Inflating the tent

Don't worry about pitching tents. It's very easy these days.

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

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published May 2014; updated May 2023.

If you think pitching a tent is difficult, then think again. Modern tents are a lot easier to put up. So that's one less excuse not to start Family Camping.

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 to 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.

Since then, family camping has come a long way, 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 insert these tent poles into sleeves sewn into the tent. The poles bend, and 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 various 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 tent style.

Pitching is straightforward here too, and very similar to the tunnel tent. The poles slot together and inserted 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, pitching is quicker.

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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. 

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Pop-up Tents - Great for Teenagers

Finally, you can get some tents that pop up, like 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 unsuitable.

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 in 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 😉