Ruby Bayan
is a freelance writer who enjoys sharing her simple joys. She used to be an avid backpacker.

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How to Pitch a Tent
by Ruby Bayan

'Pitching a Tent' by GMDauz You may have seen that movie where the actors, upon reaching their designated campsite, simply pulled out their tent packs, threw them to the ground and voila, instant tents! Like magic, the packs unfolded by themselves into freestanding tents, all ready to be occupied.

Unfortunately, these instant tents are pre-rigged with hoops, which can be folded and twisted only so much, making it impossible to compress the tents into compact items that will fit inside the backpack. For hikers and backcountry trekkers, therefore, the conventional tent with stretch-and-snap poles, ground pegs, guylines, and flysheet is still the portable-shelter of choice.

This means that tent-pitching continues to be a skill that every backpacker should master. Some tents are easier to set up than others, but whatever type of tent you own, the faster you can pitch it, the sooner you can take shelter, slip out of your wet clothes, warm up, and get some rest.

Campsite Layout

Despite the hundreds of different types of tents available in the market today, certain pitching guidelines hold true for most of them. But even before you pull the tent items from your pack, the first thing you need to do is survey the campsite. Having found the ideal campsite for you and your backpacking team, decide on your campsite logistics.

Decide where your cooking area will be. It's best to situate the tents a safe distance from where you intend to prop your stove or build a fire. You also don't want your shelter to be in the way of stray ember or sparks that the wind can whisk up.

Then consider the number of tents that will be put up. If there is enough space and good ground, tents should be arranged in a semi-circle or U-shape formation, with all the doors preferably facing the center. Aside from allowing visual contact among the campers while inside the tents, this arrangement helps in facilitating traffic, minimizing impact, and ensuring safety.

Once decided on the arrangement, you can then unpack your tent and accessories.

Pitching Your Tent

One- to three-man tents can be set up by only one person. Four-man and bigger tents, however, should be pitched by at least two people for speed, efficiency, and convenience. Here are the steps for pitching a conventional A-type and dome tent:

  1. Clear the designated area and lay the ground sheet. Ground sheets help protect the tent floor from moisture, dirt, and sharp objects. The ground sheet should be just a little smaller than the actual tent floor because if it extends outside the periphery of the flooring, it will catch the water that slides down from the outside walls of the tent. If you've laid the ground sheet on a grassy area, crawl on it to check for rocks and roots that will poke you in the back while you sleep. Remove the obstacles or move the ground sheet to avoid the protrusions.

  2. Unfold the tent and spread it on the ground sheet, making sure that the door or entrance is facing the right direction.

  3. Stretch the poles out. Depending on the type of tent you have, you will either string the poles into loops attached to the walls of the tent then affix them onto the designated grommets at the ends or corners of the flooring, or fix them first onto the grommets then snap the hooks attached to the walls of the tent.

  4. Most tents have loops extending from the sides and corners for tying guylines to stakes or ground pegs. It's always best to stake down a tent, especially when there's the slightest prospect of inclement weather. Drive the pegs firmly into the ground -- drive them in at an angle that leans away from the pull of the guylines. Anchor the guylines to the pegs with a clove hitch, or use a tautline hitch to allow tension adjustment. Make sure that guylines are taut and pulling equally on all sides to prevent wrinkles and sags on the canopy that can trap water and condensation.

  5. Once the tent is firmly set-up, install the flysheet or rainfly. Stake it down, too, if loops are provided. A secure flysheet will provide the protection it's designed for -- against rain, wind, and snow.
Tips and Reminders

Pitching a tent doesn't start and end with the A to Z of rigging up a piece of equipment. Here are some tips you should also keep in mind:

  1. Learn to pitch your tent in two seconds flat. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but it has to be stressed: pitching tents should be second nature to backpackers. The ability to put up shelter in the shortest possible time is extremely important especially during inclement weather and when a fellow camper is ill or injured.

  2. Pack extra pegs. These little items can easily be misplaced, deformed, or damaged. Besides, double-pegging helps make your tent more secure on loose or soft ground.

  3. Clean off all dirt and grime before re-packing the pegs and poles. As much as possible, air-dry your tent before stuffing it back in its sack.

  4. Care for your tent. Seal rips and tears immediately; refrain from cooking inside the tent; don't let mold, mildew, UV rays, harsh detergents and brutal washings ruin the tent material and waterproofing; gently spray wash and air-dry it after every trip; and store it in a breathable bag.
Remember that your tent can be either your safest refuge or your world of hurt out there in the wilderness. So, the better you take care of your shelter, and the more quickly you can assemble and dismantle it, the more pleasant your backpacking trip will be.

Suggested Reading:

Backwoods Ethics: Environmental Issues for Hikers and Campers, Laura Waterman Guy Waterman; Format: Paperback, 2nd ed., 280pp.; ISBN: 088150257X; Publisher: Countryman Press; Pub. Date: May 1993

Hiking and Backpacking, Eric Seaborg Ellen Dudley; Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 152pp.; ISBN: 0873225066; Publisher: Human Kinetics ; Publishers; Pub. Date: January 1994

Hiking and Backpacking: A Complete Guide, Karen Berger John Viehman (Introduction); Format: Paperback, 1st ed., 224pp.; ISBN: 0393313344; Publisher: Norton,Ww; Pub. Date: May 1995

Related Tutorials:
How to Choose a Campsite
Choosing a Tent


Introduction to Backpacking

A first guide and set of tutorials on preparedness, presence of mind, and delight in memorable escapades in the great outdoors.
[First published as an online course at Suite101 University.]

Fitness Exercises
Outdoor Survival Basics

Choosing Equipment:
Choosing a Backpack
Choosing a Sleeping Bag
Choosing a Tent
Choosing Hiking Boots

Gearing Up:
What to Wear
How to Pack a Backpack
How to Pack Food

Campsite Management:
How to Choose a Campsite
How to Pitch a Tent

Emergency Situations:

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