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How to Pitch a Tent: Best Instructions for Warmth and Comfort during Camping

How To Pitch A Tent
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Many backpackers and campers like spending time outdoors because it is an escape from the daily rat race of the city. Backpacking and camping is time away from pressure of work and school, going off grid and enjoying nature. However, this does not mean to say that camping means being uncomfortable and roughing it out.

Campers have many tricks up their sleeves to make their trip comfortable. One of this is bringing the right equipment and knowing how to pitch a tent. Outdoor shelters like tents are important if you’re sleeping outdoors.

On warm summer nights it could be possible to sleep under the stars in a sleeping bag or bedroll. However, unexpected rain and insects can make the experience uncomfortable. There are many different kinds of outdoor shelters campers and backpackers use like hammocks, tarps, DIY lean-tos and tents. However, tents are more popular because they are affordable, portable and if you know how, easy to assemble.

easy to assemble tents

One way to protect yourself from the elements while ensuring a good night’s rest is learning the right way to pitch a tent. Knowing the right way of doing so can ensure that you stay dry and comfortable even if it’s raining, snowing or windy outside. Proper knowledge can also make sure that your tent is up in no-time and you don’t end up setting up your tent when it’s dark.

But before you can pitch your tent, you need to find a good location to do so. Here are some tips for finding the best locations for your tent.

Where to Pitch Your Tent

Pitching a tent does not have to be an exhausting task. However, it can be frustrating if you keep on repeating what you’re doing. Setting up a tent is all about selecting the correct location because it has a big impact on your comfort. Make your camping trip truly relaxing by avoiding tent pitching mistakes and by following these tips to finding the ideal camping spot.

Flat Ground

One of the best ways to ensure that pitching a tent is easy and the spot is comfortable for rest and sleep is by finding level ground as your camping spot. You are more likely to be comfortable camping in an area that has grass, pine needles and dirt compared to a place that is strewn with rocks and pebbles.

When you find an area like this, you want it to be large enough so that you can pitch your tent and set up your campsite comfortably.

setting up tent in flat ground

Before pitching your tent, use a rake or similar tool to brush away sticks, stones, branches and other debris that can poke you while you sleep. The best way to know if it is a comfortable space is by laying your sleeping bag or mattress on the ground and lying on it to test the conditions.

Avoid Hills

Rookie campers think that the bottom of a hill is a good place to set up a campsite because it provides protection from the wind and sun. This is a mistake because this location can pose a threat to your safety. During a rainstorm, you can wake up in a puddle of water. Heavy rains can also cause flash floods that can turn out to be disastrous when you’re on the bottom of a hillside.

avoid pitch tent near the hill

If there is no level ground and you absolutely have to settle for a hillside location, be sure to position your tent with your head on top and your feet pointing downhill. If you lay your sleeping bag sideways, you could end up rolling over and pressing to one side of the tent creating a perfect situation for getting wet due to condensation.

Sun Exposure

Aside from this, consider a shaded area for a campsite. If you pitch a tent in an area with direct sunlight, it’s going to feel like a sauna inside. Some tents also get damaged due to premature aging from sun exposure. Always check your tent care instructions before pitching in sun-exposed areas.

Wind Exposure

Windy areas are uncomfortable to sleep in because it can get loud. To avoid this, look for camping grounds that have natural windbreak. No matter where you camp, face your tent door away from the wind. It can be hard to sleep with the tent constantly flapping. Tents positioned facing the wind also tends to get cold faster.

Close To Water

Having a water source nearby can help ensure that everybody has access to water all the time. It can also save lots of time going to and fro the source whenever you need to refill your water bladder or hydration station. However, it is best to not be too close to water because it can be dangerous during rainstorms and a flashflood can wash your campsite away.

setting up tent near water

Camping close to a water source can also contaminate it which is why campsites are normally situated 100 feet away from rivers or streams. Be safe and keep the water source close, but not too close.

Camping in the Snow

When camping in the snow, avoid areas that are close to trees laden with heavy snow. The snow can drop to your tent in the event of a strong wind or an increase in temperature. Snow areas also have harder ground so campers need sturdy stakes to keep the tent grounded.

Camping areas have different soil types and there are varieties that are hard to stake like loamy grounds. Before camping in the snow, do some research on what type of soil the area has so that you can bring the appropriate snow stakes.

pitch tent on snow

Avoid camping in slopes in case of avalanche. Once you find a suitable space, use your snow shoes to compact the snow and create a firm surface. Winter weather conditions differ from place to place however, it is always best to use a winter-tent or 4-season tent for camping in the snow.

Camping in the Forest

Forested areas are perhaps the best and most favorite camping spots. Most designated camping spots in the US have flat areas designed specifically for tent use. However, backcountry sites need more careful inspection. Developed campsites usually have harder soil so you will need sturdy stakes to ground your tent.

setting up tent in forest

Forest have diverse soil types so if you decide to camp in an area with loamy soil, your stakes might not hold too well. Do some research on soil type in the area you plan to camp so that you can bring along the right type of stakes.

How To Pitch A Tent

It seems like an easy task but there are still some people who struggle to pitch a tent. Setting up a tent is not an easy task especially if you’re doing it for the first time or if you’re doing it in bad weather or cramped space. Luckily, there is a basic system you can follow so that setting up a tent does not end up frustrating you. Here are some steps you can follow to make tent pitching an easy and quick task.

There are different kinds of tents but they are usually assembled the same way. For most cases, all you need are ground cloths (or footprint), tent, tent poles, pegs (or stakes), a rain fly and mallet (or rock).

Check Your Tent

Before setting off on your adventure, check your tent first. There might be components that you forgot to put back during its last use or a part that you might have misplaced. Your tent could also need patching or cleaning which is hard to do when you’re already on location. Ensuring that you have everything you need to pitch your tent at the campsite can make assembling it less frustrating and a lot faster at camp.

Choose Your Location

Now that you have chosen your location using our tips above, make sure that the area is free of rock, debris, pine cones and other objects that could poke you and your tent. Use a small rake or similar tool to make the job easier and faster. If it’s a snowy area, tamp down the snow using your boots or snow shoes to make the ground firmer.

cleaning area for pitching tent

In the forest, you want a shaded area to prevent sun exposure. In the snow, it is best to avoid trees to avoid snow dumps in case of an increase in temperature or strong winds. Also avoid pitching your tent in a hilly area unless you have to. In cases like this, make sure your feet are pointing downward.

Lay Protective Layers

Before pitching your tent, you need to lay your protective layers. Your ground cloth or tent footprint is your first layer of protection against unseen debris like stones, pinecones and pebbles that could end up poking you or tearing your tent. A footprint can also help increase the water resistant feature and floor durability of your tent.

Take Out The Poles

Next, take out the poles and put them on top of the footprint and position your tent with the doors facing away from the wind. Insert the poles carefully to ensure that they don’t snag the tent fabric. Thread the pole from one end of the fabric to the opposite end. This is the fiddliest part of the pitching process but once you get past it, its easy sailing. For most tents, threading is a 2-man job.

If the tent comes with modular poles, remember to push them through instead of pulling to keep the joints together. Modern tent poles are also shock corded together to prevent the hassle of matching poles to assemble the frame.

putting poles of the tent

Once the poles are threaded, it is time to raise the tent. You can do this by threading the poles through a clip at each corner of the tent. Now that the tent is up, tug the poles as far apart as you can to make the tent as taut as possible. Next, stake the tent so that it will stand up.

The pegs should be driven to the ground using a rock or mallet at a 45-degree angle with the point towards the tent. Your tent’s guylines should follow the seams of the tent for more stability. Check them regularly throughout your trip to ensure that they are not loose or too tight.

Attach the Fly

Attach the rain fly to the tent and secure it to the body or poles. The rain fly adds another protective layer to your tent against rain and wind. Rain flies usually have lines that you can use to attach to the pegs to secure it. Lines also ensure that your equipment stays in place.

putting on tent fly

Even if you’re sure there will be no rain, it does not hurt to have the rain fly on in case it does.

Tuck In Ground Cloth or Footprint

If your ground cloth or tent footprint is bigger than your tent, tuck in the extra material to prevent collection of rain water or dew. Your tent is now set up and ready for your things. Move in all the things you need inside the tent and remember to keep food out of the tent to prevent insects and animals from crawling inside.

Check out the video below for more details.

Pitching your tent will become faster as you get more familiar with the steps and motions. Practicing at home before your trip can also help increase your chances of succeeding the first time if you’re tent-pitching novice. If you’ve lost the instruction manual for your tent, check online as many manufacturers will have instructions on their website.

Tent Pitching Tips

If you’ve ever tripped on a guyline or slept on a wet sleeping bag, you know you need some tent pitching tips. Here are some things to keep in mind for a restive and relaxing camping trip.

  • Keep your tent clean at all times. This means no food to avoid ants and other insects from invading your tent. It will also make tent clean up and pack up easier and faster.
  • If you have a new tent or new to pitching one, practice setting up at home. You want your camping experience to be as fun as possible and knowing the ins and outs of pitching a tent can help you get familiar with the steps and equipment needed to do it faster outdoors. Also, a new tent takes time to figure out which you don’t want to do when its getting dark or the weather is turning sour.
    Always read the instructions of a new tent before attempting to assemble it.
  • It might be convenient to pitch your tent near running water but the sound can get irritating when you want to sleep. It can also get dangerous during a rainstorm as water rises and could wash away your tent.
    The same is true when pitching under the cover of trees during rainy nights. The shade prevents sunlight exposure but the noise of water dripping to your tent can prevent you from sleeping soundly.
  • Make sure that your tent is staked before making adjustments. Fix the windward side first.
  • Always bring different kinds of stakes or pegs to be prepared for different kinds of soil. Some soil harden or compact more than others and the appropriate stake will make pegging it down easier.
  • Do not dig a moat around your tent. This practice encourages erosion and contributes to soil damage.
  • It is also best to avoid pitching between valleys. Cold air could sink in the area and make dawn and early mornings colder than anticipated.
  • Camping mallets are tempting to leave behind but it is better to bring one with you. A flat rock might not always be available to bash in your pegs.
  • Reflective guylines make it easier for everyone to navigate the campsite during night time.
  • Before picking a final pitching site, lay down your sleeping bag on the area to check for animal feces, bumps, hollows, pebbles and other debris that could poke you or make camping uncomfortable.
  • Think twice before pitching your tent if it’s windy. This can become a tricky and frustrating situation. Put something heavy on the pole or peg bag and fly sheet. Try to put in at least 2 upwind pegs as soon as possible.
  • Make sure that the rain fly is pitched taut enough so that it does not the inner. This ensures that there is air circulation between the two and prevent the formation of condensation.
  • Check tension of the guylines before going to bed especially if it’s windy. Buy glow in the dark tensioning devices to take the guess work out of this process.

Wrap Up

Camping is a great activity and living in a tent is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and commune with nature. Pitching a tent seems tough at first but with practice and experience setting it up will become easier and faster.

Knowing how to properly pitch a tent will make other camping activities like roasting marshmallows, making S’mores, walking through the woods, going fishing and hunting or just turning off your cellphone to enjoy the solitude possible.

What do you think of our tent pitching instructions? Were you able to set up a tent easily? Leave us your comments below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • William Harold

    This is really helpful especially for newbies. I know a couple of friends whose camping stories ended unpleasantly because they do not know the right way to pitch a tent. It is so important so that you will be able to stay dry even if it is raining hard outside.

    • Daniel Carraway

      This is super important!

  • Louis Twist

    Thank you for your article Daniel. I already shared these to my friends who are planning their camping trips. For me, this is one of the most important things to know if you love the outdoors. You explained everything greatly and gave the most crucial information. The videos helped too.

    • Daniel Carraway

      Thank you for reading!

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