Pitching a Tent in the Wind: Sanity-Saving Tips for Backpackers and Bikepackers

If you’ve ever spent a windy night in a tent, you know the struggle is real. When you’re hopping out at 2am to re-pound stakes, propping up poles from inside, and lying awake listening to that infernal flapping noise, the wind can make for a really long night.

My thru hikes and bikepacking trips have challenged me with windy nights on many occasions, most recently during a bikepacking trip in the Anza Borrego Desert. A cold, gusty wind howled for two nights in a row and all three of us, in separate solo tents, struggled to keep our shelters upright during the worst of it. In working through this I re-learned some old tent pitching tips I hadn’t thought about recently.

Of course the details depend on the type of shelter you’re using. A solid freestanding tent will fare better than a fussy trekking-pole-supported tarp, at least in my experience, but the same basic principles apply.

The following tent pitching tips are for smaller and lighter shelters usually carried by backpackers, bikepackers, and other self-powered types. If you’re trying to pitch one of those 8-person car camping palaces in a howling gale, I’m sorry and good luck!

Now, on to what you need to know about pitching your tent successfully and securely in the wind.

Backpacker walks toward her tent in the mountains while her braids blow in the wind
The author and her tent in a very windy granite basin on the John Muir Trail, over a decade ago.

Choose a sheltered spot, if possible. When the wind is really ripping, any amount of shelter helps. It’s worth taking time to find a spot downwind of a boulder, bush, or rise in the landscape. Avoid exposed ridgetops, and valleys that funnel the wind.

MSR Hubba Hubba bikepack tent pitched next to juniper bush with bike nearby
This campsite was very strategically placed downwind of a large juniper bush for shelter from the wind.

Orient your tent so the smallest side is facing into the wind. This may be the single most important tip of them all. How to tell which way the wind is blowing? Rotate your head and body until you hear the noise of the wind evenly in both ears. Of course sometimes the wind direction changes… just do the best you can. The goal is to avoid having the wind hit the long side of your tent straight-on.

If your tent is a larger 2 or 3 person model, you may not have a “smaller end” because the tent floor is close to a square. In this case, try to orient the shortest side facing the wind, or the side with the sturdiest guy line situation, or perhaps even a corner.

Three small tents all facing the same way in a desert valley
At this campsite the wind was coming from over those hills at the back right, so we all oriented our tents with the smallest end facing that way.

Tether everything as you work. I recently watched a friend’s tent (actually my tent, which she was borrowing!) nearly blow away across the desert while she tried to pitch it. Thankfully she has a lot of experience with gnarly weather, and she had looped one of the guy lines around her leg before she started working. Nice save! When pitching a tent in the wind, always secure each part with a heavy object or a guy line throughout the process.

Stake down the components as soon as possible. On still days I often pitch the inner and attach the fly before choosing my final position and pounding in stakes. But when the wind is howling I’ll stake down all corners of the inner before I add the poles, and before I even think about adding the fly.

Bikepacking tent strains in the wind at a desert campsite
Larger tents are harder to orient correctly because they don’t have a smaller end. Nevertheless my Copper Spur HV UL3 performed admirably at this windy campsite in the Sahara.

Angle the stakes at 90 degrees to the direction of pull. Usually this means pounding them in at roughly a 45 degree angle to the ground, with the tip pointing toward the tent and the top pointing away from it. This gives them the best chance of staying in the ground despite a strong pull.

Close up of red tent stake pounded into ground at an angle, and a guy line pulling at right angle to the stake
Pound stakes into the ground at roughly a right angle to the direction of pull for the strongest hold.

Pound the stakes in thoroughly. Use a rock if needed, but be gentle because stakes can break (we broke one doing exactly this on the recent trip in Anza Borrego).

Place heavy rocks atop or in front of vulnerable stakes. A heavy rock atop a properly angled stake, or directly in front of it, makes it much harder to pull out of the ground. Usually the door / vestibule stakes are the most likely to pull out, especially in soft soil.

Hubba Hubba bikepack tent with rocks on top of stakes for extra strength in the wind
Heavy rocks are perfect for stabilizing stakes that otherwise want to pull out.

Aim for a very taut pitch. This will give your tent better aerodynamics in the wind, and also cut down on that surprisingly noisy flapping sound. If your tent design allows, tighten up the lines midway through the night to remove slack.

A backpacking tarp sags in the wind at a ridgetop campsite
This tarp is looking pretty saggy after a windy night on the Arizona Trail. It helps to tighten up the pitch and remove slack throughout the night.

Use extra guy lines. Many shelters have a standard set of stakes and lines, plus a few extra loops for occasional use. In the wind, use them all! If you don’t have enough stakes, tie the lines off to objects like a tree, rock, or your bike.

Tent guy line looped around big rock
Using a mid-pole guy line, one that I usually ignore, for extra stability in the wind.

Use those extra loops on the inside of the fly. It’s common for double-wall tents to have velcro loops on the inside of the fly which attach to the poles. Since the fly is the part of the tent staked out most securely, this attachment transfers those forces to the poles and stabilizes the entire structure. Without it your tent poles may start leaning and collapsing inward as the poles slip against the fly.

Closeup of velcro loop around tent pole
On my Big Sky Soul, these loops on the inside of the fly help stabilize the poles in wind.

Keep the fly zipped once the tent is pitched. Otherwise you might accidentally create a sail perfect for catching the full power of the next gust.

Final suggestion: ear plugs. Once you’ve done all you can do and you’re fairly sure your tent will survive the night, sometimes it’s best to pop in your ear plugs to mute the maelstrom and try to get some sleep.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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