Are Trekking Pole Tents Sturdy?

When I first started looking at trekking pole tents I was really worried about how they would stand up in windy/rainy weather. I had a hard time believing a tent would hold up without traditional poles. Trekking pole tents significantly reduce pack weight, but do you give up structural integrity? How sturdy are trekking pole tents? I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my trekking pole tent after using it for a while and getting used to it.

Most pyramid style trekking pole tents will be sturdier than common 3-Season freestanding shelters. Once you figure out the correct way to put them up a trekking pole tent will be able to withstand wind, rain, hail, sleet, and light snowfall. Just make sure the tent has a floor in inclement weather, because rain/snow will get under the sides.

You really need to practice putting up a trekking pole tent for it to be sturdy. Learning the correct way to pitch the tent and making sure your stakes are in the right place is 99% of the battle. If your stakes are too far apart the sides will collapse in and cause serious structural problems.

Are Trekking Pole Tents Sturdy?

Yes most trekking pole tents are sturdy, but you need to figure out the right way to set it up. Most tent collapses are the result of an improperly setup tent. The guylines aren’t tight enough, trekking poles are too far apart, pole height is wrong, or the tent stakes pull out. Trekking pole tends are sturdier than a conventional freestanding tent once you figure out a cure to all of these common pitfalls.

  • Tightening Your Guylines: Every trekking pole tent is different so you will need to experiment with the guylines a bit. You usually have to follow the lines of the tent. Start on the outside back edge running straight with the tent back, raise up the tent and stake out the main guyline to hold tension, and finish by staking the front corners straight with the front edge.
  • Pole Height: Adjust your trekking pole height to create tension in walls of your tent. A short pole won’t have enough tension on the side walls and tall pole will throw off the angle of the tent. Look at how the tent walls stretch and try to get a perfect triangle.
  • Tent Stakes Pull Out: Make sure the ground is sturdy enough to hold in the stakes. MSR Groundhog tent stakes are by far the best stakes on the market, because they have a firm hold in almost every type of soil. The only time you might have problems is rock surfaces and sandy soil.

Practice Setting Up The Tent To Figure Out Pitch

You really need to practice and figure out  how to get the perfect pitch for your trekking pole tent. With a poor pitch angle your tent will flail in the wind and potentially collapse. Don’t Worry! It won’t take long to figure everything out.  It took about 20 minutes to figure out my tent and now it takes less the 5 minutes to setup.  

When I go to set up my trekking pole tent I treat it just like any other tent. Finding the correct campsite makes a huge difference. Look for a flat surface with ground that’s soft enough to drive tent stakes in, but hard enough for them to hold.  

I like to hold a few stakes in my pocket before looking for a place to set up camp.  Once you find a spot test out the ground by pushing in a stake. There should be at least 20lbs of pull pressure on the stakes when you go to pull it out. So if it’s easy to pull them out you need to find another spot.

The following video should help you figure out the correct way to pitch your tent. I’ll give a brief description of the video below for further info.

  1. Start With Zipper Closed: Once you find a suitable spot, it’s time to start setting up the tent.  I’ve found that it’s easier to get the perfect pitch by starting with the tents zipper closed. You can get better tension on the corners.
  2. Stake The Back Corners: Your first step is to stake out the back 2 corners. There should be some type of guyout point on the back of your tent. Pull out the guyout point and give yourself a few inches of rope at the other end so there’s enough room to grab it. Pull out the guylines so they run parallel to the back of the tent and stake them down.  Repeat the process on the other side of the tent back. Try to get the two guyline points as straight as possible on the back. Wait until the tent’s raised up to stake the front.  
  3. Bring The Trekking Pole Into The Tent: Once the back is setup you can move to the front of the tent, insert the trekking pole and go from there.  How many trekking poles you need depends on the tent so check with the manufacturer directions. 
  4. Figure Out Trekking Pole Height: Reading the directions will also give you an idea of how tall the trekking pole should be in the tent.  This really helps simplify the setup process since there’s less to experiment with.  Start out with what they suggest. You might need to slightly raise or lower the pole after setup to get the right pitch angle. I took a sharpie and made a few marks on my pole so I get it right everytime.
  5. Insert The Trekking Pole Into The Holder Flaps: Most trekking pole tents will have some kind of pocket in the top of the tent to insert the pole. The pocket is reinforced so you can leave the metal tips on without damaging the tent.
  6. Raise The Tent: Raise up the tent and from this point you should be able to see the shape of the tent you’re trying to achieve. This is the most important step when trying to get the perfect pitch.  Adjust the trekking poles so you get as much tension as possible on the walls of the tent.  Try to get the rear triangle as tight as possible.  
  7. Adjust Your Peak Guyline: Once you figure out the right trekking pole height it’s time to adjust the peak guyline.  Raise up your pole and use the guyline to hold tension on the pole.Pull the guyline out and stake it down wherever the tent starts to hold it tight shape.  With multiple pole tents you will repeat this step on the other pole after geting one of the sides up. You might need to bring in your poles a bit if the sidewalls look loose.
  8. Setup The Vestibule: All trekking pole tents are different, but at this point I like to adjust the vestibule.  With oddly shaped tents like hexpeaks you might need to adjust a few more guylines. Just pull out the vestibule and use the clip to tighten it up. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should hold its shape.
  9. Stake The Front: Now that the tent is standing on its own, it’s time to stake out the front 2 corners.  Start on one of the sides and try to fallow the lines that come off the tent naturally. Look for 45 degree angles to create a perfect triangle for added stability.
  10. Look For Other Guyout Points:  Most tents have guyout points on the back of the tent to stabilize the tent walls.  I recommend running your guyline at a 90 degree angle off the back of the tent and attach it to another trekking pole or stick.  This pulls the fabric out tightening it up and adds additional space inside the tent.  Running this line straight to the ground will strengthen up the sides, but it won’t be as tight.

So does your tent look perfect with absolutely no flaws?  Of course it doesn’t! It’s impossible to setup a tent with the perfect pitch.  There will always be slight imperfections with angles and line length, but your tent should be structurally sound if you’ve followed this guide.

Some Trekking Pole Tents Are Poorly Designed

Most trekking pole tents are well made, but there are some duds on the market. Look for time tested designs that you see with every manufacturer and read lots of reviews before picking out a tent. Reviews that mention loose sidewalls are dead giveaways when it comes to tent design.

A well designed tent should have straight sidewalls with tight fabric. Of course, that’s only if you know how to properly pitch the tent.

Choose High Quality Tent Stakes

Your tent stakes are worthless if they won’t stay in the ground. There’s a huge difference in quality between the cheap steel stakes that come with most tents and premium options. A typical steel stake has about 7lbs of holding power in most situations. Plus they weigh about 4oz each.

A well designed V or Y stake like the MSR Groundhog has 20-30lbs of holding pressure. So if there’s 5 stakes in the ground, it would take 100-150lbs of force to uproot the tent. That’s possible in a hurricane, but highly unlikely in a normal storm. I’ve faced 60mph gusts and had no structural problems. The trekking poles will snap before the stakes pull out.

What If My Trekking Pole Breaks?

This is by far the biggest concern most people have with trekking pole tents. What happens if your trekking pole snaps on a hike? First off lets point out how unlikely it is for a trekking pole to snap/bend. I’ve went on 100s of hikes in my life and only snapped a trekking pole once. That only happened because I lost my footing climbing over rocks and the pole got wedged between 2 boulders.

Obviously, it’s possible to break a trekking pole, but highly unlikely. Can you setup a tent with a broken pole? With a single pole tent this isn’t a problem at all. Just use the other pole to setup the tent and a stick for the rear tension line. With a multi-pole tent you will need to find the right height using one of the poles and use that pole to match the height with a stick. It might take you an extra 5 minutes to find a stick to use so it’s not that big of a deal.

Find The Right Spot For Your Tent

Finding the right spot to setup your tent is crucial. You can’t just look for the perfect view and setup the tent wherever you want. The tents structural integrity depends on the tension in your guylines. Look for a spot with firm ground that’s just soft enough to drive your stakes in.

It really is a balancing act where the ground needs to be soft enough to drive stakes in, but hard enough to hold them in. Choosing high quality stakes like the MSR Groundhog will make it easier to find suitable ground. They won’t bend when you drive them in and they hold in almost any surface type (except sand/snow).

Once you’ve found the right patch of dirt you will have to figure out tent direction. I recommend taking a few minutes to figure out the wind direction. The easiest way to determine wind direction is to light a match or lighter and watch the direction of the flame/smoke. Wind will push the flame/smoke and immediately tell you the wind direction.

Pitch your tent so that it’s facing into the direction of the wind. Direct the lowest narrowest part of the tent towards the wind and try pitching at an angle so the gust spread out evenly over the tent. Pitching it against the wind turns your tent into a giant wind sail and causes the walls to cave in. This can be alleviated by tightening up your guylines and adjusting their angle, but it’s always better to start with the right tent position.

It’s Hard To Set Them Up On Hard Rocky Ground

Setting up a trekking pole tent can be a challenge on hard rocky ground. A trekking pole tent is worthless without proper line tension. There are ways to get around this by taking advantage of your surroundings.

I like to look for tree branches to use as additional guyline points. Use the branches to canopy the tent out almost like a hammock. A guyline running off each corner of the tent should prevent collapse, but you still need to tension up the sides so the walls won’t flail in the wind.

Use a combination of large and small rocks to tie off your guylines. Wrap the line around the small rock and put it in place. Take a larger rock and set it between the tent and smaller rock. Think about it for a minute. A typical Y or V stake like the MSR Groundhog has 20lbs of holding pressure and a steel/aluminum stake has 15 lbs. So you need to find a rock that’s at least 15lbs (20-30 is preferred).