The Dangers Of Portable Shelters & Other Outdoor Camping Gear
Portable shelters are a popular camping accessory, but most people never consider the dangers of these shelters when purchasing them. They’re focused on getting a lightweight covered shelter that is easy to set-up and store.
Either they want protection from the rain or a convenient way to get repositionable shade. Unlike the awnings that are attached to our trailers and motorhomes, these portable shelters can easily be moved to provide maximum shade wherever it’s needed.
Most people set them up over their picnic table or over their folding chairs around the fire pit so they can enjoy more of the outdoors without getting soaked or sun burned. You can even buy side panels to enclose one or more sides for maximum protection from the rain or sun. They seem like a great solution to many of the weather problems that can diminish our outdoor experiences, but are they really a viable solution to too much rain or too much sun?
Will portable shelters hold up against the wind?
They come with four collapsible metal legs, a tightly fitted canvas top, and pegs to anchor the legs to the ground. But most people set them up without the anchor pegs because one of two conditions usually exist.
Either the ground is too hard to allow the pegs to be hammered into place, or the ground is too soft to provide any real anchoring effect. Additionally, most people use a portable shelter with the intention of being able to move it to where it’s needed most, and anchoring it to the ground is counter-productive since the anchored pegs would have to be removed every time the shelter is moved.
This is the danger of all portable shelters! They are very lightweight and have a huge fixed “sail” made out of their canvas top. It takes very little wind under this sail to turn a portable shelter into a kite and lift the entire structure into the air, metal legs and all.
We have been at dog agility events where multiple canvas shelters were swirling through the air 20 or 30 feet above the ground. They twist and collapse, their metal legs and framework bending and breaking as the wind whips them through the air. It’s very dangerous and virtually impossible to try and catch one of these structures if it’s fully airborne.
It doesn’t take much wind to move these portable shelters. I was watching (and worrying about) the portable shelter in the campsite next to ours when a small gust of wind lifted and moved it at least two feet. The wind was barely noticeable, but the canvas top caught the up draft of the wind and it lifted the structure completely off the ground.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind that day and the following day the neighbors packed up and left before the sustained winds of 20 MPH with gusts to 40 MPH arrived in the park. You can see the damage those winds did to another shelter on the opposite side of the campground in the next two pictures in this article.
An out-of-control portable shelter swirling in the wind can do a lot of damage to an RV or car, not to mention the threat to human safety. Even if they are pegged to the ground, it doesn’t take much wind to pull out the pegs or twist the structure until it’s mangled beyond usability.
How many twisted portable shelters have you seen in campground dumpsters? That appears to be the fate of most of these structures. They seem like such a good idea, until they’re not. On a calm day they are great for shade or as protection from the rain, but how many days are like that?
Other dangerous outdoor camping gear
Portable shelters are not the only dangerous outdoor camping gear. I think campers need to be more aware of the dangers to themselves and others when they leave outside gear set-up in their campsites. Anytime it gets windy this gear is a hazard.
We pulled into a campground in Tennessee about an hour after a 70 MPH straight-line wind gust blew through the area. Trees were down, huge limbs had to be cut off many RVs, and there was camping gear strewn all across the campground: folding mats, chairs, barbecues, tables, propane tanks (some with their connecting hoses torn off), and portable fire pits.
Any of this debris flying through the air in 70 MPH winds could be a deadly projectile. A folding chair could go right through a window or break an arm if it slammed into you at 70 MPH and a damaged stem on a propane tank can turn the tank into a bomb.
Sure, 70 MPH winds are rare, but it doesn’t take that much wind to be dangerous. We were camped at Winchester Bay on the Oregon Coast and watched the wind break the metal restraints on the huge metal garbage bin and send it rocketing across the parking lot, toward a parked truck, like an out-of-control freight train.
Fortunately, several campers were out in this windstorm and we were able to run down the garbage bin and redirect its path before it slammed into the truck. During that storm, anything and everything that had been left outside of any RV went sailing through the park, some of it all the way into the bay.
Outdoor dog pens
At Winchester Bay, we had a 3-foot-high X-pen set-up for our dogs. X-pens are open wire constructions and offer virtually no wind resistance, but the wind still knocked it over and wedged it up against the door of our motorhome.
We had to exit through the driver’s door to get the X-pen off of the motorhome door. Our X-pen was anchored with pegs, but it was still toppled by the wind even though it offers almost no wind resistance. If the wind can knock over an X-pen with no wind resistance, imagine what the wind can do with a 10’ by 10’ sail tightly strapped to a metal frame. You don’t need to imagine it. The picture below clearly shows the damage and the danger.
Portable shelters can be a dangerous outdoor camping accessory, and if you really want to use one, I strongly suggest that you anchor it securely to the ground, pay close attention to the weather forecasts, and be prepared to take it down when windy conditions are predicted.
And if you’re camping in windy weather and your neighbor has one of these, you might want to share this article before their portable shelter blows out of their site and into yours!
Don’t just take our word for it—Youtubers Pure Living For Life share their experience in the video below how a huge windstorm destroyed their portable RV shelter: