5 Tips for Selecting a Tent Site

One of the most vivid memories of camping is from my childhood. We had slept through an early morning downpour and at dawn we awoke to find my 3-year-old brother floating on his air mattress in the tent.

That little example demonstrates how picking the right place to pitch a tent is an important decision. Here are some factors to keep in mind and things to look for when trying to decide where to peg-in.

1. Know The Land

It’s important that you have permission to access and stay on the land where you plan to camp. National or state parks make this first step easy by issuing permits to specific numbered sites or areas. However, when you get into the backcountry, it’s important to ensure the land is open to the public for camping. An old map may list an area that you have camped at for years, but perhaps during the winter it changed owners and is now private property. It’s always wise to do a little research and have an alternate site picked out when not camping in official campgrounds.

The second piece to knowing the land focuses on reading the topography of your campsite and surroundings. My example of a flooded tent illustrates a key fact in choosing a site: always try and camp on high ground with a slight slope to ensure good drainage. Avoid recesses in the ground as these will collect water. Also look for designated areas for pitching a tent. These can be as formal as a wooden-framed box (see photo) or as informal as a slightly flattened area in a clearing.

Example of tent site
Pictured here is an example of a designated tent site. Note the frame to denote the border of the area and the clean, hazard-free ground area.

2. Set Up Under A Tree?

Whether or not to set-up a tent under a tree is an often-asked camping question. First and foremost, you should never camp under a dead or sickly looking tree. In strong winds the tree, or its branches, could fall on your tent. Healthy trees, shrubs or bushes have benefits, including shade and shelter from wind, rain, and the sun. Also avoid being near trees that release sap (such as a pine) and choose a different kind (such as maple). Tree sap can stick to your tent and be difficult to remove — not to mention it can affect the water-resistance of the tent’s material.

3. Ground Zero

Once you’ve picked where you want to pitch your tent, take a moment and inspect the area. Look for twigs, rocks and other objects that could damage the bottom of the tent, or be uncomfortable to sleep upon. It is also important that your tent will be able to be secured, either by pegging it into the ground or tying-off to rocks or branches.

Next, you’ll want to determine how to orient the tent. Visualize where the door is best situated, as this placement can be more than just ensuring privacy. In winds, align the smallest or most tapered section of the tent into the wind. This increases ventilation, but also make entry and exit on the leeward side of the tent easier, especially if it’s raining. Also, when orienting yourself at the site, make sure that the cooking and cleaning areas are well defined, and not too close to your tent for obvious reasons.

4. Pitching A Tent

Before you head out camping for the first time of the season, set up your tent at home. This ensures the tent is in proper, working order, but also refreshes your memory on how to get it together. In foul weather, knowing exactly how to set-up your tent is critical to staying warm and dry.

Also, check that you have all the right components (such as poles, pegs, and tie-down cords) and tools (such as a hatchet or a mallet). A mallet makes driving-in and removal of pegs faster, as well as reduces the accidental bending of aluminum ones.

Another debate when pitching a tent is if a ground tarp or cloth should be used. Some argue these tarps trap and collect water under the tent’s floor. In most cases this is caused when a tarp is used that is larger than the footprint of the tent itself. The uncovered outside edges of the tarp will pool rainwater under the tent. The solution is to use a tarp that is slightly smaller than the tent’s floor. In so doing, you’ll prolong the lifespan of the tent floor from abrasions and wear.

5. The Assembly

Camper fasting tent walls with poles
The author fastens the tent’s walls to assembled poles using clips, on his no-sleeve tent.

The fastest way to pitch a tent will vary on the tent design itself, the weather conditions, and the know-how of the campers. In general terms, the following is an overview of how to pitch a tent.

  1. First remove the tent and components from the bag and put all the poles together first.
  2. Next, lay the tent out over the selected area (placing ground sheet down first, if used).
  3. Slowly and carefully thread poles into their sleeves to ensure they do not catch or rip the fabric. Also, insert all the poles into sleeves first before anchoring the poles into the pockets. If the tent has clips instead of sleeves, do the reverse; put the poles into their pockets first and then fasten the clips to the poles.
  4. Once the tent is up, insert pegs on an angle to ensure the tent remains taught. Alternate by inserting pegs at opposite corners if possible. Do not pull too tight.
  5. Next, place the rainfly over the tent. Secure it to the tent via clips and the ground with pegs.
  6. Finally, peg-in the fly’s tie-downs to finish tent assembly.

Once you’ve set up camp take a walk in daylight to familiarize yourself with the area. Mark and notify others of any hazards, such as: holes, sharp rocks or poison oak or ivy.

Keep the suggestions above in mind the next time you’re camping. They’ll help keep you safe, dry and comfortable whether you’re in a state park, or the barren backcountry.

Make sure you have the best tenting equipment once you find the best tent site. Visit Sportsman’s Guide for a full assortment of tents and camping gear.

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One Response to “5 Tips for Selecting a Tent Site”

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    When doing my annual setup and inspection of my tents at home I always apply spray silicone sealant to the fly and the bottom sides of the tent and apply the brush on seam sealant to all stitched seams. By doing this my tents never leak when camping in the rain.