In 2021 our family of 5 left our 3200 sq. ft home to tent full-time in a 5-meter Canvas Bell Tent. While at first our journey in the Bell Tent was amazing … our ending was pretty traumatic and I’m not sure I would go back. We lived in the Bell Tent from July till Octoberish on our own land in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada. I want to share a realistic look at what tent living looked like for our family of 5.
Why we decided to move into a Canvas Bell Tent.
Just like so many others who got the urge to relocate during the Covid Pandameic we were one of those families. We had dreamed about owning a vacation property in British Columbia, Canada for years. In February 2021 we took the plunge and bought 9 acres in Revelstoke, BC. We had lined up a builder (who later walked away from our project) and had everything in place to start building an A-frame cabin in July of 2021. My husband and I had planned to clear the spot for the A-frame cabin and build the driveway ourselves. The house rental market in Revelstoke is a big problem so finding a rental for our family of 5 and pets seemed like an impossible task. Moving from Alberta, Canada the climate in British Columbia is much milder. I had the idea to live in a Canvas Bell Tent so that we could save some money and make it more convenient for working on our property.
The Tent we chose to Live In Full Time
I ordered a 5-meter waterproof, mould-resistant cotton canvas Bell Tent from Stout Tent Company. After some shipping issues and missing parts, we were finally able to get our tent set up in July. I did a lot of research on Bell Tents and even after everything that happened I still feel like this was the best tent I could have chosen for our adventure at this price point. It was around $2800 Canadian dollars. Had I known that we would be in the bell tent so long I would have given more consideration to a Yurt. Yurts are about 5 times more money, but they actually have structured walls. If you are seriously committing to living full time in a tent, especially a family, I believe a Yurt is a much better long-term tent, especially if you are thinking about living in one during the Fall and Winter Months.
No, I did not even consider Nylon tents! Maybe if you are backpacking around and looking for something simple in warmer climates then a Nylon tent would be fine, but if you are making your tent your permanent home then read on to see how our journey went.
Also please keep in mind that our family also took our uninsulated snowmobile trailer with us as well. Our family of 5 would have never had enough space to store our essential things without this enclosed trailer.
Picking out our Tent Site
I just laugh thinking about picking out the spot for our bell tent. When you are camping on Public land you are often more restricted. Being we were on our own private land we could set things up for a more permanent living situation. Now, we had begun moving out to Revelstoke in June and when I say it rained that would be an understatement. Revelstoke is considered a temperate rain forest… so it rained and rained and rained! My husband thought it would be a good idea to build a large mound to set the tent up on.
Well by the time we actually got the tent at the beginning of July the rain had stopped. It turned out to be an extremely dry summer; smoke filled the skies until September and it was one of the worst forest fire seasons this area has seen. We did still set the tent up on the large mound, but everything we set up outside of the tent was on a steep slope. The table slopped, our chairs were constantly tipping over and well it just wasn’t comfortable living on a mound haha. I cannot recommend finding a level camping site enough!
If you don’t succeed Try AGAIN, and AGAIN, and AGAIN
TAKE TWO: We took out the mound and started with a level surface. My husband also got us geo-tech matting (it’s a thick green carpet) that we laid down on the ground. This matting was one of the best things. It kept the dust down and made it easier to keep our belongings clean.
Some other important considerations when finding the right place to set up your tent:
- Sunlight – even in hot climates you will still want the sun to be able to help dry out your tent if it gets wet and because you won’t have light switches to make light magically appear you will want some evening sunlight to make cooking and cleaning up easier.
- Possible falling trees – are their danger trees near your campsite. Here is a picture of what happened after we had moved out of the tent but had left the tent standing.
- While it can seem fun to camp in a densely forested area (I wanted to at first) you become more susceptible to wildlife intruders and mould (water doesn’t just come from above).
There will never be a perfect place to set up a tent, but as the owner of Stout told me … “two plans are one plan and one plan is NO plan.”
Setting up the Canvas Bell Tent
Getting our Stout Tent set up was pretty easy. The first time always seems tricky but after you do it once it gets way faster. It’s all about having tight guidelines! While setting up a wall tent is easier with two people, I was able to set up the tent by myself after I knew what I was doing. Even though our tent did not survive (more on this later) I would still say that Stout has created a high-quality tent (and no this isn’t sponsored).
How we laid out our Furniture in the Tent
The Canvas Bell Tent was beautiful and seemed very spacious. We set up a queen size Ikea wooden bed frame in the tent. I was able to put a dresser and clothes rack in the tent as well. When we first set up the tent we also had brought out our enclosed snowmobile trailer. Our kids thought it was fun to sleep in there. If you are going to live in your tent long term I highly recommend taking some regular-sized furniture (not just compact camping-sized items).
Finding a Water Source
Water! One of the most important things to consider is where all of your water is going to come from.
You don’t realize how important water is until you literally have to work for every drop! For the first few weeks, we were collecting water from a nearby creek. Our land was at the base of a mountain so we felt it was safe to drink. We later learned that there was a beaver dam upstream so we stopped drinking the water (but we never got sick). However, please be very careful where your drinking water supply is coming from and the precautions you need to take. Our land is next door to a public building and we learned that their well water was amazing, so we started getting our water from here.
Water equals Work
Even having an outdoor tap we could go get water from was still work! Every drop you drink, cook, clean and bathe with has to be gathered in a jug and hauled around multiple times. Our family on average used about 5 gallons of water a day. On shower days we would use an extra 5 – 8 gallons to shower with. There was no rain during the summer so there was nothing to collect. However, when the rainy season came in the Fall we were able to collect water for bathing and cleaning, but the rain brought on new challenges.
I also bought this Yeti water cooler. It was a great way to keep water cool during the summer months and it felt safer than letting water bake in the sun in a thin plastic water bottle all day.
Cleaning and Showering while living long term in a tent
I will never take for granted the ability to turn on a faucet and have warm water pour out. While we should have probably invested in a propane hot water heater, I was trying to keep costs to a minimum. Our goal was to save money while we were building our house. We had a smaller propane BBQ that we took with us. I bought 2 large enamel basins and we would heat water in the basins for washing dishes and for heating water to pour into a shower bag. We started out with solar-heated shower bags but they did NOT work! The temperature was never right at the time that you wanted to shower and clean up. While I enjoyed showering outdoors, my family would not say it was a thrilling experience haha.
For washing our clothing we would go into town to the local laundromat. For our family, I could usually get by going to wash laundry once a week. Which seems crazy considering I used to do multiple loads every DAY!
How did we store our food while living in a Tent
Now we were only living 10 minutes from town so our source of food was not a challenge. However, keeping food cold during the summer was hard. We invested in 2 Yeti-type coolers (but they were the Cabella’s brand) and they worked pretty well. We would have to get ice blocks from town every 3-5 days. I found one of the best ways to keep food cool, yet dry (because when the ice melts it makes everything soggy) is that I bought metal buckets and placed them inside the coolers and kept the food in the buckets with the ice around the buckets. We learned to buy food in smaller batches and cooked simple meals.
We cooked most of our meal on the BBQ. I also took an Instant Pot that we could run off of our generator. Then in the Fall when we installed our wood stove we would use that to cook on as well.
The number ONE question? Where did we go to the bathroom?
When we first arrived at our property we would pee in the trees or there was an outhouse next to the property that we would use. We did consider digging a hole for an outhouse, but we also knew that we could be there for a long time. Outhouses are not great when they get used full time by so many people. Instead, we chose to rent a porta-potty. We had to get it cleaned weekly as it’s a lot of waste with 5 people. Had I known that we would be living this way for such an extended period of time (writing this I still don’t have a flushing toilet) I would have invested in a compostable toilet sooner (which is what we have now). Compostable toilets are expensive (I spent $2000) but it would have been cheaper in the long run.
A problem in this small town is that a lot of people are living off-grid in vans and tents and they think anywhere is their personal bathroom. If you choose this way of life please be respectful of the land and the surroundings and consider how you are going to dispose of your feces (yes I needed to say that because one day someone literally took a crap at the end of our driveway!)
Keeping Wild Life OUT of your tent
We did not keep any of our cooking supplies or pet food in the tent to help keep the rodents and wild animals out. Did I mention when we moved into the Canvas Tent we brought our dog, 2 cats and 4 kittens haha? The animals loved living in the Bell tent! I also think bringing the cats was a great idea because it limited the rodent issues.
We also used bounce dryer sheets and put them all around the Tent. I tucked them under the edges everywhere … I was terrified of mice when we moved into the Bell Tent, but within a few months, it became part of normal life.
One night I woke up to my cat playing with a squirrel in the tent and a shrew carcass on the floor… living in a Canvas Bell Tent is not for the faint of heart! I shared a lot of this journey on Instagram and so many were worried about bears. My fear was not bears … it was mountain lions (they are sneaky) but, we never had issues with large wildlife. We kept things very clean and also our Chesapeake dog is very good at keeping animals away as well.
There is no better sleep than a Night in the Canvas Bell Tent
Warm summer evenings were my favourite! Some of my best nights of sleep were in that tent! Then waking up first thing to the morning sun and having a coffee are the memories I choose to take away from our experience. It was nice having our bed raised off the floor as it allowed me to store so much stuff underneath. When our kids moved into the Canvas Bell Tent they had to sleep on the floor. It was harder to keep them warm as we moved into the Fall Months and when the rainy season came we would have to hang a lot of their bedding every day to dry.
My list of Random Essential Items for Long-Term Camping that you may not think of:
Honestly, our family of 5 could have never lived in just a single 5-meter Bell Tent. Without our sled trailer (it’s not like a holiday trailer) it would have been impossible. This is where we set up our kitchen as well. While you learn how many things in our modern life we don’t need there are some little things that I enjoyed having:
- A vacuum – take a small vacuum with you! The tent accumulates a lot of dirt. It feels nice to be able to give it a quick vacuum every day.
- A cat – if you are scared of rodents this is a must haha
- Remote operated Generator – we purchased a generator that started with a little remote! This was so handy at nighttime so you didn’t have to crawl out of bed to shut everything off.
- Let’s face it we are living in an age of modern technology and it would be unrealistic to think we could leave all of the conveniences behind. We used the generator to power a Wifi Internet hub and to power some of our twinkle lights.
- Chairs! We used the low folding beach chairs and they were perfect. You need items that are low to the ground because headroom is limited against the walls of the tent. And being that they were foldable chairs we could easily move them when we needed more room. Trust me eventually you will want to sit somewhere other than your bed. When the weather gets bad you spend a lot of time inside those canvas walls.
- Rugs. Rugs make the bell tent so much cozier! Especially as you move into the cooler months these are a necessity!
Living in a Bell Tent in the Warmer Months
If we are going to chat about the real truth of living in a tent long time there is a HUGE difference between living in a tent in the Summer vs. Fall vs. Winter.
Life in the Tent during the summer was amazing. It was a brutal fire season that summer and the smoke was intense for the majority of July thru September. Living in the tent was still great for July and August.
How to live in a Tent When Weather Conditions get Extreme
Then the rainy Fall Season began and things started to go downhill. Because of Instagram Stout Tent was following my journey closely. As a side note our house never got started being built in July as our builders had promised. In fact, they didn’t start until the last day of September.
Keeping the tent and our belongings dry became an everyday chore. I had a piece of rope that I strung up inside the tent to hang things off of.
The wood stove for our tent could only hold enough wood to keep the tent warm for a few hours on the cooler nights (about -5 degrees celsius) so I would have to set an alarm every 2 hours and 15 minutes to wake up and restock the fire. If I overslept then I woke up cold and usually had to start the fire from scratch, which is not ideal at 2 AM.
And if you are living in your tent during the winter months and it snows you also need to wake up every few hours to bang the walls to shed the snow away. It took a long time after moving out of the tent for my body to be able to sleep thru the night without worrying about waking up and having to stoke the fire or bang snow off the tent.
Do you have a backup plan if things go bad living in a tent?
If you are planning to tent long-term do not underestimate the power of mother nature. Have a plan if things get bad. We knew we could always go to a hotel if a storm came.
It looked like we were going to be in the tent for the winter months (Revelstoke gets more snow than almost anywhere else in the world). Stout tent offered to send me a new tent that would stand a better chance to withstand the snow. I was so excited to get this new tent.
The new Canvas Bell Tent didn’t have the faux windows on the top, it had steeper canvas walls and only had 1 door opening compared to my Stargazer Tent. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of our downfall.
What ruined our bell tent experience?
In late August nights were beginning to get cooler and our Stargazer tent came with a stove jack. We decided to install a wood stove that had a 5″ – 6″ tapered stove pipe (this is important for what happened later). The stove we purchased was not from Stout Tent (because we didn’t live in the United States they wouldn’t ship us a stove), but was from another company that sells Canvas Wall Tents. For the first month living with the woodstove was great! It took very little wood to keep us warm and cozy. Again sleeping with the cozy fire was so great! At the end of September, I truly thought that living thru the winter in a tent was still a viable option for our family.
If you want to leave with good vibes and positivity of living in a Canvas Bell Tent then I suggest you stop here. However, if you want to read on to see what happened to our family then you’ll have to wait around for part 2 of this story. In the meantime, you can read more about our Family HERE.
I would love to hear what think of our family’s crazy adventure? Would your family give up the modern conveniences to go live with just the basics?
I am on pins and needles waiting for the rest of your adventure!,( Even tho I know what happened..I follow you on IG) …you are a braver soul than I am! We had a cute camper we lived in for a short time and I was so ready for a regular shower and toilet when we bought our home
Hi Janet. Thank you so much for reading about our journey. Oh man giving up a home to live in a camper or tent really gives you a new perspective. Yes, having a “real shower” after tent life was amazing! We still don’t have a flushing toilet so I am really looking forward to that!
You have beautiful photos of the happy times in the tent. Take photos for your updates as you are the project lead for the A-Frame, you want company at your new place!v:-)
– life hands us lots, good, bad, amazing and miracles too! You got this!
Yes, really trying to remember the good times in the tent! It truly was magical for those first few months! And I will be taking lots of pictures of the A-frame!!
Lisa Liberi McGarvey says
Your are an engaging writer. Sure you want to blog? A book might be in your future.
First, sorry one of your twins has suffered a broken leg. I am surprised with three boys, you haven’t had more ER visits. I have two children, one boy, one girl three years apart. They are now 35 and 32. We lived in the country (pizza or fast food was a 30 minute drive in one direction). My husband worked/ commuted 14-15 hrs per day. My kids and I were the support system for our family. You do what you have to do…yet, we made many trips to the ER. He broke her nose, she made him swerve on the bike and he fell off their “ramp” breaking his wrist, she was running away from him and tripped on a rock…broken foot (he carried her back to the house in a fireman’s hold). So long story short…your boys will be there for each other always.
I feel like I peeked ahead with your story…on IG you hear a lot of, can we get to the good part. I truly want a good part for you and your family. Pull on your hip boots, let’s wade through the shitty parts. I believe you will have a happy ever after. Stay strong.
Hey Lisa! Thanks so much for this! First I am surprised this is the first major broken bone for the boys haha. Learning to work with what you have no matter what family dynamics are is important. Not every family system looks the same and when your family finds its own path that’s where the magic is!
And I am still holding onto the belief our happy ever after is just around the corner!
Thank you for your story. It seems like everything started off right but turned bad in so many different ways for you and your family. Last summer I would always look forward to hearing how you and your family were doing. I grew up camping and oh how I loved it. There’s nothing like being at one with nature. So peaceful and almost innocent but not. It is a lot of hard work but worth it. I remember how you would say how well you would sleep at night. I was happy for you being a woman and sticking it out the way you did. I’m sorry things didn’t turn out well. I thought you were brave to endure as much as you did!!! I hope things go smoothly from here on out, they may not but we all just keep going and you are a strong person you can do this!!
Thanks for reading Sydney;) Yes, it was a great start and I am trying hard to hold onto those memories. Unfortunately, there won’t be any camping in the near future for us. I joke with the kids we are moving back into the tent and they say no way will I ever go back to the tent … not the memory I wanted them to have. But time heals wounds and that is what I am hoping for our family.
Kristin Sparkman says
So glad you are back. Loved reading about the bell tent. I still am not sure I could do it as long as you did. 🙂
Thanks Kristin! Enjoying being back on “my own terms.” When you don’t have an easy option to go anywhere else you stick it out haha
So sorry about your son’s broken leg! That is so very cool though that he wanted his brothers . I am a fellow boy mom (my 2 sons are grown) and I cannot believe they made it to adult hood with no broken bones! I LOVED your tent-style, I enjoyed following every bit of what you shared, and was devastated when the fire happened. Thankful the injuries were minimal. I am so excited to see the A frame!
OKay, that amazes me when anyone makes it thru life without a broken bone. I broke so many bones, but my husband never broke anything.
Thanks for being here and can’t wait to share the A-frame!
Thank you for sharing your story.
My husband worked away when our kids were young and we lived in a mobile home with water and sewer lines that would frequently freeze up during the Alberta winters. We usually could not use our ensuite for about 4 months. I thought I was roughing it. Only 1 bathroom lol.
Your story is amazing and despite the challenges you have faced, your family is stronger because of it.And you will have awesome stories to tell for years to come.
I am looking forward to next weeks excerpt.
Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we are presented with no other option? How we can normalize the worst situations. If nothing else this experience has made me aware of how much “extra” we have become accustomed to.
I also have a husband who works away and constantly hear ”
I don’t know how you do
It’s a way of life. Then I love on the flip side I hear people tell me they would love for their husbands to work away haha Grass always seems greener on the other side!
Betty Bashaw says
You are amazing, Brittany! Thank you for sharing all of this information, but more importantly the truth!
My hubby wants to move to a tiny home. We live (just 2 of us) in 750 sq. feet now. Personally, I’d like a little more space. We have four adult childen, so when we are all together it is a bit tight. And my hubby works from home as a music composer and orchestrator. He needs quiet, so it would be nice to have a door on his office.
But we are still thinking about our future. No definite plans yet. But he did show me a 100 sq. foot tiny home/shef for his personal work space. I can get behind that!
Okay WOW! I think 750 sq. ft sounds perfect! I also feel the “shift” like your husband probably does … to live with less, to have less physical “impact.” Maybe 450 square feet could be a compromise haha. Please share if you guys end up downsizing!
Resa Bartlett says
Ypur life is quite the adventure to say the least! I admire you so much for being able to be so strong through all that you and your family have been through!
I’m happy to be able to follow along with you and can’t wait to see the outcome of all of your hard work and determination.
Sending you big hugs,
Hey Resa, thank you so much for always being so supportive. Hoping we can all see an A-frame get built soon.
Love your honesty!
That is the best compliment. I feel like I had to sensor my life for years and I’m tired of doing that. My life is what it is haha
Sarah Nadine says
Watching your bell tent “series” last summer made me want to purchase a bell tent for our own property! As you said, time will hopefully heal the memories of sleeping under the stars … I also hope that even though this all has happened in the last year, your memories of this adventure, as a family, would still be ever-so-sweet.
Loved reading through your blog posts to get caught up on things and will be coming back for more. Glad to hear you are all fairing and really hoping for these brighter days ahead!
Aww, I hope you get a bell tent. It truly was amazing those first few months!
And I truly appreciate you being here!