Nobody ever wants to come back to their campsite to find that their gear and belongings have been stolen or damaged.
It’s rare, but it happens.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth leaving your tent unattended.
People do it all the time, but you never know what could happen.
Why leaving your tent unattended can be risky
Leaving your tent unattended while camping can be a risky move.
Even if you’re just stepping away for a few minutes, you could come back to a campsite that’s been ransacked.
In 2022, a woman had all of her camping gear stolen at Pinery Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada when she left her campsite to go visit a friend.
It’s a rare occurrence to have everything stolen, but perhaps her biggest mistake was leaving her campsite unattended overnight.
Theft can happen anywhere, but it’s probably going to be a bigger risk in busy campgrounds and areas where there’s a lot of foot traffic.
Although you can certainly have your stuff stolen in the backcountry, the risk is lower because your campsite is far less accessible, campsites are very spaced out, and there are less people per square mile/kilometre.
Are campgrounds really that prone to theft?
Keep in mind that the majority of people are there to do exactly what you’re doing—get away from the daily stress of life, spend time with friends/family, and enjoy nature.
Most of them are families, couples, and groups of friends who just want to have a good time.
Likewise, there’s generally this “unspoken rule” in campgrounds to respect your neighbour’s gear and belongings.
Most people wouldn’t want their own camping experience ruined by having their gear stolen, and it’s common courtesy to treat fellow campers’ the way they’d also like to be treated.
So although it can never hurt to be cautious, chances are you’ll have a good time with no issues at all.
Signs you probably shouldn’t leave your tent unattended
Deciding whether or not it might be okay to leave your tent unattended depends a lot on the characteristics of your campsite location, the type of trip you’re taking, and what gear you’re bringing.
Here are some signs that suggest it’s probably not a good idea to leave your stuff unattended:
- You’re frontcountry camping in a campground or park with road/trail access
- The campground or park is in a popular location and gets very busy
- You’re camping on a weekend during peak season (summer)
- You can see other campsites and people from your own campsite
- People drive or walk by your campsite often
- You’ve invested a lot of money in your gear and can’t afford to lose it
Signs that it might be okay to leave your tent unattended
Ross and I leave our tents unattended for hours all the time, but that’s because we’re backcountry campers who camp in very remote areas.
Here are a few signs that suggest it might be okay to leave your tent unattended:
- You’re backcountry camping in a remote area with very few people around
- The trail you took to get there is very difficult and not well-marked (hard for anyone else to find)
- Your campsite is only accessible by water (such as by canoe or kayak)
- Your campsite or tent is set up a good distance away from the trail or sight of other people
- You notice hardly anyone passes by your campsite
How to lower your risk of theft when leaving your tent unattended
There are certain steps you can take to lower the risk of theft when leaving your campsite.
Here’s what we recommend:
Book your trip in a less popular area. Research lesser known campgrounds and parks and book your trip in one of those instead.
Pick a campsite that’s off the beaten path. If possible, choose a campsite that’s set back from the trail or road.
Bring only what you need. Don’t bring expensive items that you don’t absolutely need and can’t replace if they get stolen.
Don’t leave anything lying around your campsite. Put all belongings inside your tent or vehicle so they’re out of sight.
Put valuables inside your locked vehicle. Anything you absolutely can’t afford to lose should be locked away.
Use a tent-friendly lock to secure your tent. A simple travel lock should do the trick, and even though it’s not foolproof, it will definitely make it harder for people to get into your tent.
Insure your tent and other valuable gear. You can get camping equipment insurance through many different insurance providers to give you peace of mind that you’ll be able to replace your gear in case of theft or damage.
Don’t leave for an extended period. Plan to be back within an hour or two to check on your tent and other belongings.
If possible, leave one person at the campsite while others explore the area. This will help protect your gear and make it less attractive to potential thieves.
Keep in mind that there will always be risks
Even if you take all the necessary precautions, there will always be risks associated with leaving your tent unattended.
If you do decide to put a padlock on your tent’s zippers to keep it secure, be aware that this could actually attract thieves since it suggests that you’re storing valuable items in there.
At the end of the day, you have to decide whether or not it’s worth taking those risks.
Your safest bet is to always have someone at the campsite—whether it’s you or another friend or family member.
As long as someone is there, potential thieves probably won’t try to mess with your tent and gear, and if they do, at least you’ll have someone there to stop them.
Leaving your tent unattended FAQ
Do parks and campgrounds have security cameras?
It depends on the location, but some parks and campgrounds may have security cameras installed.
However, they may be located in buildings and common areas as opposed to campsites—and they may not always monitored so it’s best to take extra precautions if you decide to leave your tent unattended.
If you’re curious about whether the area you’re camping in has security cameras, we recommend calling the park or campground ahead of time to find out.
Can I bring my own security cameras?
Yes, you can bring your own security cameras and set them up around your campsite.
However, keep in mind that some parks and campgrounds may have rules against having cameras in certain areas so be sure to check before setting up any additional security measures.
Also, motion-activated cameras can be set up to detect movement and alert you if someone passes by your campsite.
This might be a good option if you’re worried about theft while away from the site.
How long can I leave my tent unattended?
Ideally, you should try to limit the amount of time you’re away from your campsite.
If possible, plan to be back within an hour or two so that you can check on your belongings frequently.
If you have to be away for longer periods of time, make sure to take extra precautions such as leaving someone at the campsite or using a tent-friendly lock.
You should also consider bringing only what you need and not leaving any valuables visible in your tent.
What should I do if I think something has been stolen?
If you think something has been stolen from your campsite, the first thing to do is contact the campground or park staff.
They may be able to help you locate what was taken and provide any other assistance you need.
They may also be able to help you report the theft to local law enforcement if it was a particularly valuable item or multiple items.
It’s also important to check with your insurance provider in case you have coverage for stolen items so that you can get reimbursed.
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).