How to Properly Pitch a Tent

Most people can pitch a tent, few people can pitch a tent properly. A loose, flappy, saggy tent is not only annoying in the wind, it’s not performing properly and can even fail under the weight of a storm. A properly pitched tent should be taut, and quiet in the wind. Improper pitching can cause condensation to worsen, stakes to pull out of the ground, and allow rain inside. Here is how you should be pitching your tent.

Find and prep a spot

First, you need a good spot. Find a flat spot, as level as possible. Check your surroundings. Make sure there are no dead trees or limbs that could fall and crush the tent during the night. Check that your tent will not be pitched in a low spot that will fill with water in a rain, or become a river after an unsuspected downpour. Keep an eye out for signs of previously flowing water, like erosion ruts and smoothed streaks in the soil. Check that you’re not in animal paths, or on immediate on a hiking trail. Your surface should be durable, like dirt, rock, or sand. Avoid pitching your tent on plant life if at all possible. Check for rocks and sticks and move them if necessary, replacing them when you leave.

Start with the tent body. 

Stretch the tent out, and set up the poles. This will be different with every tent, so I can’t list all the methods. Generally, you’ll place the poles into loops on the tent, and lift the tent up and clip the tent body to the poles. This, or you’ll be sliding the poles through tent sleeves and popping them in place.

How to pitch tent
Tent body, pitched tight, with decent tension against the stakes.

Stake out the tent body. 

Start with the four corners. Stretch the tent taut, with tension being applied to teach stake away from the center of the tent. Imagine a nice tight spider web. The lines emitting from the center should be similar to the direction you’ll be pulling the stakes out. Place the stakes in the ground at an angle, leaning away from the tent. This allows the stake to grip harder in the dirt, and prevents slipping.

Apply the rain cover.

Be sure all of your zippers are zipped completely before applying the rain cover. It changes the tension of the tent dramatically if you don’t. When putting on your rain cover, make sure to use any additional clips, Velcro straps, and hooks that may attach the rain cover to the tent. These allow for stability, and also help line up the rain fly onto the poles of the tent. Many rain covers will have small Velcro loops that attach to your tent poles.  Often, you’ll have small loops on the rain cover that cross bars can slide into. Use every secure point you have. Most rain covers will clip to the tent floor, or have small grommets that attach to the tent body. Clip these last, but do not tension them down yet.

Stake out the vestibules.

Pull the vestibules taut. You don’t want these to flap around in the air when the winds blows. Don’t be afraid to apply a little tension, as this keeps the tent from moving around in a storm. Apply the tent stakes at the same angle,facing from the tent like you did with the tent body. At this point there will still be some slack in the tent.

Tension the tent down.

Most tents come with tensioners that allow you to tighten the tent rain cover down.  Now is the time that you utilize these. Always do this last. Pull these nice and snug. This should taut out the rest of the tent, and remove any floppiness you have on the rain cover.

How to pitch a tent
Fly is clipped on, vestibule is stated out tight, and finally, tension is applied to the tensioners.

Final Tips:

Guy out the tent if you’re expecting wind or lots of rain. This will stabilize the tent, and also cut down on condensations.

Use Quality tent stakes. Cheap, round tent stakes will bend, and pull out from the dirt. Invest in some Big Agnes J-stakes, or MSR Ground Hogs. They’ll provider a better grip, without breaking the bank. You’ll probably even cut some weight.

Don’t worry too much about the seams being lined up. If the tent is taut, you’ve done your job. It’s nearly impossible to line up the seams, and it doesn’t affect performance anyway.



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