Setting up your tent
These are general instructions for most Camping Multi-use & Technical Specialist tents that are freestanding or semi-freestanding (more info on this below) & therefore apply to all the tents we carry. For instructions for your specific tent check the packaging or look up the instructions for your particular model and brand of tent online. If you're renting from us, we can send you a YouTube video we've found online with good step-by-step instructions. Protip pay attention to colors on straps, poles, etc., as tents often use color-coding to help you figure out what goes where. In the example below in the images for Steps 1 & 2, if you look carefuly, you can see that the grommet tabs on both footprint & body are green on one end (lower half of image) & white on the other end.
Lay out your footprint (aka ground cloth) or tarp. For footprints, lay the glossy side up (shine to the sky, dull to the dirt!). When using a tarp as a footprint, make sure it is folded to be roughly 2in (5cm) smaller on all sides compared to the tent body's floor side, in other words, the tarp should not poke out beyond the tent floor. If it pokes out or is too large, it can collect water, that then pools underneath the tent. Of course if you fold it too small, it won't protect enough of the floor.
Lay out the body of the tent on top of the footprint. The mesh parts, zippers, or any plastic clips (for poles) should be facing up
Assemble the poles by putting the metal segments together (they naturally want to stick together!). Lay the poles over the body. The most common set-up is shown: 2 poles cross diagonally & attach at opposite corners. Poles may also need to go through fabric 'sleeves' on the body (not present in this case)
Each end of the pole should go through a metal grommet found at the corners (in this type of set-up). Since the poles are so long, they'll curve for this to work
Bring the curves upward to form the shape of the tent. Usually there's a main central 'clip' to hold X-pitch tents in place where the poles cross, as shown in the image
Clip the remaining clips to the pole. A tent isn't done until it looks very tensioned out! Here you can see it looks a bit flat, and as well we have a shorter pole remaining
In many models, there may be another pole that further helps create volume, in the case shown, the pole runs perpindicular to the X-poles
These last steps vary a bit more based on circumstances:
Set-up the rainfly
- The orientation is correct if the logo faces outward (i.e., it's readable as you're walking by) & the zippers on rainfly are lined up with the zippers on the tent body door
- Some rainflies have grommets that should attach to the tent body poles as well
- Additionally, some rainflies have their own poles to create more volume or support. Remember, generally whenever you see a grommet, it's made for a pole
Anchor the tent and/or rainfly & make sure the structure is taut
- Use stakes or guylines
- A stake mallet may be helpful to drive the stake into ground that's hard, be careful to avoid bending the stake
- In a pinch, you can use heavy objects inside the tent to hold it down, but this will be less effective at providing the tension that you want the fabric to have to keep dry (see below)
These tents can stand by themselves, but they may not fully expand to their entire volume. In the example below, the images are taken from above the tent, the bottom half of the image is the rear of the tent. You'll notice that at the top of the image (the front of the tent), the pole goes down to each corner, anchoring it out. However, the single "ridgeline" pole doesn't go to each corner at the rear of the tent. Therefore the rear looks very "collapsed". This would be an example of a semi-freestanding tent, the fact that the pole doesn't go to all 4 corners helps saves weight & size on this lightweight model. To correct this & expand the tent to its full volume, you need to stake out or guy out each corner, such that the tension helps create structure, see image at right. Thus, these tents may also be referred to as tension tents. Non-freestanding tents completely rely on tension or other structures to be pitched (kind of like how a hammock requires trees or poles)
This refers to just setting up a rainfly, sometimes with the footprint (see Anatomy diagram, at far right). A fast-pitch tent is primarily used to save weight & size (since the body is not needed), and approaches the territory of tarp tents (see Other products). Be aware, this mode is not possible with all tent models, check yours & practice at home before going outside!
Keeping dry at camp
Site selection & tent pitching
Whether flat ground is preferred over a slight slope depends. For example during rain, a slope can direct more water to your tent (bad) or direct water to not collect under or around the tent (good). Look at the other factors of your site to manage your risks. Also some people are sensitive to sleeping with their head downhill (the blood rush may lead to headaches in the mornings). In any case, avoid pitching a tent over a depression in the ground, since that can definitely cause water to accumulate.
As much as you can, keep the tent dry as you're pitching it. Set up an extra large tarp overhead, preferably over the entire campsite if possible, or hold the tarp overhead. If you don’t have a tarp, do this with the rainfly. Consider tying guy lines in advance, at home, to minimize time exposure to the rain.
Stop water from getting in the tent
The below components of a tent are designed to keep water out:
- Rainfly: The raincover for your tent
- Footprint (or ground cloth) or tarp: Serves as another layer between wet ground & the tent. Generally goes on the outside, however, if it's possible that any footprint on the outside will just trap and pool water under the tent, you may instead want to bring this indoors to use as an extra layer of protection that way
- "Bathtub" floors: The same waterproof material used on the floor of the tent body runs up around the edges, forming a lip to keep water out if it starts to really pool around your tent
Watch out for water transference!
The rainfly, the most important element, needs to be structurally pitched in a way that keeps water out. Specifically it should not...
- Sag: if the rainfly sags, water will just pool in the saggy part (then see below)
- Touch the tent body fabric: if the two fabrics touch, then through the physics of water transference, water will pass from the outside of the rainfly to the inside of the tent body
Both of the above mean that you need to keep the rainfly as taut or tensioned out as possible. This is why sometimes you need guylines to guy-out your tent. What this means is that you take rope, and pull outward on the tent fabric, stretching it to be as taut as possible & not touching the body, then tie the rope off to a stake or tree or other support. Why the fancy name? Imagine the wind suddenly changes direction, and you need to pull on the fabric in a different direction. With rope, you'd have to untie & redo the whole set-up. Guylines have a plastic tensioner piece that you can pull on to adjust the "tension" in the line, therefore making it easier for you to keep your tent taut in changing, inclement weather. For a great guide on how to use guylines, click here.
Don't push out the tent body to touch the rainfly, either! You've spent so much time getting a perfectly taut, no-touch rainfly, don't ruin it by pushing outward against the tent body fabric. This is also we mentioned that in smaller, ultralight tents, people sometimes size down (e.g., 1 person will sleep in a 2-person tent). Sometimes, with the exact capacity of people, it's very easy to push outward on the body when you move.
As we mentioned, the larger a tent gets, the more important it is to minimize water transference and to guy it out, because it starts to pick up wind so much more easily! Here's a good visual example for the theory of water transference and the challenge for large tents (e.g., 6+ person and up).
Using a tarp to help
Can you use a tarp as a rainfly? Tarps are inherently water resistant or fully waterproof, depending on the model. When you use it as water protection, make sure it has not been used previously as a ground cover, since that could create lots of small holes that compromise water resistance (for this reason, our rental tarps shouldn't be used as water protection, since we can't guarantee that people have not used them on the ground). If you're using a tarp as rain protection for a tent it's best to string it up over the tent using nearby trees or vertical poles, like an umbrella. It's not as good of an idea to drape the tarp over your tent like a rainfly, because it's not cut to the shape & contours of your tent, so draping could leave lots of unprotected areas. Not to mention without the right structural support, a tarp could trap condensation or allow water transference from the exterior.
Can you use a tarp as a footprint? Always worth repeating! When using a tarp as a footprint, make sure it is folded to be roughly 2in (5cm) smaller on all sides compared to the tent body's floor side, in other words, the tarp should not poke out beyond the tent floor. If it pokes out or is too large, it can collect water, that then pools underneath the tent. Of course if you fold it too small, it won't protect enough of the floor.
Manage condensation inside the tent
Ah yes... condensation--that phenomenon where weater vapor in the air condenses upon contact with the cool exterior of a drink glass. Unfortunately, this means you can get wet without actually coming in contact with external water! When water vapor in the air is high, at best you might get that clammy, high humidity feel. At worst, the water vapor actually condenses into real water drops that effectively get you wet. Annoyingly, that water vapor can be generated by you, via your sweat or your own breath (our ultimate guide to outdoor clothing discusses more how sometimes being wet under rainwear is a condesantion problem, not a failure of waterproof effectiveness). There are 2 general strategies to follow:
- Reduce temperature imbalances, to minimize the likelihood that water vapor will condense
Reduce water vapor in the air, to minimize the quantity of water vapor that could condense
- Open windows, doors, and vents in the tent body & rainfly. This is the most important thing to do to minimize temperature imbalance. Try to face open windows, doors, and vents to the breeze, if possible to maximize internal & external air "mixing". Unfortunately during a hard rain, you have to balance what to open vs keep closed (e.g., to prevent rain from being blown inside)
- Pitch under a tree. (But not a "widow maker" that may break and fall!) A tree keeps the air under it slightly warmer by trapping some heat radiating off the ground (thanks to the physics of insulation). This means your tent will be slightly warmer, which means condensation is less likely
- Pitch on higher ground. Warm air rises, cool air sinks. If you pitch in a higher spot, the tent will be slightly warmer, which means condensation is less likely
- Pitch away from a water source. Also important because during heavy rains, rivers or streams could flood!
- Don't leave wet things in the tent. Minimize the water vapor in the tent that could condense
- Don't exert yourself in the tnet. If you sweat & breathe heavily you will add to the water vapor in the tent
A third strategy that is not based on physics but your gear itself: get a double-wall tent. (Defined above in the tent gear guide, basically a tent with a separate rainfly.) With a double-wall tent, water vapor passes through the mesh (inherently breathable) and condenses on the rainfly, and then rolls down to the ground (assuming the rainfly is taut and not touching parts of thet body which can cause water to transfer back in!). Of course, there is a trade-off here as single-wall tents (no separate rainfly) often don't have a mesh layer and are more insulating.
Camping with babies & pets
If you will be using a Pack 'n Play, be conscious of size dimensions, especially height (i.e., you need height clearance to stand above it). A Pack 'n Play usually takes up the width of at least 1.5 people in a camping setting (e.g., roughly 2 sleeping pads, or 30 in/ 76 cm). For these reasons, we recommend at least a 4-person capacity tent, 6-person capacity for greatest comfort (since these will be standing height).
Camping with pets can be so much fun, and your pet will appreciate the new environment as well! In addition to checking park regulations on pet permissibility, also consider how your pet may interact with your camping gear. Gear is relatively fragile and we have stories of pets unintentionally damaging zippers, mesh, inflatable sleeping pads etc. when they're nervous or just being playful (those nails are sharp!). These damages can be severe, and necessitate replacement of the item entirely (we have a story of a dog chewing a hole through a tent entirely), so plan carefully to ensure a great time for all.