If it’s your first time taking the tent out for a little family camping, you probably don’t like the idea of bringing along everyone’s expensive electronics. You can’t secure a tent like you can secure your home, right?

As it turns out, you can secure your tent with an inside lock, just like at home. It won’t stop a knife from cutting through the canvas but it’s enough to keep someone out while you have time to prepare yourself and react.

You can also secure your tent on the outside when you leave, however, there is a small problem with that. A tent lock on the outside is nearly the same as painting a sign on your tent that says, “valuable items inside, please cut your way in.” So, it’s up to you if you want to take that risk.

Locking the inside is perfectly reasonable and will give you and your family a feeling of security along with the aforementioned reaction time.

The lock and zipper method

Tent views
Photo by Mel Elías / Unsplash

If you do a lot of backpacking or went away for college, staying in a dorm or something similar, you might be familiar with this method. All you do is bring the bottom zipper up with the top zipper, so that the two are together, and run a regular padlock through both zipper holes.

If you have multiple entryways into the tent, you can do the same with the others. It’s even better if you drag both zippers down after you loop your padlock through because that will keep the weight of the padlock from pulling on your tent from the top and it will also be less noticeable.

You don’t have to use a padlock either. You can always use a zip tie as it is much lighter and easier to carry around in your pack. Of course, be sure to have a razor blade or knife handy to cut it off in the morning, otherwise, you risk damaging the zipper trying to snap the zip tie, which isn’t the best way to start your day.

If you’re going with the padlock method, you want to be sure that the metal hoops on your zipper are wide enough to accommodate your padlock or vice versa.

The Master Lock 4688D is a good option. The locking mechanism is more of a cable than stainless steel and it is very narrow while remaining strong. You won’t be able to break it unless you cut it with a lock cutter.

Another good option is the Master Lock 4680BBLK. It has a stainless steel hoop, however, it is very narrow and since it is designed for locking up your luggage zippers, it will probably work just fine for your tent zippers.

Other ways to secure your tent

We discussed a zip tie, which is definitely a good way to secure your tent from the inside but there are always other methods as well. You can use simple wire, shoe strings that you can loop through the zipper hoops and tie-down, or even paracord since it is stronger than shoestrings.

Paracord 550 is perfect for looping through the hoops on your zipper. The 550 stands for the amount of weight a single strand of paracord can hold so it’s pretty robust. You can cut through it easier than shoestrings but not as easily as a zip tie.

If an intruder has resorted to cutting through the paracord to get inside your tent and you’re still asleep, you may want to tie bells around the zipper while you’re at it.

Secure your valuables separately

When it’s time to hit the trail, it’s not often that you’re going to bring your most valuable possessions with you anyway. The most expensive thing that you are liable to have on you will be your smartphone and the contents of your wallet or pocketbook.

Keep your most valuable items locked inside your car and park your car in a well-lit, crowded parking lot. Everything else should simply be left at home. One of the best ways to secure your tent is to not have anything worth stealing in it.

Use a portable safe

If you’re camping alone in the wilderness, a portable safe is an excellent option for storing anything that you just can’t take with you when you’re out and about. There are plenty of options out there, most of which you can both secure and carry with you.

Pacsafe makes several of these and they’re a good option for outdoor photographers, who often have to bring their most expensive hardware along for the ride. While it will add some unfortunate weight to your pack, it’s necessary if you’re out there for photography or require your laptop.

Should you lock your tent?

squamish valley on the edge of British Columbia
Photo by Scott Goodwill / Unsplash

Admittedly, it would take a pretty brazen individual to try and break into a tent where someone or more than just one person is sleeping. The chances of that happening are slim and none. However, the odds increase if you do things a certain way.

  • Choose an unsecured location
  • Don’t lock your tent
  • Pick a site that’s well away from others
  • Pick a site that is concealed
  • Carry a lot of valuables and you’re obvious about it
  • You’re alone

While it would still be rare, doing the above-listed things increases your chances of having an uninvited guest.

Camp near other campers

Unless you’re backpacking out in the wilderness, always set up your tent very near to other people. The more people that are around you, the more dissuasive it is to a thieving opportunist. Even late at night, when everything is quiet, the idea that there are lots of eyes around will be more than enough to turn away a would-be thief.

Get to know the others around you as well. Be friendly and enjoy the company of the neighbors. When it comes to camping, the more friendly and outgoing you are, the more your fellow campers will look out for you.

Don’t pick a site that is heavily concealed

Even if there are a lot of campers around you, try not to pitch your tent in an area that is highly concealed with thick vegetation, trees, or bushes. It kind of defeats the point of camping near others if your tent is completely hidden from everyone’s view. Plus, that will make a thief far more confident.

Don’t be obvious that you have valuables on you

If you can help yourself, it’s probably not the best idea to break out your Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ or your new, 2022 Apple iPad in front of everyone. If there is a thief in the vicinity, it’s like hanging Beggin Strips around your neck in front of starving dogs.

You’re only asking for it. If you have your kids or other family members with you, discourage everyone from running around with their smartphones, gold jewelry, or anything of that nature on full display.

Don’t camp alone

This is kind of silly since there are so many of us who enjoy our lone backpacking ventures and if you’re going out into the wilds, that’s fine. However, if you’re camping in unfamiliar territory and there are people here and there, always keep your guard up.

If you can, bring someone else along with you. Perhaps there is someone else who would be more than happy to share some of your adventures. If so, then by all means. Two is always better than one if you’re ever in a scrape.

Always be prepared to defend yourself

The truth is, it’s a rare occasion for a thief to be brazen enough to make their way into someone’s tent while they are still in there. If you’re a frequent camper and backpacker, then odds are you are in pretty good shape.

Most campgrounds, especially state or federally owned land, do not allow firearms or other weapons onto the grounds. That’s not the case with all of them, but it is for most. However, no one is going to tell you that you can’t have a basic utility knife, or something similar.

If you are often alone on your camping excursions, consider taking self-defense classes as well. Although it’s rare for a thief to attack people in their tents, it has happened, so no one can say that it’s impossible.

If you have a dog, bring him/her along with you, as there are plenty of tents out there that are the perfect accommodations for your furry, four-legged friend. Some campgrounds don’t allow pets, however, there is nothing that says you have to camp at those particular grounds.

Oftentimes, even a small dog will be more than enough to dissuade a thief that has ill intentions toward you and your tent.

Final thoughts

You can’t prepare for every eventuality, however, you can prepare for most. If you feel like your tent needs the added layer of security, don’t hesitate to use a padlock or a zip tie on your tent’s opening zipper. If nothing else, it will increase the time that you have to react.