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Is It Legal to Sleep in Your Backyard?

Our family loves camping out and sleeping in the backyard, so please tell me this isn’t illegal?!

Camping and sleeping in your backyard are legal, but permanently sleeping in a tent, shed, or car in your yard is illegal. You should also check with your HOA about backyard camping rules for your property. Statistically, sleeping in your yard is safe for the whole family, including young kids.

Join me as I pitch my tent in the yard, pull up an easy chair and cooler – and get ready to look at the stars (there’s also an article about camping in your yard here too! 🙂 )…

Is It OK to Camp in Your Backyard? (To Sleep Outside?)

Camping in your backyard is not just OK – it’s awesome and inspiring. Sure, you may get rained on. Insects will definitely bite you. Neighborhood cats may scream and then your kids may scream. But – the moments of connecting with nature and family will be irreplaceable.

When you go backyard camping, there are no rules and no one to judge. You don’t have to spend big bucks on a tent – in fact, you don’t even need a tent (see the section below). No down sleeping bags or Arc’teryx jackets. 

One of the goals of backyard camping is to immerse yourself and your kids in nature but – if things go wrong – you are just a few steps away from civilization, your own bed and your pour-over coffee in the morning. 

Try it! Set up your new tent for the first time in the privacy of your backyard. Introduce your kids to not sleeping in their beds. Leave the phone in the house. In the morning, try some cowboy coffee with cinnamon rolls on a stick.

Or, everyone may decide to sleep inside the house after an unidentified noise in the middle of the night. Up to you. No rules.

Check out this NY Times article on backyard camping.

Is It Safe to Camp in Your Backyard? (Can My Kids Sleep Outside Alone?)

Backyard camping is as safe as your backyard. We don’t have statistics on crimes perpetrated on backyard campers, but we bet it’s pretty darn small.

If you have older children (older than seven or eight), they may want to sleep outside by themselves. If you are uncomfortable with that, consider buying some cheap, retro, walkie-talkies. Or, set up your own tent nearby.

Is It Illegal to Live in a Tent in My Backyard? (Can I Live in a Tent Full Time?)

This gets a little complicated, thanks to Airbnb and also taking homelessness into account. You can live in a tent full time – but only temporarily. In most places, it is illegal to live in a tent (or shed or car) permanently, even in your own backyard. 

While HOA’s are notoriously strict about backyard tent rules, more and more municipalities are trying to accommodate off-gridders. Be sure to check out the state, county, city or subdivision rules where you live. 

So, what’s the difference between temporary and permanent? According to the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) temporary means no more than two weeks. 

But in some places, you can apply for camping permits (2 weeks) and then renew them over and over. If you go the camping permit route, there may be inspectors from the city or county to make sure you are actually only there temporarily. 

And, be sure not to charge for your glampy accommodations, because there are rules for that, too.

Here’s a good article that explains about the legality of camping.

What Equipment Do I Need to Camp in My Backyard? (Do I Need a Permit?)

What you do need:

  • Fire. Be sure to double-check with the authorities in your area before you start a fire. If your area has an open fire ban, consider your propane fire pit or grill as a good second choice. If you can have a fire, consider wetting down the area around the fire pit or drawing a ring around it with surveying paint to keep kids at a distance.
  • Food. Whether you have a wood fire or a propane grill, consider all the things you can heat up on a stick. Here’s a short list: hot dogs, bacon, pizza dough, pigs in a blanket, bananas, pineapple slices, cheese sandwiches, Starbursts, Peeps (we love that one), corn on the cob, scallops, kielbasa, string cheese, cubes of cooked steak, cooked ham, cinnamon rolls, strawberries covered in marshmallow fluff, biscuits, and (of course) marshmallows. Here’s an inspiring video on campfire snacks. Yum!!
  • Tent. If you live in a buggy area, you will need something to keep the night bugs off. You don’t need to rush to REI for an expensive tent – borrow one if you don’t have one. If bugs aren’t a problem, you can set up a tarp on a line between two trees. Put another waterproof tarp below you to keep the moisture from your sleeping gear.
  • Chairs. Have a chair for everyone to sit in around the fire at night and to drink your coffee in, in the morning.
  • Lights. You’ll need some emergency lighting, but try to keep the lights to a minimum so you can see the drop-dead gorgeous, absolutely amazing galaxy we live in. Lay down a comforter and grab some pillows so you can spend some time under the night sky.
  • Activities. Depending on your kid’s ages, here are some activity ideas: musical instruments, singing, dancing, whittling, touch football, softball, soccer, Frisbee, tag, hide and seek, nature treasure hunt, Simon Says, scary (or not) campfire stories, mega lawn games, water sprinklers, water slides, shadow puppets, and books to be read aloud by the light of a flashlight.
  • Bedding. If you live in a cold climate, you and your kids may need sleeping bags. If you live in a hot place, you can just use sheets. Sleep on top of outdoor furniture cushions, pillows, yoga mats, thick comforters, cots or air mattresses

What you don’t need: 

  • A permit.
  • Cell phones.
  • Hand held games consoles.
  • Zoom.
  • TikTok.
  • Facebook.

How Can I Camp Outside Without a Tent? (How Do You Survive Sleeping Outside?)

Tents are our home away from home and they keep out some biting insects. Tents can be plenty cozy. But if you can’t beg or borrow one, there are alternatives.

For those of you who don’t have the latest high-dollar tent from an exclusive outdoor outfitting company, then you may want to choose your outdoor adventure when there is no heavy rain or strong winds forecast.

A bivouac (aka bivvy) is a temporary camp with little or no cover. A common way to bivouac is to string a rope ( a ridgeline) between two strong trees, poles, or deck uprights. Then, if you live in a damp climate, use a waterproof tarp or large piece of plastic to protect you and your bedding from light rain or morning dew. 

Simply drape the tarp over the rope and then tie down the four corners tightly. The tighter you can string your tarp, the more likely it will stay up through the night. If your tarp is large, you may want to prop the corners up with some sticks. 

There are no rules here – you can also use patio furniture to help tie down the corners. Don’t have a tarp? You can DIY a waterproof tarp with an old sheet and some silicon spray.

Got a hammock? A hammock is a great way to sleep without a tent. Hammocks are super comfy and – no bugs or critters in your bed. If you live in a wet climate, consider hanging a waterproof tarp and mosquito netting over the hammock. 

Make a lean-to with dead branches or boards from the garage.

Can You Sleep Outside With Just a Sleeping Bag? (Can I Just Sleep on the Ground?)

Yup. Just like cowpokes. Just keep in mind that most cowpokes lived in the west, where it hardly ever rains. They had no fear of getting their lammy’s wet. 

Under the stars, you can yarn the hours away, full as a tick, caterwauling and having a hog killin’ time, just yards away from your ace in the hole. To avoid a bag of nails, be sure to check for large rocks, cacti and prairie coal before laying down your hen skin. 

Be prepared to light a shuck when you get a visit from a varmint. 

What Equipment Do I Need to Camp in My Backyard?

Final Words: Why is Backyard Camping Good for the Soul?

It doesn’t matter whether your backyard is in suburbia, the inner city or the sticks. You may have acres and acres of backyard or just enough space for a tent. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is outside, under the heavens. 

Humans have astonishingly powerful brains and we have developed some amazing technology.  But sometimes we humans need to stop and take a breath. We need to stop staring at screens. We need to put down the phones, computers and tablets and step away. Nature can help.

Spending time in nature is good for your soul. Spending time in nature increases longevity, improves your memory, strengthens your immunity, and calms your brain. 

Sleeping under the stars in nature is amazing. When night comes, breathe deep, listen to the wind in the trees and admire the magnificent heavens. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >