How to Put a Tent Together: The Basics (Plus Helpful Tips)

Father and son pitching tent together

Learning how to put a tent together is an important step before you leave for camp. If you have just purchased a tent, for example, it's a great idea to take the time to put it up in your backyard before you go camping.

The Basics on How to Put a Tent Together

Every tent is a bit different from the next one. However, there are some common traits found across the board when putting up a tent. Setting up a tent is also called pitching the tent. The following steps will help you to build your tent, though you should follow any directions provided by the tent manufacturer first, if possible.

1. Check Packaging and Take Inventory

Before doing anything else, remove all items from the package the tent arrives in. It is critical to take the time to ensure that all pieces of the tent assembly are available to you. This generally includes several poles and a large sheet such as a tarp made of plastic or cloth. Some tents also come with a fly, which is an additional tarp that stretches over the top of the tent to protect it from moisture.

2. Assemble the Poles

The poles form the frame of the tent. Each tent has a unique shape, which is why it is helpful to read the directions provided with the tent. You need to know the shape of the tent to be able to fit the poles together. Some are cone-shaped, while others are dome-shaped, house style or even pyramid-shaped tents.

The poles fit within each other snugly. You should not have to force them unless they are bent. Some will lock into place, while others just fit snugly together. Construct the tent frame as much as is possible.

3. Assemble the Tent Body

Some tents have a design that allows the frame to receive coverage with the actual tarp or tent material. However, most of today's tents come with small pockets that you slide the frame into. These pockets usually run along the edges of the tent, such as at the corners and along the bottom of the tent. The tent material will tighten up as you insert the frame into each portion of the tent. Once you have the frame placed inside these pockets, each frame piece will lock into place with an adjacent one. This usually occurs at the corners where two pieces interlock together to add stability. In many cases, just assembling the tent in this manner will create the required shape.

4. Attach the Fly

Some tents come with a fly, which is a large tarp that is placed over the top of the tent after it has been constructed. The fly keeps rain off the tent, adding a layer of protection . To attach the fly, simply connect the fly tarp at the points on the tent where attachments are located. The fly forms a tight covering several inches over the top of the tent itself.

Types of Tents

If you're planning to purchase a tent, there are several options, and your choice will depend on how many people you want it to sleep, as well as any weather conditions you might run into, because some tents are better in inclement weather than others.

A-Frame Tents

A-frame tents are the most traditional tent type. Simple, triangular-shaped structures with a pole on either end. The poles attach to the guy lines and, when pulled taut and secured with stakes, they help the tent stand upright.

Cabin Tents

These tents look like little cabins, often with gabled or domed roofs and at least a couple of windows. These are another good option for families, since they often have interior "walls" to make separate sleeping spaces.

Dome Tents

Dome tents are the most commonly-purchased tents, and are exactly what they sound like: tents with a dome shape. The main difference in putting up a dome tent is that the poles are flexible and are usually held together with string. You thread the thin, bendable poles through the pockets along the tent's seams or attach the poles via clips, and bend one side, then the other to form the dome shape.

Instant Tents

Also called "pop-up tents," these are convenient, no-fuss structures. They're spring-loaded, so once you put them into place, they're up in a flash. One caveat: not all models are great for rough conditions or bad weather. They also tend to be on the small side, so that's something to keep in mind if you decide to go this route.

Tunnel Tents

These tents are a great option for families or larger groups who all want to be able to fit in one tent. They're basically an upside-down U shape formed with bendable poles, with guy ropes pulling the outermost poles outward so the tent stands upright. They tend to be a bit heavy, and rain can collect on top of the tent, so they're not a good option for backpackers or if you might be dealing with inclement weather.

Tips for Building a Tent

When you learn how to put a tent together, you will find that the practice is simpler when you are constructing it rather than reading how to do it. The following tips can help ensure the tent is set up correctly.

Family with two children cooking on camping trip
  • A tent may or may not have several compartments within it. If it does have added "rooms" within the main tent, there may be additional framing to do once the outside frame is in place.
  • Putting up a tent is easier when there is more than one person doing it. Many tents are designed for two people to put them up.
  • Do clean the tent and allow it to dry fully before rolling it up and storing it in its original packaging. If you do not do this, the tent could be damaged.
  • If you have a tent that is difficult or complicated to assemble, visit the manufacturer's website to find further instructions on assembling the tent.
  • A properly assembled tent may still need waterproofing to ensure that it does not allow rain to penetrate it.

Practice Before You Camp

No matter which type of tent you have, practicing setting it up before you go on your camping trip is a great idea. Not only will you be ready for tent assembly under less-than-ideal conditions, but you'll be sure there are no pieces missing and nothing is damaged, which would definitely put a damper on your trip. By keeping these simple steps in mind, you'll have your tent up and be ready to relax in no time.

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How to Put a Tent Together: The Basics (Plus Helpful Tips)