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How to pitch a tent: our straightforward guide to speedy, safe assembly wherever you choose to pitch

how to pitch a tent: couple setting up wild camp
A wild camp is just the thing to escape from the cares of modern life (Image credit: Getty)

If you know how to pitch a tent, you can turn pretty much anywhere in the backcountry into your bolthole. You’ve made the commitment to escape the cares of modern life for the great outdoors. Stress and anxiety about where and how to pitch is the opposite of what you came here for. You came here to get away, to get closer to nature, to improve your wellbeing. Not to have an argument with your better half over poles and pegs.

So, instead of the feelings of frustration and brought about by not knowing what does what and what goes where, by knowing how to pitch a tent you should feel a sense of satisfaction as your mini fortress of fabric takes shape. You can sit back and take it all in, confident in the knowledge your tent will shield you from whatever Mother Nature has in store for you.

pitch a tent

Knowing how to pitch a tent turns it from a potentially stressful activity to a fun one (Image credit: Getty)

Get your tent choice wrong, pitch incorrectly or decide to set it up in a less-than-ideal location and your trip could be ruined. It doesn't matter how luxurious your sleeping bag is, or how many home comforts you've brought along, success starts and ends with your tent. The last thing you want is to be rudely awoken in the night by snapped poles and a tent that's about to take off in a rainstorm. It can happen. Trust us...

Our guide to pitching considers myriad factors, from the type of tent you set out with in the first place to the ideal location for a blissful night under the stars. So, whether you're heading out on a backcountry expedition or just looking to spend some quality time at a campsite, our guide will see you right.

Choose wisely

Long before you get to the pitching stage, you need to think about choosing a tent. This really depends on what you are going to be using it for, as there is a smorgasbord of options out there. If you're just looking at spending time in campsites during summer or are planning to head to a music festival, you can take the stress out of pitching almost entirely by opting for a tent that just pops up. In fact, the best pop-up tents assemble in less than 10 seconds.

However, if you want a more durable tent that is going to give you great protection against the elements, a pop-up tent just isn't going to cut it. Standard tents are usually categorised by how many adults they’ll sleep, so you’ll see models listed as ‘2-person’, ‘4-person’ and so on. If you're heading into hills or mountains, the advantages of the best one-person tents and 2-person tents is that they're generally lightweight and require a smaller area of level ground.

If you're camping with kids, the separate sleeping compartments often offered by the best family tents are ideal and are a good way to keep bedding and daily life apart. As well as these, the best large tents give you more space. However, it can be more difficult to find a flat piece of ground big enough for everyone to sleep in comfort and large tents don't stay as warm during the night.

Also, think about what helps you to get a good night's sleep. If you’re troubled by light mornings (or evenings), some tents feature blackout inners.

pitch a tent

Make sure you've had plenty of practice before you pitch your tent (Image credit: Getty)

Practice makes perfect

Right, you've got the tent. That's the most essential item of your camping checklist ticked off. But before you pack the car boot, there's more to do yet.

Trying to work out how to put together a brand-new tent with a strong wind and an audience isn’t the most relaxing way to start a camping holiday. Even worse is when you've forgotten the insect repellent and you're out in the wilderness with the little nasties swarming around your chosen camp.

It's best to think about how to pitch a tent before you head for your campsite. If you can, practise putting it up somewhere quiet the first time – a garden works well – before braving it in public or on a mountain summit. This is also a good time to sort out any fiddly bits like attaching the guy ropes, and for checking you have everything you need, including the right number of poles and pegs. Without these, sleep will be the last thing on your mind. Just remember to put everything back in the bag before you head off…

How to pitch a tent

Flat ground is essential for a comfortable night's sleep (Image credit: Getty)

Level pegging

Choosing a flat piece of ground on which to pitch your tent is really important, particularly if you’re camping for more than a single night. It’s amazing how even the slightest of slopes is enough to send your sleeping bag sliding into an uncomfortable corner of the tent in the early hours of the morning. Even the best sleeping pads can't mask a slope.

If you have no choice but to camp on an incline, sleep with your head pointing uphill to minimise discomfort. Before you spread out your groundsheet, check the whole area carefully for sticks, stones and other objects that could cause damage to you and your tent.

Location, location, location

If you’re keen to get a peaceful night, positioning is paramount. Pitch well away from potential disturbances such as busy roads, railway lines, generators, security lights and certain other groups of campers who may have other plans for the evening. Many larger campsites have separate areas for families, groups and quieter campers and it’s worth choosing wisely. 

Thinking about where not to camp is just as important. Avoid pitching under trees if you can, and steer clear of livestock and their trampling hooves (and midnight mooing and bahing). Perhaps the most invigorating spot for a camp is on a beach, with the ebb and flow of the waves lulling you to sleep.

When wild camping, bear in mind with every 1,000 metres of elevation gained you can expect the temperature to drop by around 6.5 degrees centigrade (44 degrees Fahrenheit). This has a bearing on the layers you choose to take with you. Even in the height of summer, if you're heading up the mountains you'll need your best hiking hat, best base layer, best fleece jacket and best down jacket as well as your sleeping bag, just to keep warm. For more on this, check out our guide on how to stay warm in a tent.

Although you might think it's novel and intrepid (like in those Everest films) to begin with, pitching on a windy mountainside is not a good idea and many tent poles have been casualties to such folly. When planning a backpacking adventure in the mountains, check the forecast for the wind direction and plan to pitch your shelter in lee of a barrier, such as on the side of the mountain that's sheltered from the wind. Never pitch directly under crags or anywhere where rocks could conceivably lead to a particularly rude awakening.

Batten down the hatches

A good tent can withstand a surprising variety of weather, but only if it’s pitched right. Set up your tent with the main entrance angled away from the prevailing wind and orientate it so that the smallest surface area is head on any gusts that might come your way, so it doesn’t act like a sail. 

Peg the tent out so everything’s under equal tension. Baggy areas of fabric are a sign of a poorly pitched tent that may not withstand the weather and flap about noisily in the wind, neither of which will help you sleep. Use all the guy ropes and peg points, even if it feels like you don’t need to – you never know when the weather might change. 

How to pitch a tent

When you pitch a tent, pegging the guy ropes out ensures stability and keeps the canvas under tension (Image credit: Getty)

With great tent comes great responsibility

Just as important as knowing how to pitch a tent is considering how to take it down. It should go without saying but, when you pack up your tent, have a good look around. It is vital for the conservation of our outdoor spaces that we leave no trace when camping. The only difference between the environment you pitched in and the environment you leave should be slightly lighter area of grass where your tent has been. In fact, if you can, try to leave the place in a better state than when you found it by picking up any litter you find while out adventuring.