How To Set Up A Tent Within Minutes

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Imagine sitting at the lake around a campfire with your kids. What a great family vacation! It is an ideal way to break away from technology and reconnect with the family. Camping promotes family bonding through shared experiences of working together. It encourages children to have more awareness and appreciation for nature.

how to set up a tent

Camping for the first time can be intimidating if you have not done it before. In camping,  how to set up tent is one of the essentials required for a successful outdoor trip. It protects you from the elements and keeps you safe from animals in the wild. We are here to share with you tips to how to build a tent. Once you know how to put up a tent a few times, familiarity will help make camping easier to master. Here are the key steps how to set up a tent.

  • Pre-trip preparation
  • Choosing the ideal spot
  • Start assembly
  • Tent care during use
  • Tent care during break down
  • Tent care at home

Table of Contents

Pre-trip preparation

Make a plan before you go

beach children

Decide what you would like to get for your camping experience. Does it involve hiking, biking, rafting, swimming or fishing?  This will help you make a decision where to go and what to look out for. If you are travelling with your family, choose a family friendly site. A beach or river will provide some kid friendly activities for the children. Also look for a scenic place you want to wake up to in the morning.  

Preparation is important for any outdoor activity. Draw up a checklist so that you don’t leave any camping setup behind.

Test out your plan before you go

backyard camping

Get familiar with setting up a tent at home. Setting up tents may look easy, but you never know that you might be missing out parts of your camping tent set. This avoids getting to the campsite and realizing that you do not know how to make a tent. It ruins the whole camping experience.  Practicing will help you get the hang of it and speed the process of setting it up.

Choosing the ideal spot

Selecting a campsite

picnic table

Pay campground, are sites equipped with necessities like toilets, picnic table and fire pit. It provides comfort and is safer with more people. One of the common mistakes when using a pay campground, is not reserving a campsite. There is one in a million chance, it is the year end church camp, and all the camp spots are fully booked.

Free campsites are widely available in the National or State parks. Check if there are permits required. In popular spots, look for established campsites for setting up tent. Avoid creating new campground to preserve the natural environment.

Check these resources US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service for campsite ideas. ReserveAmerica, Recreation.gov are one the main booking platform for campsites. Or check out our campers’ recommendations of the best places to camp around in the world.

Water source

Be close to water to get good supply of fresh water. You may need water to bathe, cook, wash or drink. Here are reasons to set up tents at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams. Here are some recommendations for survival gear when you are in the wild.

  • Avoid a flash flood in the event of rain
  • Avoid waste going into water source
  • Prevents humans from contributing to the erosion
  • Avoid bumping into animals going for water source

Selecting a spot

tent in the sun

Choosing the wrong spot can lead you to a miserable night and worse, put you in a dangerous situation. Here are some tips to consider.

How do you make a good campsite? Look for higher and drier ground. When it is cold, there is less opportunity for condensation in the tent due to reduced moisture in the air. Choose a flat ground as it does not feel comfortable sleeping with your body downhill. Valleys may look safe from the sun and the wind, but cool and damp air accumulates there. These low points channels rain and you risk having your tent washed away by flood. Check out if the site is a danger zones prone to natural hazards like avalanches. Stay away from insect breeding grounds like stagnant lakes or puddles.

Pop up a tent near an area that is free of sharp objects like rocks or pointy debris like roots. Look up to see if there are dead tree limbs above your tent. Find a spot of soft grass as it feels spongy when you lay on it. 

Keep your shelter in the shade as long as possible. Setting up camp too direct to the sun, may cause your tent to feel uncomfortable like an oven. If you want to catch the sunrise in the morning, then setup tent towards the east. Position otherwise, if you want to have a long snooze in the morning.

Take into consideration seasons of the year. In hot seasons, being in direct sunlight, adds 10 degrees to your tent. In cold seasons, being away from the sun, reduces 10 degrees to your tent. If you want to have better control of the temperature you are in, you can check out our recommendations for tent heaters and tent air conditioners.

 

Check the direction of the wind. Look for a site with natural windbreak like a tree or rock. Position your tent to face away from the wind, as your tent will get too cold as it is not well insulated. This also prevents rain blowing in. Avoid setting up campsite directly under trees. Strong winds  can cause falling trees or branches. Stay away from trees with heavy snow. The weight of snowfall from the trees may cause unnecessary injury. Set your tent away from the campfire to prevent it from catching fire.

Clear debris from your tent site

twigs on ground

Clean the surface by removing tree branches, sticks, stones that may be uncomfortable to sleep on.  This avoids debris from ripping or puncturing your tent. If you find sleeping on cold hard ground uncomfortable, you can choose to get a tent cot, a cot that comes with a tent in it.

Set up camp in the daylight

One of the mistakes is arriving late and realizing it is harder to set up camp when it is dark. What more, you may be tired from days’ activities to do a proper job. But in case it gets dark, always bring an extra headlamp.

Check the weather as you may need to bring extra gear like an extra rain jacket. If it is windy, stake the corners of your tent or place something heavy. Avoid leaving your campsite setup  in direct sun for extended periods as it may damage your tent material.

Start assembly

Use a footprint

footprint

Let’s start building a tent. If you have a thinner and less waterproof floor, then a footprint is necessary. Abrasion from the ground like bare rocks or sandy soil, may weaken the base layer of your tent. This may lead to punctures, which allows water to seep through.

A tarp serves as a protective barrier to prevent accumulation of moisture between the ground and the bottom of your tent. You can use a good quality material like a plastic or fabric. This foundation keeps the tent base clean from dirt when you pack up.

 

Arrange the groundsheet into the shape of your tent, but make it a size smaller. Fold in visible edges beneath the tent. Rainwater collected from the rainfly can flow directly to the soil.

Unfolding tent

Unravel your tent and lay out its parts. Separate out your components into groups like your poles, stakes, tent, rain fly. Identify the base of the tent and reposition the tent onto the tarp. Make it as flat as you can.

Connect tent poles

set up poles

Snap the pole sections together and lay them across the flat tent. Be careful when assembling the rods. Don’t swing it around as you may poke your companion. Try not to overuse force as you may tweak a section and weaken the pole.

Thread the tent poles into the corresponding sleeves in the tent. Some tent set up need you to attach plastic clips. Clip from the corners all the way to the top.

Secure the pole ends into the grommets at each corner of the tent. Raise the tent. With some coordination, coax the tent to stand up. Pull the corners apart until the poles cross each other to form an X pattern as part of the frame. Tighten the poles to the tent with a tie at the peak of the inner tent.
If you are looking for easy to set up tents without the trouble of dealing with tent poles, check out our recommendations for inflatable tents.

Stake the tent to the ground

Staking prevents your tent from rising along with the wind. Your stake will hold well if you drive it vertically down to the soil. Use a mallet or a large rock to push it far enough to the ground. Avoid using your hand or foot to hammer it down. When you wiggle your foot, you are applying uneven pressure to the ground. This will soften the ground around the stake.

 

Do bring extra stakes as a precaution in case one gets dented or bent. The tent will maximize into its final shape when you stake it in. If your stake easily goes in, it can easily come out. If there is a storm brewing, do remember to add extra stakes. These add on are parts of a tent. If you run out of stakes, lay a large rock on top to reinforce it. 

Add on the rain fly, if you have one

Did you know that most tents are not waterproof? Tents usually have a mesh at the top of the tent to allow ventilation. But with the mesh, rain would come into the tent. You usually do not need a rain fly in summer months as your tent will get hot and stuffy. For wet days, you need a rain fly as an extra layer of protection to keep your tent dry from rain or snow.

 

If you are lucky, your tent may come with a waterproof cover called the rain fly, that you attach over the top of your tent. Otherwise, you can buy one separately. When assembling the rain fly, do not over pull the first fly corner, until all 4 spots are up. Secure it to a solid structure like a tree or stake. Afterwhich, you can tension all edges evenly so that it is strong enough to shed rain or snow.

Setup guyline

It is optional to use guylines. Tent guyline is a cord used to secure the tent to the ground. It adds strength to the frame of your tent against heavy snow or rain. When attaching guylines, look out for “Guyout loops” on the corners or walls of your tent. Attach your cord to the loop with a bowline knot and stake it down. You can use guyline tensioners (small plastic parts) to adjust the tautness and length of the line. Having 4 guylines adds stability to weather all conditions. Give yourself enough time to set up your tent.

Tent care during use

dog in tent

If you take good care of your tent, it will serve you faithfully for many years to come. 

Leave your shoes and other dirty gear outside. The wear and tear of your shoes will contribute to the rapid breakdown of your tent. 

Place a grass mat in front of your tent entrance to clean your feet from mud and sand. If you are camping at the beach, bring a huge bottle of baby powder and sprinkle it on the mat outside. Remember to sweep the tent floor daily to keep the base tent clear from rubble. If you plan to use a folding cot in your tent, make sure the legs are rubberized to prevent damage to the base of your tent.

Be gentle with the zippers on the tent to avoid ripping it. If you have a stuck zipper, hold the zipper with one hand and back the slider up. Waggle it side to side until it is released. If the zipper splits, move them back in place with a pair of pliers so that they are all straight.

It is unwise to allow your dog inside the tent as their claws may puncture your tent.

Store your food outside of the tent as it can attract wildlife to chew through the tent to get it. Lock your food in a bear canister and store it 100 feet away from your tent. Hang your food in a tree or store it in the trunk of your car.

Tent care during break down

fold tent

It is important to leave no trace behind. Clear out the area just as it was when you got there.

Clean out your shelter by shaking out debris and trash. Pull out the stakes from the soil and put them in a stake bag. Remove poles from the tent body and put them in the pole bag. When removing poles, push them through rather than pull. After you have removed them, start breaking down the poles from the middle.

Make sure there is no moisture left on your tent before stuff-sacking. Your tent would have accumulated condensation and this can damage the material. Dry your tent over a branch or rock. If you have no choice but to pack it wet, ensure you air-dry the tent as soon as you get home.

Open out the tent doors to prevent the air from being trapped. Flatten your tent to remove any air pockets. The tent needs to be folded into a rectangle so that it is smaller than the bag. If possible, try not to fold them in the same way each time as it will form creases in your tent. These creases may start a weak spot in your tent and eventually form into holes.

 

Place your tent poles against the end of your tent and start rolling the tent. Roll up your tent in a straight line with your body weight. Tie it up and keep it in the bag.

Tent care at home

Once you are back home, start a deep clean on your tent. Prepare cold to luke warm water in a tub or a large pail. You can also use a garden hose. Use a sponge to scrub down dirty areas with soap. To remove stubborn stains like pine sap, use alcohol based products. Hand sanitizer is a cheap and good alternative.

Unzip the doors and windows of your tent tent, and turn it inside out. Use a toothbrush to brush off residue that is stuck in the zipper’s teeth. Soak the tent in the tub and then rinse the entire tent with clean water .

Thoroughly air dry your tent until it is 100 percent dry before storing it. Towel dry the parts that won’t air out. Hang loosely indoors or in a cool, dry place outdoors. A good place to hang is on the clothesline, on a couple of lawn chairs or over the fence. If it is damp it will grow mildew and start to smell. The material will break down faster and your tent will get flaky. 

Act quickly if you find leaky seams. Gently remove the tape and reapply a new seam sealer. If the waterproof coating is coming off, you can reapply a fresh coat of waterproof spray. Your tent needs a little tender loving care from time to time. Thus, taking action when there are minor damages will extend the life of your tent.

Loosely roll it as they need to breathe and relax. Store away your tent in a dry cool place. It discourages growth of mold and keeps rodents away. One cost saving tip is to use silica gel packages (little bags with the sign “DO NOT EAT”) to dry and suck up moisture. Organize and make space in your storage area just for your camping gear.

Go out and have fun

have fun camping

Armed with these knowledge, you should be able to have a smooth camping experience. You will find it easy to set up a tent confidently. Now get yourself out there and enjoy the experience. Happy camping!

What's next

If you are looking for a tent to start your adventure, check out our recommendations for 4 persons tent. Alternatively, if you are looking for larger tents, check out our suggestions for 8 persons tent and 12 persons tent.

If you have experiences to share on setting up a tent, I would love to hear from you! 

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