How to Set Up Camping Tents

How to Set Up Camping TentsA good night's sleep can make or break a wilderness adventure. Choose the wrong spot or set up your tent improperly and you could end up hiking in wet gear, while battling sleep deprivation or coddling a sore back. In the backcountry especially, selecting a good tent site is an important safety exercise.
Although modern tents are user-friendly, they still require patience to assemble, something you may not have when you reach the campsite at the end of a long day. Make sure you know the ins and outs of your tent before you hit the trails---practice assembly at home---and, if possible, read up on your preferred campsite beforehand so you know what to expect in terrain and weather.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Campsite Selection and Preparation

Things You’ll Need:
  • Tent with a waterproof fly, and any necessary poles, stakes and guy lines
  • Waterproof tarp
  • Hammer
Step 1
Select a good campsite. In public and private campgrounds, this decision has been made for you, with a level tent-pitching area clearly designated, and a fire pit, and possibly a picnic table, provided. In the backcountry, you're on your own to find the best site. Look for a flat, level and preferably well-drained piece of ground, one with bare dirt or grass into which you can easily drive tent pegs and guy lines (ropes that help anchor your tent to the ground). Choose a spot that has sufficient room to allow for ventilation and placement of any guy lines that extend from the tent.
In windy locations, try to find a tent site that is downwind from bushes, low trees or other land features that offer a windbreak, but upwind from your campfire and its resulting smoke. If you're camping during rain, snow, or a spring or summer thaw, make sure your tent site is away from---or at least protected from---runoff.
Step 2
Clear the tent site of debris such as rocks, branches, twigs or nettles---anything that makes the ground uneven or may poke a hole in your tarp or tent floor. As with any foray into nature, try to leave as little impact on your intended campsite as possible.
Step 3
Unfold the waterproof tarp in the center of your site. The tarp should be at least a few inches larger than your tent floor. Plan to place your tent on the back of the tarp so that any additional tarp area is in front of the door; this limits the possibility of tracking debris into the tent and provides a dry area for storing items outside yet still within arm's reach.

Erecting the Tent

Step 1
Roll out your tent on top of the tarp. Assemble the tent poles and string them through or attach them to the tent's loops or clips. Erect the tent by placing the pole ends in the grommet eyes or loops at its corners. Once the tent is assembled, make sure it is properly placed over the tarp. If your tent site isn't flat, position your tent so that your head will be higher than your feet when you sleep.
Step 2
Drive the tent pegs into the ground. Adjust the tarp to accommodate the pegs---in most cases, you can simply fold the corners of the tarp under itself. Add guy lines if necessary. If weather permits, open the tent's windows to air it out before use.
Step 3
Install the tent's waterproof fly to protect yourself from storms, to keep out morning dew, or to keep the tent warmer if needed. Use guy lines as directed by your tent manufacturer, but they are generally required only in extreme wind conditions that threaten to buckle tent poles.

Tips & Warnings

If you are using a new tent or one with which you are not familiar, practice setting it up at least once before embarking on your trip.
If possible, time your arrival to guarantee you'll have daylight when setting up camp. Bring a flashlight, preferably one that can be worn on your head, or a lantern in case you end up pitching the tent in the dark.
If your tent has L-shaped pegs, reserve one for hooking and removing the others when taking down the tent. Drive pegs at a 45-degree angle if possible to ensure tent loops won't detach themselves in gusty winds.
Think twice before pitching a tent directly under a tree. Trees may offer shade and some shelter from light rain, but they're also sources of falling debris such as twigs, leaves and bird droppings.

Article Written By Gary Olson

Gary Olson is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and designer with 34 years of experience. His work has appeared in such publications as Sailing, Northwest Living, 5280, The Arizona Republic, The Denver Post and many other newspapers and magazines. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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