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August 10, 2012

You really don't have to be perfect to set up a tent

Daily Star

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I'd thought I had seen it all when it came to setting up a tent.

I watched a young couple set up a tent in the Adirondacks a few years back. It was a small, free-standing, backpacker's tent, so once assembled, they could move it just about anywhere.

Setting it up didn't seem to be a problem, but then the young guy moved it to the side of the lean-to. It fit perfectly between the trees. Before long, he pushed in his stakes and started to put their backpacks and other belongings inside their shelter.

Suddenly, we heard it.

There was a definite rip, followed by a loud collection of expletives that aren't normally used in public or mixed company. When the guy stepped into the tent, a 5-inch tall, 3-inch stump he never saw pushed right up through the floor of his nylon haven. Looking on the bright side, at least he had a place to sweep out any dirt that happened to get tracked in or a good drain hole in case the creek got too high.

But then there's my cousin.

She came down from Massachusetts last week to camp with us on our hill. While most of us camp in RVs, Nancy insisted on setting up her tent. That's where the problems began.

It had been several years since Nancy set up her tent, so she looked over the directions before she started.

Putting the two main poles together wasn't that difficult. After all, a bungee cord runs down through the center of each one.

Sliding them into the pole sleeves was only a slight challenge. The poles formed hoops that held the tent up when pushed into holders on opposite corners of the tent.

Basically, all that was left was staking it down and putting the rain fly over the top.

Yeah right!

There happened to be a slight slope where Nancy decided to put her tent. Normally, that's not a problem; you just stake it down and go. But for Nancy, this caused a definite dilemma.

She used a large hammer to pound the 10-inch steel stakes into each corner of the tent. For some reason beyond our comprehension, she wasn't satisfied because the tent wasn't perfectly square.

Besides that, the stake loops on each side of the tent were several inches off the ground, meaning something must be wrong. The only reasonable solution was to pull the stakes and move the tent ever so slightly to the right ... or maybe to the left.

This rearranging continued for nearly half an hour, and nothing ever got better. Soon, she wasn't happy with the bowed tent poles because their arches didn't look like she thought they would.

It's only a place to sleep, so what's the big deal if it doesn't look absolutely perfect? I don't know.

Nancy finally decided it would have to do, so it was on to the rain fly.

Two shorter poles crossed diagonally on the bottom of the fly, which was placed over the top of the tent. We helped her fasten short bungees to each corner and tie the two sides to stakes just outside the tent.

"I don't think it goes like that," she declared.

So Nancy turned the fly a quarter of the way around, which made virtually no difference because it was perfectly square, and the supporting rope ended up directly in front of the door. That meant every time she went into or out of the tent, she had to maneuver around the rope.

But the tent was finally up and she was somewhat happy (she fussed with it the entire weekend).

We all laughed and figured it would have been a lot easier just to move into one of the campers and sleep in a comfortable bed.

Nancy stayed in her tent most of the weekend and became one with nature, which made her camping adventure worthwhile.

It gave us plenty of entertainment as well.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at