Camping. We love it as Americans. It lets us reconnect with nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of life. Some joke and say we spend a lot of money to pretend to be homeless. You don’t need to spend a lot to have a great time and most people will start their camping journey with a basic tent purchased from a big-box store and they’ll use it in a state-run campground where it is easy to test out and determine if you want to spend the night or pack up and go home. In this economy, not everyone will be able to afford an expensive tent but regardless of the price point, the tent pitching concepts remain the same. You can have a high-end tent like the Litefighter 1 our friends at Litefighter Tactical sent us or a bare bones starter tent and the basics remain the same. We want you to have the greatest odds of having a good time and that is why we’re focusing on those basics for this week’s blog.
Make Sure You Have All the Parts…
Things happen and parts get lost. Your most basic free-standing tent (you’re probably picturing the one you first purchased like my “First Ascent”) has the tent body, poles, rainfly, and tent stakes. When you purchase more advanced tents, you’ll have spare parts like guy lines, inside hammock gear storage, stove jacks, etc. etc. Things happen. You never know if your tent was set up, repacked, and your tent stakes were left out. You never know if the person who used the tent before you (assuming you are borrowing one), camped in the rain, packed up the components, dried part of the tent indoors, and then forgot to repack it. When you inventory the parts, you also check the status of the parts. Sometimes tents get tears, holes, or the water resistant coating starts to flake. Again, things happen. The bottom line is, make sure your tent is in working order before you take it to the field. Plenty of trips have turned sour because tent poles were left behind, mice chewed through tent bodies in storage to make a home, and campers took out their shelter frustration on one another.
My good friend and desert survival instructor Tony Nester describes shelter placement using the “W’s”. These are wind, wiggles, water, widowmakers, and wood. Regardless of setting up a primitive debris hut or a high end tent, you need to consider the direction of the prevailing wind, whether or not there are wiggly creatures in your area like insects and reptiles, if your shelter will be subjected to water in a low area, if you’ll have a tree branch fall from overhead, and if you have enough firewood in the immediate area for the time you’re out there. Real estate is determined by location and this is true of your permanent home as it is true of your temporary one for the weekend. These W’s can help you keep your tent from blowing away and shaking. They can keep you from waking up with insects buzzing or crawling in between the tent body and rain fly. They can help you avoid waking up in a puddle as well as avoiding a potential injury. Camping without a fire is not as much fun as with. The last W helps you have a suitable amount of fuel. These W’s provide you protection. Keep in mind humans and animals follow natural lines of drift and where you place your tent could mean peace and solitude or unwanted neighbors and annoyances.
Test the Ground
Before you set up the entirety of your tent, make sure your tent is staged on good ground. When I set up the photo for this blog and when I always set up my tent, I clear the area where the footprint will be, feel with my boots for stumps, bumps, and anything that will hurt my rump. I look to make sure the ground is relatively flat and I also make sure it isn’t wet if I can help it. I’ve camped with some folks who have set up their tent, staked all the corners, and put the rainfly on only to find they have a tree root exactly in the middle of their back. Before you go through all that trouble, test the ground.
If you are just getting into tent camping, you probably know you should stake your tent down. 45 degree angles away help secure your tent best and if you don’t have a mallet or other hammer-like tool, you can use a BFR or “Big Freakin’* Rock” (*PG Version). You may notice your tent comes with a few short lengths of cordage in the tent stuff sack. These are called guy lines and they provide added support to your tent. Attached with a bowline or overhand bow to the tabs on the rain fly, guy lines are staked to the ground to help pull the walls out giving you more space inside. Guy lines also keep the rain fly taught which helps keep the tent from shaking in the wind. If your tent has multiple tabs to secure from but limited line, cut some light or brightly colored 550 paracord, throw it in your tent bag, and forget about them until you need to guy out your tent. You may wonder why I stressed the “light or brightly-colored” line until you or someone you’re camping with trips over a guy line in the middle of the night for a biological break.
Appropriate Stakes and Landscape
When you’re tent camping, you often consider the size of the tent with respect to how many people are camping in it. You may look at some features like how many doors it has, if there is a vestibule for gear, and if you have internal pockets to place your kit. Many times, people don’t consider the tent stakes they have. Many budget tents include round bar curved into what resembles a hook for stakes. These don’t give me a rise. I much rather have a triangular shaped stake for most purposes and if I’m sand or winter camping, much flatter and longer stakes to hold firm in the ground. If you have one of the guy lines in the previous tip and a sapling or exposed root to secure it to, do so. The sapling and root have a much larger footprint than your tent stake. Don’t be afraid to tie off to downed trees, logs, or rocks too. If you have a good blade and the stakes you are using are insufficient, cut some pegs of your own. Tent stakes bend, break, and sometimes they can’t be driven into the ground because it is mostly rock. You should know how to make do with what you have.
At Fieldcraft, we want you to learn self-reliance and you’ll hear Glover tell you to “operate the outdoors.” Part of true Fieldcraft is learning to set up camp for the night. If you set up a terrible shelter, you’ll need a double dose of Mike’s Wolf 21 supplements to help you sleep through it. Follow these tips, discover more in our 2 day overnight courses, and you’ll find the great outdoors is much more enjoyable in a well-pitched tent.