BY Nick Bulanda
Published May 11, 2020
For a surprising (or not so surprising) amount of people around the United States, the idea of packing up the essentials and living life off the grid is becoming more and more appealing. It is possible to do, but not without a lot of planning and preparation. One of the major questions that is brought up time and time again when talking about this topic is: Can you live in a tent legally? The short answer is: it depends. Across the country, many cities and municipal areas have requirements such as running water and sewage disposal, or even a minimum housing size that most tents simply can’t meet. There are workarounds, however. In this guide, we’ll answer the question can you live in a tent legally, and help you prepare some of the other basics you’ll need to go off-grid.
Can You Live in a Tent Legally? Well, That Depends Where You Want to Live
The first thing you have to do when you start actively making plans to change to a more basic lifestyle by living in a tent is find the right place to live. Most likely you’ll need to purchase at least a small plot of land if you don’t own any already, or if you own land in the city. Yes, unfortunately living in a tent in your city of choice is most likely not an option. Instead, you’ll need to pick out a place with favorable weather (or whatever kind of weather you’d like to enjoy year-round), and start researching city ordinances regarding housing. It likely wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with a few prospective cities or towns and see what they have to say. This will absolutely go smoother if you emphasize the fact that you’re an upstanding citizen who has no intentions of disrupting their town, but you just want a simpler way of life with less of a carbon footprint.
If you’re having trouble finding a city that will allow you to live without sewage access or running water, or can’t get a straight answer on can you live in a tent legally as the property currently exists, you could consider building a small facility for a restroom, little more than a working bathroom in an outhouse-like structure. If that’s not an option, you’ll need to keep looking, but you might want to consider broadening your search. If you don’t mind being mobile and moving around every few months or so, you could contact friends, family members or even potential employers such as farmers or other trade workers to stay on their land discreetly and with respect while you work for them.
Learning A New Way of Life
One very important thing to take into consideration when making your plans is whether or not you already know how to survive without modern amenities most of us have become accustomed to. Are you prepared to live without a toilet, a shower, a stove or a television? Hopefully if you’ve gotten this far, the answer to that question is a definite yes. Otherwise, you may want to reconsider this decision.
Even if you are completely prepared to give up a modern lifestyle, you’ll have to be ready and able to learn how to get along on your own. That means developing skills such as foraging safely, making a fire, keeping up with personal hygiene without everything we’re used to and more. It’s definitely a good idea to make sure you have a solid handle on all these things before you pack up and go out to your new life, and many of these essential skills require a solid amount of practice before you can truly master them. We wouldn’t say you need to be a lifelong expert survivalist to be able to live safely in a tent, but you certainly need to be willing to try your hardest to learn.
Of course, there’s also the matter of the kinds of supplies you’ll need to bring along. Helpfully, the National Parks Service has put together their own list of essentials to bring along on camping trips, and these very much apply to surviving out in the wilderness as well, making it a great place to get started. In addition to all these supplies, you’ll need to think about all the other things you will want to have around for the long term, such as finding the best camping chair and cooking supplies. You are going to want to do a whole lot more research than just this guide if you want to put together a complete inventory of everything you need to live a comfortable life in the outdoors, but we think this is an excellent starting off point.
The question of can you live in a tent legally is an unfortunately complicated one. The fact that it isn’t as simple as buying a small plot of land and minding your own business is a little bit of a tragedy in our eyes, but nonetheless it is something anyone hoping to live out in the wild is going to have to deal with. All that having been said, it doesn’t make it impossible. As we’ve laid out, there are a number of options available for aspiring tent lifers out there, and we have a feeling you might be creative enough to come up with some of your own solutions as well. Just make sure you have the necessary survival skills in place before you make any drastic decisions, and that this is something you are truly committed to.
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