When you go into the outdoor stop to look at tents they’re all set up perfectly for you to appraise. Once you’ve made your purchase however what you receive is not the woodland dream you were spying a few minutes earlier but a heavy sack and a “thank you”. Now it’s up to you to figure out how to assemble what’s inside the sack and you’d best figure it out before you get to the campground unless you want your first day in the woods or at the shore to be a tough one.
Tent Setup 101
In order to avoid any unpleasant experiences when you arrive at your campsite the best thing to do is to practice setting up the family tent at home first. This way you get familiar with all the components, how they go together and, most importantly, the correct sequence for putting them together. Three quick notes:
1) Unpack the tent when you get it home and lay the components out on the floor. Using the instruction sheet make sure all the necessary parts are there and get familiar with what they look like and their intended use. Once you are confident everything is there and you know what the different parts are repack the tent.
2) You should always practice setting the tent up outdoors. Ideally you’ll have a yard where you can do this. If you don’t, use the yard of a friend or relative. There’s really no substitute for learning how to pitch the tent outdoors where the ground is less than perfectly flat and the wind is blowing.
3) The groundsheet protects the bottom of your tent from moisture, twigs, insects and from getting scratched, scraped and perhaps ripped for no good reason. If you don’t already have a groundsheet pick one up before you try to set up the tent. A large sheet of heavy duty plastic will do, as will a sheet of Tyvek or a tarp.
Pitching the Tent
● Clear the Site – Once you’ve chosen a site for your tent clear it of debris that could pierce the tent bottom or generally make life inside the tent uncomfortable. This will mostly be twigs, small branches, stones and small rocks. (If the site needs too much work find a better one.)
● Lay the Groundsheet – Once the site is clear of small debris and relatively level lay out the groundsheet. If it’s really windy out you may need some of those stones you moved to hold down the corners of the groundsheet. If there is nothing else available use your backpack and the backpacks of your companions to hold it down.
● Lay Out the Tent – Unpack the tent from your backpack and lay it out in the orientation you’re going to use. Again, if it’s windy you may have to stake down the corners before doing anything else. This will prevent your tent from taking to the air while you’re trying to set it up. (If the orientation turns out to be not perfect you can always move the stakes slightly to tweak the alignment once the tent is up.)
● Install the Poles – The poles will be in sections that are either separate or joined by an elasticized cord that runs inside them. The tension cord ensures you won’t lose any sections and also gives a nice firm connection between the sections. Once the poles are assembled slide them into place one at a time using the instructions to determine the order. For a dome tent each pole should end in a nylon “cup” or ring at ground level near the stake. You’ll probably need a small knife and a multi tool for this too.
● Set Up the Rainfly – The rainfly will make the difference between harmony and misery if it starts to rain so it’s important to set it up correctly. The underside of the rainfly should include several Velcro straps that you’ll use to wrap around the tent poles in strategic spots to keep the fly from blowing away and to make sure it maintains a position where it can provide optimal coverage. You want the rainfly to be nice and taut so that it doesn’t sag into the tent when it gets wet. To that end wait until you have the fly in place, with the pole straps secured and then tension each
of the fly’s guy wires evenly.
● Adjusting the Groundsheet – Once the tent is up and the rainfly in place make sure the groundsheet isn’t extending out so far that any rain that runs off the fly lands on it and flows in under your tent. That can lead to a very wet and unpleasant experience. If the groundsheet is out too far simply tuck it in to meet the edge of the tent.
Selecting the Campsite
Now that you’ve mastered the art of setting up your large camping tent it’s time to take it into the wild and do it for real. If you’re camping at a small, private campground you’ll likely have a small, well-groomed lot. However, if you intend to hoof it into the mountains that’s a whole ‘nother story. Many forested areas and large parks have rules about behavior but are fairly open minded about where you pitch your tent (within reason). In general you’ll want to keep the following things in mind:
● Set up your tent/camp at least 200 feet from freshwater sources.
● Don’t destroy flora to make way for your tent. Work within existing spaces.
● Look up. Is there a branch dangling from a tree that looks ready to crash down in the wind?
●Try to get the tent unpacked and fully pitched while the sun is up. It can be pretty difficult trying to install pegs and line holes up when all you have is a flashlight brightening the area.
● Don’t pitch your tent in a hollow at the bottom of a hill. If it rains you’ll wind up with a foot of water in your tent.
● Don’t pitch your tent with the door facing the prevailing wind. Again, if it rains you’ll have water blowing in every time you open the door. Take these tips to heart and you’ll get years of enjoyment out of your tent.