Before heading out into the front- or backcountry, you’ll need to know a few things. One of the most important is how to pitch a tent. While this skill isn’t too difficult, you’ll want to make sure you know what you’re doing before you are in the woods struggling to get your home away from home situated--especially if you’ve arrived to your site in the dark.
Read on for step-by-step directions for how to set up your tent.
Before Your Trip
If you’re hitting the trail tomorrow, take some time to set your tent up at home today. When you’re in the comfort of your own home there’s less pressure to get the tent up right in a certain amount of time. You certainly don’t want to be learning as the sun is setting and the rain has just started to fall.
You’ll want to start by reading the instructions that come with your tent and making sure you have all the parts you need. Although it’s not always the most fun, by reading the instructions you can save a lot of headache and make sure you don’t damage your tent. Also, you’ll be able to pick up a spare part if it turns out anything is missing.

Lastly, you’ll want to decide on your footprint. While tent floors are made to stand up to water and wear, when you’re outdoors the ground can be rough on a tent. A footprint was made for this dilemma. It’s a ground sheet that offers an extra layer of protection for your tent. They are smaller than your tent floor so rain doesn’t pool under your tent.

Don’t want to spend the dough? You can also buy a Tyvek(r) sheet to make your own footprint. You’ll want to make sure you cut your sheet so it’s smaller than your tent.

Campsite Selection

First and foremost, you’ll need to follow Leave No Trace principles:

  1. Seek out existing campsites, if possible. If none available, disperse use to prevent the creation of new campsites--that means avoiding places where you see impact beginning.
  2. Camp 200 feet (70 large steps) away from water sources.
  3. Keep campsites small and in areas without vegetation.
Next up, choose a spot that will help protect you from wind. Try to find natural windbreaks like trees or hills between you and the breeze. You’ll want to look upward, and not camp near damaged trees that can be blown over. Place the side with the strongest pole structure toward the rain. And if it’s hot, position a door toward the wind for cooling.

Rain is another consideration. Higher, drier ground is a good spot to start. Trees offer a more protected, warmer climate. Try not to camp in low areas between high areas--that’s where cold, damp air settles. Lastly, position your doors away from the wind so the rain doesn’t blow in.

How to Pitch a Tent

Now that you’ve learned how to set up your tent at home and chosen the perfect campsite, it’s time to get to work. First clear the debris from your tent site. Next lay out your tent body and stake down the tent corners if it’s windy. When you’re pitching your tent, go slow with poles--they can get tweaked or chipped if you’re rushing. Lastly, when you put the rainfly on, cinch the straps at the tent corners to get the right amount of tension.

Pro tips:

  • You’ll get maximum hold if you push your stake in vertically.
  • Leave just enough exposed to slip the cord over the stake.
  • You can use a rock to push stakes in.
  • Pack extra stakes in case you lose or damage one.
  • Not camping in the dirt? Bring sand anchors or snow stakes.
  • Use the Velcro wraps on the underside of your rainfly to strengthen your tent.
  • Tension all corners of your fly evenly.
  • See if the seams on the fly line up with the seams and poles on the tent body--if not, readjust the tension.
  • Check the fly after it gets wet--most stretch.
  • Attach the guylines (lines that provide extra stability) on the windward side of the tent--although attaching all of them makes your tent withstand even more wind.
The different types of tents and how to put them up

Poled tent

Inflatable tent

Pop-up tent