(Survival Manual/ 4. Shelter Issues/ Emergency Tent Living, Part 3 of 4)
Living off-grid in a tent
A. Why we’re living in a tent – in winter
10 February 2012, The Guardian, by Patrick Barkham
Pasted from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/11/family-living-in-tent
The stove has to be topped up with logs every two hours to keep the tent warm.
A white frost clings to the fields and the mud on the farm is frozen hard. In a secluded paddock behind the stone farmhouse stands a small bell tent, a curl of smoke rising from the metal flue poking out of the canvas. The temperature dropped to -7C the previous evening but inside the tent it is surprisingly warm, which is just as well because since the middle of January this octagonal dwelling, 5m wide and mounted on old pallets above the mud, has been the home of Lily and Matt Gibson and their nine-month-old daughter, Louise.
As unpaid bills mounted, and the couple struggled to pay £625-a-month rent for a dilapidated house, they made a drastic decision: they believed they would be better off, and happier, trying to survive in a tent. When their tenancy agreement expired on 15 January, they pitched a tent they had bought for £370, borrowed from Lily’s mother, on a farm in the west country.
“The mud and rain may be depressing, but the cold is scary,” admits Lily. “But we’re glad we’ve done this, even though it is frightening sometimes thinking about our responsibility for Louise and how we must keep her warm.”
The wood burning stove inside the tent is their life. Everything is focused on keeping the fire burning. Every two hours at night, Matt must get up to feed it more logs. So far, it is working. It may be freezing outside but under a single layer of canvas, the couple have created a snug and idyllic-looking – if minuscule – home. The tent smells of wood smoke and a delicious beef and vegetable broth is bubbling on the stove.
Matt was working in retail, spending wages on an expensive commute to a nearby city, and Lily, a freelance graphic designer, had stopped work when Louise was born. “Matt wasn’t getting home until 7pm and we still couldn’t afford to live properly,” says Lily. “We paid all our rent but we weren’t ever going out. We weren’t buying new clothes. We didn’t even get our hair cut. We’d occasionally get a coffee with friends in the town, but we were living very frugally. There was no way we could save at all and we wanted to do something for Louise’s future. We tried to be positive and we wanted her to have a happy home, but it was really quite depressing.”
Then they chanced on a press cutting about Simon Dale, who built his own eco-home for £3,000. This inspired them to take the first steps in their dream of buying a plot of land and building a low-impact home on it. “For me it was also inspired by the Occupy movements across the world,” adds Lily. “I don’t know what they might achieve but they have shifted consciousness in some way.” Previously, she assumed that “if we could not afford our rent it was because we were not budgeting properly. The Occupy movement made me see it wasn’t my fault – that it was the system that was not working.”
Matt and Lily began by finding a farmer, a friend of a friend, who generously allowed them to pitch the tent on his land. Matt has quit his job but the couple are not claiming unemployment or housing benefit – Matt does farm work between cutting wood for their stove. It may sound romantic but the challenges of living simply under canvas are daunting.
“A lot of people would go mad in a tent at this time of year. People could find a million and one things to burst into tears about,” says Lily. This morning, she hung her one warm jumper on the stove flue to warm up for a minute, got distracted by Louise and singed the jumper. “You definitely need a sense of humour and you can’t be vain – you’re just going to get upset by the mud or lack of running water.”
Inside the tent are nice rugs, plants and homely trinkets the couple have picked up on their travels. “It’s got that nomad feel to it, which I love,” says Matt. It has been a steep learning curve, however. Because the sides slope inwards there is far less space than they anticipated – no furniture can be allowed to touch the canvas or the rain will come in. They have been flooded already, and after they failed to secure the stove flue, it blew down in a gale. It is now firmly screwed in place.
To begin with, they lived off tinned food heated on the stove top. “We were sat there for three hours wondering why things wouldn’t come to the boil,” says Lily. Since then, she has mastered slow cooking – Turkish meatballs with rice, pot-roasted chicken with roast potatoes and even omelet’s in tin foil – while Matt has learned how the type and size of log can radically alter the stove’s heating power. Although he is doing less paid labor now, he says his days seems fuller. “There are not enough hours in the day now.”
Washing is done with a Wonderwash, a hand-cranked machine Lily imported from the US for £80. Clothes are cleaned with six jugs of hot water and two minutes of vigorous cranking, followed by 30 seconds of cranking in cold water to rinse. As the tent is a temporary measure, they borrow the downstairs loo at the farm and pay to have an occasional shower and charge their phone. “There is more drudgery, like hand-sweeping the floor, but it is more liberating and empowering as well,” says Lily. “The simpler things are, the less alienated you feel from your own life – the more in control you are.”
They have had to learn to prioritize certain jobs in the precious daylight hours. After dark, they light the tent with candles. There is no television, although Lily gets the internet on her phone. “We like talking, we sit around the fire and I sing to Louise a lot,” she says. “We haven’t felt bored, not for a moment. We don’t miss having loads of TV channels showing things we don’t want to watch anyway.”
As they explain how they are coping with living in a tent, Lily and Matt are clear that their priority is Louise. They are meticulous about sterilizing her bottles and ensuring that she is never cold. She and Matt may exchange nervous glances when the wind howls outside, but Louise loves it. For her, it seems that the tent is a secure home, where she can be physically and emotionally close to her parents. “So far she seems to be flourishing health-wise,” smiles Lily. “She is very happy, alert and engaged with what’s going on.” Their concerns about Louise are assuaged by the knowledge that, in the worst-case scenario, they can seek a warm refuge in the farmhouse, as they were forced to on the night a storm destroyed their stove flue.
Their parents have been very supportive – “They get concerned when it’s cold and ring to check we are OK,” says Lily. What would they say to people who would see them as reckless for living with a small child in a tent in midwinter? “What we’re doing might seem irresponsible,” says Lily, “but if we stayed where we were with unaffordable rent we would have ended up in so much debt that we wouldn’t have been able to feed Louise properly or get her warm clothes. It was terrifying. We would have been very depressed and therefore not able to produce a positive home environment for her and we would have ended up more dependent on benefits as well. We’re trying to stand on our own two feet.”
Living in a tent places them at the mercy of the elements, but Matt and Lily feel they have taken control of their own lives. By staying temporarily in the tent, they hope to save up to buy a piece of land on which they can build their own eco-home, a roundhouse with straw bale insulation. They are not just surviving: they are learning off-grid living skills they hope to teach to other families who want to live in a simpler, more sustainable way. Ideally they want to build their eco-home this summer but so far have been too busy keeping warm to find land. They admit their hope of buying a secluded half-acre on a south-facing slope, with a stream, for a few thousand pounds is probably unrealistic.
They may have chosen to live like this but, like other hard-pressed families, Matt and Lily have found that economic pressures made their old way of life intolerable. They believe more working families will be forced to live like they do, as rents and bills rise and first-time buyers are permanently priced out of the housing market. The government, however, seems unwilling to help people like Matt and Lily to help themselves. To get planning permission for a low-impact house on rural land requires navigating an impenetrable planning maze.
Lily would like to see reforms to encourage more self-built, low-impact housing. “There should be assistance to help people do this, not obstacles,” she says.
The reality of life in a tent in the middle of a British winter is far from bucolic but there are unimagined benefits. Sustained by their dreams of a self-built home, Matt and Lily are determined to accentuate the positives. Lily has noticed how well Louise sleeps at night in the tent. In fact, they all sleep much better than they did. On clear nights, the moonlight shines through the canvas and they hear the hoot of owls and the barking of foxes. Are they woken by the cockerel in the morning? “There are about 15 of them, which Louise loves,” says Matt.
“I love the sound of rain on the canvas, the candle light and the wood smoke. I like everything being simplified,” adds Lily. “It might be a cliché to talk about being in harmony with or close to nature but an element of that is very true.”
[Note: How do you heat the tents during a cold winter?
Answer: We recommend using space heaters, propane heaters, or a centrally ventilated heating system (easily run in through a deck vent). We DO NOT recommend using open flame to heat the tent. Canvas is a fabric material, and even though we do have customers who do use open flame in their tents and we’ve never encountered a problem, you are more prone to fire accidents if you use fire.
(Pasted from: http://www.exclusivetents.com/faq.htm#platform) Mr. Larry]
B. Living Off-Grid in a Tent
March 2011, By Bob Wells
Pasted from: http://cheapgreenrvliving.com/Tent_Living.html
[The following example of tent living is provided just to show what one can do, its not the life style I would suggest for long term tent living, being way too Spartan for my comfort. Kudos to “Desert Rat” for setting up a generator-deep cycle battery-inverter- power system. On a higher initial budget this operation would have been better with a larger tent, more amenities and solar power. There is a lesson to learn in the life stories people tell, this story speaks to the possibilities of Internet connectivity while in a remote or possibly, regional “grid down” situation. Mr. Larry]
[Looks like the Eureka Copper Canyon 12 (12′ x 14′) Mr. Larry]
No matter how small a house or apartment you live in, it is hard on the environment. First, the huge amount of material required to build a house has to be produced, at an enormous price to the planet. The raw materials (ores, minerals, wood and oil) have to be extracted from the earth, transported to be processed, be processed, then transported again to wholesalers, then transported to retailers, then transported to the job site. You read that last sentence really quickly, but it represents a great deal of damage and pollution to the planet. Once the house is built and you move in, you must buy furniture and lots of “stuff ” to fill it.
All of those things do more damage to the earth. The house has to be heated and cooled to make it comfortable. You can’t sit in the dark, so the house needs lots of lights to keep it bright. For cooking you need a stove/oven refrigerator and dishwasher. You can’t possibly stay clean without hot water, so you need a 50 gallon hot water heater. The lawn and landscaping has to be watered, mowed and tended to. All of those utilities require huge amounts of pollution to produce electricity, bring you water, and process your sewage. One more way houses damage the earth: a long commute to and from work. Nearly all of us have to work, and the majority of us work in cities. So five days a week you drive to and from work in your car, often crawling along in miserable traffic.
Contrast all of that to a friend of mine I will call Desert Rat. I met Desert Rat in the desert of the Southwest where he was busy working from his tent. He was sick of the rat race so he decided to chuck it all and move to the desert. He was fortunate that he could work from home via the Internet. He didn’t know for sure where he was going, he just knew he wasn’t going to be living in a city any longer. He had heard about dispersed camping on BLM desert land and National Forests, so he decided to give that a try. He had a plan, in the winter he would live in the warm desert and in the summer he would move up to the cool National Forests. Since nearly all BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest land has a 14 day stay limit, he knew that all he had to do was carry 14 days worth of supplies, and then he had to move anyway.
He got a Verizon data card and cell phone so he could work from anywhere. His pattern is that he goes out to a place where he gets a good Verizon signal (which is an amazing number of places) sits up camp and stays there for 14 days without starting his car again until the 14 days are up and he is out of supplies, then he breaks camp, gets supplies and moves on to the next camp spot. He gets the seclusion he needs and does just about the absolute minimum damage to the earth that a human can do in the twenty-first century.
Everything he has is as small, light and fold-able as he could find in order to fit it in his small economy car.
When he was preparing for his new life, he decided that essentially, he was going on an extended camping trip (for many years he hoped), so he went to an outdoor store and outfitted himself. He needed something to live in, so he bought a large, high-quality tent made by Eureka. It is a great tent! In the two months we camped together we had several storms blow through that brought winds well over 50 mph. The tent weathered them like a champ! He needed to
cook so he bought a Coleman 2-burner, dual fuel stove. He got it instead of a propane stove because he was already carrying gas for his Yamaha generator and he didn’t want to have to carry a second fuel.
He needed consistent power in the middle of nowhere, so he bought a Yamaha Generator which (along with the Honda) is famous for its reliability, quiet running and low gas consumption. I found it interesting that he set it up on a 5 gallon bucket to keep dust and dirt from coming in through the air filter when running. I thought that was a very good idea. He carries 10 gallons of gas which easily lasts the 14 days for running the generator and cooking.
He has deep cycle batteries he leaves on the floor-board of his car since they are too heavy to be carrying around. He runs an extension cord from the generator to a battery charger in the car which charges the batteries. From the batteries he runs cables into the tent. In the picture below, top- right, we see the inverter and cords that run the many electrical items he uses for work.
In the picture above, lower- left, we see his office. Having a comfortable chair is important, so he bought a good folding recliner. A portable table holds his laptop and he uses five gallon buckets for tables.
His bed doesn’t look like much but, he has the highest quality self-inflating sleeping pad that Thermorest makes which is very comfortable. He is a cold sleeper so he has two sleeping bags so he can sleep inside both of them when it is cold, or just one when it is warmer. The desert can be surprisingly cold at night!
His tent is 12×14 feet and over 6 feet tall. That is a huge amount of room for one person, and would be more than enough for a couple as well. He finds it very comfortable.
He carries a total of ten gallons of water in his two Coleman five gallon jugs. That’s enough for 14 days as long as he is conservative in its use. Notice the spigot which makes getting water out and washing/rinsing easy. [If you plan to use a small utility trailer to carry your gear, I recommend increasing the water supply by bringing a 30 gallon potable water drum. The extra 250 lbs./30 gallons of water will keep you clean, bathed, keep your porta-pottie flushing, wash your dishes and laundry, as well as keeping your mornings coffee pot filled– without “cutting corners”. Mr. Larry]
All in all, it is a wonderful life! There is something magical about the desert that starts to get in your heart and changes you. Inevitably the strain and constant stress of city-living starts to fall away and a peace and contentment take its place. Desert Rat wasn’t sure if he would like his new life, but it has far exceeded his expectations. Already, he can’t imagine going back to his old life in the city.
It wasn’t his primary purpose, but a side effect of living this way is that it is one of the greenest, most environmentally friendly ways you can possibly life. He is completely off-grid except for the small amount of gas he uses to cook and for the generator. And that is much more than offset by the fact that he no longer commutes to work. In fact he only drives once every 14 days and that is in an economy car.
He is a true minimalist with nothing more than it takes to survive. His entertainment and joy come from nature.
[Above, solar panel photos added by Mr. Larry, a recommended addition or alternative to the aforementioned generator.]
C. See the 5:04 video, “Off Grid: The tent in pictures,” at YouTube, click-or paste the following link:
D. See the 4: 47 video, “Off Grid: The ultimate bug out location,” at YouTube, click or paste the following link: