November 12, 2005

Home is where the rain ain’t – Guerrilla Camping 101.8

Pulled from original text archive, without comments or images. Photos survived to the book though, just didn’t survive on the web.

Home is where the rain ain’t – Guerrilla Camping 101.8

I like to joke that I am professionally homeless. But nothing can be further from the truth. The truth is, I am habitually at home. No matter where I find myself, I can usually make myself at home with little effort and with quite a bit of variety. The three basic principles in making a home, be it a straw-bale and cob palace or a simple tarp stretched between two trees, are always the same, environment, materials and design.


There are several good reasons to choose a tent. I think one of the best reasons for a guerilla camper is the sense of legitimacy a tent brings. A plastic tarp, while being very useful and versatile, screams vagrant. A tent, on the other hand, calmly introduces yourself as a camper. Tents are more weatherproof than tarps, almost always provide better protection from bugs and are often more wind resistant than tarps. All things considered, I believe the most compelling reason to buy a tent is the sense of security they give you. I know that the first few times I slept under the stars I honestly expected a raccoon to bite my face off in my sleep and can only guess that many feel the same way for the first few times.

There are also several reasons to avoid a tent. Tents are the least versatile form of “mobile home”, except maybe actual mobile homes. If a pole breaks, in many cases you wind up with an enlarged bivy sack, since most modern tents don’t use straight pole design. While bent poles make for more stable tents, they are also an Achilles tendon. If a fiberglass pole breaks, duct tape will only do so much. If you buy a fiberglass pole tent, try to replace the poles with aluminum if possible. The slight added weight is worth the security. Older straight pole tents allow you to improvise with sticks and unless you know a lot more about bamboo than I do, improvising with a curved pole tent is impossible. When I do carry a tent, I also carry a small plastic tarp to use as a ground sheet. The ground sheet protects the floor of the tent from punctures and should the tent become unserviceable, the groundsheet can double as a tarp.

There are lots of types of tents.

Summer and “3 season” tents.

My first civilian tent was an ultra light 3 season hoop tent. You can recognize these tents because they will usually consist of a large amount of mosquito netting with an attached rain fly. Great for hot humid conditions, they can have serious drawbacks in even moderate showers if not constructed well and erected properly. The rain fly (A waterproof cape that extends over the mesh roof of the tent) should hang well above the netting and extend several inches below it on the sides, if not coming completely to the ground. If the rain fly will brush against the mesh in the wind, consider the tent useless. During a rain storm, condensation will collect inside the rain fly and when the rain fly is battered against the mesh, drops of water will fall into the tent. This is would not be that bad, except that your floor will be much more waterproof than your ceiling; leaving no place for the water to go. What feels like an intermittent drip can become a swimming pool by morning, and a wet sleeping bag, besides being dangerous in cold weather, can weigh ten to fifteen times what it weights dry when you carry it out the next day.

Mountaineering (winter) Tents.
Mountaineering tents are the SUVs of the tent world. Heavy, big and as totally enclosed as possible. Often not needed except in the dead of winter or when traveling to tundra, many four season tents are convertible, allowing you to leave a few poles out, leave parts at home or even erect the tent with only the rain fly and a footprint, making it remarkably similar to a tarp in it’s functionality and vulnerability to bugs. Fortunately they are often only needed late in the fall and early in the spring, in extreme northern and southern polar regions, or at high altitudes.

Family or Basecamp tents: These are of no importance to the guerilla camper. They are heavy, obvious and almost always too large to carry on an individual. Great for weekend outings with the guys from your frat and their favorite kegs, I will happily admit to knowing little about them besides how difficult it seemed for my parents to put ours up when I was a little kid. If you have little guerrillas running about, you might need to look into the, but there are four person backpacking tents that would seem to work great for two adults and two children. Basecamp tents belong in the realm of the military, and there is honestly little need for guerrillas to set up headquarters.

Beyond tents, there are a variety of other methods of keeping yourself sheltered in the great outdoors.

Tarps are the most versatile and lightest form of portable shelter. Able to be pitched at varying angles, in varying configurations or even used as a small portion of a larger natural shelter, tarps prove useful to carry even when toting a tent. They have no notable resistance to bugs, however and without solid experience in setting them up and campsite selection they can be the least weather resistant shelters around. The basic infantry shelter, carried in halves is a form of tarp and has served soldiers since the first world war with only the complaining one would expect from soldiers. Some modern light weight camping companies sell tarps made of silicon impregnated nylon or sil-nylon for short for upwards of a hundred dollars. While I appreciate the amazing lightness and durability of the material, I can’t exactly praise the company that makes it, so I have avoid them until I can find a manufacturer not licensed by Dupont. Simple 3 dollar hardware store tarps work just as well and if you can notice the extra pound you should be walking more.


Poncho pitching is identical to tarps, however I place them in a separate category because there are vast differences in their design and versatility. Ponchos are issued to ever soldier in the army. As basic rain gear, it is useful since it covers the pack as well as the person though it does leave your legs to get soaked in monsoons or tropical storms. Given it’s design, which includes grommets and snaps, it can be used as a shelter by itself or snapped to other ponchos to create larger shelters. With proper training and proper equipment it is even possible to use two packs and two ponchos to create a field expedient raft. They come in camouflage, which is an added benefit since it is difficult to find either good tents or tarps in camouflage.


From the simple Guatemalan jungle hammock to modern asymmetrical ultra-light cocoon hammocks, hammocks are a tried and true way to get your ass off the hard and wet ground. Hammock sleeping is not for everyone as it can lead to sore backs and numb limbs and can be much colder than a tent. Modern hammock manufacturers, such as Hennessy have made great strides in alleviating these burdens, creating what amounts to hanging tents, replete with gear bags, accessory hooks, and a very unique bottom entry method. Not able to afford anything so modern, I opted for a cheap jungle hammock which I am able to pitch using my ponchos as a cocoon and a mattress pad for support. I don’t bother using it in very cold weather, as the added issue of cold wind whipping below you makes the idea less inviting than sleeping on the cold ground.

Field Expedient Shelters:

From palm frond huts to native American long houses, there are a milliuon ways to use your natural environment to shelter yourself. I would say to learn how to construct a few of them in theory, but do not practice. If every sierra club member can hold the tenant to leave no trace, it is doubly imperative for the guerrilla camper to do so, especially if you are attempting to stealth camp. If you must construct expedient shelters, please take them down and disguise the site as best you can afterwards, allowing the next guerrilla to come along to feel like an intrepid explorer treading on the site for the first time.

With a little thought it is easy to stay comfortable on the road, no matter what mother nature might throw at you.

Pitching Ponchos:

Army surplus ponchos can be had for fifteen to twenty dollars in a vast array of colors. (if Olive Drab and Camouflage can be considered a vast selection, that is) Old school ones are made of vinyl with silicon sealant on the seams, while newer ones are silicon impregnated nylon. There are dozens of ways to put up a poncho as a tent, and if you have the presence of mind to carry two the options are even greater. Golite, the maker of very highly regarded lightweight shelters has introduced a lightweight poncho tarp for $45, which I presume to be similar.

The Single Poncho Shelter:

A single poncho can be used as shelter in three basic ways, the pup tent, the lean to and the bivy sack.


For the basic lean-to pitch, you will need two sticks of the same length, usually between 24 and 36 inches. You begin by staking down one side of the poncho using the installed grommets. Tie a four foot length of parachute cord to the two corners not staked down then tie stake loops into the outer ends of the ropes. The easiest way to do this is by folding the rope back on itself and trying a granny knot to make a hoop. Take the first stick and stick the tip of it into the grommet. You may need to shave the tip down with a pocket knife to make it fit. Stand the stick up using the cord to put tension on the ridge and stake the cord out at a 45 degree angle to the opening of the tent. Repeat this procedure with the opposite corner and move the stakes away from the tent to increase tension.

The Pup Tent:
A pup tent is a simple ridge tent. You will need six stakes and a single length of cord about 8 feet longer than the length of your tarp or poncho.

Lie the cord lengthwise along the ground.

Lay the tarp or poncho lengthwise along the cord and stake down one side of it.

Lift the poncho to the desired height and stake down the corners to create tension. (You can readjust them later, don’t get too precise.)

Tie a stake loop into each end of the cord by folding the end over and tying a simple over hand knot into the fold.

Stake down one side about two to three feet from the middle of the poncho or tarp, and slide your pole up under the rope to hold it up.


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