Picture this: You’re out camping with your friends, and it gets to be time to pitch your tent. Unfortunately, you’ve never needed to do this in the past, either because you’ve never been camping or because you’ve always had someone else do it for you. You figure it can’t be that difficult to piece together some poles and a few sheets of nylon, so you don’t bother practicing beforehand in the comfort of your own home. Now, the true test has arrived.
Your friends look at you expectantly, and perhaps with a bit of concern and humor if they can tell you’re doing it wrong. After half an hour of trial and error, you give up in frustration and more than a little embarrassment. Maybe you should have thought this through a little bit sooner and saved yourself some unneeded frustration and humiliation, now that you have to ask your friends to help you out.
Luckily for you, we’ve laid out everything you need to know so that you don’t end up like the poor guy in the story. Check out our step-by-step process below, so you can be prepared when you need to know how to pitch a tent.
Location, location, location…
One of the most important steps to setting up your shelter happens well before you even start to pitch your tent. While it might not directly relate to the process of pitching a tent, finding the right location should always be considered a vital first step when it comes to setting up for the night. After all, it doesn’t matter how quickly you can get your tent ready if you’re just going to end up sleeping on a bed of sharp rocks or tree roots.
Most campgrounds will have this taken care of for you already, but there are still a few things you should look out for. The ground is what you’ll be sleeping on, so it’s definitely worth it to take some time to prepare your earthen bed. Find a nice flat space, otherwise you might find yourself leaning downhill, which can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to sleep. After that, check the area for any objects that might upset you during the night, such as rocks, tree branches and roots, and even dips or holes in the ground. The bottom of your tent isn’t very thick, so trust me when I say you will feel even the smallest pebble if you lie down on it.
Obviously, don’t be afraid to move things around either. If you find a nice looking place to settle down, but there are a handful of jagged stones that would disturb your rest, pick them up and toss them away. I always take a good 5-10 minutes to clear away anything that I know will poke into me, and it’s always several minutes well spent.
Once you’re done looking down, it’s time to look up. It can get quite windy in the dusk hours, and having something to protect you and your shelter from the strong gusts will make your night significantly more enjoyable. Rock faces and copses of trees tend to make excellent windbreaks, so if there happen to be one of these nearby, pitch your tent relatively close to it with the door facing the structure. Don’t get too close to trees, though, as it’s still possible they might break in heavy wind and topple on you.
As a rule of thumb, it’s generally smarter to camp close to a water source. That way, if you ever found yourself running out, it wouldn’t be too hard to find a place to drink from. However, be careful not to set up camp too close to a river or lake, as flash flooding could sweep you and your shelter away unexpectedly.
The Step-by-Step Process
Alright, now that you’ve found the perfect place to make camp, it’s time to pitch your tent. As always, I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice in your own backyard several times before you make your maiden voyage. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable around each piece of equipment, making the entire process much smoother and faster.
1. Lay Out Your Gear
Depending on the type of tent you have, it may either be stored in one bag or several. Take a little time to get familiar with the content of each bag, and which you should unpack first when it comes time to set up camp. At the very least, you should have poles, stakes, and the tent body – if you’re extra prepared, you’ll likely have a footprint, rainfly, and guylines to go with the base material. Once you have a good understanding of where everything is and what purpose it serves, you’re ready to start piecing it all together.
2. Roll Out the Tent
While in its bag, your tent is probably rolled up into a tube shape. Since you’ve already found your ideal place to set up for the night, unroll your tent onto the ground where you want to sleep. If you have a footprint, you’ll want to lay this out first, putting it between the ground and the bottom of your tent. This adds another layer of protection, so if there happens to be heavy rain, water will be less likely to soak through the bottom of the tent to make you wet.
3. Stake it Down
At this point, grab your tent stakes and hammer them through the loops on each corner of the tent. You should have made sure that the tent floor was adequately spread out and taut before securing it to the ground, and the stakes should be deep in the earth where it will have the most holding power. Whatever you do, don’t try to drive the stakes into the ground using your foot, as this is a great way to bend or break the stake. Instead, use a mallet designed for this sort of task.
4. Add the Poles
Now that your tent is thoroughly staked out, it’s time to give it some shape. Grab your poles and begin the process of sliding them through the fabric at various places along the tent – if you’re not alone, now is a great time to get a little help from a friend. But first, take a look at your poles to determine where they fit in the tent. They’ll vary depending on what kind of tent you have, but generally speaking, you should have poles of various sizes. To find out where they go, check the color on them and match them with the same colored tab on the tent.
Once you know where they belong, start feeding them through the fabric. If you have a friend with you, this process goes a lot smoother if you have someone helping to slide the poles through their respective sleeves. Remember not to force anything if it feels like it’s getting stuck, as this may end up tearing the fabric and ruining your tent.
After you’ve successfully fed the pole through the sleeve, there’s a metal pin that will slip into the end of the pole, securing it in place. Place the pin in the side that you just fed through, and then push the rest of the pole into place before securing the other side. Repeat this process with all of your poles, and at the end of it, you should have a fully formed tent.
As the name implies, this is a key addition to your tent if you’re a fan of staying dry in bad weather, and something that most tents should have when you buy them. A rainfly is a tarp that goes over your shelter, acting as the first line of defense against the elements. It’s also a vital piece of equipment to help you stay dry if you’re trying to set up your tent in the rain!
Depending on what type of tent you’re using, the method of attaching the rainfly will vary, but typically it’s either in the form of hooks or buckles. Strap each side down securely, making sure the entire tarp is taut so that water doesn’t pool and start to soak through.
While not an essential item for your shelter, many campers swear by the use of guylines. Meant to add some sturdiness to your shelter, these lines are essential for windy days, as they prevent your tent from collapsing. You’ll see various places along the outside of your tent that you can tie one end of the lines to, and then stake the other side into the ground after pulling it tight. Just make sure you don’t pull too tight, though, as this might ruin the shape of your tent.
What we’ve laid out here is a foundation for you to build on. Every tent is going to be slightly different to set up, especially when it comes to size and shape. However, once you’ve got these basics down, you should have no trouble setting up a shelter of any kind, especially with a bit of practice.
The process of putting your tent together is relatively simple, and doesn’t require a significant amount of prior skill or knowledge. As such, one of the biggest things I hope you take away from this article is how important it is to practice in a controlled environment. Whether you’re car camping or backpacking, it’s hard to know what situation you’ll be facing if you wait to put your tent together for the first time. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have plenty of daylight and nice weather to let you understand the ins and outs of the process, or maybe you’ll be stuck in heavy wind or rain, making you fumble in an attempt to hurry. Either way, you’ll be glad that you practiced beforehand when you get to your campground.
Looking for more information on what you need to know for your next camping trip? Check out our guide here!