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Backpacker Magazine – January 2009

How to Pitch a Tent in Foul Weather

There's nothing cozier than a warm, dry tent on a cold night. But strong winds and rain can turn setup into a sopping, frustrating fiasco.

by: Molly Loomis

Not sure how to get started? Watch our step by step guide to pitching a tent.

At-home prep
Pre-rig the guylines on each side of the tent before leaving home so they can be quickly attached to a single stake.
1) Tie one end of a 10-foot nylon cord to an outer guy loop, then thread it through a small O-ring. Making sure to leave slack in the cord, pull it through the middle guy loop, thread it through the O-ring again, then tie to the last guy loop. If there are only two loops, tie each separately to the O-ring.

2) Tie one end of a 15-foot cord to the O-ring. When pitching the tent, loop the cord around a stake and secure it with an adjustable knot, such as a trucker's hitch–which is easy to tie and untie even while wearing gloves.

  • Pick a sheltered site away from any depressions where water might pool.
  • If your tent has pole sleeves, shield it from rain by throwing the fly over the tent before sliding poles into place. (This is much more difficult with tents that clip to poles.)
  • Orient the tent so its narrow end takes the brunt of the wind, then immediately stake down corners to keep it from blowing away.
  • Keep guylines taut to increase waterproofing and reduce condensation.
  • Detach fly but leave the tent covered; remove and disassemble poles, then gently pull the tent out from under the fly and stow.
  • Shake excess water off the fly, then store it in a garbage bag or separate stuff sack to prevent it from soaking the tent canopy.

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Reader Rating: -


Stuart Tauber
Mar 24, 2009

I would appreciate David Spellman contacting me regarding his experience with the Stephenson 2R tent. I have had a 3R for several years and like to downsize to 2R or 2Rc.
Thank you for your courtesy.

Mar 13, 2009

Hennessy Hammock. Rolled up like a long snake. Tie it off, un-roll it. Three minutes and it's up. Been using it for four years now. I'm sitting there nice and dry watching everyone else wrestle with their tents.

Mar 12, 2009

I use the MSR Fling in bad weather. It's single wall, so rain doesn't get inside while you are pitching it. It also cleverly directs all condensation to the outside so that the interior stays dry. It's rated for 2 persons, but at around 3 lbs, it makes a great and very roomy solo shelter.

Scott Valentine
Mar 01, 2009

I use a sheltered hammock from, so my setup is a bit different. However, the general approach is the same - stake or tie everything quickly while using the fly to keep the main compartment dry.

In the case of a hammock, I typically roll up the fly *in* the hammock if I'm certain there won't be rain. But if there's the slightest hint, I'll repack so the fly is out first, then hang the hammock underneath. One thing I really enjoy about the hammock being in a stuff sack is that I can lash the end to a tree, feed out the hammock as I go (like a rope bag), and tie the other end without anything ever touching ground.

ross mcgeachy
Feb 28, 2009

pitching a tent in a storm is one thing but securing it is another: climbers do not build anchors with rope and webbing and then attach them to a single point on a rock wall; they build multiple points of attachment to spread the load.
You must use a separate stake for each guy in a big storm and position the anchor in line with the tent seam or attachment point on the tent.
Use a taut knot prerigged to adjust tension and use a 2" loop of 1/4" elastic fisherman knotted to shock chord each guy line AT THE TENT END.
As for pitching in a storm - PITCH YOUR TARP FIRST!
Remember the wind will back in any storm so moving the tail of the tent to face the wind requires constant attention to the weather.

Feb 27, 2009

Really helpful advice, David. Especially with leaving the stakes immediately accessible and always knowing where the tail is. I'll make those changes to my system.

With the Macpac tents, we leave the fly and tent joined together when breaking camp. So when it comes to pitching the tent we can just slide the poles in the sleeves which are attached to the fly. Most Macpac tents are able to be pitched as a fly alone, an inner alone or of course as both.

I can't say I've ever gone into a tent with wet clothes or boots on though!

It seems that the O ring set up means there will be tension into the middle of the tent rather than away from the outer guy loops. This would make for a badly pitched fly with flapping and flicking water in through the mesh and onto the impermeable floor.

I have seen a similar idea which works with the tarps where the 4 outer guy are attached to the next 2 inner guy points. Here's the link:


David Spellman
Feb 26, 2009

I use a Stephenson 2R. It gets stored folded (in thirds lengthwise with the floor on the outside) and rolled, with the tail of the tent on the outside of the roll. The poles go on the inside of the roll and the stakes are in a separate bag inside the stuff sack. In the dark,in rain or in high wind, I nail down the tail of the tent with a single stake (it only takes one) and then allow the tent to unroll slowly with the wind (this keeps the tail of the tent into the wind). I grab the poles and put them through the sleeves on the tent (they're two different diameters, so it's easy to tell them apart even without light) and then pull the tent tight with two stakes in the front. At that point the tent is up and the interior is dry. I secure it (if it's windy) with a couple more stakes and then go help my buddies with their tents. It's a bad idea to stuff the fabrics of your tent randomly in a stuff sack. When you pull things out, you have to first identify the tent footprint, then orient it, then stake it down. Then you have to do the same for the tent interior (and lord help you if there's a lot of mesh for ventilation), and then you clip on the fly. And then someone gets to go inside with a sponge and dry the whole thing out. That Stephenson of mine was pricey, but it goes up in about 5 minutes, singlehanded, even in terrible weather, and it's always dry inside (until I get in there with my wet clothes and boots <G>)...


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