How To Put Up a Backpacking Tent By Yourself: 8 Easy Steps

Forget everything you’ve ever seen on instagram.

So many pictures of tents set up by lakes, in meadows, in the middle of the road…and other ridiculous places are not promoting protecting the outdoors and adventuring with Leave No Trace principles in mind.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, be sure to read all of step 1. 💛

Learning how to set up a backpacking tent is just one of the many skills you need to adventure in the wilderness with confidence.

I used to be really intimated by the thought of setting up a tent by myself (I was an indoor kid). But after my first backpacking trip (9+ weeks in the wilderness of California- more about that embarrassing trip here), I could set up a backpacking tent in the dark!

And sometimes I did. 🙃

How to set up a backpacking tent in the wilderness

Mastering your backcountry tent setup will help you feel better prepared and ready for whatever your adventure may throw your way.

Let’s get into it!

Related: 22 Rookie Mistakes New Backpackers Make and How To Avoid Them

Choose your camp spot

Unless you’re in a very remote and wild place, the odds of other backpackers recreating out in that same area are pretty high.

So in an attempt to Leave No Trace and minimize your impact on the wilderness, be sure to always try your best to set up a tent where it looks like someone had their tent previously.

How to set up a backpacking tent in the wilderness

Surfaces that are LNT-Friendly for camping on include:

  • hard soil
  • rock
  • snow
  • gravel
  • built platform

A perfect place to set up your tent should be:

  • flat and leveled because no one likes to sleep upside down with all the blood rushing to their head. Unless your bat, then carry on. 🦇
    • If it’s impossible to find level ground, make sure your head is on the uphill.
  • NOT in a meadow.
    • We don’t want to trample on the vegetation of the meadow. The wild grass, the wildflowers, and the teeny little bugs we can’t even see are our friends. Don’t trample your friends.
  • Close enough to water but at least 200 ft away from any lake, river, stream, or other water source (or count 80 steps away from the water’s edge).
    • We want to be close enough to get water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking but we don’t want to deter wildlife from accessing their water. Nor do we want to be so close we end up contaminating the water. 😳
  • Partially shaded (preferred). 🌲
    • Direct sunlight can turn your tent into a hot and steamy sauna. Now I know you may be into saunas, but it’s not the kind of place you want to have your gear anywhere near.
      • The hardcore UV rays will breakdown your gear, including your beloved tent! 😱🌞

Related: What are the Leave No Trace 7 Principles?

Clear out any rocks, pine cones, branches, and other stabby things

Have you aver tried to get a good night’s sleep with a rock stabbing into your hip all night?

Don’t do it! It’s not all it’s hyped up to be! 🙅‍♀️

How to set up a backpacking tent in the mountains when backpacking

Lay out the footprint

“Footprint? Like the foot print from my new sweet hiking boots?” 🥾

Not quite, a tent footprint (I have no idea why it’s called that) is the tarp-like material that goes between your beautiful (and probably expensive) tent and the ground.

Typically, the brand that made your tent also made a tent footprint to go with it. The dimensions line up perfectly. 👌

It helps protect your tent from getting holes in the bottom and other wild elements.

This is a great time to test out your tent spot. Lay down on the tarp to be sure you picked a level spot.

Related: Leave No Trace Friendly Gear: The Ultimate Backpacker’s Gear Guide

Lay out the tent 

After the footprint is laid out, it’s time to place the tent body (this is the fabric portion of the tent) on top.

Assemble the poles and connect it to the body of the tent ⛺️ 

Unfold the poles and snap them into place.

How to set up a backpacking tent

Sometimes, the tips of the poles are marked with a funky color (like bright orange or neon green). That same funky color will be on the tent body. Connect those! Those are friends, and friends stick together.

Not all tents have this but it’s worth taking a look.

Most tents will have snap-on pieces that connect the tent body to the poles.

Typically with a 4-season tent, you’ll actually slide the pole through a sleeve on the tent body instead. This is so it can withstand the pressure of high winds, rain, hail, or snow.

Getting to know your tent is half of the fun. 😉

Pull out the corners with the tent stakes.

Starting at your first corner, pull the tent corner loop out and push a tent stake down into the ground.

I usually use a small rock about the size of my first to hammer the stake down into the ground. Try not to move too many rocks. LNT, know what I mean?

Then go to the opposite corner, pull it out as far as you can (without over-stretching it) and do the same thing. Stake out the remaining corners.

Properly staking out the corners of your tent will actually create more space inside the tent.

Where to set up your tent when backpacking

Attach the rain fly (or don’t)

Rainflys help shed water off of your tent, block some of that chilly wind, and offer some privacy from your crew.

Typically, they have a DWR (durable water repellant) that will help keep you and your sleeping gear dry.

But, if you don’t stake out your rainfly properly, your tent can become stuffy and build up condensation on the inside. If you want to know some proven tips on this, you can read our detailed article on how to keep your tent dry.

Ew, I know. So be sure to stake out the guy lines (thin cords coming from your rainfly) to allow for max ventilation. 🌬

Rainflys aren’t necessary though. If it’s a warm summer night and you prefer to look up at the starts through the mesh ceiling of your tent- by all means, go for it. 🤩✨

Setting up a backpacking tent in the mountains

Make your bed

After setting up your tent, immediately unpack your sleeping bag & collapsible pillow to allow for maximum relofting time (and yes, I made that word up).

Your insulation is only as good as it’s loft (the space between down plumes or synthetic insulation fibers).  So be sure to take your sleeping bag out of it’s compression sack ASAP to make sure you stay cozy at night. 🔥🌓

Also, I definitely recommend blowing up your sleeping pad so your whole sleep system is ready for you when you’re ready for it.  😴

If you have anything that you know you’ll want at night, place it in your tent now. 

Related: How To Wash Your Down Sleeping Bag Without Ruining It

Setting up a backpacking tent and sleeping bags

Other Awesome Tips To Set Up A Backpacking Tent and Camp Site Like A Pro

  • Save weight by leaving behind the tent stuff sack. 
  • Found yourself in mosquito land? Try to find an area that has a good breeze going through it to set up camp. 🦟
    • The closer you are to a water source, the higher the chances of more mosquitos and bugs.
  • If you have to set up your tent on a big rock, use rocks instead to tent stakes to “stake” out your tent.
  • Try to set up your tent a few hours before sun down if you’re still not feeling 100% confident in your backcountry skills yet. Setting up your backpacking tent, along with all the other setting up camp tasks, in the dark isn’t a huge deal, but it’s definitely easier when you can see everything clearly. 🏕
  • Really popular backpacking destinations will often require you to reserve a permit in advance, and sometimes a specific camp spot as well. So be sure to call the ranger station well in advance to find out the current situation and regulations with the camping spot you’d like to use.
  • Be sure NOT keep have any food wrappers/ smelly things in or near your tent. Everything, and I mean all smelly things, go into your bear canister which is kept at least 100 yards downwind from your tent. Also, don’t put your bear canister near a cliff or a water source. I’m sure you can imagine why. 🐻

Related: The 10 Best Supplements for Long Distance Hikers

For some good belly laughs, go follow @youdidnotsleepthere on the gram. 🏕 Seriously, it’s one of my favorites.

I hope you found these tips for setting up your backpacking tent helpful! If you’re worried about not setting up your tent properly in the backcountry, practice at home!

If you have any other questions about how to set up a backpacking tent or general gear questions, drop them in the comments below.💛 ⛺️

Pin for Later | How To Set Up A Backpacking Tent in 8 Easy Steps

How to set up a backpacking tent in 8 easy steps a step by step guide for beginners
How to set up a backpacking tent in 8 easy steps
How to set up a backpacking tent in 8 easy steps
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