The skeleton of the tent – the poles or air tubes
Basically, there are two main types of tent pole: Bendy ones and rigid ones. Bendy ones are more flexible and usually lighter, rigid ones are generally more robust and heavy-duty. There are also two types of air-tube frame – those that have an inflation point on each tube and ones with a single valve to inflate the whole structure in one go.
The traditional frame tent and many trailer tents use rigid poles, usually of metal with angled joint fittings where they need to turn a corner or where a number of poles meet. Steel poles may be painted or plated to stop corrosion. Aluminium or alloy poles, less common in this size of tent, will be polished or anodised. Aluminium alloy poles tend to be lighter and slightly more pricey than steel ones.
Sectional rigid tent poles will normally be fixed together, usually with steel springs, but these can come apart by mistake. You should always try to fix them back together before you put the tent away because it will be much easier next time you put the tent up.
It’s a good idea to mark the poles and joints of a frame so that next time you use it, you’ll know exactly where each part of the frame goes, unless the manufacturer has already done this for you.
Marking the frame
Put the frame up and check that everything is as it should be, then starting from a convenient point, mark every joint with a unique letter or number. Use a small paint brush and some bright paint.
If three poles enter an angled fitting, mark the ends of that pole and the fitting with a distinctive letter ‘A’. The next fitting and poles will be ‘B’ and so on until every joint is marked. If some poles are identical, try to give them all the same letter or number code as this will speed up pitching next time.
Composite bendy poles
Dome tents and many tunnels will use bendy poles curved to form arcs. In cheaper tents these will be some kind of composite Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP), often called fibreglass or glassfibre.
Depending on diameter and weight considerations, they will either be solid rod or tubular and different methods of manufacture can give a surprising range of strength to weight ratio.
GRP poles can break – especially if you accidentally mis-thread a pole and try to force it. Since they contain glass fibres, the broken pole can be very sharp, so take care. Some manufacturers use poles with an outer wrapping (the brand name ‘Durawrap’ is one such material) to protect the pole further.
At the top end of the ‘bendy pole’ range is carbon fibre. Poles from this ultra-light material are incredibly strong, but come at a cost. You can buy replacement carbon fibre poles for a current tent if you want to spend the money.
Metal bendy poles
A more durable alternative for flexible poles is metal. These are almost always made from an aluminium alloy. They are light and strong and less likely to break unless really abused.
They can sometimes bend permanently, particularly if trodden on, driver over or if a heavy tent is put up incorrectly. Try to avoid this because although they can be straightened, they will never be quite as good or as straight again.
Keep bendy poles linked
Whether bendy poles are made in composite or aluminium alloy, they are likely to be linked with elastic cords to make assembly easier. If cords break repair them immediately. A neat trick is to get a length of thin wire, such as garden wire, and use it as a needle to draw the elastic through the pole sections. The challenge of threading the final sections becomes easier if you pull the cord tight and then clamp it in place with a bulldog clip at the end of the first sections, leaving a long free end to thread through the remaining pieces of pole before tying it securely at the end. If you put away a tent with a few broken cords you’ll experience utter confusion when you next try to pitch.
Normally your tent or the inner tent or tents will be supplied with a groundsheet. Camping stores sell all kinds of groundsheets separately too.
Worth considering are the kind that let the light and air through to give the grass a bit of a chance to breathe. They aren’t waterproof of course so you wouldn’t want them in a sleeping area, but they can be useful in living areas, porches or in awnings on trailer tents or folding campers.
Footprint groundsheets: Keep it clean – on polythene
Some tent manufacturers supply shaped footprint groundsheets to match their tents. These are generally simply sheets of polythene designed to go underneath the tent, especially when pitching, to keep it clean.
Builders' merchants and big DIY warehouses sell rolls of inexpensive polythene sheeting in various widths and thicknesses. You can buy it by the metre and it similarly makes a great base for laying out your tent before you pitch it.
If the ground is excessively muddy, you could use the polythene sheet as a second layer under your normal groundsheet to keep your tent clean, though be careful not to leave any sticking out because it’s very slippery when wet. Otherwise, it’s useful to have it available at the end of your holiday to lay out the whole tent to make it easier to pack it away neatly.
Take a picnic rug
The other ‘nice to have' for all kinds of campers is a travel or picnic rug with a waterproof backing.
Used inside a tent it acts like a carpet and outside on a bright day it is the perfect location for a picnic or even a nap in the sun.
Modern guy ropes (or guy rope or just 'guy') will be of synthetic cord so they shouldn't shrink or slacken as they get wet or dry. They will fix to the main outer tent or flysheet via a metal or plastic ring, often with a rubber ring to act as a shock absorber. There should be an adjuster to allow you to set and keep them at the right tension.
Guys should normally follow the lines of the seams of the tent, to give stability, and shouldn’t cross each other. Position the adjusting sliders so there’s room to make the guys longer or shorter during your stay and don’t forget to check them regularly to make sure they’re not loosening or getting too tight.
Braided synthetic guy lines can sometimes fray. You can heat seal the ends by touching them in a flame and rolling between a damp thumb and finger but watch out, molten nylon can stick and burn.
Got it pegged?
The basic tent peg may seem to be a simple piece of kit, but pegs come in all shapes and sizes and you will probably wonder where to start.
Most tents come with simple steel hooked pins. In firm ground and moderate weather these pegs are fine. But sometimes the wind does push and pull a tent about and the ground you’re pitched on may range from soft and sandy to hard and rocky.
A range of pegs to suit different ground and wind conditions is useful along with a few spares.
It is important to balance the requirements for keeping weight and bulk down with the need to hold your tent down in extreme conditions (not forgetting the cost!)
Steel pegs are generally the strongest but also the heaviest for their size. Pegs pressed from sheet steel can provide better hold in the ground than thin steel pins, but watch out for sharp edges when pulling them out of the ground. Hardened steel pegs – like long masonry nails – are useful for hard or stony ground.
Plastic pegs are light, cheap and their greater cross-sectional area can provide greater resistance to pulling out when the wind is strong, but they can be bulky to pack. Avoid the really cheap ones that can break easily.
Pegs made from light alloy are very popular with lightweight campers, but hard ground or clumsy mallet work – or a combination of the two – can result in bent pegs.
Top-of-the-range lightweight tents will have the lightest pegs possible and these can be made of titanium. A bundle of tiny 2g pegs may be easy to carry, but if they are not long enough or don't have sufficient cross section they may not be adequate to secure your tent in extreme conditions.
These are made in steel and plastic and are rather more expensive and bulkier than normal pegs. They need to be screwed into the ground using a small hand grip or an electric drill with an adapter. They provide excellent grip in soft ground and are useful for stormy conditions.
Prompted partly by the damage that can be caused to livestock and agricultural machinery on farms by metal pegs left behind after a festival, some companies now sell biodegradable pegs. These are still reusable, but if they are accidentally left in the soil they begin to break down by microbes within weeks because they are made from materials like wheat and potatoes.
Always take a mallet with you when you go camping. It is the best way to get pegs in, except if using the screw type. Never try to push pegs in with your foot – pegs can and do pierce footwear and then your foot. It’s a very common campsite accident.
A peg puller is good investment to ease the extraction of pegs, they often go in easily, but then refuse to come out.
Next we move onto talking about pitching your tent
Club Care Insurance
Tent insurance is an essential part of any camping trip. The last thing you want is your holiday ruined by a broken or damaged tent.