A step by step guide on how to set up a tent

A mother and two sons joining to set up a tent for camping beside the wide lake
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How does every camping trip truly start?

With pitching your tent of course! As soon as you arrive at the campsite, setting up your tent is one of the first to-dos on your list.

It is one of the most important things to have done properly because it will be your “base camp” for however long you plan to be staying.

The place you’ll be sleeping and taking cover from any inclement weather. Tents come in all shapes and sizes so getting to know your tent is first. After some practice setting up and taking down your tent will be a breeze and take less time.

Several things should be considered when learning how to set up a tent, and we will provide you with instructions that will help you make the most of your experience.

Choosing ground to set up your tent

Choosing the right spot to set up your tent is not just for your comfort, but also for minimizing the footprint you make in nature.

You want to be camping on durable surfaces so that you make minimal impact on the surrounding environment. What are durable surfaces and how do you choose the right site to pitch your tent?

Let’s discuss all that you need to know about choosing your campsite:

Durable surfaces

Helpful son on the camping with his father setting up a tent

The durable ground is generally considered as an area that is not strongly impacted or worn by human traffic on trails and in campsites. Examples of this are areas of grass, sand, gravel, and bedrock.

You do not want to be setting up and trampling over vegetation and living soil. If you are near any sort of body of water you should set your tent 200 feet away so that wildlife have a pathway to the water.

Campgrounds and high use campsites

Identical green and black tents pitched on a campground

In high-use areas like campgrounds, it is important to follow regulations on where to set your tent and campsite. These high-use sites are already impacted but want to keep that impact localized.

As such, following set trails and pitching your tent in an already obviously impacted site will help to prevent further damage to the surrounding environment.

Primitive and low impact sites

Primitive sites and low-impact campsites are different in the sense that you must be more aware of how and where to set your tent site. If you are in a group you should be spaced out so as not to impact a large area.

Avoid being repetitive in the routes you take so that you don’t wear down the vegetation and move sites every night. We spend time in the outdoors to enjoy nature, so to preserve it for the wildlife and the next person, you should leave the place as pristine as possible.

The perfect site to set up your tent

Two tourists pitching tent on meadow

Ideally, you want as flat of the ground as you can find for your tent. It’s not always the case, though, that you can find the perfect square of ground so do your best to find a spot that looks the most suitable.

When you have found a spot that looks good check your surrounding area to make sure you won’t be putting your tent under or next to a Widow Maker.

This refers to any dead trees or broken hanging branches. They are a hazard and accident waiting to happen if you end up experiencing a storm or high winds.

Once you’ve secured your site, brush or move any sticks, pine cones so that you can lay your tent out flat. Remember to make sure you are on a durable surface!

How to pitch a tent

Happy family with little son set up camping tent.

You’ve made it to your campground or just hiked into a campsite. Now, it’s time to put down your pack and take out your tent.

You should have all the assorted gear for it together in the bag your tent comes in or packed somewhere that is easily accessible.

Let’s explore the pack and take a look at everything you are going to need and what you should have with you. As well as how to assemble everything.

What you should have with your tent gear

  • Footprint: Many tents may come with a footprint, but if you are not that lucky you can always buy one. A tent footprint is a kind of tarp designed specifically for your tent to sit on as protection from the ground and moisture. It should be a little smaller than your tent so that rainwater won’t be able to fall on it as it is tucked under the tent.
  • Tarp or plastic sheet: If you don’t have a footprint, then a tarp or plastic sheet will work just as well. Lay this down as a base to set your tent on. It will help prevent any moisture from soaking into the floor of your tent. It is also a place to leave your shoes so you don’t track any debris inside.
  • Stakes: you’ll need your tent stakes to secure your tent to the ground. It will prevent it from blowing away in the wind and moving or jostling off your tarp and tent site.
  • Tent poles: your tent poles are what creates the frame of your tent and hold it all together so that you can use it.
  • Rainfly: most tents come with a rain fly that you attach to the outside of your assembled tent. It is often secured by another set of stakes or clips to a part of your tent or tent poles. It is an extra waterproof layer that protects your tent from rain, wind, and even snow.
https://youtu.be/otpUxOporVI

How to assemble your tent

Now that you have got everything laid out in front of you, let’s start putting together your tent so you are ready for a weekend of camping adventures.

Every tent is designed a little differently, some are small and others are large enough to fit a family of six. However, the fundamentals of how you set up a tent remain the same. They still use all of the same parts.

  1. Lay your tent on the tarp making sure you locate the bottom of the tent so you can place that side down. Orient it in whichever direction you wish to be able to access the doors.
  2. Take your tent poles and begin connecting them. Most tent poles are attached by a bungee cord that makes it easy to fold up when you are packing and ensures you don’t lose any parts. Connect all the rods on your tent poles so that they appear as singular long poles.
  3. Locate the flaps or “sleeves” on top of the tent where your poles can slide in. A majority of basic tents, especially dome tents, will have the tent poles cross each other in an “x” to properly support the structure. Slide the poles into the corresponding sleeves and then the ends of the poles will insert into an eyelet on the corner of the tent. The poles are flexible and meant to arch as you do this. That is how it will raise the tent and become a functioning shelter.
  4. Raise the tent and make sure it looks like the picture on your tent bag, and the poles are secured.
  5. Next, you’ll want to take your stakes and stake all four corners of the bottom of your tent down. On the strap that you fit the tent pole in, there should be a loop or something similar for you to put the stakes through and secure the tent to the ground.
  6. Finally, you can finish by securing your rain fly over the top of the tent. Examine it so you can determine the front from the back so that it lays right when placed over the tent. You attach your rain fly either by clips that secure the tent poles, or velcro, a string that you can tie, or even stake into the ground as well. It should be taut so that if it rains, the water will run right off instead of pooling on top.
  7. If you don’t have a rain fly, then you can always string a cord or rope between two trees to set the tarp on to and stake it down. You can move your tent under it then so that it stays protected. There are also convenient camping tarps that come with a cord on the four corners of it to tie to trees and stake down as well. These tarps are often more lightweight and come in a conveniently small drawstring bag so it doesn’t take up much space in your pack.

You’ve officially set up camp once you have your tent up. Then you can go about setting your cooking area and cozying up the inside of your tent for the night. With that, your camping trip is fully underway.

https://youtu.be/ha43JNTtus4

Other helpful tips

Tourist help each other prepare tent

The location and placement of your tent are very important. We discussed durable surfaces and setting your tent 200 feet from any water source.

Don’t forget to factor in the weather though! Always bring some kind of rain protection for yourself and your tent, you can never predict what the weather will do when you’re in the backcountry.

Another thing to be aware of is to position your tent out of the sun. If you leave your tent in the sun it tends to trap the heat inside which can make it even a few degrees warmer than the outside air. This can make it very uncomfortable and hot to sleep in.

How do you set up a tent fast?

Practice practice practice! You have to get to know the tent you will be camping in. The only way to do that is to practice setting it up at home before your camping trip. This way you can learn all the kinks to your tent and what needs to go where.

Everyone experienced or not will take time learning how to set up a new tent. It will never be exactly speedy the first time or two around, especially when getting to a campsite for the first time. Be patient with yourself and be thorough as you go through the steps to putting your tent up and taking it down.

There is no secret trick other than to do some hands-on practice with it before you plan a trip.

https://youtu.be/A7Hf28qzO6E

How do you set up a tent pole?

Your tent poles as connected by a bungee cord or straps. They are easy to put together and come apart and fold down to a conveniently small size for you to pack away. Most tents come with just two poles that art to be positioned in an “x” on your tent.

You connect your tent poles by unfolding all of the sections and sliding them into one another. By the end, you should have one long, uniform tent pole. Then you do the same thing with the other one. Make sure all the rod sections are fully inserted and secure on your tent poles before you begin sliding them into place on your tent.

Your tent poles are designed to be flexible. They bend relatively easily to be fitted into the eyelets on all four corners of your tent. When the poles are done correctly they will have raised and opened up your tent. Secure the poles to the tent via clips or velcro straps on the tent. Make sure everything is pulled nice and tight, you don’t want any part of your tent sagging.

What are guylines?

Guylines are extra loops or flaps that are located on your tent’s rainfly. Most may already have a cord attached or you can loop cord or rope through it manually. They are there to improve the structural strength of your tent, create added tension to weather the elements of rain and wind much better and keep your tent dry.

You stake the guylines down securely and ensure they are placed so that the cord and the material of your rainfly are held taut. It serves as better protection for your tent and your experience when outdoors in inclement conditions.

What to put underneath your tent?

You should always have something underneath your tent so it is not directly sitting on the ground. This helps to prevent any moisture from soaking in through the bottom of your tent which could also cause mold.

You could use a tarp, plastic sheet, large garbage bags, etc. will all work if you do not have a tent footprint. Your tent footprint should be generally around two inches smaller than your tent so that when you set your tent on top it doesn’t stick out.

This prevents any kind of rain or other moisture from collecting on the footprint and thus getting between the material and your tent. Anything that will help to keep the moisture from soaking through your tent is vital.

It can often ruin the camping experience if you end up sleeping in a damp tent causing your other clothes and gear to get damp as well.

Conclusion: get outdoors in your tent!

Summer camp in forest with bonfire, tent, backpack and lantern.

Setting up your tent is the key point of all camping adventures. You want to do it right so that no issues crop up while you are enjoying your time in nature. Practicing how to put it up before you decide to camp will help you significantly.

Being aware of your surroundings when choosing a site to set up your tent is just as important. You want to find as flat of the ground as you can and to be on a durable surface like dry grasses, sand, gravel or rock so you don’t cause any further damage to the pristine environment around you.

Also, keep an eye on the trees around you! Don’t accidentally set yourself under a Widow Maker; dead trees, branches, and broken or hanging limbs are a disaster you must avoid. Always be conscientious of the environment around you.

When you are done camping and unpacking when you get home, remember to properly clean and store all of your gear! Especially your tent. This is important so that you can prevent anything like mold or mildew from forming on your tent if it was exposed to any moisture. Properly taking care of it will ensure its longevity as most tents will last people for many years.

Ensure an enjoyable camping experience for other after you

Whether you are at a campground full of people, or a backcountry primitive campsite with hardly anyone around, always be considerate of others. You aren’t the only one out there to enjoy your free time in nature.

There will always be people going after you, so it is a considerate practice to leave a campsite better than you found it. This helps others enjoy the place as much as you did as well as help in taking care of the environment. Everyone should be aware of and enact the seven principles of Leave No Trace.

LNT: Leave No Trace

If you have never heard of the LNT principles, we will list them here. For further information and details on Leave No Trace click check the National Park Service webpage to find out what it’s all about it.

It is important to follow these principles to help keep our wildernesses around the world intact for everyone to enjoy, and to help keep recreationists safe and educated:

  1. Plan and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impact.
  6. Respect the wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of others.

Have fun camping and enjoy the immersion you can only obtain when in the great outdoors surrounded by nature!

Julie
Julie
I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.

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