Pitching a Tent: How Not to Botch It
Stake a claim to safety when setting up a campsite
Setting up a tent seems relatively easy in the store; doing it in real life is a different story. Witness countless incidents involving novice campers whose tents have blown away, been flooded or worse. In one recent tragedy, a late-night storm along the Oconee River in Georgia tore off the top of an oak tree, killing a 12-year-old boy when it landed on his tent.
Before your next camping trip, whether it’s in the woods or the backyard, make sure your tent set-up skills are pitch perfect.
Location, location, location
Never buy the best house in a lousy neighborhood, and never set up a perfectly good tent in a bad spot.
Before you choose your site, look for potential hazards around, above and even below you.
Find an area on smooth, dry ground, where water and mud won't accumulate during rains, the U.S. Forest Service advises. Try to stay upwind of campfires and camp stoves. (Even flame-retardant tents — the safest type — can burn under the right circumstances, according to the City of Phoenix Fire Department.) Keep the tent at least 70 paces (175 feet) from water. And make sure there’s no poison ivy or oak nearby or risk waking up itchy.
Storms and lightning are always a possibility, so avoid setting up in open fields, on the top of a ridge or hill or near flagpoles or tall, isolated trees, according to the Boy Scouts of America. In a forest, a stand of lower trees offers a better option than a clearing with one or two tall trees.
Be sure to set up while it’s still daylight so you don’t end up rolling out of your sleeping bag and over a cliff.
Related: Camping Safely With Kids
Urban camping? Call before you stake. In developed or urban areas, you may want to (or even legally required to) check for the presence of underground utilities. Dial 811, a call center that will put you in touch with the local utility, for more information. In June, a man was electrocuted when part of his tent — likely a stake — connected with an underground electrical line at the Scranton Nature Center in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Related: 7 Poisonous Plants to Avoid
Stake it like you mean it. To keep your tent from turning into a kite, anchor it firmly to the ground with stakes, weights or both. If the stakes won't grip the soil tightly, because the ground is muddy or sandy, for instance, add extra ones or attach weights, advises the Excelsior, Minnesota Fire Department.
Tent weights come in a variety of shapes and styles, such as heavy lugs with hooks or cloth baskets that you can place rocks in. You can also purchase larger stakes at a hardware store if the ones that came with your tent are too flimsy. Keep stakes or weights that anchor your tent to the ground out of the path of foot traffic, so nobody trips over them.
If the weather changes, such as from dry to rainy or vice versa, check the tent ropes and make adjustments as necessary. Stretching and shrinking can make them get longer or shorter, which might cause the tent to collapse. Don't hang laundry or anything else on the ropes or ties or you’ll make the tent less stable.
Clean it before you store it. When it's time to go home, dry and brush the tent before packing it away so dirt, mud, mildew, bugs and other remnants of your trip don't damage the tent or invade your home.