By: Blonde Two
With campsites opening up and the great British summer already upon us (cue even more rain) it’s time to get the tent out, check it over, and make sure you remember how to pitch it. Last year (2020) over 17 million adults (Outdoor Aware Plas y Brenin) tried an outdoor activity for the first time, campsites were busy, and tent and camping gear sales went through the roof.
Understand your tent
Your tent is obviously the most important element of your camping kit but even the most expensive tent is no use if you don’t know how to put it up. From marquees that take serious womanhandling to one-woman tents that pitch really quickly, we Blondes have camped in tents of all sizes. Whether you are new to camping or just new to your equipment, here are our top tips on how to pitch a tent.
- Practise pitching at home.
- Read the instructions.
- Watch a tent pitching video.
- Work out if your tent is inner or outer first.
- Assemble and sort the poles.
- Insert the poles into the canvas (outer first tents).
- Attach the canvas to the poles (inner first tents).
- Position your tent.
- Get some pegs in the ground.
- Insert the inner (outer first tents).
- Add the outer (inner first tents).
- Check your tent.
- Ask for help if you need it.
Practise tent pitching before you camp
Whether you are wild camping with a small rucksack-sized tent or campsite camping with a comfortable family tent, it really pays to know how to pitch your tent before you set off on your camping trip. Out in the hills, pitching a tent correctly is a question of safety, on a campsite, there’s that added element of embarrassment when you realise everybody else is watching you struggle.
One of the best ways to avoid tent-pitching problems is to have a go before you set off on your camp. This is obviously easier if you have a garden but you can also practise pitching smaller tents inside. Here’s an inside tent-pitching video that shows how I got on doing just that when I was invited to try a tent for the team at Regatta. If like me, you don’t have a lawn, it is possible to practise pitch a tent on concrete. I had several garden patio camps during lockdown and enjoyed them very much.
Read the instructions
I should probably put this suggestion last because reading the instructions is often the last thing I do when I’m pitching a tent (usually after I have tried several times without them). Please don’t take a leaf out of my book on this one. Most tent manufacturers have found ways to very cleverly attached tent-pitching instructions to either the tent itself or the tent bag. That’s because they know we’re all numpties who leave instruction reading until we find a problem.
Tent pitching videos
If you don’t like written instructions, it may well be worth searching for tent-pitching videos online. Some tent manufacturers share these themselves but there is also plenty of amateur advice out there on YouTube.
(Just one note on YouTube and camping – there’s a lot of misadvice out there, particularly when it comes to wild camping. National park websites are often far more accurate and helpful. Here’s a great example from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park).
Inner first or flysheet first?
Most tents have two layers. An outer layer called the flysheet and an inner layer (helpfully called the inner). These layers work together to keep you warm and dry. The outer keeps the wind and rain off whilst the inner provides a waterproof groundsheet and its walls minimise condensation.
There are lots of discussions out there as to the pros and cons of inner first and outer first tents. What really matters though is that you know which yours is. Outer-first tents usually have pockets to push the poles through, inner-first tents sometimes form a frame with the poles to hang the inner from.
When you first pitch your tent, the inner and outer will be separate. With some tents, it’s possible to speed the pitching process up by leaving these together when you pack your tent away again.
Assemble and sort the poles
Before you get the fly or inner of your tent out, have a good look at the poles. Get them all out and put them together. Line them up on the ground so you can see which lengths they are. If they’re all the same length you’re on to a winner because you won’t have to decide which goes where. Tent poles that are different lengths are often colour-coded with pockets on the flysheet. If you can’t see any colour coding, it’s often the porch pole that is the odd length.
Insert the poles into the canvas (more common)
Looking carefully at your flysheet or inner you will see (sometimes not easily) pockets into which you need to insert your poles. Some tents have openings at one end, others at both. If there are two of you pitching the tent, it’s easier if you both work on one pole at a time. Push the pole through carefully, sliding the canvas over it as you go. Don’t put the ends of the poles into their locating rings yet. Wait until you have inserted all the poles (or at least the longest ones). It can take strong arms to persuade the ends of the poles into the locating points but when you’ve done this your tent will at last start to look like a home.
Attach the canvas to the poles (less common)
Put the frame of your tent together then use the system (usually loops) to suspend the canvas from the frame. If it’s raining at this point, you’ll need to work quickly. This is the part of the tent you’re going to be sleeping in. Flip your flysheet over as soon as you can. This will allow you to work out which way round it is supposed to be whilst keeping your inner dry.
Position your tent
On a windy day, you might want to put a few pegs in to give you time to think about this one (you can always take them out again). Ideally, your chosen location will be level and dry but all campsites, especially wild campsites are not made equal. If you are on a slope, aim for a top to toe slope with your head (often the bigger part of the tent) at the top of the hill. Rolling sideways in the night can adversely affect your sleep levels, especially if you’re sharing a tent). If it’s really windy try to pitch with your door away from the wind to stop any rain from getting in.
Get some pegs in the ground
Until now your tent has been vulnerable to blowing away (believe us, even marquees like to do this). As soon as your tent looks a bit like a tent, get some pegs in the ground. You can always move them later if necessary.
Peg the area around the poles first, then start stretching out the canvas and pegging out the guy ropes. As a general rule, guy ropes should follow in the same direction the seam on the tent is going, this will help ensure that any rain runs off instead of forming puddles. One bad-weather exception to this rule is on traditional canvas tents (the triangle-shaped ones) when crossing the side guy ropes over each other can give more stability in a storm (storm lashing).
Tent pegs need to be put into the ground at a 45-degree angle, sloping away from the tent. If you put them in straight or facing the tent, they’re more likely to pull out if the wind gusts. Double pegging some key anchor points can minimise the risk of tent pegs lifting out overnight. It always pays to pack a few spare tent pegs in case some get bent or you want extra for double pegging.
Insert the inner (flysheet first)
If the ground is wet I can recommend wearing your waterproof trousers for this tent pitching task because you’re going to be kneeling on the floor. Before you enter, align your inner with the tent (so the doors are in corresponding positions). It’s also a good idea to look at the locators that attach the inner to the outer. These are usually toggles and loops but you might also have some clips, especially at ground level.
Working from the back (or far side) of the tent towards you, start attaching the clips. Some may have adjustment straps but it’s best to leave this until everything else is attached. You may have some hooks (usually on elastic) that are designed to go to pegs that are already holding the outer down. The easiest way to deal with these is to pass them outside to a friend. If you’re camping alone you may have to do a bit of feeling around to find the peg.
Add the flysheet or outer (inner first)
The quicker you can get your tent flysheet over the inner the better but it’s still important to make sure the doors are correctly aligned. Once the outer is positioned, peg it down carefully (see ‘get some pegs in the ground’ above).
Check your tent
If you’re worried about the wind you can double peg key guy ropes by inserting a second peg over the first. We have some more information on how to pitch your tent on a windy day here. You’ll be keen to get your sleeping bag out and feel at home but always check your tent first. Ask yourself these questions then make suitable adjustments:
- Does the tent look secure?
- If there’s a slope, can I sleep on it?
- Is the flysheet touching the inner (it shouldn’t be)?
- Is water likely to flow into the tent if it rains?
- Will I be able to find my tent in the dark?
- Have I located my tent discreetly away from other people (wild camping)?
Ask for help if you need it
If you’re wild camping in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to have to sort problems out yourself but if you’re on a campsite, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking other campers for a bit of help. Tents can be tricky creatures and we’ve all done the ‘forgotten pegs’, ‘forgotten how to pitch’, ‘fly away tent’ things, so don’t feel like you’re the only novice out there.
Enjoy your tent
Camping is about having fun but it’s also about learning. You won’t get everything right the first time or even the six hundredth time. Each camp and each tent pitching experience is different. Relax, go with the flow, and remember to laugh at yourself when things go wrong.