Setting up (And Taking Down) A Tent

Setting Up Your Tent

Despite the nightmares that we see in cartoons about setting up a tent, it really isn’t that tricky. If this is the first time using the tent, try setting it up once in the backyard (or even the living room) to make sure you understand how it works and that you have all the pieces. Poles and stakes are usually separate from the tent and are terribly easy to leave behind, especially if the tent,fly and footprint are packed in a compression sack. At the very least, take inventory to make sure you have all the pieces.

There are some basics that can make quick work of the task of setting up a tent and get you moving on to something more fun though.

  1. Find a good spot. The ideal spot should be flat and soft (in the sense of free of any debris, rocks, sticks, etc.) If it might rain, avoid an low depressions where rain might cause a mini-stream or puddle to form. Also, consider the wind. If its windy, you want the lowest edge of the tent (usually the foot) facing into the wind. If your tent has a vestibule, you want the vestibule shielded away from the wind (on the lee side). Consider sun/shade issues. For example, spots that get morning sun are warmer in the mornings than shady spots so dew and condensation will evaporate faster. Afternoon shade is nice when the tent is up all day on warm days, as the tent will be cooler and will be protected from sun degradation. Consider whether there are obstacles in front of the door. In the darkness when you get up to pee, you might not remember that there’s a large tree three feet in front of the tent. Finally, consider where the fly lines and stakes will be. You want to avoid having lines and stakes in the main walking paths of the site, as they will become tripping hazards after dark.
  2. Clear out large debris. Once you’ve found the spot, remove any debris (rocks, sticks, etc.) that might poke you in the back during the night, or even worse, damage the tent.
  3. Lay out the footprint and unpack the tent.
  4. Assemble poles and connect poles to the tent. Usually there are narrow pockets or clips on the outside of the tent to slide the poles into. Single wall tents usually have the poles attached to the inside of the tent. I know, this is the usually the hardest part and these “instructions” are hopelessly vague, but since each tent is a little different, it is hard to provide more details.
  5. Attach the fly. Center the fly over the tent, lining up the door of the fly with the door of the tent.
  6. Stake tent and fly. With the tent and fly doors zipped closed, stake down the footprint, tent and fly. Usually, you can use the same stake for the footprint and the tent, and a second stake for the fly. Staking is particularly important on rainy or windy nights. If the fly is left loose, it can flap in the wind, letting in rain or wind, not to mention making noise all night long. If the tent isn’t staked well (especially in the back or front), the floor can sag and allow water to get into the tent.

And you are done!


Taking Down Your Tent

As you might imagine, taking the tent down is basically doing the steps in reverse, but here are a couple of things to consider:

After you unstake the tent and remove the fly, lift up the tent (with its poles) and shake it out. This makes sure that there are no leaves and dirt in the tent when you pack it, which can damage the tent when compressed. I also find it reduces leaving headlights, jackknives, watches, socks, from being left in the tent. I have learned this lesson the hard way more than once, but my favorite was, once during a backpacking trip, I packed everything up tight with the tent bag wedged deep at the bottom of my pack. Hiked out to the car, only to find that the car keys were in those handy tent pockets. I had to “Chilean fishing village” the entire pack in the parking lot to get to the keys.

Ideally, let the tent dry before packing it up. If you have time, let the inside and outside dry while the tent is still set up. Then, remove the poles and flip it over (or let hang on a line) to let the bottom and footprint dry.

If you have to pack a wet tent, fold the wet fly on the wet bottom and fold in half so the waterproof bottom keeps the rest of the tent dry 9or at least drier). If you have a single-wall tent, you can fold it in the reverse, with the dry tent on the inside, if you prefer. Make sure to hang the tent, fly and footprint up on a line and dry fully (inside and outside) as soon as possible. If the tent smells like mildew, some time in the sun should kill the mildew. If that doesn’t work, try a gentle cleanser that kills mold and mildew.

When packing the tent, zip up the doors and windows. This reduces the chance that a door flap or window flap gets pulled and ripped when you pull it out of the pack. Also, pack the tent first and then the fly. This way, the fly will be on top when you set up the tent the next time!

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