How to Pitch a Tent

National Camping Month is the perfect time to get back in touch with nature and revisit the Earth’s many wonders. It’s time for another adventure in the great outdoors, whether it’s a summer-long backpacking journey, a weeklong family camping trip or a weekend-long music festival. Many of us find that it’s a necessity to escape from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind every so often. Turn off your smartphone and instead toast some marshmallows, hike through the woods, watch the sunset and count the stars. An economical way to do this is is to set up a campsite and pitch a tent.

Pitching a tent:

Some may find getting a reasonably sized tent out of its suspiciously compact bag and setting it up into personal sleeping quarters to be a profoundly arduous task. With a little practice, it doesn’t have to be! The level of difficulty of pitching your tent depends on the type and size of camping tent being set up. From Coleman tents to Eureka tents to dome family tents, each type of tent will come equipped with specific instructions. But the basics remain fairly unchanged. Traditionally, pitching a tent requires a footprint or ground cloth, tent, tent poles, tent pegs or stakes, a rain fly, a stake mallet (or rock) and a little patience.

The first and most important thing to do is to check to see if all the parts in your tent are accounted for before you head out on your trip. Nothing worse than finding an awesome tent site only to discover you are missing tent parts to set up your tent. Once you have set off on your trip, the next thing to do is find a good spot to set up camp. To score a sweet spot for your tent, take a good look around your location. As a general rule of thumb, avoid sites with large animal droppings. Tent sites in cattle and horse paddocks usually score low on Yelp. Stay away from areas littered with sticks, stones, tree roots or branches, which will undoubtedly jab you painfully in the ribs while you sleep. However if you are so inclined to ascetic practices like this, why limit yourself? It might be handy to bring a small rake to clear the debris if the area is plagued with rubble. And to avoid waking up in a bog, check for whether the ground you’re on will drain properly if it rains. It’s always helpful to look up weather preparation methods for all potential conditions. It’s also just as helpful to be prepared for various terrains as well as various weather conditions. Refer to our blog post “Where to Pitch a Tent” for tips on how to deal with difficult surfaces. For instance, you may need specialized pegs and stakes for different surfaces such as snow, gravel or soft sand.

Once you’ve selected your campsite, unpack your gear. Spread out the groundsheet —a footprint or ground cloth greatly increases the waterproofness and durability of a tent floor. Lay out the poles so you can identify the poles and follow the instructions to assemble the tent. After a few times, it will become second nature assembling your tent. Assemble the tent over the groundsheet, so that the doors face away from the wind. Zip closed the doors and windows. Next, assemble the poles that make up the skeleton of the tent, and slip them through the sleeves of the tent body or attach to the hook system. Most modern tent poles are shock corded together which reduces the hassle of matching poles up to assemble the frame. Most tents will have a fly to cover the tent body. Follow the directions and cover the tent body with the fly and secure it to the tent body. This will protect you from rain and add another layer of protection from wind and weather. Next, you need to stake the tent out so it will stand up, if the tent is not self-supporting, or prevent it from blowing away if it is self-supporting. Coming back into camp and finding your self-supported tent at the top of a tree or seeing it blow down the road when looking out at the vista above your site really changes your trip. Your last step should be to tuck any edges of your groundsheet under your tent floor, so none of the groundsheet is visible.

With a little practice and preparation, pitching a tent does not have to be a strenuous task. If you’ve lost your tent’s instruction manual, many manufacturers will have these instructions on their site or call Campmor Customer Service and we can help you with getting instructions.

  1. Select a location free of debris for your campsite.
  2. Lay down your footprint or ground cloth.
  3. Position the tent over the footprint with the doors facing away from the wind for optimal ventilation.
  4. Lay out the poles and assemble them. Follow instructions to attach the tent poles to the tent body. You may need to thread the poles through sleeve or use clips on the tent body.
  5. Attach the fly per the tents instructions and secure it to the tent body or poles.
  6. Stake out the tent. Start at the corners and make the floor perimeter taut. Once the corners are staked out, attach stakes to other points to get a taut tent body and floor.
  7. If there is ground cloth or foot print material extending beyond the floor perimeter of the tent, tuck this in so it will not collect rain water.

And dont forget that this Saturday is The Great American Backyard Campout!.

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  • Sean L

    Awesome thank you guys 😀

    • Person


  • Derek

    Ok I have a really silly question .
    I know very little about tents and camping. I have a Eureka 11 6 person tent. We we recently asked to going on scouts camping trip. The trip is at a ball park where stakeless tents are required. Can my tent be adapted to be stakeless?

    Thanks Derek
    A Clueless father!

    • The Sunrise 11 is a freestanding tent. It does not require stakes to be set up, so it should be OK for a night on a ball field. The problem with not staking a freestanding tent down is if it gets windy. Tents will blow away or blow down or break in high winds if they are not secured. That is what stakes and Guylines are for. But one windless night in a stadium should be OK.

  • not a frequent camper

    I lent my tent to some folks and now I am missing the most important pole. Can I get a replacement pole???

    • john

      Most manufacturers sell replacements and if they are out of business a search on the internet will reveal vendors of generic pole replacements.
      The big question is the cost benefit one. How old is the tent, i.e. how much wear, and how much do the poles cost, and how much life is left in it? I recently spent money on water proofing compound and effort applying it, only to have the old tent lose a zipper shortly after.
      Prices on tents can be amazingly low if you are not after a backpack tent weighing only a few ounces.

  • John

    I think the author left out one very important thing. On a new tent it should be immediately set up and checked for defects. Prices are amazingly low on tents compared to 20 years ago, but there is also a good chance that the tent might have a major defect.
    You don’t want to find out about a problem out in the boonies on your vacation. Worse yet, you don’t want to buy a tent on sale, but it away for a few months only to open it, find a defect and try to resolve the problem after the warranty period.
    Also very nice to have set it up at home in the sunlight so you are ready to do it by flashlight rushing to get out of the rain.

  • Bill

    Question: when putting up a tent, should you stake it first, then put in the poles and rain fly — or — put in the poles and rain fly and then stake it? Or does it make a significant difference? I’ve discovered the stake first method is much easier when I’m putting up the tent by myself, as the tent does not slide around so much. But am I compromising the structural integrity by doing so?

    • Whether to stake out and assemble the frame or assemble the frame and stake out is actually a function of the type of tent. Often tents that are self supporting will require the tent poles assembled into or onto the tent before staking out. This does not hold for tents like a old school canvas wall tent. These need to be staked out first and then you put in the center uprights and ridge pole.

  • Deeinvt

    I’m a novice tenter and have 2 quick questions:
    1) I can never remember which side of the ground cover faces the ground; the shiny side or non-shiny?
    2) Any suggestions for stakes that will not bend if ground is hard or rocky? I’ve tried 3 different types and they have all bent!

    • Deeinvt,

      1. Pitch shinny side toward the
      floor of the tent to preserve the water proof coating of the foot print.

      2. Sometimes the ground is so rocky that all stakes no matter how bomb proof will bend. Think of pounding rebar into a rock. This is just not going to work without a jack hammer. If you find yourself in conditions like this you need to change the way you think about anchoring your tent. Instead of staking assemble rocks at the stake out points and tie anchor lines to the rocks. These rock need to be the real deal not stones. Think two hands, dead lift. This kind of camp ground happens high in mountains and on rocky terrain with little soil. If there is a little soil, if may seem counter intuitive but a needle like stake is your best bet in threading sub soil rock crevasses.

  • Laura Patterson

    We have a Colman Tent that we set up for the first time to practice before going out. We did not have much trouble
    bu we both have arthritis and had difficulty putting the polls on the pegs at the bottom of the tent. Is there a tool or trick to make it easier.

  • Ronee T

    I’m a novice camper and just tried to stake a tent for the first time yesterday…took me over an hour (ok…I know it shouldn’t take that long…)…I had difficulty fitting the last pole into the peg slot (I had done the three corners and was putting in the fourth). I was afraid if I push it up too hard, the pole might break… I had put the stakes in the ground first before putting the poles in…perhaps I should do them the other way around??? At the end, I just couldn’t fit the pole into the slot, so I just pushed it into the ground inside the ring next to the stake.