as much as possible.

Is It Safe to Leave Tent Near a Hiking Trail?

On a long-distance hike, it often makes sense to pitch your tent fairly close to the trail as you can set up late and get off early after packing all your gear. But if you are limited to camping spots that are totally hidden then you may be forced to pitch your tent near a trail and want to leave it up the next day. Most people would say this is a bad idea but I have always found other hikers to be trustworthy and respectful.

In some parts of the world, we would absolutely not recommend leaving your tent unattended near a hiking trail and you may just feel safer packing up your tent. But if you leave a note on your tent door to say the date and that you will be back shortly then even someone who comes in for a closer look should read this, check their phone for the date, and then carry on their way.

One other option would be to take your tent down but then stash it somewhere (again with a note) so that you don’t have to carry it around if you plan to return to your campsite for a second night.

Top 3 Tent Security Tips

Can You Prevent Theft in A Tent? It is impossible from stopping a determined criminal from getting into a tent if they really want to, just like it is with your house and car. If you lock the zip they will slash the fabric. There are some things you can do to help reduce the chances of anyone stealing from your tent though. 

One of the most effective things you can do is use a lock or an alarm to help secure your zip shut. But just in terms of a commonsensical approach, here are our top 3 tips on how to protect your belongings and tent when leaving them unattended at a campsite or in the woods:

1. Always Leave a Note

Leaving a note does two things. It lets people know that you are ok and planning to return to the tent. And it lets any opportunistic people know that you may be back any minute which can be a deterrent.

If you leave a tent unattended on a campsite you have paid for then you can leave it up as long as your payment covers it without drawing any real attention to it. In the woods however local people, hikers, forestry workers, rangers, and farmers may come across your tent and wonder if everything is ok. If you don’t leave a note they may worry you have become lost in the wilderness, or worse. Authorities get called and before you know it sniffer dogs find you as you’re walking back to camp.

Choosing a campsite that is hidden and discreet in the woods

2. Choose Your Campsite Carefully

If you are on a commercial campsite then we recommend you camp next to someone with a nice car or RV and avoid camping next to the beat-up pickup with 4 guys drinking beer. If you are at a festival then there is strength in numbers so make friends with your neighbors before you even put up your tent. If you are in the wilderness then you should pick a well-hidden and sheltered spot that you can leave unattended knowing that it is very unlikely anyone even comes close to finding it.

3. Stash Your Valuables

Keep your car keys on you as well as any other valuables you would be more than upset if you lost. Nobody enjoys carrying a big heavy backpack around but that is the sacrifice you must make if you don’t want to leave things at camp. One place many people think is a safe place to stash valuables is underneath a tent but any savvy criminal will check there.

The safest place to stash things is in the vicinity of your camp but not too close by. If you leave your tent up then that is what will attract people and they won’t be able to check everywhere in a 500-foot perimeter. Under a bush, up a tree, covered by leaves, or behind some logs are all good options for stashing things and if you can use some kind of dry bag for protection then it doesn’t matter if it rains.

If you really don’t want to carry a backpack then you can keep your EDC items on you as well as your valuables and stash other things close by to camp. If you class your tent and camping gear as very valuable then you can take it down and stash that too. A packed-away tent tucked under a bush is way more discreet than a full-sized tent over 6 feet tall.

4 Things to Check Before Leaving a Campground

Before you leave a tent unattended here are some of the questions to ask yourself:

1. Have You Left a Note?

I know this is the third time we are mentioning notes, notes, notes but it is important so we wanted to really drill it into you. If you don’t have a pen and paper then write something in the dirt outside or use charcoal to write directly onto your tent. So long as you can communicate the tent is left where it is intended that is the main thing.

2. Have You Left Your Campsite Clean and Tidy?

Before you leave a campsite without taking down your tent you should make sure that a) all your gear is secure so it doesn’t blow away. And b) that any litter is in a garbage bag or secured inside your tent so that wildlife doesn’t get into it. Also, if you have had a campfire then make sure it is fully extinguished before leaving – there have been far too many devastating forest fires in recent years.

Leaving a Tent Near a Hiking Trail

3. Are Your Valuables Secure?

Do you have your phone, wallet, keys, multitool, and any other valuables secure or on your person? I always like to check before I leave a campsite or the house by repeating Adam Sandler’s ‘phone, wallet, keys’ song in my head. If they are in your backpack then is it zipped shut? If you keep your valuables in your pockets then are the pockets buttoned up? 

4. Is Your Tent Secure?

Before you leave a tent, wherever you are, you should always do the obligatory wiggle test before you leave. The wiggle test is where you grab your tent by the frame and give it a shake to make sure it’s all secure. Nothing violent, just a little shake to make sure it’s still standing strong.

You should visually inspect all the guy lines and tent pegs to make sure nothing has come loose. As well as this, the zips should be zipped all the way shut to help strengthen the structure f the tent and prevent any bugs from getting inside.

Do You Lock Your Tent when Camping?

Camping is awesome in at least 23 different ways but one thing a tent lacks is any kind of security against low-life thieves. You can lock things in your car but the same question could be asked about that. You can always lock your zips together using a small padlock or wire lock but this won’t stop a determined scumbag.

Locks are good in that someone just passing by and curious if there is anything inside won’t be able to take a peek without damaging the tent. Most people will not take the next step of actually breaking and entering a locked tent but if they have a penknife in their pocket they can cut a door as big as they like.

Wsdcam 113dB Bike Alarm Wireless Vibration Motion Sensor Waterproof Motorcycle Alarm with Remote

One gadget I have recently bought for my campervan conversion is a van alarm that could be placed inside your tent so that if anyone tries to get in it will issue a warning and ultimately sound a deafening alarm.

As unfortunate as it is, criminals exist all around the world. In some parts, it is definitely worse than others. In more developed parts of the world though, most campsites are pretty safe. If you leave your beers outside a passer-by with a thirst for alcohol may be tempted to take one or the whole lot. But if you zip your tent up and use common sense then you should avoid having it being intruded upon.

I have only ever had my tent broken into once and that was at a large music festival and thankfully they didn’t notice my $200 sleeping pad, $300 sleeping bag, Osprey backpack, or Turbo Stove. It isn’t nice but it doesn’t happen all that often and so long as you have stashed your car keys and other valuables somewhere safe then the worst thing they can do is steal your tent.

We hope we answered the main question, can you leave your tent unattended? Maybe we are too trusting, a little naive, and have just been lucky not to have too many things stolen from unattended tents. But we think it’s ok to leave a tent unattended at a campsite or in the woods.

Gear Assistant
Gear Assistant

This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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