How To Set Up a Tent In 6 Simple Steps

Snap-together poles, sleek designs and built-in fasteners make modern tents quick to assemble.

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Time

An hour or less

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

Free

Introduction

If you're new to tent camping or rusty on vacationing in the great outdoors, don't just grab a new tent and hit the road. Take time for a test run at home so you can set up your tent smoothly. This way you avoid problems if you're pitching it after sundown or in bad weather.

Make sure your tent comes with everything you need. Study your tent's setup to consider extra gear that might be helpful, such as a small rug for shoes, a lantern that can hang from a ceiling loop or a flashlight that can fit into side pockets.

Whether you need a tent that's light and compact for backpacking or sturdy and spacious enough for your family to stand upright while car camping, here are the basic steps to setting up your tent. For reference, we used a two-room tent designed for four adults or two adults and three young children. Setting up with a partner is easiest, but not necessary.

Tools Required

  • Rubber mallet (optional)

Materials Required

  • Stakes
  • Tarp or footprint
  • Tent

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Lay the Base

  • Gather your tent, poles, rainfly and footprint or tarp.
    • Consider buying a supplemental footprint or tarp if your tent kit doesn’t include one. It helps protect the floor of your tent and keep it dry during storms.
  • Choose a spot to set up your tent — as clear, level and flat as possible.
    • Your campground campsite may have a designated tent pad.
  • Remove any sticks, pine cones, stones or debris on the ground where you will set up your tent.
  • Decide which way you want to orient your tent.
    • Take advantage of natural windbreaks and shade, for a peaceful night and to avoid waking to the hot sun beating down on your tent. Consider wind direction, too, to ensure it doesn’t blow right into the door.
  • Lay down the footprint or tarp.
    • It may be wider or longer than your tent, but excess material can be folded under after setup.

Ground TarpLisa Meyers McClintick for Family Handyman

Step 2

Spread Out and Stake Your Tent

  • With two people, stretch the tent base across the footprint or tarp.
  • Pull the tent tight and stake two opposite corners, to firm up the floor of your tent.
    • Drive stakes straight into the ground, hook facing out, and pound it completely down.
    • If the stakes don’t push into the soil easily, use a rubber mallet, the sole of your boot, the flat side of a log or the dull edge of a camping hatchet.
  • Pull out the remaining corners and stake them, as well.

Pro tip: Pack a few extra stakes in case one breaks or you lose some.

Spread Out TentLisa Meyers McClintick for Family Handyman