"Fast-Up" Set-Up

What It Is And How To Do It

Note: This article is an adaptation of the handout I used for a class on the subject at the SCA's West Kingdom Arts & Sciences Tourney. It also includes a few paragraphs from other items on this web site, because they relate to the subject matter here. So if parts of this article seem familiar to you, that's why.

I have often watched people setting up big tents in strong winds (and done it myself more times than I care to count). As I watched one person (or two or three) on the team struggling to keep a pole upright with many square yards of fabric fighting them, while another person (or two or three) tries to get the guy ropes set and the stakes driven, I thought "There has to be a better way." The method I describe, which I call "fast-up" tent pitching, may well be that way for you. By "fast-up," I don't necessarily mean that you tent will go up faster than it would have if pitched any other way (although it very well might), but that the interval from the time it is lying on the ground until the moment that it's up and guyed has been reduced to its absolute minimum. This is important, especially in windy conditions, because this interval is the time when the tent is most susceptible to damage and is hardest to control.

To use this method, you must first find some way to attach the ropes to the canopy of the pavilion. In most Dragonwing pavilions (but not their sunshades), the ropes are attached to the canopy or some rigid part of the frame via eye-pins, so this step is automatic. For rectangular or square tents made by Panther Primitives, Tentmasters, or Tentsmiths (hereinafter referred to generically as PantherMasterSmiths, or PMS), and for the "BC" style sunshades, the ropes may be affixed to the canopy via retainers on the spikes of the side poles. These retainers are made from a fender washer sized to fit loosely over the spike, and piece of tubing or hose of a size to fit snugly on the spike, as shown on the left side of the first illustration. These retainers may be removed once the tent is up, or they may be left in place. If you want an even more secure, but less aesthetic, arrangement, you can substitute the iron rod stock in the pole with threaded rod stock, and the tubing with an appropriately sized wing nut, as shown on the right.

Figure 1: The rope retainer arrangement

(This set-up method doesn't work very well with the PMS "marquee" style of tent because the canopies of this style are too prone to distort when laid on the ground, thus making it difficult to tell from the spread-out tent exactly where the side poles will end up positioning themselves. These marquees are usually set up by first raising the center poles via the tent's "wind lines." But using a variation of the "fast-up" method, the stakes for securing the wind lines can be accurately placed ahead of time so that the center-poles, once raised, will be securely guyed.)

The ropes must also be marked in some way to indicate the distance from the pole that the stake will be driven in. This distance should be at least four feet for a six- or seven-foot pole. I tie a knot in the rope at the desired distance, so I always know where the stake is supposed to be. To locate where this knot is to be, spread out the tent in the normal way, making sure that the outline of the tent is accurately maintained That is, it should be as square as possible, like it is when it's set up. If it's a round pavilion, make sure that the top describes a circle and not an oval. Put the side poles into their grommets around the top, but don't lift up on them yet. Put the ropes onto the studs in the side pole and put on the retainers to keep them there. On each rope, measure out 4' (48") from the top of the pole and tie a knot there. If the tent is a very large one, with higher walls than 7', or if it's a large "BC" type sunshade, you might want to measure out 5' or even more. Now you're done with the prep work.

If your round tent is stayed by ropes coming off their attachment points on a diagonal (as the Dragonwing rounds do, because it's far more stable an arrangement), you need a slightly different method. Lay the ring out on the ground and measure out 4' from the ring; that's where the stake goes. Now stretch out the two ropes that go to each stake and arrange them to cross at the point where the stake is. Tie your guide knots there. (See figure two; the knots here are easy to locate because that's also where the rope flags are.) You needn't use the canopy fabric itself at this point, although I used it in the picture because the ring would have been damn hard to see without it.

Figure 2: Locating the knots on a diagonally-guyed round pavilion

To set up the tent, first lay it on the ground exactly where it is to be pitched. If the tent is rectangular, make sure that all the eaves are straight lines. If it is a "BC" type of sunshade, you only need to be concerned with the area defined by the pole grommets, not the parts that will become the sides (that is, the area between the side poles at the top and the ground at the bottom).

When the canopy is entirely spread out and positioned correctly, put the spikes on the side poles, put the rope on top of the spike, and put on the washer-and-hose (or wingnut) combination to keep the ropes on the spikes. Extend the rope outward and drive a stake into the ground where your guide knot is on your rope. Slip the "ground" end of the rope onto the stake. Adjust the rope so that it will be only a little slacker than its tensioned length when the tent is up. If you don't know what this length is, adjust it temporarily to about eight feet. Later, this dimension can also be indexed for future setups. DO NOT lift up the side pole at this time!

Figure 3: Positioning the stakes via the knots

Go around the tent completely until all the stakes, poles, and ropes are in place. When everything is ready, go to the windward side of the tent and start raising poles to their upright position. When all the poles are up on the windward side, install the center pole or poles. Then install all the rest of the side poles. Note that as you raise poles, everything will already be braced, and nothing is going to go anywhere a much safer and more reliable way than having somebody try to hold the pole vertical while somebody else pounds in a stake and rope to secure it.

If your tent is a round pavilion with a ring, you have no side poles to lift. You just need to raise the center pole. If you first lift the ring on the windward side, the wind will help you lift the canopy-and-ring assembly. With a little practice, you can go from flat-on-the-ground to raised-and-secured in about five seconds or less.

Figure 4: The round pavilion raised

Once canopy is raised, the ropes can be re-adjusted for minimum canopy wrinkles and best overall shape. The sides of the tent may then be hung in the usual way.

High-wind camping

Most high-wind failures of tents are due to either stakes that were too small for the load, or stakes that were pounded in too close to the tent wall. Dragonwing provides sixteen-inch stakes for most of the ropes in our tents that get serious loads in winds, and they suffice in all but the windiest weather, or in all but the loosest soil. But if you have an abundance of either condition, or a combination of the two, or shorter stakes, or another type of tent, here are some things you can do to keep yourself connected to terra firma. These instructions were written with the Dragonwing tents in mind, but should work well with the PMS tents and most home-built large tents.

Rope Adjustments

Ropes need to be properly tensioned and adjusted to work well. The simplest adjuster is a slip knot. It's not too difficult to tie. Here's how:

Figure 5: The slip knot
Slip-knots work very well on most synthetic ropes, but not as well on natural ropes such as sisal, or manila. On these ropes, it's easier to use a rope slide. Here's a diagram of the kind of slide that Dragonwing uses on its tents:
Figure 6: Dragonwing's rope slider
The length is really not critical; the greater the length, the more leverage you can put on them but the more slack they put into the rope when released. Our sliders are made from 1" x 2" (actually 1 1/2" by 3/4") red oak, available at most large lumber centers. Don't use plywood or softwood. The holes are 1/8" larger than the diameter of your rope. Note that the holes are drilled at an angle. The slider should be threaded so that the holes are parallel to the rope when the rope is slack. This increases the "bite" on the rope when the slider is tightened. Be sure to "chamfer" or bevel the edges of the hole so they won't eat into the rope.

Index of Previous Columns

Other articles you can read, mostly on tentmaking and medieval tents

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