Unravelling the Mystery of Guy Lines: A Primer for Beginner Campers

Have you ever been wrestling with a tent and its rogue guy lines during your first camping adventure? If so, fear not; you are not alone. What are these crisscrossing cords for, and how do we use them correctly?


What are Guy Lines?

In the camping world, guy lines are nothing short of a lifeline for your shelter. These long cords, or ropes if you like, attached to the outer fly of your tent play a vital role. They help anchor your tent to the ground and stabilise it, mainly when Mother Nature throws temper tantrums in wind, rain, or even the dreaded snow.

An adequately guyed tent can withstand the elements much more effectively, ensuring you stay dry and safe. Additionally, they serve as an extension between your tent and the tent pegs, providing an all-important tension that keeps your tent taut and in shape.

Setting Up Your Guy Lines

Sounds technical. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds. Let’s break it down.

  • Stake out your tent. Make sure it’s correctly positioned and pinned firmly to the ground.
  • Attach the loose end of each guy line to a tent peg. The peg should be pushed into the ground at an angle, away from the tent.
  • Start with the windward side (the side facing the wind). Attach the guy lines here first to counter the force of the wind.
  • Tighten the lines. By doing this, you’re steering your tent away from becoming a makeshift parachute. But remember, you don’t want it to be too tight to avoid stressing the tent fabric and seams.

How Tight Should Guy Lines Be?

“Ah, so how tight is too tight?” I hear you ask. A good rule of thumb is that your guy lines should be tight enough to keep your tent in place and maintain its shape but not so tight that it distorts the tent or areas undue stress on the tent fabric, seams, or poles. Too much tension could result in tearing or other damage, and let’s face it – a broken tent shelter is no fun in the great outdoors.

Do the lines slacken overnight? It happens – temperature changes can cause tent fabric to shrink or expand, affecting the tension. So, giving your lines a check and a quick adjustment each morning and evening is a good idea. Remember, practice makes perfect, and you’ll be a guy-line guru soon!

Do I need to use all the Guy Lines I get?

Maybe. It depends a little on the tent’s design, but with little wind, you can avoid stacking everything out. However, some tent designs rely on the guy lines to maximise internal space in the tent, and as soon as a bit of wind picks up, it’s a good idea to have them in place. 

While yes, not using all the guy lines for your tent can appear to save time, when Mother Nature comes knocking – you’ll wish you had taken those extra five minutes to secure everything. So now I make it a point to use all the guy lines provided. These ropes aren’t there as a decorative element or to trip you up in the middle of the night; they provide extra support and stability to your tent. Think of them as the bodyguards to your tent, protecting them from the wind’s haymakers and keeping everything upright. 

The rule of thumb I live by now – if they’re there, there’s a reason. These lines are convenient when the campsite ground is soft, the tent’s overall structure isn’t as sturdy, or the weather is rough. Think of it like this – those extra ropes are like insurance. They’re a bit of a nuisance until you find yourself needing them.

Quick Hacks for Mastering Guy Lines

  • Remember, a clean, unbruised face and intact body parts are eternally more popular than the alternative. Using guy lines that are reflective or brightly coloured can be a real noggin saver. If you find yourself without these, add orange flagging tape or illuminative material to each line. Your midnight trips to the loo just got a whole lot safer.
  • A ship in a storm needs an anchor. The principle is the same here. It would be best to have your lines firm but not snug-as-a-bug firm—you don’t want to risk damaging your tent fabric. A smidgen of tension will help keep the natural fibres of your guy line in check.
  • Invest in quality stakes; I assure you, it’s not just because they look prettier. Although it might hurt shelling out for high-calibre stakes, the standard ones are more of a letdown than a trust fall going wrong. They twist and bend in an undesirable manner, making your dark-time set-ups a nightmarish experience. More support never hurt anyone!
  • Acquaint yourself with knot-tying skills well before your camping expedition starts.
  • Pack an illuminating friend in the form of a flashlight or a headlamp. You don’t want to be the blundering oaf tripping over tent flaps in the dark.

Don’t forget about your pegs.

The thin, short pegs that come with many tents, awnings, and shelters are often not enough for high winds – once one pulls out of the ground, another does, and another, and shortly afterwards, the tent or shelter folds, damaging the equipment.

Whenever buying a new tent, I strongly suggest grabbing a selection of heavier pegs suitable for various substrates you might be setting up on. Dirt, sand, and mud (after rain) can require longer, thicker pegs to suitably hold the guy ropes down.

Keep a couple of sets in the vehicle when you go camping. You might not need them, but if the wind picks up, it’s good to have them as an option. Don’t forget a suitable rubber mallet.