How to Lock Your Tent at Your Campsite

I used to belong to the group of people who inherently trust that others aren’t going to fiddle in your camping gear while you are out hiking or at the beach/lake. Not anymore.

This was after an incident where every single tent in our circle of friends – there were six tents pitched around the fire pit – was opened and $$ extracted from each wallet in each tent.

The thief was probably thinking no one would really notice – except teens are very sharp with their cash, and the first one to alert the group was…. one of the teens. When we all checked our wallets we discovered what had been done.

Besides providing protection against two legged thieves, it’s also advisable to zip up and lock your tent to prevent the four-legged ones getting in and making a mess of your grocery supplies.

Simply zipping up the tent isn’t enough because if they can get a paw or a nose in, and work the zip loose enough to gain entry.

There is a school of thought that goes: If there’s a lock on a tent then there must be something valuable inside.

To avoid this make sure you have placed some inexpensive camping item over the lock so it is not immediately obvious – a towel, a plastic container – anything that will hide it.

You can also put the lock on the inside, but then it’s a bit more difficult wiggling your fingers through the small space where the zip comes together to unlock it again.

Different Tent Lock Types

For the two-legged intruders locking your tent makes it a little more difficult to gain entry, and 95% of the time they will move on to more trusting campers who have left tents unsecured.

Why attract attention fiddling with a lock when the neighbor’s tent is wide open for the pickings?

Combination Locks

A combination lock is a good system so you don’t have to worry about taking a key with you on hiking and swimming trips. It also means a number of people can access the tent if it’s a family camping trip.

Sure, people can slash the side of your tent and make off with your goodies, but a slashed tent immediately attracts attention from other campers who may raise the alarm.

Fingerprint Padlocks

This fingerprint identification lock will accept up to 10 different fingerprints so, for a family tent, it is ideal.

You do need to charge it fully before use for the first time, but it will support 3000 uses on a single charge.

There is no app needed or Bluetooth so you don’t have to part with private information or struggle with an app that may not be working properly.

Brass Padlock

One of the cheapest options, the brass padlock requires you to have a key on you, and it’s a good idea to have one stashed in a secret place at the campsite in case someone else in your group needs to get something from the tent.

This particular lock set comes with two locks and four keys – ideal if you have one of those tents that open from two sides. With four keys, the occupants can each have one so there are no restrictions on times that they can return to the tent.


It has happened that people return to their campsite after a day’s hiking to find their whole tent has disappeared – packed up and stolen with everything in it!

To deter these kinds of thieves the P Lock anchors to the ground, is made of cold rolled steel and is easily installed with no tools needed for the installation.

Use it to secure not only the tent, but also bicycles, valuable photographic equipment, fishing or hunting gear. The maximum force required to pull out a set of P-Locks is 1,700 lbs. vertical and 2,900 lbs. horizontal – not easy!

Cables Ties

If you forgot to bring a lock or feel the purchase of a lock for a once off camping trip is unwarranted there is bound to be someone in the group who has cables ties, or take few along. Use these to secure your tent.

Just make sure you have a knife or something to cut the cables ties outside the tent when you come back from the hike.

If using cable ties at night for safety within the tent make sure something to cut them fast is near the door in case you need a quick evacuation – for example if there is a fire.

In addition to simply relying on a lock for your tent bear in mind that the tips shared below make it a little more difficult for thieves to get at your stuff.

How to Secure Your Tent

1. Choose a secure campsite

It’s too easy to fall in love with a view and pitch the tent in a private spot, away from other campers.

The more isolated spots are usually on the perimeters of the camp site, making is easier for thieves to slip in and out without being noticed. Instead, camp near other people, and you tent is in view.

2. Camp in designated campsites, if you can

Official campsites usually have fencing and/or staff who patrol the grounds which adds another level of security besides locking the tent.

3. Inform your camping neighbors

Let the neighbors you may have made friends with, know that you may be back late so they can at least keep an eye on your tent.

If you are camping in a large group there will usually be one person at least who remains at camp. Thieves don’t like to be observed, and will go for the more isolated tents.

4. Keep valuables out of sight

If you are camping with a car then lock valuables inside your vehicle. It’s far easier to break into a tent than into a car.

What a family member did when camping in a bit of a dodgy park in a foreign country was to dig a hole, wrap valuables like passports and extra cash in a waterproof bag and deposit them in the hole before filling it.

Then they pitched the tent on top. The tent was a smallish one, so when they needed stuff, which was only twice during the 4 day stay, they moved it to the side, dug up the valuables and afterwards repositioned the tent.

5. Sleep with your valuables

For family campers with larger tents that have more than one room, make sure the really valuable stuff is kept under your pillow or very close to you.

People may gain access at night by slitting part of the tent and grabbing goodies before someone “sounds the alarm”.

6. Cable tie you tent closed

Cable ties are a deterrent because as soon as you get back you will soon see if anyone has cut and removed them and entered your tent.

Thieves are clever and may refasten the tent with another cable tie of the same color, so mark your cable tie with an unobtrusive spot of nail varnish or paint.

7. Choose a site away from a road

Thieves like to pull up with a car, grab the loot and make off as quickly as possible before being seen, so avoid pitching your tent near the access roads – it’s all about making life more difficult for thieves.

8. Treed sites need to be chosen with care

In summer we look for shade and it’s pleasant to lie looking up at the canopy of trees – that’s fine, if there are a few isolated trees.

Avoid camping with a forest right behind your tent, as people can wait in there for an opportunity to dart out, grab your stuff, then slip back into the shadows.

9. Shade cloth barriers

Thieves don’t like to feel hemmed in – they like the option of scattering in all four directions if confronted. Many campers make a makeshift fence with shade cloth and sharp pointed poles to which the shade cloth is hooked.

This delineates the camping area for that particular group and with one entrance and exit creates something of a compound, making entering unobserved a little more difficult.

It also helps if you have young children who are inclined to stray – with one entrance to monitor families can relax a bit more.

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