How to pitch a tent: a Step by Step Guide

Pitching the family tent can seem like a bit of a daunting task. There’s a whole lot of material, poles, pegs and problems to negotiate. While there are some families who have their own pitching method honed down to a drill, there are some who find this is a problem which can cause stress, anguish, arguments, and even divorces!

It needn’t be that way. To help you prepare for your trip(s) away, we thought we’d offer a bit of advice and help on one of the most common issues that anyone encounters when going away camping with the family – especially if you’re a bit of a novice. Want to know how to pitch a tent? Read on…

‘How on earth do we pitch the tent?’

Like many of our staff, I’ve worked with tents for a fair amount of time. At our summer tent shows, I’ve pitched countless numbers of tents; big and small, light and heavy. For many of them I’ve used this method, taught to us by a rep from one of the tent brands. We’ve tried this method on other similar tents and it worked well. Since then, we’ve used it whenever we can and it works on most tents.

The method has several advantages:

  • It’s quick
  • It’s easy
  • It eliminates a lot of heavy lifting
  • If done correctly, it ensures for a well pitched tent
  • After some practice, some tents can even be pitched by one person

Before we get started, a proviso.

This is the method that works best for us, we’ve used it many times on many different tents. Everyone has their own preferred method of pitching and this may not be for you or your particular tent, but this is the method we recommend to customers at our tent show and it’s served us really well in the time we’ve used it.

This method will work with almost any steel poled or aluminium poled tunnel tent. Fibreglass poled tents can also be pitched with this system, just make sure to exercise caution against placing too much strain on the poles.

The Method

We’re going to be demonstrating this method on the Outwell Bear Lake 6. It’s a fantastically made, durable bit of kit and it looks great when pitched.

Step One: Secure the Area

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Find yourself a nice space within which to pitch your tent, preferably with a good view! Empty the tent bag and make sure you have all the composite parts required to make the thing stand up; flysheet, groundsheet, pegs, poles and inners.

For bonus points, separate and arrange the various bits and pieces, connect the poles together and unfold the flysheet and groundsheet.

Step Two: Groundsheet

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Unfold the groundsheet and lay it flat where you want the tent to go, as shown in the picture.

Not only does this give you a guide as to the space and shape the tent will take up, but on a wet day it’ll help to keep the flysheet dry and clean when setting it down.

If you want to, you can peg the groundsheet down at the corners to keep it’s shape and stop it moving around too much under foot. Needless to say, if your tent has a fully sewn in groundsheet, avoid this step and just lay the whole thing flat on the floor, like in step three.


Step Three: Flysheet

Take the flysheet and lay it out flat on top of the groundsheet, with the front door facing forward, so you have the groundsheet covered.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Step Four: Corners

Peg each of the four corners of the flysheet, try and get them lined up so they are nice and square. Don’t worry about this too much as they can always be adjusted later on.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Step Five: Middle Pole

Here’s the key bit. Thread the middle pole through the sleeve. Just the middle one.

On tents with an even number of poles, just choose one of the two middle pole sleeves.

Next, ensure all tension straps are fully loosened. The tension straps are located on webbing near to where the ring and pin system is also located, just below where the pole sleeve opens at each end.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Partially unzip doors and windows to avoid creating a vacuum that can prevent you lifting the tent.

Attach the pin into the base of one end of the pole, then walk around to the other side and do the same again, so there is tension in the pole. If it’s not already, stand the pole up.

Here’s how it’ll look.
Is this the best way to pitch a tent?Because you’ve got the front and back corners pegged in, the tension in the material will allow the pole to stand upright.

For tents with steel poles. Where poles are divided into three sections, the best way to get that middle pole stood up first is to thread the middle ‘ridge’ section through the sleeve, then attach the leg on one side and attach the pin to the base (the pole should stand). Then, walk round to the other side of the tent, attach the other leg to the middle section and then to the pin on the other side – the tent should stand on the middle pole.

Step Six: Other Poles:

Now that you’ve got that first pole in, thread through the rest of the poles as normal, starting from the middle and working your way out.

The beauty of this is once you’ve got the middle pole in and standing, because it’s pre-bent and in it’s ‘natural’ position, the other poles will thread through and attach without too much trouble.

You may find that the trickiest part is getting enough slack in the material to allow you to attach the pin on the other side once the first pin is attached. Using this method makes this part of the task much easier, but if you’re still struggling the help of a friend or fellow camper to help feed the sleeve material towards the end you’re trying to pin is valuable, to give you the slack needed to secure the pole to it’s ring and pin system.

This method eliminates that big heavy lift you have to do at the end to get the thing upright if you’ve already threaded all the poles through while the tent lays flat on the ground.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Depending on the tent, you may want to attach a front guyline at this point to avoid it falling down and folding up like an accordion! With the Bear Lake, this is required.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?
Once you’ve threaded through the remaining poles and attached them to the pins, the tent should look something like this:

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?
What you’ll have now is the tent fully stood up, pegged in at the corners, without anywhere near the heavy lifting that would have been required.

If you have a tent with a zip in groundsheet like the Bear Lake then this is the time to zip it in. Do it before you tighten the tension straps and attach the guylines, otherwise the material will be too taught to zip the groundsheet in.

Once the groundsheet has been zipped in you can peg out the pegging points on the underside of the groundsheet, if your tent features them. This will help to ensure the groundsheet is evenly distributed and further even out any creases.

Tighten all the tension straps at the bottom of each pole, where it connects to the ring and pin system.

Step seven: Attachments

Now go round and secure all the attachments. The Bear Lake 6 comes with a zip on canopy. Ensure that is zipped on properly and then thread the pole through and attach to the pins like you did on the previous poles.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?









Ensure the clips are attached to the poles, creating a stronger bond between flysheet and frame.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?














Next, if you didn’t leave them in after the last trip, attach the inners. If you like, you can open all the curtains, toll them up and use the loops to attach them so you can keep them neat and tidy.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

The tent should now look something like this:

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

Before you unravel and peg the guylines into the ground, ensure that the tent is aligned properly, and looks relatively straight from front corner to back corner.

Adjust the poles so they line up – you should be able to just lift them and move them a few centimetres either way to line them up. You may need to adjust the corners you pegged in earlier.

Once you have the poles aligned you can then start pegging them in at the base. There will be a loop for you to peg into. Start from the second pole from the front of the tent (not the canopy), this way you can pull the pole across from front side of the tent towards the back side ensuring that the material is taut from one pole to the next.

Make sure that you have all doors and windows zipped close before you peg and guy the tentout fully. Otherwise, you may find that you’re unable to close the door if you’ve secured the tent and the guylines are pulling on the material. Closing doors and windows first prevents this from happening.

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

After that, peg in the all the pegging points along the bottom edge of the flysheet, tighten up the tension straps at the bottom and evenly on each side, then begin unravelling the guylines and peg them in one by one.

If possible, try to draw them out in line with any seams on the tent and always account for the wind, angling them accordingly. Keep them long enough to do their job effectively, but not too long as to take up too much space and cause a trip hazard for others.

When pegging, push the pegs in at approximately a 45 degree angle to ensure they remain in the ground securely.

Finally, peg all the way round and you should have something that looks like this:

Is this the best way to pitch a tent?

The method has several advantages. Firstly and crucially, it’s easy. It takes away a fair portion of the heavy lifting and helps the poles through the sleeves a bit easier.

Secondly, if done correctly, the method results in a good pitch, where the flysheet looks good, the groundsheet is even with few creases.

Thirdly, using this method, it is possible to pitch large tents on your own, although to the inexperienced individual we wouldn’t recommend it. It is possible to pitch something like an Outwell Vermont XL by yourself (really!)

Hopefully you’ve found this method helpful if you’ve been struggling on a good method to pitch the family tent when you go away.

Happy Camping!

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6 Responses

  1. Mrs mackie says:

    I have a vango amazon 600 and can only peg down ten back.will this affect the pitching thanks

    • Luke Tozer says:

      For this method to work you will need to secure the front of the tent to the ground. Otherwise, it’ll fall down when you try to stand it up after putting the first pole in.

      You should have plenty of pegging points on the front of an Amazon 600. You should use any points you can get to on that front side. Don’t worry about it not looking neat at this stage, they can be adjusted later.

      Try using a guy line that comes down front the top middle of the front side of the tent – almost all tents have them. Failing that, get a friend to hold the front of the tent for you.

      All you need is any point to anchor the tent to the ground on that front side so it doesn’t topple over once that first pole is threaded.

  2. Thank you so much for making my life a lot easier. I really love our tunnel tent but it is difficult pitching it the way the instructions suggested. Using your method was brilliant and meant I wasn’t wrestling with the poles. Thank you, you are genius!!

    • Luke Tozer says:

      Not sure about the genius bit, but you’re very welcome! I’ve heard stories of people using all kinds of peculiar methods to pitch their tent and it ends up taking them an age – it doesn’t need to be like that!

      Anyway, we’re glad it helped. If it gives you more time to sit back and enjoy camping rather than pitching a tent that’s got to be a good thing 🙂

  3. MrsC says:

    Just wanted to thank you so much for this guide! I have only been camping twice now and on my second time (last weekend) I arrived at the site late afternoon and a few hours before my friend who, due to distance, was unable to arrive before nightfall. Having only pitched a tent only once before (and with assistance) I was left with the daunting task of setting it up on my own (An Outwell Vacanza Vancouver 500 so not a small tent). Using your guide which I had printed and taken with me I was able to put the tent up in just under an hour all by myself 🙂 I have to admit to being rather pleased with myself and very grateful to you! So many thanks; I shall certainly always use this method from now on….

  4. Splattsville says:

    Thank you so much for this advice! We have had a Kampa Polzeath for the last 3 years, and have always struggled with pulling it up after putting the poles in. Your method is so much easier, and has saved us a lot of effort, not to mentions making the whole experience much more relaxing – we didn't shout at each other once putting it up, i'd almost call it leisurely!

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