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How to Set Up Your Tent in the Dark

Setting up camp in the dark can be tricky, here’s the best way to get it done and stay safe.

Camping is an exhilarating experience. You spend time in the Great Outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of Nature. You get to experience the natural world at its best. And for a few days, you can say goodbye to the hustle and bustle of your daily life.

But a great camping experience can turn sour very fast if you aren’t properly prepared. Let’s say you underestimated the amount of time it would take for you to reach your campsite. Maybe you started out early, but the traffic on the roads was so horrible that the Sun was already setting by the time you neared your campsite. Maybe you had no choice but to set out late, or maybe you planned to reach your chosen campsite after sunset.

Whatever the case may be, setting up a tent after dark is usually not a good idea? Why? Because with the reduced visibility around you, setting up your tent would be a lot harder than normal. But hard isn’t the same as impossible. With the right preparation and equipment, you can set up your tent at night very effectively.

setting up tent in the dark

Why is it harder to set up a tent at night?

The most important factor behind setting up a great campsite is adequate visibility. When the Sun is up in the sky, you don’t have to worry about visibility at all. However, once the Sun sets, your surroundings will be pitch black.

People who haven’t been camping before don’t understand how dark it can get in the woods at night. There are no street lights to guide you, no lights visible from some tall building far away. Urban areas always have measures in place that provide lighting during the nighttime. In the Great Outdoors however, your main source of light at night is the Moon. And that isn’t good enough to help you set up a tent.

Setting up a campsite is hard enough during the daytime, especially if you’re an inexperienced camper. At night this difficulty increases. The only way to alleviate this is to carry alternate sources of light with you. Unless you have a car, this means more luggage to haul. That is why preparing ahead of time will help you set up your tent at night.

What artificial lighting should you carry?

If you want to set up your tent at night, you need to bring artificial sources of light with you. Without these, you’ll not be able to navigate or see anything in the woods.

camping headlamp

Artificial Lighting sources that work best

All sources of light don’t work nearly as well. So what should you do? Here are the artificial sources of light that work best, and those that don’t.

  • Headlamps: Always carry a headlamp if you think that you’ll be setting up your camp at night. To set up your tent, you’ll need to use both your hands. It’s a laborious job and the last thing you need is to need to hold a flashlight in one hand.
  • Flashlight: While these shouldn’t be your go-to source of light while setting up your tent, they are necessary anyway. Flashlights are reliable and if you need to look for something and your headlamps aren’t providing enough light, shine a flashlight on the area for added visibility. If you have a friend whose hands are free, then ask them to hold the flashlight. This gives you more light while you set up your tent.
  • Phone’s Light/Camera Light: If you’re going camping, then chances are that you’ll be carrying these with you. However, they are not good enough to help you set up a tent. At most, the can provide additional visibility, but never rely on only these while camping.
  • Solar Powered Lights: Although carrying solar powered lights will require additional preparation on your part, these are great sources of artificial light for camping. Remember to charge them up during the day and you’ll have a good source of light to help you set up your tent at night.
  • Floodlights: These provide great visibility but carrying them could be a problem. You would need a portable generator to help you set up your floodlights. If you have a car and think you can manage a small generator and floodlights, go for it. These will really help you.
  • Headlights: If you’re driving to your campsite and your chosen campsite, you may wonder if your car’s headlights can help. If your campsite happens to be near the place where you parked your car, then this is a great source of light for you. Usually camping spots tend to be away from roads and parking spaces. That is why you shouldn’t rely on these unless you already know that you’ll be parking in visible distance of your campsite.

Always carry extra batteries with you for your headlamps and torches. You don’t want to find out that the batteries have run out and you don’t have any artificial light while setting up your tent at night.

set up tent in dark

What should you do to set up your tent at nighttime?

The first thing you need to consider is your tent. What kind of tent are you using? Some tents are more complex to set up than others. There are all kinds of tents available, from single person tents to family tents. You could also carry a hammock instead. If you know you’re going to set up camp at night, always opt for a tent that is simple to set up. The more complicated your tent is, the more difficult setting it up at night will be.

night campsite

Steps you should follow once you know what Tent you’ll be using:

Once you’ve picked out your tent, this is what you should do next:

  • Practice Beforehand: Setting up a tent can be difficult even during the day, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. By the time you’re ready to leave for your campsite, you should already be familiar with how to set up your tent. Most tents come with a manual that give you detailed instructions on how to set it up. Practice every day until you feel confident that you can set up the tent with ease at your home.
  • Make a Checklist: This checklist should include all the necessary components of your tent. These are the tent, the footprint, the poles, the stakes, the rainfly, and the guylines. Remember to add a mallet to the checklist so you can drive in the stakes easily. When you’re ready to bring out the components you’ll need to set up your tent, cross each item off as you lay them on the ground.
  • Clear the area: Before you start working on your tent, you’ll need to clear the area you’ve selected as your campsite. Remove small branches, rocks, and anything else that you can trip over. Once the area is clear, set up your light sources. You may want to build your campfire at this time as well. Not only will it provide some more light to you, it will also help you determine where you should set up the tent. Your tent should always be far away from your camp fire. You don’t want to run the risk of your tent catching fire from embers.
  • Set up the Tent: Now you can set up your tent. Do it the way you practiced at home. First lay the footprint on the ground. Then, use your mallet to stake down the edges of the tent. Now set up the tent poles. Tent poles are usually color coded. If yours aren’t – then remember to color code them before you leave for camp. This will help you easily determine how to properly set it up. Once the poles are ready, set up the body of the tent. Now, attach the rainfly so that your tent doesn’t get wet. Finally, attach guylines to your tent to secure it to the ground.

If you’ve practiced how to set up a tent at home, then the process will be more manageable. If there are multiple people in your group, then you may need to set up multiple tents. In this situation, consider setting up two tents at night and the rest in the morning.

campsite at night

What should you be aware of when setting up your tent at night?

There are guidelines about setting up camp that you should always follow. While this will be harder at night, you should try to follow them nonetheless.

night camping

Guidelines to follow while setting up camp at night:

They include:

  • Pack intelligently: Always pack the items you’ll need earlier in more accessible areas. You don’t want to have to take out all your clothes before you find your tent and the other components. Your sources of light should also be near the top so you can grab hold of them first.
  • Don’t camp in low lying areas: If you do this, you run the risk of being affected by water overflows or floods. Even though they’re rare, always camp in higher ground.
  • Don’t set up camp close to a water source: Mosquitoes tend to gather near water sources at night. They carry diseases and can make you fall sick. Always camp at a distance from any water source, even if that source is a small pool.
  • Don’t keep your lights on for too long: Bugs are attracted to light, especially white light. If you don’t work fast to set up your tent, you could find that many bugs have made their way to your campsite. Similarly, once you’ve set up your tent, don’t keep your lights turned on. Red lights don’t attract as many bugs as white lights, so a headlight with the red color option can help you keep your lights on longer.
  • Food: Eating beforehand is the best idea if you’re setting up your tent at night. You’ll already be tired from setting up the camp, and may not want to cook afterwards. You can also carry dry food with you. If you want to cook that night, then make sure you hang your food from a tree branch afterwards. This way, animals won’t be able to get to your food.

Setting up camp at night is not hard if you know what you’re doing. This becomes even easier if you’re camping in a location you know well, or if you’ve reserved a campsite for your group. With the right preparation, you can easily set up your tent at night.

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