How To, Lists, Travels

How To: pitch your tent in the sand

I admit, I’ve had a lot of trouble motivating myself to sit down and write my next post, which is why you haven’t heard from me in a couple weeks. I’ve been stubbornly sticking to my original plan of writing about my adventures in chronological order, and as a person who likes things to be in order, I find myself wanting to keep going in this fashion.

But I also find myself wanting to completely scrap that plan and start sharing with you all of our amazing adventures since we moved to Colorado this summer (connect with me on instagram to follow along in real time). I’ve been out camping or hiking every single weekend since July 7, and everything I’ve seen has just been so stunningly beautiful! I don’t know how I can ever pick a “coolest thing” we’ve done this summer, but if I had to narrow it down, our adventure from two weekends ago is definitely near the top.

So, I’ve decided to compromise and write up the next post in my “How To” series, giving me the chance to share some newfound knowledge and squeeze in a few photos from last weekend without completely upending my chronological order plan.

At this point, you may be glancing back up to the title of this post and wondering where in the world we pitched a tent in sand in Colorado?

And some of you who are familiar with Colorado may have just realized the probable answer to this question: Great Sand Dunes National Park.

IMG_4428-1If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it! It’s one of my favorite national parks, simply because it’s so freaking cool to have a giant field of massive sand dunes at the base of 13,000 foot (3900 m) mountains. To make for an even more amazing experience, they give out a limited number of free permits that allow you to spend the night on the dunes! As soon as I learned this, I was determined to score a permit and experience the utter peace, beauty, and solitude of having the dunes almost completely to ourselves.

(Spoiler alert: it was more peaceful and amazing than we could have imagined)

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Can you spot our tent? (hint: it’s yellow)

We arrived at the visitor center right as it opened the Saturday before last and managed to snag the first permit of the day (apparently – as we’ve now learned – in the off season you don’t need to wake up at 4:30am for this). We spent the morning touring the visitor center and relaxing on the edge of the dune field before packing up our packs and heading out mid-afternoon for our trek up and over the first ridge of dunes (this is the day-use area; backpackers must clear this area, but can then pitch their tent anywhere on the remainder of the 30 square mile dune field).

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When planning an overnight trip on the dunes, there were a couple important things we had to consider. First was the fact that there’s no water on the dunes, so we had to carry all we’d need. Second was the fact that we’d be pitching our tent on sand, so the typical method of securing it with stakes wouldn’t work.

Some internet research told me that the solution to our problem was sand bags. I’m sure they actually make and sell specific sand bags and other pitching-a-tent-in-the-sand tools, but we didn’t particularly feel like spending money on these items, so we improvised and did it for free and it was a success!

Step 1: save up your old bread/bagel/English muffin bags (and rinse them out to avoid having your tent area smell like food)

Step 2: stash the bags and a plastic trowel in your backpack

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Step 3: pitch your tent without using stakes

Step 4: pull the guylines into place to determine where to dig your hole in the sand (we miscalculated the first two… it’s not quite the same as using a stake so it may take a couple tries to get the cord pulled taut enough)

Step 5: dig a hole in the sand, depositing the removed sand into a bread bag

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Step 6: tie the bag to the guyline and drop it into the hole

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Step 7: bury the bag and pack it down (Pat stepped on them to make sure they were in there nice and firmly)

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Step 8: repeat for all the guylines and, voilà! Your tent is pitched!

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Step 9: prepare to get sand all up in everything, no matter how well you brush yourself off before entering the tent

Admittedly, this probably wouldn’t have worked had it been excessively windy, but I also wouldn’t want to be on sand dunes if there was that much wind blowing sand everywhere. For our purposes, though, it worked perfectly. The bags stayed in place, the guy lines were tight, and our tent stayed put despite the breeze and occasional mild gusts of wind.

Well, there you have it. How to pitch a tent in the sand.

And now, because we really did have such an amazing weekend out there on the dunes, a few more of my favorite photos!

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The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in south-central Colorado near the town of Alamosa
  • Fees & passes: $20/car for a 7-day entry fee; backcountry permit is free but they only give out 20 per night
  • Hiking: it’s a minimum 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to crest the first ridge of the dunes and cross out of the day use area
  • Other: Following proper backcountry and LNT protocols is very important while out on the dunes. Park rules dictate (1) no campfires, (2) use of a bear canister, and (3) you must bury human waste 6 inches (15 cm) beneath the surface AND pack out all toilet paper

12 thoughts on “How To: pitch your tent in the sand”

  1. What a beautiful spot! I can’t imagine there are many places where you get dunes and mountains so close to each other. That’s a nifty technique for pitching your tent in the sand, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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