Gear Guy

What’s a sure-fire way of securing a tent in gale-force winds?

Is there a proper way to save your tent, short of taking it down, in winds over 50 mph? I had one fail, and I wonder if it was because I kept tightening the guylines, and maybe even over-tightened them. Joe Midland, Texas

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Tents, when you think about it, really are pretty fragile things: thin nylon or polyester material, skinny aluminum tubes, a few guylines. The only reason they survive anything is that they’re engineered to be stronger than the sum of their parts. But, given enough stress—mainly, wind—and tents do indeed fall apart. I well recall a night on Mount Rainier many years ago when my trusty old tent, worn out from too much sun and too many trips, began to disintegrate during a windstorm. And certainly, 50-mph winds are at the high end of nearly any tent’s ability to survive.

Still, there are lots of things you can do to ensure a tent will survive all but the very worst weather. Start with where you set it up. If the wind feels like a problem, then try to take advantage of the landscape, erecting the tent in a draw, or in the lee of trees or boulders. Point the low end of the tent (usually the foot end) into the wind, or in the case of a dome tent try to align it along the prevailing wind direction. Stake it out completely, using every stake loop, so that the wind can’t get under the tent and start to lever it. Guy it out using every guy loop and taut lines. I don’t think over-tightening was a problem for you—you want taut guy lines, as they help prevent the tent from whipping back and forth. Shock-corded guylines, though, may help reduce wind-loading by letting the tent lean a little bit when hit hard by a gust. Some tents can also be used with internal guylines. If so, use those as well.

Then, hunker down and tough it out. If you really think the wind is about to demolish your tent, consider removing the poles and simply using the tent as a sort of bivy shelter. It won’t be comfortable, but a broken pole’s sharp end can be considerably worse.

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