When looking for a spot to bed down for the evening when camping, gravel might not be your first choice of surface to pitch your tent into. The thought of hammering tent stakes through gravel seems like a recipe for disaster. But if push comes to shove and you’re out of options, can you pitch a tent on gravel?
Yes, it’s possible to pitch a tent on gravel. Smooth out the area where the tent will go, and lay a tarp down, before putting the tent over the top. Hammer the tent stakes through the grommets in the tarp to keep everything in place, and lay guylines as normal.
Whilst this might sound fairly straightforward, it’s worth taking some time to make sure you’re going to be prepared for pitching a tent on a gravel surface.
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What Do I Need To Pitch A Tent On Gravel?
A heavy duty tarp should be placed between the gravel and the tent itself. Not only will this protect your tent from sharp stones, it will also keep it clean so you don’t have to wash it after each trip. The tarp should have grommets – the small holes with metal rings which you can pass the tent stakes through to hammer them into the ground – and should ideally be made of polyethylene which is a strong and durable material.
Other types of tarpaulin can be used, such as canvas tarps, however these are generally heavier and more difficult to store and transport. They are also more prone to absorbing water than polyethylene tarps.
Driving tent stakes into gravel is going to be tough on both the camper and the stakes. Make sure the guylines are taut, and drive the stakes into the ground at an inward 45 degree angle to create some tension to secure the tent in place.
Using rock pegs would be a better way to secure your tent as they are much more heavy duty than regular tent pegs, which are designed to be driven into soft ground. If the ground beneath the gravel is too hard to drive stakes into, consider wetting the area to soften the earth below. This should make it easier to drive your stakes deeper and get a decent amount of purchase.
Keeping a hammer to drive tent stakes into the ground will make the job much easier. If you don’t have a hammer, use a large rock to do the same. A hammer allows for a more precise and controlled blow, which reduces the chance of bending your tent pegs out of shape.
Large, flat rocks are useful for laying over the tent stakes to keep them from working their way out.
How To Pitch A Tent On Gravel
- Smooth out the area where you want your tent to go, removing any jagged or protruding rocks. You can use a broom if you have one, otherwise a large, leafy branch or even just your foot will do the job.
- Locate a number of rocks to weigh down your guylines and place over your tent stakes to keep them in place. There’s no exact science for this, other than satisfying yourself that the tent is secure.
- Place your tarpaulin over the smoothed out area. This should protect the thin base of your tent from damage, which is especially likely when pitching on a harsh surface like gravel.
- Lay out your tent over your tarp, making sure that the tent loops marry up with the grommets on your tarpaulin, as this is where you will drive the tent stakes through to secure the tent in place.
- Pitch your tent as normal, firstly by securing one corner and then the opposite diagonal corner. You can then attach more guylines as required to keep the tent in place.
How Do You Make A Tent More Comfortable On Gravel?
There are a few ways to make a night on the gravel a little more comfortable.
Use a Tent Carpet
Tent carpets offer an added layer of comfort as they separate you from the cold, hard gravel below. Make sure that you keep water from seeping into the tent from below as some tent carpets are quite water absorbent. The last thing you want is to wake up with a soggy tent floor. Thankfully there are plenty of waterproof options available which remove the need for extra waterproofing or insulation from the elements.
Use a Camping Cot
Camping cots elevate the camper off the ground. They’re especially useful for gravel camping as they allow you to completely avoid sleeping on jagged or sharp rocks below. Make sure your chosen camping cot is large enough to fit comfortably inside the tent, in addition to the rest of your gear, without forcing you to touch the sides of the tent at night, which could introduce moisture from the outer tent wall, causing you to become cold.
Pros of Pitching A Tent On Gravel
Generally speaking, pitching on a gravel surface is going to allow for better drainage if it rains during the night. Your tent may be waterproof, but sitting in a bog of muddy water in a field is going to test its insulative properties to their limit. Even on a flat surface, water will tend to drain through gravel and dissipate into the earth below.
If you’ve picked a decent spot and smoothed over any jagged rocks, a gravel surface should be relatively comfortable, free of roots or divots usually found when camping on grass. Combining a flat surface with a camping carpet or another type of extra layer means that you can enjoy a decent nights’ sleep and not wake up bruised and battered.
By camping on gravel, especially on top of a tarpaulin, you’re less likely to end up with a muddy tent. You may still have to wipe your tent down if it becomes dusty but the likelihood of carrying mud back to your bag or vehicle is much less.
Cons of Pitching A Tent On Gravel
Extra Equipment Required
Pitching a tent on gravel requires a little extra thought and equipment. Sure, you may want to carry a hammer specifically for driving tent stakes into the ground, and a tarpaulin is a must rather than simply a nice item to have, but this shouldn’t put anyone off being able to pitch up on a gravel surface.
Harder Surface To Drive Stakes Into
The main difficulty in pitching a tent on gravel is having to drive stakes into a tough surface. Normal tent stakes aren’t designed to drive through gravel and you may find them to be less than durable after a few knocks from your trusty hammer. Having said that, with a bit of patience or ideally the use of some sturdier rock pegs, you should be able to secure your tent on all but the most solid of surfaces.
Potential For Wind Damage
Another possible issue if the tent isn’t able to be fully secured into a gravel surface is the potential for high winds to damage or uproot your tent. Tent stakes can be easily dislodged by high winds, which makes it all the more important to use some extra weight to keep them in position. A few well placed rocks will keep them nicely lodged and therefore keep your tent and possessions nice and safe.
What Is A Gravel Tent Pad?
Interestingly enough, many campsites have designated areas made specifically of gravel, where campers are able to pitch their tents. These are typically made of pea gravel, which is a fine gravel allowing for easy driving of stakes into the surface. You can be confident that pitching a tent on gravel out in the wild is a valid option, providing that you prepare the area beforehand and ensure that the tent stakes are secured properly to prevent any accidents in high winds.
Where Can You Not Pitch A Tent?
Whilst gravel might not be on this list, there are a number of places where you really shouldn’t pitch up a tent. These include:
The Bottom of a Hill
The risk of flash flooding in many areas means that pitching your tent at the bottom of a hill can be dangerous. A sudden deluge can result in water running down the hill, destroying your gear and in some cases causing a risk to your safety.
Under A Tree
Tree branches or even whole trees can fall, landing on your tent, which is less than ideal even if you’re not in it at the time. Lightning strikes are also something to consider, which can present a real danger to your wellbeing if you’re under a tree which is struck. Essentially, you should avoid pitching your tent in the path of any potential hazard, be it rockfalls, cliffs or avalanches if you’re in an area where they are prevalent.
Boggy or Wet Areas
Marshlands or otherwise boggy areas are a no-go for pitching tents. Not only will you be unable to secure your tent in a sturdy fashion, the risk of rising water levels might end up carrying you downstream. Give these areas a wide berth and keep yourself and your equipment intact.
A good knowledge of where you can and cannot pitch a tent is key to a successful camping trip. Many people think that they are limited to pitching up on soft grassy ground, however this isn’t the case. Bring along an extra layer such as a tent carpet to keep you away from the rough ground and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to pitch a tent on gravel and enjoy a comfortable and restful night under the stars.