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How to Pitch a Tent

We British love our camping and more of us are doing it every year – either in this country or abroad. And we all think after a few summers of camping we’ve become a bit of a seasoned campaigner and an expert when it comes to pitching a tent. But are we?

Whatever type of tent you own it will always fall way short of performing like bricks and mortar and yet people expect them to behave that way even if not pitched exactly as the manufacturer intended. So, it’s very important to give your tent a chance of performing to its optimum potential – especially in poor weather – by pitching it correctly in the first place.

The first tip is not to buy your tent and then expect to go camping with it the next day. Ideally, you should practice putting the tent up in your garden before you go anywhere with it. At the same time check that everything is there and in proper working order. Think whether it might be useful or appropriate to buy any spares (guy lines, pegs, poles, etc.) in case anything goes wrong while on holiday. Study the instructions and learn how to erect your tent quickly and efficiently. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t get stressed if your first attempt(s) don’t go as smoothly as they should. If you get stuck, have a beer and give your retailer a call for some advice.

When you arrive at your campsite, if you have a choice of where to pitch your tent, take your time and select a good area.  It is always preferable to pitch your tent on flat, level ground. Look out for anything (stones, tree roots, etc) that may damage the sewn-in groundsheet of your tent or make sleeping uncomfortable.  Choose ground that has good natural drainage, i.e. is not muddy. Choose an area that has natural windbreaks were possible (hedge rows, stone walls, etc) but don’t pitch under a tree as you’ll get sap and tree debris all over your tent that may damage it.

Now you have chosen your pitch, lye your footprint groundsheet out on the floor and peg it down. A footprint groundsheet can be useful in mapping the best location for your tent and of course it helps protect the sewn-in groundsheet of your tent. If you do not have a footprint groundsheet, don’t worry. Position your tent in the area you want it and peg the four corners. Its best not to face your door into the wind as once you open the door and the wind rushes in, the tent will billow. Assemble your poles and start to thread them through the pole sleeves. If your poles are of different lengths then they will be colour coded to match the sleeves.  Take your time and identify which pole goes through which sleeve.  Always push the sleeves through the poles – don’t try to pull them – as they will come apart. When pushing the poles through the sleeves, don’t force them or you may puncture a hole in the sleeve. If it gets stuck give it a flick like a fishing rod or walk over to where it is stuck and straighten out the sleeve. 

Once the poles are through the sleeves, locate the ring and pin at the base of the flysheet and place the pin into one end of the fibreglass pole. Then walk around to the opposite side of the tent and tension and bend the fibreglass pole into the desired ‘arch shape’ so you can get the ring and pin into the other end of the fibreglass pole. If you have a dome tent, ring and pin the large dome area first (it helps if someone goes inside the tent and holds up the poles to take some of the stress off them), this will help the main area of the tent stand while you ring and pin the bedroom areas.  If you have a tunnel tent it is best you start at the back pole and work forwards. Ring and pin the first (rear) pole at both ends while the flysheet rests on the ground. Now peg it to the ground at each ring and pin and then raise the arched pole up (using the guy lines if necessary) and peg the guys to hold the pole in a vertical position. Then work your way forward tackling each pole in succession.  If, when ring and pinning the poles it’s hard to get the second pin in don’t try to bend the poles excessively or they may snap. The problem will be that the flysheet is not central and so you need to pull it towards the pole end you are trying to attach to the ring and pin. Ring and pins are usually on adjustable straps so make sure the strap is loosened off fully before you attempt this.

Once all the poles are ring and pinned and standing vertically make sure all the doors and windows are zipped up as you may tension the tent so much they won’t close later. Now you are ready to peg the tent out. Make sure all of your poles are lined up properly and then (again working from the back to the front) walk the poles forwards until the flysheet is taught. Then anchor the bottom of each pole (using the ring on the ring and pin) to the ground and walk the next pole forwards. When you have pegged down the base of the tent (using all pegging points) you are now ready to peg out the guy lines.

A lot of people think you only need to peg out the guy lines when the weather is bad – WRONG! Guy lines are not useful – they are essential. You should guy out ALL guy lines irrespective of the weather. They ensure the flysheet does not flap excessively; they strengthen the structure of the tent and aesthetically, they make the tent more pleasing to look at. Don’t be lazy – peg out the guys, guys!

When pegging, knock the pegs into the ground at a 45 degree angle with the point of the peg nearest the tent and the head of the peg leaning away from the tent. The guy lines need to be unfurled and pegged at a natural angle/direction to the tent at point about 1.5m away from the tent.

Admire your workmanship from afar, give yourself a pat on the back and have a little drink…..or three. Well done!


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