Camping Safety: How to Secure a Tent From Theft


Whether you’re backpacking across Europe or raising your tent on a well known camping site, the danger of theft is always present.

The problem with securing a tent is that it’s easy to break into one. You can zip it up and use a padlock to make it harder. But a thief can still easily slice through the fabric with a knife and take any belongings you have inside. Also, zipping up the tent will make it pretty clear that you’re away, so it’s not a good deterrent.

If you keep things outside the tent, the odds of theft happening are even worse, because your goodies will attract attention. Also the chance of catching the bad guys is reduced since they’ll have easier time finding what they’re looking for and running away.

But don’t panic just yet, because you CAN enjoy a carefree camping and travelling experience without worrying about petty thieves. You can go to the nearby beach and explore your surroundings without constantly thinking of the stuff you’ve left in or around your tent. All you need is to implement these simple security tips:

1. Camp in safe areas

Set up your tent on camping sites with a good reputation. Check out reviews for each camping site online before visiting, and make sure that you camp in spots that are relatively close to other campers.

Being on the edges or near the border of the camping site increases the likelihood of theft. One summer I worked in a camping resort in Croatia as a security guard. There were many bicycle thefts there each summer. How did they happen? The thieves would usually jump across the fence and steal stuff from campers that were the closest to the fence. This usually happened during the night.

You can expect the same thing if you set up a tent near the border. It’s less likely that a thief will venture to the center of a large camping site because this can only increase their chances of getting caught. So the closer you are to the center the better.

2. Know thy neighbors

By getting to know your neighbors you will accomplish three things:

  1. It will be easier to spot strangers in the environment if you know each other well.
  2. Your neighbors will be more likely to watch out for your things when you’re away.
  3. You can actually ask them to watch out for your stuff when you’re away and vice-versa when you get to know each other better.

I know that this isn’t always possible. First, you might be in an isolated spot with no people around. Alternatively, your neighbors could be socially awkward, or you could be socially awkward, or they simply aren’t interested in any arrangement because they’re always on the go. In that case, they won’t be of much help anyway.

But I’ve seen so many campers who spend time around their trailer house, RV or tent, reading books, drinking beer and just relaxing. That’s the type of sedentary neighbor that can be a great security asset. It’s like having a surveillance system and a security guard free of charge.

2. Store your valuables in a vehicle

A car or an RV is definitely safer than a tent for storing cash, documents, electronics and other valuables. If you have one available, definitely use this simple tactic to your advantage by storing your stuff in a locked vehicle.

However, this doesn’t mean that a regular vehicle is theft-proof. The window could get smashed or the lock manipulated from the outside. You could end up losing your valuables and your vehicle if the thief finds the risk to be worthwhile.

This is why I highly recommend improving the security of your vehicle to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Some basic things you can do is use a wheel-lock and/or a steering wheel lock to prevent the bad guys from driving or towing off your vehicle. Next, making sure that they can’t break into the vehicle is crucial for protecting your stuff. A better lock and an alarm system can help when it comes to this.

If you think these ideas could help, check out the vehicle security section where I explain the best anti-theft devices and methods for securing different vehicles.

3. Use a security backpack

I would never go camping or travelling without a security backpack, also known as an anti-theft backpack. It’s simply the most convenient way to secure money, documents and electronics such as a laptop, camera and mobile phone on the go. A good security backpack is slash-proof, waterproof, has hidden pockets and lockable sections.

So how can this help you secure your tent? Well, since a security backpack is slash-proof, you can secure it to a tree or the tent itself. The thief won’t be able to cut through it unless he/she puts serious effort into it. For this same reason, you can conveniently carry your most precious belongings without having to worrying about getting mugged or losing them.

For example, if your tent is a mile or two away from the beach you may feel like it doesn’t matter much if your stuff is in the tent or on the beach, since you’ll be swimming anyway and you can’t carry your stuff in the water.

However, you can easily lock a security backpack with a thick security cable (link to Amazon) to an immovable object like a tree or a steel pole. Then you can be pretty much carefree about your stuff for at least an hour or so and perhaps even longer depending on your location.

Don’t have a security backpack already? Check out my review article for the 10 best security backpacks for travel.

4. Lock your appliances

Larger appliances like a portable fridge and a BBQ are often the target of theft on camping sites. They’re light enough to be carried away easily, but it’s too inconvenient for the owner to store them away in a vehicle or a storage space. This is why locking these appliances is the most practical way to keep them safe.

The safest devices you can use are a thick chain or a heavy duty security cable. These two locking devices are thick enough to keep your items safe, and they’re lengthy, so you don’t have to struggle to lock them to an object, which is always annoying.

If you’re travelling with a bicycle you’ll want to lock it properly as well. For more tricks and tips check out my bicycle security guide.

5. Hide the smaller stuff

If you’ve set up a tent in an area that’s pretty isolated, you can hide smaller stuff like keys, cash, and documents under a rock or under your tent. Just place them in a sturdy waterproof bag first.

It’s highly unlikely that thieves will look under rocks and inspect tree crevices to find your hidden stash. And even in that case, they would have a much harder time finding your stuff if it’s hidden well, rather than left out in the open in the tent.

6. Get a portable safe

A portable safe is a great option for storing smaller valuables. Whether getting one is practical for you or not really depends on how you travel. If you have a personal vehicle it’s a great option. But if you’re a backpacker it could be too much to carry.

A small portable safe can be used for storing money, documents and smaller electronic devices. My top recommendation is the SentrySafe, which is more like a lockable box, but it’s very tough and both waterproof and fireproof. It’s also quite affordable, under $50 on Amazon.

But as the name suggests, a portable safe is portable, in other words it’s meant for easy carry. So a thief could just steal it and open it somewhere else! This is why you have to secure it to a heavy or immovable object with a chain or a security cable. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense for camping.

By securing it with a chain or a cable, you can consider a portable safe as a safer alternative to a security backpack. Whereas a security backpack is a more practical solution when you’re moving. If you have a vehicle that allows you to carry both without feeling encumbered, both can be valuable travel companions.

7. Reliable self-defense weapon

Camping thefts happen usually while the owner is away. But what if the scavenger makes a mistake and you find him in your tent?

Chances are that he/she will either forcefully try to escape or will have a made-up story for why they’re inside. They might say that they’re lost or they need assistance with something and it can be hard to assess the situation unless you catch them actually stealing your stuff.

In the case where they want a peaceful solution, it’s definitely recommended not to instigate a physical confrontation yourself. First of all, you don’t know if they’re armed and how well they fight. If there is more than one person, you should be extra careful because even if you’re a martial artist you could still get overwhelmed fighting many bad guys at once.

Having said that, you could stumble upon a thief who either doesn’t have an escape plan and is therefore pressured to fight you, or they’re actually determined to steal your stuff even if that means beating you up first. This is sometimes the case with ex-convicts who are on parole and are afraid that you will report them to the police.

In either case, you’ll feel more secure and have a better chance of defending yourself if you have a reliable self-defense weapon at hand. It’s better to carry a non-lethal weapon to avoid legal repercussions if you deal serious damage to the offender.

Your self-defense weapon can be a pepper spray, a baton, a baseball bat or any other object you can use to defend yourself without dealing more damage than is necessary. A tactical folding knife is another solid option. Especially since you can always carry it, and it’s a great deterrent because anyone with half a brain will avoid fighting a person wielding a knife.

Final Word: How to secure a tent from theft

Camping in a tent can be tricky from a security angle. You simply don’t have the strong barriers that a regular home provides. Since anyone can walk into your tent while you’re away, you have to use other barriers to protect your stuff, like a portable safe, security backpack etc.

Locking your possessions with a security cable or a chain to immovable objects will ensure that they can’t be carried away, as long as those locks are in place. If you have a vehicle like a car or an RV, it can provide a safer storage solution and you should definitely use it to your advantage.

But keep in mind that a vehicle left in an isolated area and especially at nighttime can also be a target of burglary. So improving vehicle security is also important especially if the thief knows that you’ve stored many expensive things inside.

I’ve layed out many useful tips in this article, and there are many more on the website. So I hope you’ll use them to your advantage. Because nothing is more fun than a safe and carefree camping experience!

Peter Boné

Chief editor of Security Latest with 5 years of real security work experience. I'm also a family man with wife and two sons. When I'm not turning homes into fortresses, the Boné family is usually on the Nintendo or on California's best hiking trails.

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