I’ve been to lots of state/national parks in my life and there’s one thing that always seems to confuse beginners. Many state parks, and national forests use wooden tent platforms so they can fit more campsites on otherwise unsuitable land. If you’ve ever tried to setup a tent on one of these platforms, you know that it can be a serious challenge with non-freestanding staked tents. There’s no structural integrity to the tent without a reliable place to anchor the guylines.
So how do you pitch a tent on a wooden platform? Start by setting up the tent near the rear edge of the platform. Most platforms have metal hooks or loops so you can anchor the tent. They also sell tent stakes that fit between the grooves in the boards. This is fine if you remember to bring additional guylines (or platform stakes), but you might need to get creative. Use a large rock as an anchor point or find small rocks/sticks to tie off under the boards.
Wooden Platforms Are Only A Problem For Non-Freestanding Tents
Take a quick look at your tent, before you start to freak out. If you’re new to camping and have budget gear, there’s a good chance you have a freestanding tent. If you have a non-freestanding tent that requires stakes in the corner to setup than you will have to get creative. Here’s a brief overview to figure out what kind of tent you have.
- Freestanding Tents: Look at the corners of the tent and check to see if there are metal anchor points. The pole exoskeleton goes into those metal anchors and supports the tent without needing to anchor down the corners.
- Non-Freestanding Tents: Most lightweight backpacking tents use non-freestanding designs. These tents are much lighter, and easier/faster to setup, but you need to use stakes/guylines to put up the tent. They use a simpler 1-2 pole design, which makes them lighter, but there has to be somewhere to anchor the stakes since guylines play a huge role in the tents structure.
If you can only afford to buy one tent, I recommend buying a freestanding tent. They’re far more versatile since they can be placed anywhere. The fact that you don’t need to find suitable ground to stake into is huge when camping on platforms wood/cement, rock formations, and sand.
Non-Freestanding tents are a better option for backpackers that are trying to shed pack weight. These tents are way better in inclement weather. They’re more waterproof, usually warmer, and better at protecting you from the wind. The simple pole designs are much lighter and they’re easier/faster to setup (harder to move) once you figure out the process. You may occasionally run into problems finding a place to drive in stakes, but there are creative workarounds you can use(trees, rocks, etc.).
How to Pitch A Tent On A Wood Platform
Pitching a tent on a wooden platform isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Think about it like any other structure where it would be difficult to use tent stakes. It’s just like anchoring down on a rocky surface or sand.
They sell wood platform stakes (I Use These), but I doubt you have them unless you’ve dealt with this situation before. Wood platform stakes slide between the board gaps so you have anchor points wherever you need them. I’ll give you a better explanation on how to use them below.
You can also use the metal anchors and tie down loops that are found on most platforms. These work well enough, but they do have some issues. The biggest problem is they’re a one size fits all approach so they never seem to be in the right place. This leads to awkward guyline setups where you need to rig up extra lines. You also need to have longer lines than you would typically use.
There are other less conventional ways to tie down using sticks, stones, and trees that I’ll go into further detail below.
Most Wooden Platforms Have Metal Anchors/Loops To Tie Down
Almost every wood platform I’ve used has had metal anchors or rope loops to tie down your tent. In most situations, this is probably the easiest solution to your problem. Just find the anchors on the outside of the platform and tie down the guylines.
Every tent has a slightly different footprint so you may need to creatively rig up your lines so it’s structurally sound. You may want to use some of the other methods I mention below so your tent doesn’t wobble in rainy/windy weather. The following video gives you a good rundown on using these anchors points.
Use Dedicated Wood Platform Stakes
I didn’t realize how much I needed wood platform stakes until after I bought them. They’re way better than using the metal tie downs/loops that are built onto platforms. I bought a 10 pack of wood platform anchors a few years ago and I absolutely love them. They’re made by a no-name Chinese company, but the work really well for the price.
Think about it for a second! Every tent has a slightly different footprint and needs guylines/stakes in a different spot. Using the built in anchors forces you to compromise the structural integrity of the tent. This is fine in nice weather, but it can quickly turn into a problem with rain/wind. If the angles are slightly off the tent will start flopping around and flailing in the wind and may even get blown over.
You don’t have to worry about any of that with anchors that slide through the boards. Just find a board with a gap between the boards and slide the anchor wherever it needs to go. There’s no need to carry extra guylines and figure out funky setups that barely work.
Get Creative With Rocks and Under Board Tie Downs
What if you don’t have board stakes and don’t have long enough guylines to reach the anchor points. That’s when you will need to get creative and find a solution to the problem. There are a few tried and true methods for setting up a non-freestanding tent when you can’t use stakes.
Treat the wood deck platform like any other rocky or sandy surface. Most of us have ran into situations where staking down our tents isn’t possible. You’re in the exact same situation on a wood platform. There is one major benefit to staying on a wood platform! You can find creative ways to use the board gaps.
On an elevated deck, your first step should be trying to feed the guylines through the board gaps. Feed the lines through the deck and use rocks/sticks to tie off underneath. Then use tensioners from above to tighten up the straps.
You need start getting creative if there’s no way to get your hands under the deck. Start off by looking for nearby trees to tie off on. That should hopefully get a few corners out of the way.
Next you will need to find a few small rocks/twigs and bigger rocks to go with them. Tie your guyline around the small rock, place it where you would normally stake in, and use a bigger rock between the tent and small rock to anchor the line down.
The video below should give you a better idea of what I’m talking about. There are several factors that impact the overall strength of this system, but the biggest is how big of a rock you use for the big rock. So bigger is always better in this instance.
Consider Buying A Freestanding Tent
With a freestanding tent you won’t have to worry about any of these problems. The tent will stand up on its own without needing to be anchored around the edges. Most of the budget tents you find at Walmart and Sporting Goods stores use freestanding designs.
Freestanding tents definitely have their problems, but it’s a cheap and easy solution to get around the problem. They can be put up anywhere including shelters, concrete, and tent platforms. The main downside is they’re harder to setup and much heavier for backpackers.
Personally, I think it’s worth heading down to your local Walmart and picking up a cheap $20 freestanding tent if you know that you’ll be staying on a wooden platform. You don’t have to worry about durability issues since there’s no chance of punctures on a platform, and you won’t be confined to a corner of the platform.