Camping is a great activity where you can enjoy the outdoors solo or with a group. You can relax and unplug from the rest of the world with just yourself or with your friends and family. National parks have some of the best campsites with breathtaking scenery. What if you arrive and see that all the available campsites all have gravel tent pads? If you come not prepared for the gravel tent pads, the question becomes, can you pitch a tent on gravel?
Can you pitch a tent on gravel? Yes, you can. A gravel tent pad can be a blessing, depending on what weather you encounter during your camping trip. There is, however, more preparation involved with a gravel tent pad than on other surfaces.
You can pitch a tent on gravel, but there is more to it than stabbing your stake into the ground. It is best to know what you are getting yourself into before you show up at a campsite, and you’re not prepared. You want to have the best tent camping experience possible, from getting the tent set up to the first fire around the campsite.
How do you pitch a tent on gravel, what supplies are needed to pitch a tent on gravel, what are the pros, what are the cons, where are the gravel campsites for me to try?
How do you Pitch a Tent on Gravel?
Pitching a tent on gravel takes a little more preparation than pitching a tent on surfaces like dirt or concrete. Helpful tools when pitching a tent on gravel are sturdy tent spikes or stakes, hammer, and a tarp of some kind.
The tarp is to protect the bottom of your tent from the sharp edges of the gravel. The tent spikes are to make sure the tent is fastened down and not going to move with the wind.
Some types of tarps to consider:
- Heavy-duty polyethylene tarp, this one from Guard Rhino, comes in five different sizes, is 10 mils thick, and has grommets.
- Canvas tarps are always an excellent choice. Whiteduck makes one that is mold and mildew resistant, making it perfect for camping uses. You can pick from 15 different sizes with this option.
- Painting drop cloths will also work; this one from Chicago Canvas comes in 8 different sizes, is washable (which is a great benefit), and has double-stitched hems and seams.
- A truck tarp is another solution that you might not have thought of, and you probably already have one, but if not, TarpX has three sizes, and they are tough and water-resistant.
There are different methods of pitching your tent on gravel depending on what you have on hand:
- The first method is to find a heavy rock to slide in the stake loop to hold that loop down. Then, take another heavy rock with a flat side and place it on top to keep it in place.
- The second method is to find a spot where you can move some gravel to enter your stake. Take the sturdy stake (one with sharp edges preferred) through the stake loop and use a hammer (or bigger rock if you don’t have a hammer) to drive the stake into the ground. Then, pile some gravel on top to keep it in place.
- The third method is similar to the first, find a heavy rock to slide in the stake loop. If it is not heavy enough, find a large rock with a flat side and place it behind the rock in the stake loop. The rock will block the smaller rock in the stake loop from moving. Then, place another large rock with a flat side on top to hold it all together.
Remember to wear safety glasses when pounding your tent stakes in with either a hammer or a rock.
Another option when pitching a tent or any form of camping is to call ahead. This way, you find out what the sites are like and if you will need any special equipment. Also, upon arrival, you can ask the campground staff what their recommendation is. At times a strategy that works at one campsite might not work for another.
The campground staff know their campsites and can give the specific detailed information you will need while camping in a particular campground. Getting a professional opinion can prove to be helpful, even for the most expert camper.
Other Posts of Interest
- Our Favorite Van Camping Binoculars
- Van Camping vs. Tent Camping: What Is Better for You?
- Is it Safe to Sleep in a Van? The Essential Guide
Pros of Pitching a Tent on Gravel
If you are camping during heavy rain, the gravel has a natural draining system, and you don’t have to deal with mud, like when you camp on dirt. With no mud around the tent, you don’t track the mud inside the tent either. You are also in nature, which can provide a makeshift hammer and heavy rocks to hold down your stake loops.
Also, the gravel prevents your vehicle from getting bogged. A little amount of mud is something most people can deal with. If there is a lot of mud, you may get stuck, and (that is an entirely different subject), you will need to try and get out of it. On gravel, the mud doesn’t collect around the tires like in soil.
With the right tarp, rug for the tent floor and mattress or sleeping pad, pitching your tent on gravel can be quite comfortable. The thick tarp or cloth you choose will keep any sharp ends from penetrating your tent. To make your overall camping experience more enjoyable, an air mattress or sleeping pad adds more cushion for comfort and sleeping.
Cons of Pitching a Tent on Gravel
Like the scenario at the beginning of this post, if you happen to come across a gravel tent pad, you may not be fully prepared with all of the items you may need to pitch your tent.
If you are new to tent camping, you might not be knowledgeable of the items to have aside from the tent kit you bought. Depending on your camping budget, you may not be able to afford the things that are ideal for this kind of camping. Or, you may not know you need a different type of tent stake from the ones that came in the tent on different terrains.
Getting the stakes in the gravel is hit or miss. One side you may be able to get down with no issue and the other side you may have extreme difficulty with. If the stakes you have are not sturdy enough, they may end up getting stuck in the gravel or bend. Once bent, the average person doesn’t have the right equipment to straighten them, and they seem bent forever.
If you fail to pitch your tent down correctly, a gust of wind can send your tent in a location where you cannot get it back. If you are camping near a body of water, you can be quite embarrassed watching it float away while you are cooking 10 feet away. Even worse, it can be taken to a nearby campsite, and you will have some explaining to do.
If you didn’t bring a tarp to protect the bottom of your tent, you might end your camping trip needing a new tent due to the damage done by the gravel.
Packing for a camping trip is a big task. We have a post “How To Pack A 4×4 For Camping: A Comprehensive Guide” to help get you on your way. Also, if you would like a free camping checklist to see if you missed any essential items, we have one you can download.
Great Gravel Campsites to Try
If you’re like me, you are now curious about camping, specifically on gravel. How do you find gravel campsites? If you are looking for great views, year-round access, and bathrooms, look no further than Sierra National Forest in California. First come, first serve, no cell service to unplug, and watch out for poison oak and rattlesnakes.
Another campsite to try is Big Bend National Park, Texas. The gravel pit campsites are known for their breathtaking views of the Sierra del Carmen and Sierra San Vicente. The campsites can accommodate 10-12 people, but keep your horses at home. The river borders the United States and Mexico, so be aware that it is illegal to enter Mexico by crossing the river.
Pinnacles Campground in Pinnacles National Park is another gravel campsite to try. There are gorgeous rock formations and remnants of an extinct volcano to see while there. They are open year-round (except the pool) and have many amenities, activities, and recreation sites. The most popular amenities being showers, electricity hookups, and food lockers.
As you can see, you can pitch a tent on gravel, and there are even some benefits to doing it. By being properly prepared and having the right tools, you shouldn’t have any problems securing your tent for a spectacular weekend in the wild.