Should You Leave Your Camping Gear Unattended?


When you go camping, you might be bringing a lot of gear with you. You have things like your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, grill, food, tables, chairs, you name it. While you could stay with all of your gear at your campsite all the time, it’s more fun to go out and do some exploring. It’s really inconvenient and time consuming to tear down all of your campsite gear and leave with it every time you want to go out exploring.

Worse yet if you are at a first-come, first-serve campsite then you could lose your spot if you pack up all your gear. Often times, we have to leave all of your camping gear at our campsite unattended. Is it safe to do so? Should you leave your camping gear unattended? Through personal experience and research on the web, I have formulated some important things to keep in mind if you are thinking about leaving your camping gear unattended.

So, should you leave your camping gear unattended? You should avoid leaving expensive camping gear unattended. There are some precautionary measures that you can take to minimize the risk of leaving your gear unattended.

It is common practice to leave gear unattended at a campground because there is an unwritten code between campers to respect each other’s gear. This doesn’t hold true everywhere of course because there are some bad people, but you can minimize risk in a couple of ways.

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Most People That Go Camping Are Good People

There is just something about people that love the great outdoors that seems to emulate freedom, trust, and respect. I have never had any problems with theft in all the camping that I have done. Maybe I have been really lucky or maybe most people are just good people. Most campers respect your space or want to meet you and get to know who you are. Often times you get invited over to share food and stories. Most campers are quiet and respectful and will keep to themselves.

There are always going to be those odd stories of the kids that partied loudly all night or the people that walk through your campsite. The reason why these make such good stories is that they are outliers. Most of the folks that you find camping are going to respect each other and follow the rules, they are out there to enjoy it as much as the next camper. There are a lot of factors that could affect your probability of encountering the minority bad campers, but one of the biggest concerns is with theft.

It would seem like campgrounds are a playground for thieves. Lots of people come in and out of campgrounds while leaving lots of high priced gear behind. Sometimes people are gone all day hiking, fishing, sightseeing or whatever. I too have done so and have never had any problems. There are however some precautions I like to take and some that I think you should consider taking as well.

Research The Area You Plan On Camping Beforehand

The first thing you can do before you even go camping is to do some research online about the area that you will be camping at. Some areas never have problems, some have trends of theft and break-ins. Do some quick searches online and you should easily be able to see if you might need to be extra cautious about your gear or not.

More often than not, it is campgrounds that are close to towns or cities that are the most at risk. That is because undesirable people can easily come and make a visit to a campground that has gear left behind for the day. The farther you get out into the wilderness, the better it seems. It might sound a bit counterintuitive but larger campgrounds with higher turnover present more risk of theft than smaller campgrounds. This is because it is easier for thieves since there are so many people coming in and out and none of them know each other.

The less busy the better in this case. Doing your research beforehand might make you rethink where you are going to camp. Or it might strengthen your desire to stay with your plans. Once you get to your campsite there are some precautions you can take in order to minimize risk while leaving your camping gear unattended.

Steps You Can Take To Minimize Theft Risk While Camping

Keep Very Valuable Items Locked In Your Car

Here is the easiest thing that you can do, don’t leave very valuable items out at your campsite. Anything that is small enough can easily go into your car with you when you leave your campsite unattended. This can be things like electronics, stoves, lights, etc. Store these smaller items in your vehicle and don’t leave them out because they are easy to snatch up.

Make Your Campsite Still Attended, Even If It Is Not

Giving the impression that someone is actively using the campsite can be a good deterrent. Just like at your home you can leave music on, or the tv on, and lights on to look like someone is home, you can do something similar at your campsite. Here are some ideas that could make your campsite look actively occupied even when it isn’t:

  • Leave a small light on inside your tent if you won’t be back until after dark.
  • Leave a small radio on inside the tent on VERY LOW VOLUME.
  • Set up your camping chairs around the campfire with wood in the fire ring.
  • If you have 2 cars, leave one at the campsite and carpool with the other if possible.
  • Leave some partially used water bottles on the picnic table.
  • Set up your bed inside your tent with pillows to look like someone is there.

Talk With Your Campsite Neighbors

Get to know your “neighbors” they could be your best line of defense against any potential theft. Talk with them to see if they have camped here before, if they plan on going anywhere, and if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out on your belongings. You could return the favor or if you are in a busy campground where it is difficult to get a campsite, you could invite someone that is looking for a campsite over to share one with you if it is allowed.

The camping community is often eager to help each other out, you might even make some new friends and enjoy some company when you get back. Don’t jump right to the punchline and ask them to watch your stuff, they aren’t free babysitters, try to get to know them and be generally friendly. Always try to give them something in return whether it is food, firewood, or good conversation.

Leave Your Campsite Orderly

It is important that you make your campsite look lived in while you are away, but you don’t want to make it look messy. Not just because it is unsightly, but because it also means that you have left more stuff laying out that could be ripe for the taking. Pack all of your valuable smaller items in your car and put some other items stored in your tent if there is space. A well-organized campsite doesn’t look as impressive to find something worthwhile for a thief.

Put A Lock On It

While locks aren’t 100% foolproof there are many things that you can lock up to make it harder to take easily. Lock up bigger more expensive items like bikes and large grills. You can easily lock up these items to a tree or to a picnic table at your campsite. You could even put a lock on the zippers of your tent. Locking your tent certainly won’t create any real barrier for your stuff, but it might just be inconvenient enough for someone to move on to the next one.

Keep Food Properly Secured

I don’t think that many people are going to be looking through your stuff in order to steal food, but animals will. Keep your food secured in any animal-proof containers that are located at or near your campsite. Not only is it usually against the rules and the law to leave food out, but it can also spell disaster if animals get into your food and ruin your camping trip. They will probably mess up a lot of your gear along the way too.

Accept That There Is Always Risk

Nothing you do will 100% protect you from having something taken. Most of the time you will be just fine, even if you take none of these precautions. Campgrounds are just generally good places to be with good people to be around. Your risk of having your gear stolen is already pretty low in most areas, but you can lower them even more if you take some of these small but effective precautions.

Just like with anything in life there is always going to be some risk. It is up to you to manage that risk and take only an acceptable amount of risk for your tolerance level. I don’t think that leaving some camping gear unattended should deter you from going camping in the first place, go out and enjoy the outdoors and I will see you out there.

Conclusion

You will be safe leaving your camping gear unattended a majority of the time. The risk of theft is already pretty low, but you can take some simple, quick, common-sense precautions to lower it a bit further. Do your research beforehand, enjoy your time when camping, and only accept enough risk that you are capable of handling and you will have a great camping trip.

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Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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