How to Erect a Tent Safely

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Don’t let a falling tree branch ruin your vacation. Whether you’re camping in the woods or participating in a festival, set up your tent with safety in mind. Everything from wind storms to sharp stakes to winter snow can turn your cozy shelter into an accident waiting to happen.

One day in England, a man threw a rope over a marquee canopy, lost his footing and fell onto a two-foot-long tent peg, which pierced his left eye. Fortunately, he survived.

Pick the right spot

Tent under trees at night
Idyllic camping spots can also be deadly. Take proper precautions. Image credit: Pexels.

When scouting for a proper campsite, keep an eye out — no pun intended — for potential hazards around, above and even below you.

Forests may offer picturesque locales for an overnight stay, but they’re also dangerous when the wind’s up. Over one Fourth of July weekend, a late-night storm along the Oconee River in Georgia tore off the top of an oak tree, killing a 12-year-old boy when it landed on his tent.

In developed or urban areas, you should and may be required to check for the presence of underground utilities. In June, a man was electrocuted in when part of his tent — probably a stake — contacted an underground electrical line at the Scranton Nature Center in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Select a location:

  • early in the day, giving you time to inspect it for possible safety issues and to set up camp properly;
  • on smooth ground, without rocks or roots, to protect your back while lying down;
  • if possible, on dry ground where water and mud won’t accumulate during rains;
  • upwind of campfires, camp stoves or lights, because even flame-retardant tents — the safest type — can burn under the right circumstances;
  • where ants, bees, wasps, poison ivy, poison oak or other potentially harmful life haven’t already set up shop.

Speaking of other living creatures, you should protect the natural environment, too. If possible, camp where people already camp regularly, instead of unspoiled or lightly-used sites. Keep your tent and campsite at least seventy paces (175 feet) from water. Show some consideration for small, delicate plants or seedlings.

Erect your tent carefully

Like a pilot inspecting his aircraft prior to a flight, review your efforts before letting people inside of it. If you put it up, you’re responsible for it, even it it’s part of a group event.

In Wood Dale, Illinois, a sudden storm sent a large tent flying into the air at a community festival in, where a falling pole killed one person. A local official later admitted that the city, which had hired a private contractor to erect the festival’s tents, inspected only the tent’s electrical connections, not its actual construction.

During or after setting up:

  • Clear away burnable debris to a distance of three feet from the tent.
  • When inserting the stakes or weights that anchor your tent to to the ground, keep them out of the path of foot traffic, so that nobody trips over them.
  • If the stakes won’t grip the soil tightly, such as in muddy or sandy conditions, insert extra ones or attach weights to them.
  • Don’t hang laundry or other items on the guy ropes or tie tapes that hold up the tent, or it will pull everything out of line.
  • If the weather changes, such as from dry to moist or vice versa, periodically check the ropes. Their length can expand or shrink, which might cause the tent to collapse.
  • Don’t spray the tent with insect repellent or other aerosols, because it dissolves the surface’s water repellent.

Then, when it’s time to go home, dry and brush the tent fabric before packing it away, storing the stakes and ropes separately.

David Arv Bragi, profile picture

David Arv Bragi is a multidisciplinary journalist with experience in health, safety, personal finance, technology, arts and cultural topics. He is also a former team leader and volunteer in community/tower emergency response teams. He currently lives just outside of Bellingham, Washington.