How many times have you arrived at the campsite after lugging all your gear from the car, dropped your tent on the ground, and just looked at it for a while, hoping it would pitch itself?
If the answer is less than five times, you’re lucky.
Often by the time you’ve reached the campsite, you’re tired and thirsty, and a little bit hangry, and pitching a tent is the last thing you feel like doing. This guide (along with the easy-to-follow video above) aims to explain how to put up a tent step-by-step, helping take the stress out of setting up camp.
How to pitch a tent step-by-step
Sweep your site clear of any debris making a smooth, flat surface to pitch your tent on.
Lay out your waterproof tarp, footprint, or ground sheet. These items do the same job: they help provide an extra layer of waterproofness between your tents inner and the ground below. It’s a good idea to make sure that your tarp is slightly smaller than the total area of your inner so that water running off your fly when it rains won’t collect on the tarp and pool underneath.
Lay out your tent inner. Find the front entrance and rotate the inner to face whichever direction you want your front door to face (think weather and neighbours).
Secure your tent inner at all four corners and at additional points along the sides using your tent pegs. Pull the inner taught diagonally before pegging it each corner down. For now, just push the pegs in gently to hold the inner in place. You can knock them all the way in later.
Take your tent poles out of the bag and unfold them, sliding each section into the next until you have one solid pole.
Lie your newly built poles across one another on top of the tent inner so that they align with the seams of your tent. The tent used in the video above uses T-shaped pole system to create a ridge-shaped tent. Simple dome tents typically use two main poles to form the main interior and a third for the front vestibule. Laying them out flat beside one another is a good way to determine where each one goes before clipping the inner to the poles. Keep your vestibule pole to the side for now; that goes in later.
Lift your poles and clip them into the eyelets at each corner. Do this slowly to avoid putting too much pressure on the poles as you bend them forming the shape of the tent’s body before clipping them in place.
Now that you've got the framework set up, it’s time to start clipping your inner to the frame. Start with the clips closest to the ground and then move to the central clip (or ties); this will make it easier to secure all of the clips, evenly spreading tension across the tent poles.
Inner secured, grab that tent fly and find the front door. Hold the front door closest to you and throw the fly over your tent’s newly-formed frame. Line the seams up with the poles so that it hangs naturally over the tent's body.
Connect your inner to your outer tent fly. The MSR tent in the video uses an adjustable clip system to secure the fly. Other tent models use simple loops that attach to the same pegs you used for your inner (that’s why we didn’t hammer them in right away), and some use different systems altogether. Take your time and consult your manual if your tent differs greatly from standard models.
If you have a tent like ours, lastly you’re going to need to stake your vestibule to create some space at the entrance and work your way around your tent pulling the corners tight, knocking in pegs, and securing guy ropes if extra wind protection is required.
If you are setting up a larger dome or cabin tent, you may have some extra poles to add. So grab that vestibule pole and slide it through the pocket that runs over the front door. Work the pole in gently to avoid puncturing your tent as you do this. Slot the ends of the pole into the eyelets at the front corners (or slide the corner bolts into the poles if your tent uses this system).
Once that’s done, move slowly around your tent securing any extra loops on your tent fly and pegging guy ropes for extra stability.
At this stage, you can even lift the pegs from each corner, pull the tent tight and peg it again to make sure your tent is as full as possible, keeping rain from collecting on your fly if the weather takes a turn. It’s a good idea to check your tent each morning and readjust if it has relaxed overnight.
Zip open the front door, crack the windows, and drag your gear in there: you’re done!
Disclaimer: not all tent models are the same. It’s always a good idea to consult your manual if you are setting up a new type of tent. Some models require you to perform these steps in a slightly different order. For example on some tents, it’s easier to clip the inner before securing the tent pole ends at each corner.
Pitching a tent in the rain
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of arriving at your campsite as the rain rolls in, you’re going to need to do everything you can to keep your tent inner dry while you set up your poles and fly. Check out our guide to ‘Camping in the Rain’ for everything you need to know about camping in wet weather conditions.
6 tips for tent pitching success
Set your tent up at home before you leave. Or at least get everything out of the bag and check that it’s all there. This is especially important if you’ve loaned your tent to your mate Greg recently.
It seems obvious, but take your time (if you can). Arriving at your campsite well ahead of bedtime is the best way to reduce the stress that often builds while setting up camp.
Choose your campsite wisely. Choose a flat open space at least 60m from bodies of water; choose a site that is clear of overhanging branches if possible, and at a high point in the surrounding terrain.
Grab a buddy. Small tents like the one in the video are easy enough to pitch on your own, but others are made much easier with a second (or third) set of hands.
Bring a mallet! Stomping in pegs with your boots works most of the time but you never know when a rock will halt your attempts.
Keep everything organised and clean. Pitching your tent and packing down your tent go hand in hand. While tent poles get lost as frequently as that missing sock, they don’t have to. Keep everything in one place while you are setting up and packing down and you’ll find you have enough gear to put up your tent next trip.
How did we go? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on social media.