What Do You Need to Live in a Tent for a Long Period of Time

Lately I have been thinking about what it would be like to live in a tent for a substantial period of time.  This came about as the result of a discussion on what type of tent would be best.  I came to the conclusion that I don’t know the best brand!

When I was at the Expo in Utah last week, I saw several and they were not cheap.

After looking at them, I came to some conclusions on what I want in a tent. Out of the ones that I saw, I liked the new 16×16 military tent. It was made from a synthetic fabric and while the tent was still quite bulky and heavy, it was not as heavy as canvas.

A 16 x 16 foot military tent

This would be a tent that you would set up for long-term use and not move very often. You would need a vehicle or horses to move it any distance.

The things I liked about the tent were the height; you could stand upright in it. It was set up for heating with a wood stove. The tent appeared to be well vented. There was room for extra supplies and several people.

The tent appeared to be quite sturdy and had a heavy frame. It came with an awning over the entry way. The biggest problem with it that I could see was its price. With extras including a stove, pipe and fitting, it cost around $3800.

Maybe some of you can recommend a good brand or source of large tents. In a long-term situation, I would set it on a wooden platform. Based on prior experience I would  build a platform that is constructed more like a porch or deck with individual boards and spaces left between the boards for drainage and ventilation.

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If you put a ground cloth under the tent, you never want to let your ground cloth extent beyond the edges of the tent. If it rains, the water will run off your tent onto your ground cloth and back under your tent. You will be making a shallow tub for your tent to sit in.

Be sure and allow plenty of ventilation to help keep moisture from accumulating in the tent. Sealing a tent too tight is often one of beginner’s biggest mistakes. Now while I have had quite a bit of experience in smaller tents, I have very little in large tents.

What I would like to do is start a discussion that will help all of us gain knowledge. Send in your comment and suggestions.

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20 thoughts on “What Do You Need to Live in a Tent for a Long Period of Time”

  1. Veteran Who is Preparing

    I’ve stayed in the tent pictured. We were able to place 2 rows of cots in them with a decent sized walkway in the center. Clotheslines down the center for drying clothes and lines along the walls to hang clothes up to air out. Cots separated by your bags like duffels or rucksack. Our company HQ would set up cots on one side and radios and supplies on the other with a larger space in the center for briefings. They are not bad, but heavy as hell and it does take a team to set up (more than just 2 people). I remember connecting 2-3 tents together for making it large enough tents for a platoon (a squad would be out on missions at all times). We also stretched a tarp across dividing a section off for females once for our medic and others that would show up for a particular mission for a few days. There was door panels for both ends.

    I went the route of a squad sized Arctic Hex Tent (mil surplus). They can be set up by 2 people. And if you do it right can hold 8 people in sleeping bags, fewer if on cots or setting up the Yukon stove. It is heavy but I could carry it on my back a ways (without stove). Best way would be on a sled or on a pole carried by 2 people.

  2. I spent a fair bit of time in GP tents in the military.
    They’re great wind blocks, but no insulation. They will leak, the question is just how badly.

    Site selection is probably more important than anything else. High, level ground with good drainage, not directly in the wind, nothing touching it. Trim back any trees or bushes, even long grass.

  3. When I lived in New Hampshire we set up a winter hunting camp across the lake which was based on an 8×10 wall tent erected off the ground, raised over a wooden pallet floor, covered with a tarpaulin, then a 9×12 tent erected over that, so that the sleeping quarters had a double-wall construction for insulation. The only heating inside the sleeping area was from a double-mantle Petromax lantern.

    A large wooden 20×20 ft. A-frame was erected over the whole business, with paracord stringers stretched every 12 inches to support the fly, and the covered entryway outside the tent door had a stove jack through the roof for a stove pipe. Gear was stored along the left flywall off the ground on pallets, and firewood and groceries stored along the right flywall, also up on pallets. Snow would be knocked off the fly each morning and banked around the fly as a windbreak and for additional insulation.

    After the lake freeze-up supplies could be brought in daily and trash hauled out by snowmobile. We hunted deer and bear and ice-fished most weekends until ice-out. Reaching the camp was only 5 miles across the ice by snow mobile, but nearly 20 miles by Forest Service access road. I was tougher in my 30s, but the below zero winters with snowfalls measured in feet, rather than inches are some of my best memories. Having veterans of the 10th Mountain Division as mentors was a big help.

  4. As far as GP tents being ‘cold & drafty’, most have liners available for them and I highly recommend them for both winter & summer use (although not needed as much for summer cooling). Also, the military usually has an unlimited supply of heating fuel for heating the tents, but for ‘off-grid’ or living use, you’ll want a wood stove. I have both a ‘Temperate Tent’ (12’x24′, I believe) but no liner or floor and a canvas GP Small command tent w/ liner (approx 12’x12′). I also have a ‘Yukon Stove’ which would be a little small for the Temperate, but adequate for the GP Small. A larger box stove would do well in the ‘Temp’.
    A clothesline(s) is a must, also hanging room dividers / privacy curtains (made from blankets, tarps, etc.) are nice and if you move basic furniture in, be sure to place some type of platforms such as small squares of plywood or 2×4 blocks or furniture pads under the legs of your tables, bed frames, chest of drawers, etc. to prevent stressing or poking holes through the floor (and to help keep things level).
    I spent a very long summer tent living on my gold claim in No.California and lots of tent time in 24 years in the army. I like it.

  5. P.S. A Temperate Tent is very similar to the one pictured. A good source for new military tents would be ‘Eureka Tents’ in Binghampton, NY. I have three of their tents, 1 military 4 season 3 person expedition tent, 1 military 3 season 2 person tent and 1 civilian large family camping tent and am very happy with all three.
    also, do a search on ebay or amazon

  6. Lived in army GP medium for 2 months exercise in Florida. Engineers had built a 2×4 frame for floor, covered with plywood, and covered that with rubber walkway stuff (probably came in rolls, about 3 foot wide). Was ok. We sat out a nearby hurricane in them.
    Used GP medium & small, with and without liners (Germany), would not use the liner for summer but big plus for winter. Make it a point to keep it swept out, and trash picked up. We had a problem with guys urinating right outside the tent door, not wanting to get dressed to use the nearby porta-potty. Everyone will be happier with vigorous cleanliness enforcement.

    1. I don’t have all of the military experience like most of you. I was a volunteer Boy Scout for 20 years. Used a 3-season tent in the winter. I use to per-warm my tent with a Coleman lantern before turning in at night and would relight it before getting out of my sleeping bag. When it came o urinating, I use to carry a quart sized Rubbermaid bottle and never unzipped my tent to keep the warmth in. And never peed outside of my tent door.

  7. Another veteran that has spent time (lots of it) in larger tents that were built semi-permanently.
    Essentials: Site, as level as possible, as flat as possible, packed earth, a 3 inch layer of sand and another 3-4 inches of gravel. If you have the time and materials, install french drains 3 ft apart about a foot below the prepared surface for the tent(s) and set the drains to drain AWAY from the area, at least 50 ft.

    Flooring, put down flooring. A layer of weed fabric and a layer of nautical plywood. Then build a frame work that is totally within your tent’s footprint and cover that with two layers of plywood.

    Have sheets of heat resistant and reflective metal for the area underneath any heat source, like a stove. Ensure permanent venting and chimney are in place.

    If you have the resources, two tents (or more), not one. One inside the other. The inner one ought to be slightly smaller, this provides some “dead air” insulation of the inner tent.

    If you are going to be longer term (thinking years, not months) You may wish to eventually built a HARD roof. You can made it so that you can disassemble and move it. But a hard roof (even if it is only fiberglass or metal) will provide more weather protection.

  8. SGT Tommy Williams Retired

    I have retired from the US Army and I can attest to the 16×16 tent as pictured in the above article. I also advise the use of a liner during cold weather. A good tent flooring solution is to build a floor from pallets and half inch plywood. I also recommend a tent repair kit to go along with it. If you are not looking for brand new but a good tent with a little wear and tear on it I have a good source for used military tents as well as other military gear. http://www.liquidation.com it is a military surplus auction site and you can find a lot of good stuff there and can even look for equipment by state. The tent repair kit has a lot of good tools that are useful for other tasks and repairs around a camp. When you are looking for long term tent camping gear quality and durability are the most important thing. With that comes being more expensive , but I will gladly pay for something that will last me a lifetime with proper use and maintenance. I do recommend that you don’t leave a fire burning in a stove unattended because I have seen several tent fires over the years, all without loss of life thankfully, but anything inside was a total loss. Along with a heater or stove there are fans that work without power and work on the heat from the stove that greatly improves on the ability to heat up your tent more effective. I believe that they work on the same principle as a Stirling engine. You may be able to find them by looking for heat conducted fan and I think that they are made in Canada and are a little pricey but worth every penny. I also recommend going with a wood burning heater or stove as fuel sources are readily available and with a good saw, axe, and hatchet a good bit of wood is quickly processed. If you are cutting larger trees I would add a few splitting wedges, a splitting maul, and a sledgehammer. For lighting a good idea is to use rechargeable solar lights like the kind used to line walkways and driveways. I also use oil and kerosene lamps for a cheap easily acquired fuel source. You can also add outside extensions by attaching tarps giving you a shaded work area outside so less mess is made inside.

  9. We have used a 10 person Coleman tent on a wood platform for a month in the mountains of colorado near the Contential divide. We lived comfortably and feel we could in fact use this type of tent for longer periods if nesscary. We were dry on the rainiest nights even at 10, 000 feet. Using a high quality done tent like we use will suffice quite nicely and be a wonderful protective shelter even in the worst weather.

  10. john c. sundberg

    what suggestions does anybody have for prolonging the life of my gp medium vinyl tent[especially the roof],shade cloth,liquid application? thank you.

    1. How about latexcrete as a tent coating, if you reinforce the interior supports first for extra weight… this will however make your tent into a permanent structure, no longer portable. I reroofed my garage with old sheets dipped in this stuff, and its working great. Next best is diy oilcloth using silicon and naptha.

  11. I bought that same tent for $1500 2 years ago with a custom metal square tubing frame that’s way heavier duty for heavy snowfall. The guy I bought from got 30 of them at auction for $100 a piece without the frame, then built custom frames that fit perfect

  12. I have a question regarding livability. Would a canvas (duck cotton “natural”) fabric be more breathable and comfortable during humid summer and snowy winter as well as rainy days resisting less condensation build up vs. a synthetic made material such as these military tents are now made of?
    And, here’s another source for used and new Military Tents and Supplies:

  13. My husband and I have decided that we will buy a military shelter type of tent for our camping trip this summer. We wanted the kids to have an idea what it feels like to live in the woods like a soldier since both of them really loves anything military related. Since it’s our first time as well, it really helped when you mentioned that we have to make sure that the ground cloth will not extend beyond the edges to prevent water from running off the tent. Thanks!

  14. Christopher D Damron

    me and the wife have come up with the idea for a permanent solution of a 20 x 32 temper tent. toss the frame or order without frame build a standard deck 2 x 4 on 2 oc walls 2 x 6 ceiling 2 oc layer of osb on ceiling wrap walls with lattice then layer of reflect-ix drop the tent over this structure on the outside nail furing strips everywhere you placed a stud its in essence a mad love child between a yurt and a temper tent a very strong permanent set up

  15. I have two of the 16×16 Army Frame wall tents, one canvas and one vinyl. I would use either one for a long term camp. The vinyl one will turn the foul weather away better than the canvas one. But you have to have a stove that uses air from inside the tent for combustion to help eliminate excess moisture in the air, especially in the vinyl tent. I have a 1950 Military Yukon stove with the gasoline burner adapter. I love that stove! It burns about 4 gallons of gas in 24 hours, but keeps the tent comfortably warm even if it’s a blizzard outside. And it burns clean, no ash or soot to get rid of. I use these tents for hunting in fall and early winter in the Colorado Rockies above 9,000 feet elevation. Always a chance for snow. These tents are roomy enough inside for 6 guys on cots, and still have room for a full kitchen setup inside. One of the features of the tent that I really like are the 6 big plastic windows to let in light. That saves on the lamp oil for lanterns. And it lets you check the weather outside without being out in the weather. I would love to have a 16×16 platform to set the tent up on, but since we move our camp each year that’s not going to happen. We put down a 16×16 tarp for a floor then erect the tent above it. The longest I’ve lived in one of these tents is about 40 days. The coldest temp I’ve used the tent in was minus 20 degrees F. That Yukon stove kept us warm, but we burned more gas than usual. Bottom line, my recommendation for a long-term camp would be either a 16×16 Army Frame tent or a 16×20 Army Temper tent. Lots of room inside, windows for light, easy to heat with almost any stove, great all-weather protection. Also easy to add a tarp to one side for a covered outdoor area for grilling, or simply to store firewood or shed wet weather gear.

  16. For added protection from rain and snow get a 20 x 20 poly tarp to go over the top which will give you 2 feet of over hang both sides front and back or a 4 foot overhang out the front, add a stove jack and you’d be good to go. Stove Jack’s are easy to add to the tarp or any tent repair place can do it for you.

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