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How to pitch a tent: our simple guide to fast, secure assembly wherever you decide to pitch

How to pitch a tent
Knowing how to pitch a tent is the foundation of any camping trip (Image credit: Getty)

Stressing over how to pitch a tent is counter-productive. After all, escaping with your best tent is a great way to get away from the insomnia-producing worries of modern life. In fact, just a week under canvas has been found to reconnect us with our natural circadian rhythms, resulting in better sleep and improved feelings of wellbeing. 

So, instead of the feelings of frustration and anxiety brought about by not knowing which pole goes where or what on Earth those hooks are meant to be for, by knowing how to pitch a tent you should feel a sense of satisfaction as your mini castle of canvas takes shape, confident in the knowledge it will repel whatever the elements have to throw at it.

Tent up, sleeping bag and pillow laid out, camping stove hissing away and a veil of stars above your head — what could be better?

pitch a tent

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

So, knowing how to pitch a tent — and where, and where not to camp —  can make all the difference. Don't be that person who sets up camp on a crumbling cliff edge and ends up in the news the next day. We'll guide you through choosing the right location, whether its on the campsite or on a wild camping expedition. 

We’ve learned a few good lessons over the years – often the hard way – about getting a decent night’s sleep under canvas, particularly on our year-long camping trip around the UK. Here are some top tips on making sure your tent is perfectly pitched for a restful night.

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.

Camping with kids? The separate sleeping compartments often offered by the best family tents work well, and these are a good way to keep bedding and daily life apart. As well as these, the best large tents and 4-person tents give you more space but it can be more difficult to find a flat piece of ground big enough for everyone to sleep in comfort. 

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're wild camping among Scotland's Munros and the midges make it their personal mission to add to your infuriation.

Just like fully charging your best headlamp's battery or revising the route you intend to hike, with everything in the great outdoors preparation is key. 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.