Pitching a tent can be rather challenging especially for inexperienced campers. However, like any other camping skill, knowing how to set up a tent can be learned, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes. This is why before you head out to the campgrounds, take some time to learn how to pitch a tent in order to avoid wasting precious time at the campsite. That way, you’ll have more time to have fun and do what you went there to do.
Things to Do Before Heading to the Campsite
Practice Setting Up Your Tent at Home
The worst place to learn how to pitch a tent would be at the campsite. Thus, it is best that you practice setting up your tent at home at least a few weekends before your camping trip. When practicing how to pitch a tent, be sure to read the owner’s manual carefully. Tents come in a variety of types and designs, and your particular style of tent may require some additional work than ordinary tents.
There is nothing worse than arriving at the campgrounds only to find out that you are missing a pole or a tent peg. Pre-empt this by including your tent equipment and accessories in your camping checklist and double-check everything before you set off for the camping grounds.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s put that tent up.
Step #1: Find a Good Site
Where you pitch your tent will have a significant impact on your comfort and safety, so choose your tent site carefully. Here are some tips for finding a good site to pitch your tent.
- Look for established tent pitching site. In established and well-frequented campgrounds, look for designated or existing tent pitching sites. More often than not, these will require little clearing and site preparation, and will also be located in areas near streams or lakes and have meadows or mountains as a scenic backdrop.
- Look for flat and even ground. A flat, even ground could mean the difference between a good night’s rest and waking up with a sore back.
- Camp at least 100 feet from lakes and streams. Camping too close to a water system can be dangerous if it rains as the water level may rise. Also, camping too close to water can contaminate the water systems, something that goes against the “Leave No Trace” camping principles.
- Look for a shady spot. A tent positioned in direct sun will feel more like a sauna, so it is best to look for an area within close proximity to a shady spot. Also, some tents can be damaged or suffer premature aging caused by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Look for natural windbreak. It will be very difficult to get a good night’s rest if your tent is flapping in the wind all night long. Plus, if you’re positioned facing into the wind, your tent will feel drastically colder. Thus, you’ll want to look for a campsite with a natural windbreak like tall trees or large rocks.
- Avoid damaged trees or branches. Never pitch your tent near damaged trees or limbs that can be blown down by a severe gust.
Step#2: Clear Out Debris from the Tent Site
When you’ve identified the perfect spot to pitch your tent, the next step would be to clear out the debris littered over it. Simply pick up or sweep away any stones, sticks or branches to ensure that nothing will be poking at your back while you sleep. Doing this will also help to protect your tent footprint and floor from getting torn or punctured. Keep in mind that you’re simply clearing away the debris and that this is not an excavation project. If it seems to you that clearing your chosen tent site requires too much work, consider picking another site.
Step #3: Lay Out the Tent Footprint
When setting up your tent, one thing to consider is the need to put a barrier between the ground and your tent’s flooring. This is necessary especially if you are camping over wet grounds, but even if the campground is dry, you should still consider laying down a barrier just the same. These barriers, often in the form or a tent footprint or a tarp, will not only help keep moisture from entering your tent through the ground and provide you with additional insulation, but it will also protect the bottom of your tent and your sleeping pad from damage and keep it clean at the same time.
Tent footprints designed for your specific type of tent are generally smaller than your tent’s floor. This is so that the edges will stay within the tent’s perimeter, thus keeping it from collecting the water running off from your tent’s top and sides. If you are using a large tarp, you’ll want to fold up longer edges and tuck them under the tent. You don’t want any part of the tarp to hang out beyond the edge of the tent; otherwise the exposed edges will collect water when it rains.
Step #4: Set Up the Tent
Tents come in a variety of styles and designs. Some come with few basic materials and are easier to put up, while others (especially the larger ones) will come with more parts and more complicated set up instructions. At the very least, there are basic guidelines to be followed when putting a camping tent regardless of the type and size. Keep in mind though that the following are intended as a general advice only and should apply to most tent setups. Your tent may be different, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s manual for full instructions on how to properly set up your tent.
Connect the Poles
Depending on the particular type of tent that you own, the poles may be connected using bungee cords or they may be joined together by connecting each pole section directly to each other. Once you figure out the required method, put the tent poles together. Remember to take it slow during the setup so you don’t break or bend your poles.
Insert Tent Poles to the Flaps
Once you’ve joined the tent poles together, locate the flaps in the tent fabric where the poles are to be inserted. Afterwards, slide the tent pole inside one end of the flap until it comes out on the other end. Some tent don’t have these kinds of flaps. Instead, they have plastic clips which you attach on the top of the tent to the pole. In any case, make sure that the poles are attached firmly and securely to the tent fabric.
Raise the Tent
After attaching the poles to the tent, you’ll need to raise the tent up from the ground. This can be challenging at first, especially if you’re going at it alone. So if you’re camping with a family or a friend, be sure to ask them for help. Once the tent is raised, the poles will bend according to the intended shape. Go over the tent and check for any misalignment and straighten them out as needed.
Stake the Tent
There are freestanding tents available in the market and they do have their advantages. However, if you’re camping in windy campsites (or maybe you just want to make the tent more secure) you’ll want to stake the tent to the ground. Most tents will come with their own metal stakes, but if yours didn’t you can always buy standard metal stakes from shops that sell tents and camping accessories.
If the ground is soft, you can simply push the stakes into it. On the other hand, if the ground is rocky or particularly hard, then you might need to use a mallet to drive the stake to the ground. Be careful when doing so since applying unnecessary force may cause them to bend.
Put on the Rain Fly
There are tents which are sold with a rain fly or a rain guard. Basically, this is just another piece of fabric that covers the tent and, as the name suggests, gives it added protection from the rain. Although this is often just an option (especially if you’re camping in dry places during the warmer seasons of the year), it’s still best to put them up just in case the weather unexpectedly turns sour while you’re asleep.
Some rain guards can simply be draped over the tent and attached to the tent’s poles using the dedicated Velcro straps on the underside of the rain fly. However, there are rain guards which have corresponding tent poles of their own. These are often more complicated and will thus take more time to set up.
Attach the Guy Lines
Guy lines are cords or strings that are used to secure a tent to the ground. These are attached to sturdy loops called guy out points located in strategic points around the tent or the rainfly. More specifically, they are used to provide the tent with extra support and stability against strong winds. They also provide additional structure and strength to your tent frame.
Just like the rain guards or rain fly, attaching a guy line to the tent is optional, but if the weather forecast shows slightly strong winds headed your way, then setting up the guy lines is a must. One expert tip is that you should always bring with you extra guy lines when camping. This way, you can rig a longer line or add guy lines if necessary.
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Knowing how to set up a tent is an essential skill for any camper or backpacker. When you know how to pitch a tent properly, you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle once you’re at the camping grounds. Just remember that camping tents come in a variety of types and designs, and though knowing the basic tent setup is often enough, you may still need to refer to your tent owner’s manual for some specific instructions.
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