Before you go
Practice setting up your tent at home, in the living room or backyard, before heading out. Make sure the tent is not broken and that all parts are accounted for. You should be comfortable and ready for setting your tent up under less-than-optimal conditions. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself scrambling to set up my tent in darkness and rain with cold, numb fingers while the rest of my family are waiting in the car after arriving at the campsite later than expected.
Although many new tents are seam-sealed by the manufacturer, make sure to check the manufacturer’s notes and tent care instructions. Seam sealer is sold in applicator bottles that you rub along the inside of all waterproof seams. Reapply a fresh coat for every season.
Setting up Camp
- Assign each child a role and responsibility in the tent pitching process, and encourage teamwork.
- Avoid setting up your tent near stagnant water, unless you don’t mind bugs.
- Be cautious setting up your tent on a sandbar or in a dry wash. A heavy rain storm could result in flash floods and rapidly raising water. Relocating at night, during rainstorm, sucks.
- Don’t set up your tent in a low-spot or depression. Rainwater will collect under the tent and soak through. Aim for high ground instead. I once pitched my tent in a rock-basin that quickly turned into a swimming pool when it started raining in the middle of the night. I woke up completely soaked and spent the rest of the night jogging and doing jumping jacks to avoid hypothermia. Lesson learned!
- Avoid pitching your tent immediately under a tree. Trees attract lightning during thunderstorms, and while you may be somewhat sheltered from hard rain, falling branches can result in serious injury.
- A tent footprint protects the floor of your tent from stones, sticks, and general wear and tear, and can extend the life of your tent. Footprint is usually sold separate, and make sure you get one that is made for your tent. If you don’t have access to a tent footprint, a plastic tarp on the ground under the tent works fine, as long as it is right size. A footprint that is too big may gather rain water and cause leaks. Also, you can use your tent footprint as a rain tarp. On rainy days I keep my footprint handy at the top of my pack. When stopping for lunch, I can quickly rig the tarp up for shelter while cooking.
- If you are car-camping, bring a mallet for driving tent stakes into ground. If backpacking, use a rock to carefully drive stake into ground. Never step or stand on stakes – they will bend. Use sturdy aluminum poles, because many campsites are built on hard gravel. Replacement stakes cost only a few dollars.
- When setting up camp, always unpack and prepare your rainfly. If you go on a day-hike, cover your tent. Better safe than sorry if the weather takes an unexpected turn. Before going to bed at night, always attach the rainfly to at least one side of the tent, so that if you are surprised by strong winds or rain in the middle of the night, you can quickly cover your tent.
- Use a towel or small piece of carpet as a door mat for wiping off feet before entering the tent.
- Loop a short rope under the stake’s hook and pull on the rope to pull stakes out of the ground.
- Use a whiskbroom for sweeping dirt, leaves, and sand out of the tent. Or better yet, turn your tent inside out and shake off dirt.
- Let your tent sun-dry before packing up. If still raining, hang-dry your tent at home.
Share your tips & tricks – we love to hear from you!