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How to put up a Tunnel Tent

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published May 2012; updated May 2023.

Tunnel Tents are common tent designs and easy to put up. This 'how to put up a tunnel tent' beginner's guide provides 8 simple steps and some useful tips to help you get started.

Tunnel tents are a popular tent design commonly found in family tents.

  • They are simple to put up - just insert tent poles into sleeves.
  • The tent pole bends to create an arch.  This is strong and provides a tent with a lot of headroom.

Fortunately, once you've mastered one tunnel tent, the principles can be applied to most other tunnel tents.

Here are 8 simple steps that show you how to put up a tunnel tent, with a few useful tips.

1. Layout your tent position


Find an area that is level as possible.  Remove any stones, twigs, or other hazards.  Avoid areas with dips, as these can fill with water.

putting some form of groundsheet under your tent is highly recommended

You may find that a tent footprint is an easy way to position your tent as well as keep your tent clean.  

We use a tarp that is the same size as the tent.  You can read more camping tips on using tarps, which also includes how to pitch in the (relative) dry even if it is raining.

Putting a groundsheet under your tent is highly recommended, especially if wet.  This will make drying your tent and keeping it clean much easier.

2. Unroll the tent

unrolling the tent

This is where having a groundsheet or tarp is useful, especially if the ground is wet.

Although we're talking about pitching the tent, here's a tip for taking it down.  If you look at the picture, you'll see a lighter green bag on the tent.  This is the bag containing the tent poles.  When you take your tent down and roll it up, place the bag of tent poles at the start of the folded tent before you roll.  This will help compress the air out of the tent and create a tighter tent so you can get it back into its original bag.

3. Unfold the tent

unfold the tent

Unfold the tunnel tent to fit your groundsheet footprint.  All simple stuff 😉

4. Insert the tent poles

Insert the tent poles

Straighten the tent poles and insert them into the provided sleeved channels on the tent.

For many tunnel tents, you will find that it doesn't matter which pole goes into which channel, as they are all the same size.  Manufacturers will colour-code channels for tents with a more complex design to help you get it right.

At this point, you want to check that the doors are unzipped.

5. Take up the tension in the poles

Tension the poles

At the base of the tent, near the sleeve you inserted the tent poles into, will be an eyelet or some other mechanism for securing the poles.  Fix the poles into it on both sides of the tent, which will force the tent poles to bend and create the arch shape.

It is easier to do this whilst the tent is on the ground.

Inserting the tent pole into the eyelet the second time (i.e. on the other side of the tent) may require a bit of force.

Check that the tent is not bunched around the poles in the sleeve - the tent may have snagged on a joint in the pole.  

If it is, ease off the tension and adjust the tent fabric.  This is why doing this stage with the tent on the ground is easier.

6. Pull the tent upright

pull up the tent

Start with one end and pull the tent upright.

You will want to have a tent peg handy and secure the end lines of the tent.  This will help keep it upright whilst you adjust it.

Unzipping the doors makes it easier for air to fill the tent

Oh, and why did you unzip the doors in the earlier step?  Well, when you pull the tent up, the space inside it expands, creating a vacuum effect that can make it difficult to pull it upright.  By unzipping the doors, you make air filling the tent easier, so lessen the vacuum effect.

However, now zip up the doors again 😉

You must now adjust the tent by ensuring it is fully stretched out.  If the doors were still open, the tent could over-stretch, making it difficult to zip up the doors once it is all pegged out.

7. Peg out the tent

Pegging out the tent

Now go around the tent, pegging it out, adjusting the lines, opening vents, and ensuring any tarp or footprint is folded well under the tent (so it doesn't trap rainwater).

8. Put up the inner tents

Put up the inner tents

Finally, put up the inner tents (or get a helper to).

Putting up the inner tents is straightforward.  Most tents have toggles on the inner tents that fit into loops sewn into the tent.  They will have a coloured toggle and loop, usually in the centre, where you start toggling from.

There you go, 8 simple steps to put up a tunnel tent.

Taking the tent down

Taking the tent down is essentially the reverse of putting it up.

Removing the inner tents will keep them nice and dry

Yes, on many tents, you could leave the inner tents up so that you don't have to do that step the next time.

However, if your tent is wet or it is raining, you will want to keep those inner tents dry and separate.  

The next time you turn up to camp, it could be pouring down, and by keeping them separate, it won't matter if your tent gets wet when you put it up.  You can then ferry the inner tents in and keep them nice and dry.

Keeping the doors unzipped when you fold your tent will help expel the air (opposite of the vacuum effect issue), and remember the tip with the tent pegs bag when rolling it up.

Read 'how to roll up a tent and get it back into its bag' for more details.