How do you pitch a tent to withstand gale-force winds?

How are tents, and the way you pitch them, best designed to withstand wind? Last weekend my husband and I cped on the tops of the Ruahine Ranges here in New Zealand, but we were up all night worrying gale-force winds were about to blow us over the nearby precipice. I wanted to re-stake the tent (we'd done a sloppy job) but my husband insisted that the slacker the pitching, and the more flapping, the better. He argued that making it more taut would put us at more risk. Surely tents aren't designed to be pitched badly. Can you help settle our dispute? Karen Wellington, New Zealand

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This episode is desperately crying out for video footage: “Honey, the tent seems to be flapping a bit, no?”

“Hah! No. It’s designed that way. The flapping helps dissipate the energy from the wind. Otherwise the tent will blow right awwwaay…”

Anyway, it sounds as if your husband, whom I’m certain is a fine fellow in nearly every way imaginable, tried to apply the full force of Husband Logic (founding principle: “When in doubt, make it up”), and then hope for the best. But you’re the one on the right track, Karen. You want the tent pitched as tautly as possible, otherwise the wind will literally find the sloppily pitched points and start ripping it to shreds.

So always start by finding as flat a place as possible then ensure the tent is laid out “square” so every angle is as taut as possible. In windy sites, try to figure out the likely direction of the prevailing winds (a storm may come from a different direction than gentle summer breezes) and point the lowest end of the tent in that direction. If wind is imminent, then take the additional step of guying out the tent with nylon cords—that is, externally bracing the tent with additional lines so that it has sort of an exoskeleton. Some makers, such as Sierra Designs, even design tents with internal guy points so you can brace it side to side from the interior.

So there you go. Next time he tries to snow you with a line like that, grab a tent pole and let him have it.

Need more advice on staking out your shelter and the intricacies of those canvas domiciles? Read “Camping Tents Explained” from the Outside Buyer’s Guide.

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