How to pitch a tent, even if you have never been camping

August 22, 2019

Don’t let worries about pitching a tent put you off family camping…

For those who don’t go camping, there’s a common misbelief that putting up a tent is complicated, difficult, and likely end in disaster.

This is not the case.

It’s true that once upon a time tents were just a series of poles, ropes, and canvas, and to the completely untrained, getting a tent that would stay up in the wind and not leak in the rain was rocket science.

Family camping has come a long way since then, and so have tent designs.

Flysheets, Groundsheets, and Inner Tents – Don’t worry, it’s easy!

When pitching traditional tents of old, you’d make a frame out of poles, and over the frame place a flysheet (this is the outside material of the tent), put a sheet on the ground (the groundsheet), and if you had a ‘posh’ tent, put up another set of sheets inside the tent (the inner tent).

These days, it’s a lot simpler.

These days, it’s a lot simpler.

Groundsheets nearly always come pre-attached to fly sheets. This is known as a Sewn-In-Groundsheet (SIG for short sometimes).

Inner tents are usually the bedrooms (also called sleeping pods). And on some tents, they’re already pre-hung inside (this is typical on Outwell brand of tents for example). So all you have to do is put the poles in the tent. The rest has already been taken care of for you.

The Tunnel Tent – An Easy To Pitch Tent

Pull the tent upright

A great many tents are based on a simple tunnel structure. Even tents with more elaborate designs are mostly still ‘tunnel tents’.

The tunnel shape is strong yet flexible and provides plenty of headroom.

Most tunnel tents use flexible tent poles (often referred to as fibreglass poles). You simply insert these tent poles into sleeves sewn into the tent. The poles bend and hey presto, you have a structure you can sleep in.

There’s no building a frame and attaching sheets.

Click here if you want to know more about pitching a tunnel tent.

We used to camp for years in the Coleman Coastline 6 tunnel tent.

Steel Framed Tents

Some other tent designs use metal tent poles.

These are commonly referred to as steel tent poles though they can be made from a variety of metal alloys.

Steel or alloy poles often create a stronger structure and allow for a slightly different tent design than a tunnel tent, such as the slightly more rectangular cabin style of tent.

Pitching is straight forward here too, and very similar to the tunnel tent. The poles slot together and insert into sleeves or clip onto the tent.

Sometimes you get different sized poles that have to go in different sleeves. Manufacturers colour code the ends of the poles and the end of the sleeves to make it simple. For example, you insert the blue tent pole into the blue sleeve; the red pole into the red sleeve.

A steel-framed tent we have is the Coleman Da Gama 6. Despite being a larger tent than the Coleman Coastline 6 tunnel tent, it is quicker to pitch.

Air Framed Tents

You can get tents that have next to no tent poles. These are even easier to pitch.

Instead of poles, you inflate air chambers in the tent lining where the tent poles would have gone.

extremely easy to pitch

We’ve been camping with air framed tents for years.  These go up in minutes.

More and more air framed tents are being made for family camping as they are straightforward to pitch. Below is a video of us pitching the Outwell Hornet XL tent.  Click here to see more air framed tents.

Pop-up Tents – Great for Teenagers

Finally, you can get some tents that simply pop-up, in the same way as a kid’s play tent does.

You may find a lot of these tents available at a reasonable price. BUT, a lot are designed for summer only, are not big enough for a family, and are usually aimed at the young adult music festival market – where most tents are treated as disposable. Festival tents are not built to last.

While you can get some pop-up tent designs that can work for family camping, most pop-up tents are not suitable for family camping.

Easy Camp Antic Punk Union Jack pop-up tent
However, if you have a teenager who wants to sleep in their own tent in the summer, then this is an affordable option. I recommend you look at the Easy Camp Antic popup tents if that’s something that you may need.

Top Tip to Avoid Looking Silly at the Campsite

Finally, when you do buy a family tent, try pitching it the garden (or somewhere close by if you don’t have space), before you travel to a campsite.

Take time to get familiar with your tent, and you’ll soon learn what works best for you. You’ll soon have it going up in no time.

Our Outwell Montana 6SA comes with colour coded tent pegs, no real poles to worry about, and friendly guy line retainers – so now it’s really easy for all the family to help pitch, which has certainly made things a lot better on me when we get to the campsite 😉


Getting Started with Family Camping Series

Continue reading; click on the next article in the series.
  • Camping with Kids

    Why you should be adding camping as something you and your family do, what we consider the ‘right way’ for camping with kids, and also some pitfalls to avoid

  • How to pitch a tent

    If you are worried about pitching a tent - don't be. They are quite straightforward these days.

  • Choosing the right family tent

    There are many types of tents available for different sizes of familes, different ages of children, and how often you go camping. We give you some pointers to help choose the right tent.

  • Setting up your sleeping area

    We've learnt the hard way on what makes a good night's sleep for the family at the campsite. Read these tips on how to best set-up your family's sleeping area.

  • How to set-up your camp kitchen

    You need somewhere safe to cook and feed your family. Doing this in your tent is not recommended. We show you how to set-up a camp kitchen.

  • How to set-up a gas camping stove

    There are different types of gas camping stove. Some are small and simple, and some are larger and need a gas regulator. This guide shows you what to get.

  • How to cook using a campfire

    Want a more traditional camping experience? Here are some tips for cooking using a campfire.

  • Camping Check-list

    Here's a useful check list of things to take camping.

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Gav Grayston
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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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  1. How do you find the air tent when its windy compared to pole versions? Have to admit I am sceptical but I need a new tent and they seem to have become very popular. Just come back from a very windy camping trip where we actually had to disassemble and re-pitch in a more sheltered position so this does worry me a lot

    • Hi Mandy,
      We’ve had better success with inflatable tents than inflatable awnings on the caravan. Not really had much of an issue with the inflatable tents.
      The big difference you may find is that if it is very windy, the air tent will flex more than a steel poled tent. However, this does mean no broken tent poles or ripped fabric in the case when the tent poles end up being stronger than the fabric.
      The inflatable tents are very popular. However, there are still plenty of poled tents around.
      If you want a really rigid tent in the wind, go for a steel poled tent.
      Hope that helps.

  2. When me and my partner went camping we saw a lot of pop up tents and thought they looked great, all them people ready to go in no time. That was the stage when we were mentally planning to buy our own one. The better entertainment though was watching them try to put them away after…i think we will stick with putting some poles together lol

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