Camping in the wind: Biggest risks and how to do it safely

by | Mar 9, 2023 | Weather

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When you plan a camping trip, you need to be prepared for all kinds of weather—including windy weather.

High winds are no joke, and if you’re not careful, you could end up losing or ruining your tent and other gear items that are susceptible to being blown away.

Places that are most likely to be windy include lakefronts, mountain ridges, and open areas of land (such as fields).

A woman on a windy mountain looking at the view.

But really, you can get high winds almost anywhere if the conditions are right.

In terms of what time of year you can expect windy weather, it depends a lot on your location.

In many parts of North America, winter tends to be the windiest season, but you can also expect high winds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) due to changing weather patterns.

Summer is probably the least windy, but you can still get some serious wind if thunderstorms are rolling through.

How windy is too windy to camp?

Grass blowing in the wind.

Generally, wind speeds above 30 to 40 mph (48-64 km/h) can be too high for a tent.

Wind gusts can be particularly dangerous and may cause tents to collapse or blow away.

However, the exact threshold can depend on several different factors including:

Type of tent: A three-season tent is designed to hold up in moderate weather conditions while an expedition tent is better suited for high winds and storms.

Tent size: Smaller tents that are lower to the ground tents to be more stable in windy conditions than bigger, taller tents.

Tent shape: An aerodynamic tent is designed to withstand higher wind speeds, such as a dome-shaped tent.

Stakes: Quality stakes that are properly placed into the ground can provide additional stability.

Terrain: If your tent is staked into soft ground, such as sand, it may be less stable in heavy winds.

Use of guylines: Guylines can provide additional stability and help a tent hold up better in windy conditions.

Shelter: Surrounding trees or a nearby cliff can provide some wind protection for the tent.

It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s recommendations and use good judgement when camping in windy conditions.

The risks of camping in high winds

A damaged tent on the beach.

You’re bound to deal with a few annoyances if you’re camping in slightly windy conditions, but these are pretty much just inconveniences.

We’re talking about things like your dry bag blowing across the campsite, your hair constantly in your face, and an inability to hear your fellow campers speak while you’re standing three feet in front of them.

But if the winds grow very strong, it can quickly become dangerous.

You might end up dealing with:

Tent damage: High winds can cause tent poles to snap, fabric to tear, and guylines to break.

Lost gear: Anything that isn’t securely stowed away could easily be blown away by strong winds.

Falling trees and branches: Strong winds can cause tree branches to snap, or knock down dead or leaning ones.

Out of control campfires: High winds can cause sparks and embers to blow away from the campfire and ignite a wildfire.

Windburn: High winds can irritate and dry out any exposed skin—especially your face.

Hypothermia: Camping in windy conditions can create a ferocious wind chill effect that causes your body to lose heat at a faster rate, which could increase the risk of hypothermia.

Dangerous water conditions: Swimmers, paddlers, fisherman, and boaters should be particularly aware of strong winds since they can cause sudden and unexpected changes in the water.

Poor sleep: The noise and movement caused by high winds can be unsettling and stressful for some people, making it harder to relax and sleep properly.

These are real risks of camping when it’s very windy, but you can minimize them by simply planning ahead.

Bummer, right?

Not so fast!

Camping in the wind does have its fair share of perks.

The benefits of camping in the wind

A man hiking through a field and enjoying the breeze.

Believe it or not, windy conditions can actually make your trip even more enjoyable.

Some of the best parts include:

Relief from heat and humidity: A strong breeze can help cut through the mugginess of summer, making it easier and more comfortable to be active.

Natural air conditioning: If it’s a hot day, try setting up your tent so the wind is blowing across the entrance. This will help keep air circulating through the tent and make it more comfortable.

Fresh air: The constant movement of air caused by wind helps to bring fresh oxygen into your campsite.

Quick drying time: A strong breeze can help dry wet clothes or your tent after a rainstorm much faster than if there was no wind.

Scenic views: Strong winds can help clear out any fog or haze while also moving clouds through the sky quicker, which may give you the opportunity to enjoy stunning panoramic views of your surroundings.

Improved firewood burning: High winds can help fuel a campfire and keep it burning longer.

Ready to plan your camping trip during a windy stretch of weather?

Here’s what you should do.

Check the forecast for wind speed and gusts

weather forecast for camping trip

If the wind speed is expected to be around 20 mph (32 km/h) or less, you should be good to go camping.

But if the forecast is predicting higher winds, then it might be wise to postpone your trip until conditions are calmer.

You’ll also want to consider gusts—sudden bursts of wind that can cause tents to collapse—when checking the forecast.

The higher the gusts, the higher the risk of damaging your tent.

Camp in a sheltered area

A red 3-season tent set up on a backcountry campsite.

If you do decide to camp in windy conditions, try to find a spot that’s sheltered from the wind.

Look for areas blocked by trees, hills, or cliffs—these can help block some of the wind and make your camping experience more comfortable.

And if you can’t find a completely sheltered area, look for a spot that’s slightly shielded from the wind.

This might mean camping in a narrow valley between two hills, facing your tent into a low-lying area, or setting up on the leeward side of a hill or mountain.

Double check for widow makers

A broken branch on a tree.

“Widow makers” are dead or leaning trees with branches that could snap or break off and fall during high winds.

Before you start setting up, take a walk around the campsite and do a thorough look up around the canopy.

Dead standing trees, precarious looking branches, and leaning trees or branches should be cut down before setting your tent up.

If you can’t safely cut them down, plan to adjust your campsite slightly or go to another campsite in hopes of safer conditions.

Secure your tent properly

Bright orange cordage and a tent stake in the ground.

Once you’ve chosen the right location for your campsite, it’s time to set up and secure your tent.

Make sure you use quality stakes that are properly placed into the ground, and don’t forget to use guylines to provide extra stability.

Guylines are ropes that are attached to the corners of your tent and stretched out over stakes in the ground.

You can secure the ends to nearby trees, rocks, or heavy other objects if necessary.

The guylines can help keep your tent from shifting in the wind and provide extra stability.

Keep lightweight gear tied up or weighed down

Camping gear all over the ground.

Items like camp chairs, dry bags, clothing, and other things are at a high risk of blowing away when you least expect it.

Before you walk away from them, make sure the won’t move by either tying them to something like a tree using cordage, or placing a heavy item on them—like a rock.

Use a tarp to create a windbreak

A tarp shelter at a campsite on a windy day.

A lean-to tarp shelter is an ideal setup for a makeshift windbreak beside your tent or as an extra rest area at camp.

It involves stretching a tarp out between two trees and tying off the four corners.

All four corners can be tied to trees, or you can optionally stake the bottom two corners down into the ground.

The tarp should be angled so that one of its sides is facing the wind, which will help it act as a barrier against gusts of wind.

Just make sure that the tarp is properly secured before you step away.

Practice good campfire safety

A campfire at a waterfront campsite at night.

The wind can certainly help fuel your fire fast, which may be nice, but it can also get out of control very quickly.

To make sure you don’t accidentally set your tent, gear, or the surrounding area on fire, be sure to:

  • Clear the fire pit area of flammable material like branches, leaves, or dry grass
  • Build a ring of stones around the fire to contain it
  • Move any gear several feet away from the fire fit
  • Keep your fire small and manageable
  • Never leave the campfire unattended, even for a few minutes
  • Have a bucket or pot full of water nearby just in case
  • Put the fire out when you’re done with it by pouring water on it until you can’t hear any sizzling or see any steam

Think twice about getting on the water if the wind picks up

Waves on a lake in high winds.

One thing we’ve learned as canoeists is that on big open bodies water, as soon as the wind picks up, the water conditions can change within a few short minutes.

What was once calm waters can quickly become rough waves with whitecaps.

If you’re on the water and it starts to get windy, stay shoreward where possible and take extra caution when paddling in the direction of the wind.

For your own safety, avoid getting out onto open bodies of water if there’s a strong wind blowing.

Chances are the waves you see out in the distance are a lot bigger than they look from shore.

Bring an emergency tent repair kit

A close-up of a tent pole.

When you’re camping, sometimes the unexpected can happen.

If your tent happens to get damaged by high winds, you may be able to save it temporarily so you can camp in it for at least one more night.

We recommend duct take for pretty much everything.

If you’ve got a tear, a patch of duct tape is a fast and effective way to temporarily secure it until you can make a more permanent repair when you get home.

Same goes for broken poles.

You may be able to wrap a bunch of duct take around the pole that it stays together and retains its shape and strength to a certain extent.

It’s also a good idea to bring some extra cordage and a few safety pins in case the poles don’t hold as well as you like.

You may be able to secure the safety pins to areas of your tent that appear collapsed, tie them to some cordage, and then tie off the ends to nearby trees.

Bring a good pair of earplugs

Napping in the tent.

The wind can really howl at night, and even if you’ve secured everything down at camp, it can be super stressful and distracting to listen to it all night long.

This is why we always recommend bringing a good pair of earplugs (we like the wax kind) with you when you go camping in windy conditions.

They’ll help block out the sound so that you can actually get some rest, which is super important for staying safe and having fun on any outdoor adventure.

Bring warm clothing

A man taking off his outer layer of clothing while camping.

Finally, don’t forget to bring plenty of warm clothes and layers with you.

We can’t stress this enough—you need to do this even if you’re camping in the middle of summer.

On windy days, the temperature can feel a lot colder than it actually is—especially in higher elevations or near bodies of water.

Pack layers that include long pants, long-sleeved shirts, a warm jacket, perhaps a windbreaker, socks, and optional items like a hat, scarf, and gloves.

Pack sunscreen, lip balm, and moisturizer

A woman applying lip balm in the woods.

The wind can make you forget that you can still get sunburned, so make sure you always apply your SPF every few hours or so.

Likewise, wind can make dry skin worse, so bee sure to moisturize your face, hands, and other body parts as needed, and apply lip balm to keep your lips hydrated.

It’s also a good idea to bring some sort of barrier cream or healing salve, just in case any areas get irritated from dry conditions.

Camping in windy conditions can be both safe and fun

The wind can be relentless, but it might also just make you feel a little more alive and appreciative of the forces of nature.

By bringing the right gear, following our safety tips, and being aware of your surroundings at all times, you can have a great time on your next camping trip no matter how much wind there is!

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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