How to Set Up a Tent in High Winds
Strong winds in the forecast? Don’t cancel your camping trip just yet!
It’s pretty obvious that when we dream of a nice camping trip in the Great Outdoors, we envision beautiful weather and no nasty surprises.
But as we know, Nature does not always cooperate or listens to our dreams. Sometimes the rains are testing our determination and at other times – it’s the winds.
The good thing is, most of the times we can still enjoy our camping trip as long as we follow a few guidelines.
Whenever we go camping or hiking, we must turn on our common sense. If there is some seriously dangerous weather in the forecast – stay at home and pick another day. But what if the weather is simply windy but not exactly a hurricane? Have fun and don’t let the wind blow you off a ridge.
Making the decision to camp or to cancel your plans
Before you decide to continue with your hiking adventure, make sure you think hard and analyze the situation. Check the weather forecast carefully – is that just about strong winds, or are serious storms and hail to be expected?
If there is a risk of thunderstorms – make sure to either pick another date or, if you are already mid-hike, find more secure shelter than a tent, if possible.
What kind of gear do you have? That’s one of the moments when the cheaper kind of gear shows its true face. Most of the time cheap tents are simply not made for harsher conditions.
Cancel your plans instead of dealing with a shredded mass of fabric and broken poles. The quite popular pop-up tents are perfect for a short trip in an ideal weather but not for anything harsh.
The smaller the tent, the bigger chance it has to survive the windy weather.
Take extra guylines and sturdy stakes. Most of the time tents come with very flimsy aluminum stakes – it’s a good investment to get something stronger.
Find the best spot for your tent
If it is possible, find some kind of a sheltered spot. It might close to the wooded area, rock outcropping, a hedge or other natural wind cover. If you found a nice shelter close to trees – make sure there are no dead or rotten branches – move away from such spot. In very heavy winds – don’t camp closer to the trees than the length of a tree.
Don’t pick the first doable spot – if it’s not dark yet, walk a bit further along the trail and look around for even better spots. You can drop your heavy backpack and just move by yourself to scout the area.
Quite often, the wind might vary in intensity depending on the area – it’s stronger by lakes or seas. Sometimes valleys or gulches might create natural wind tunnels with much stronger wind gusts than just 100 meters down the trail or turn.
If in addition to winds there is also rain – make sure you don’t pitch your tent on the trail of a flash flood or in the lowest spot where water would gather – go higher.
Check the wind’s direction
Take a moment to point the direction of the wind. It might not always be obvious, but take a moment. Feel it on your face or exposed hand. You can use a piece of fabric to let it show you the way the wind blows.
Direct your tent with its back and lowest and narrowest part toward the wind. Basically, remember to stick your butt into the wind. Never put the opening of the tent in that direction or you basically create a balloon, ready to take off.
Depending on the style/shape of your tent think of how the wind flows around it – as in an aerodynamic tunnel.
Pitching your tent in the wind
Before you take your tent out – check what you can use as help. Are there any loose rocks that can help anchor your tent? Bring them close by to use during the pitching. Be careful when picking the rocks so as not to disturb the soil. Remember to put them back in the morning.
Get organized and prepare everything you need. Carefully take your tent out and think about smaller bits that can take off with the wind – like small bags for stakes or poles.
Start with your tent body and stake it down, starting with the windward side. Don’t push your stakes straight down but rather at 45 degrees which makes them more secure.
Put rocks on the tent to help hold it down while you stake it around. Use more rocks to keep the stakes down. I try to place rocks on top of the stakes to make sure they stay in the ground. When it is all secure – put the tent poles in and secure the structure with guylines – if you have any extra string or guylines – use it.
You may want to tie them to trees or rocks if available – anything that would help to secure the tent better.
Don’t leave the doors open – the flapping fabric might get shredded in heavy winds.
When your tent is up, use your gear to hold it down from the inside. Put the heaviest items you have in the corners for additional anchoring.
Additional help – a tarp or fence of rocks
If you have a tarp with you, you can create additional protection for your camp. It is much better to create a shelter for smaller area – for example, to add some extra protection for your entry and your stove than to try and block the whole thing.
If the wind is strong enough your big tarp can behave like a huge sail, rip and create more risky situation than no extra protection at all. You may rather want to make a small “fence” between trees offering protection to up to 40cm up or if making a bigger shield – angle it 45* to let the wind go over it.
You may try and create a small wall around your tent – best would be using ready barriers like boulders or thick scrubs – you can just add to them to make them longer. Make sure you don’t damage the area – use only loose rocks and fallen branches.
Preparing camping food in high winds
Depending on how strong the winds are you might be forced to go cold supper only – be prepared for it and don’t go hiking with only inedible unless cooked dehydrated meals. Have snacks, maybe granola or dry sausage and cheese you can eat in a dire situation.
When I had the most dire camping adventure up the Trotternish Ridge, I ate only coconut cookies for dinner. There was no way I would have any luck with boiling water in the heavy winds and rains.
Don’t even try to make a fire, unless you found a nice cave to hide in. Making a fire, in general, is less than desirable because of Leave No Trace rules. In strong wind, the risk of starting a wildfire is just too high.
That would leave you with the best choice for hiking and camping – gas stove. If you pitched your tent well and create some kind of additional wind protection around the stove, you might be able to boil the water.
Just don’t even think about bringing the stove into your tent! Getting cozy with your stove inside an enclosed tent is a recipe for disaster, or, more accurately – asphyxiation with the fumes.
Taking down your camp in high winds
Basically, it’s just the reverse work. Think about all the small items that can be blown away and use rocks to hold anything down.
Before you take the pegs out, place some rocks on the top so you don’t have to worry about running after your tent being blown away into the lake/bog/over a ridge and so on. Think about the best order of action and what can go wrong the moment you untie something or lift a rock.
Clean your camp – try to put everything back to where you took it from.