(The Gear Loop) - Any fool can pitch a tent badly, but pitching one well is a combination of skill and art form, as well as good observation.
Whether at a weekend festival in a field, a campsite with the car close by, or wild camping out in the back of beyond, good tent-pitching is the key to a good (and dry) night’s sleep.
Brush up on your canvas shelter-construction skills with this handy guide to all that’s pitching-related.
1. Know your tent!
If it’s a new one (lucky you), pitch it at home or borrow a garden for 20 minutes. Check the pegs are good enough for where you’re going (the usual wire pegs are not enough for mountain weather, and totally useless in snow). Work out which poles go where, and colour code them with electrical tape if they’re very similar lengths or not colour coded as standard.
Attach the guy lines and set them up, and also attach the inner if that’s an option - some tents can be pitched without the outer in good weather.
2. Venturing into the wild? Take a repair kit
If you’re really striking out into the wilderness, make sure you’ve got a mini tent-care-kit along for the ride. A pole repair sleeve (a metal tube), some spare cord, a few cable ties and a decent length of duct tape will work wonders as a temporary fix.
Paired with a Leatherman or other pocket tool, you’ll be able to handle pretty much any gear-related disaster. Chuck in an inflatable mat repair kit too, they’re excellent for tent groundsheets as well as inflatable camping mats.
3. Check your surroundings
Where you pitch up is an essential part of a comfortable experience. Aim for a sheltered spot, but not too low down near water in case rain causes the water levels to rise while you sleep - nice flat areas by rivers should be viewed suspiciously.
Avoid very boggy ground if possible, and being too close to lone trees in exposed areas (lightning will hunt out those nicely earthed metal tent poles).
Even on a sheltered, purpose-built campsite it’s worth taking a moment to consider the surroundings - pitching against an east-facing tree-line guarantees an eye-searing sunrise at 5am, as well as a rubbish sunset, for example.
4. Respect the wind
You will want to think about wind direction differently depending on your tent design. Tunnel tents really want to be end-on to winds, or they’ll just get blown flat, while with more geodesic designs, you’ll want to angle the tent so the gale doesn’t blow directly through the middle.
Use guylines to help pin the tent down along the most exposed side as a priority. If you’re camping in winter, building a snow wall on the windward side will massively help reduce exposure if you have time/inclination (and a shovel).
5. Keeping a level head
The more level the site, the better night’s sleep you’ll have. If you’re halfway up a mountain then you might have to deal with what you can find, but otherwise, entirely level fields can have surprisingly wonky sections.
If you’re struggling to work out what’s what, simply lying down on the ground can solve things pretty quickly. It won’t be long before you feel blood rushing to head or feet.
If things are a bit desperate on the level front, remember that pointing your head uphill is much more comfortable than the other way around.
6. Flat, flatter, flattest
Once you’ve picked the spot upon which your temporary home will stand, go over the ground as carefully as possible, removing anything sharp and any small pebbles. Like Lego bricks, these will magically appear just under where you’re kneeling or sleeping otherwise. Check for any holes or soft spots, so you don’t end up melting into those overnight, and site the tent accordingly.
7. Don’t waste time in the rain
The most important thing about camping in any situation is to make sure that your bedding and inside of the tent starts out as dry as possible. Although sometimes pitching in the rain is unavoidable, planning ahead can help reduce the amount of H2O that gets sloshed around.
Keeping everything sealed in dry bags (or the car) until the tent is fully pitched is an obvious step, as is not touching that down-filled winter sleeping bag until everything has had a chance to dry off as much as possible.
Finally, before snuggling into that warm sleeping bag, it’s a good idea to check that your guy lines and pegs are all where you left them. Pitching in the rain will let all tents and guy lines - even modern ones - relax a bit, which means everything will need adjusting once they dry off, and everything tightens up. If you pitched in the sunshine, the opposite happens, and guylines will need tightening a touch.
8. Setup your bed as early as possible
Your sleeping mat and sleeping bag will look tiny and rubbish just after you’ve got them out of your pack. They need time to relax, the mat to self-inflate (if you have that style), and the sleeping bag to re-loft, especially if it is a down bag.
Leaving them to do this for an hour or so will maximise comfort, and minimise the amount of air you need to put into the mat.
Avoid blowing mats up straight away, as this adds moisture to the mat, reducing the insulation as well as creating a manky environment over time. Do remember that the mat will lose pressure as the temperature drops, so topping up as a final step before going to sleep is a good plan to ensure max insulation - and cosiness - through the night.
9. Eat and rehydrate/check the tent before bedding down
Needless to say, sleeping on a full stomach is much more pleasurable, but it’s also very warming too, as your body generates heat from the food and the digestive process. Eating before bed and re-hydrating are both critical to having a comfortable night’s sleep, especially in colder climes.
If you’re dehydrated from a long day, it’s best to drink lots of water earlier in the night, rather than just before bed in order to avoid the dreaded night-time fumble for boots and cold march to the nearest loo-spot.
10. You can have nice things - if you're willing to carry them
Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, and nowhere is this more accurate than with creature comforts.
Having a pillow when car-camping will make a massive difference to your sleeping comfort, and even if you’re wild camping, there are lightweight pillows that can be stuffed with spare clothes - even just a pillowcase stuffed with soft fabrics can make a big difference.
Another great comfort item is a spare pair of clean, warm socks to wear overnight, which can serve as emergency mittens if the going gets really rough. A hip-flask of whisky is also helpful in these situations.