Setting up Tent at Night – How to Do It Properly?

A campsite with tents set up at night

Setting up a tent at night is a demanding task. Not only is it dangerous, but the poor conditions can cause you to make mistakes which can ruin your camping trip. And this is something you will want to avoid at any cost.

So, how to set up a camp at night?

Overcoming the challenges of setting up a tent at night will take some preparation, improvisation, and persistence. Get to know your camping location well before leaving, and prepare redundancies of the most necessary items to overcome the conditions you’ll be facing. 

This guide is going to help you prepare for this task, so make sure to keep reading.

Table of Contents

Recognize the Challenges of Setting Up a Tent at Night

There are many things that won’t be going your way when setting up a tent at night. Make sure you identify the immediate difficulties, so you can overcome them before they become major problems.


The outdoors can be very dark at night. This is especially true on a moonless or overcast night, or when moving through the woods to your potential campsite.

In bad visibility conditions, it will be difficult to find a good place to make camp. Setting up your tent will be next to impossible. So, your main concern should be to increase your range of vision.

Mental State

If you’re looking to make camp at night, that means you’ve probably been hiking the entire day. Raising your tent and making a campsite is something that requires a lot of work with tools and should require your complete focus. Doing it while you’re tired after a day’s hike is not the best idea.

In addition to this, traveling through open country at night and looking for a place to set up camp will definitely fray your nerves. Apart from the darkness, there will be a plethora of sounds coming from various directions. If you’re not used to such things, it can get pretty spooky.

Needless to say, working in these conditions means raising your tent will take longer and you will be more likely to make mistakes or sustain injuries.


It’s almost impossible to get a good idea about the lay of the land at night. Even if you have a flashlight, your vision will be limited to the light it provides.

If you find a potential spot, it will take some time to explore the surrounding area. You don’t want to make your camp in a natural flooding area or next to some animal’s home.

Determining the best place to set up your tent will be a difficult task.


There is usually increased animal activity during nighttime and this can slow down the process of setting up camp. Luckily, if you’re not wild-camping, there shouldn’t be a lot of animals around. All areas that allow camping usually have a tight animal control system.

If you are wild-camping, know which animals you could encounter in a particular area and learn how to properly avoid or deal with them. There are deterrents you can get for some animals that will allow you to successfully keep them away from your campsite.

How to Choose the Best Spot For the Campsite

Choosing the right place for your campsite and tent isn’t just about picking a flat piece of land. You should know what the land looks like and where the elevations and depressions are.

It would be great to memorize a map of the area, or even better, to have one on you.

Once you get a good idea of your whereabouts, here are a few tips to ensure you have an easy time setting up the tent, and no unpleasant surprises in the morning.

  • Set up your tent on the high ground – this is how you can make sure you don’t end up covered in water draining from higher ground.
  • Find cover from the wind and the elements – big rocks or trees are good options.
  • Make sure you have a designated fire area – dig a hole, surround the fire with rocks and avoid setting a fire under trees or close to flammable material.
  • Avoid camping directly under a tree – this is generally a bad idea in case of thunderstorms, but it also isn’t a smart move to start your campfire under a tree.

Get Proper Lighting Before You Start Setting Up the Tent at Night

As we’ve already mentioned, the main issue with making camp during nighttime is visibility. So, make sure you have lots of light to see what you are doing.

Light up the area to set up a tent at night with ease

A fire is a good start. Not only does it improve visibility, but it also provides warmth and wards off animals. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough by itself.

To make things as easy as possible, you’ll need to make sure that the entire area you plan on using is well illuminated. The best thing to do is to get multiple light sources. It will help you see everything clearly, while not casting shadows over what you are doing.

If you only have one light source, attach it to your clothing so that it is facing forward and away from you. It should provide enough visibility and leave your hands free to set up the tent. In these situations, having a headlamp can prove very useful.

Being Prepared Makes Setting Up a Tent at Night Much Easier

As far as camping trips are concerned, nothing beats coming well prepared. Unfortunately, not a lot of people expect they will have to make camp after nightfall, so it is difficult to be prepared for this exact situation.

The good news is that it is less difficult to predict the conditions you will be facing on your camping trip. Hiking trips with longer trails or camping in places where night falls quickly (such as mountains or woods) are both likely to force you to set up a tent after nightfall.

Redundancies are your best friends if you can afford to have them. Having more than one source of light will greatly help you, but may present a weight problem. Likewise, carrying a map of the local area along with the tools necessary to read it can get pretty heavy.

Another way to prepare for setting up a tent at night is to know the area by heart. This can range from easy, if you’re camping somewhere you’ve camped before, to extremely difficult, if you’re in a completely unfamiliar location.

However, no matter where you’re camping, you should still take a look at some maps of the area and get familiar with what kind of terrain, weather, and animals you might encounter there.

Finally, you should prepare an exit strategy. Make a plan of what you will do if all else fails and you are not able to set up your tent that night.

Alternatives to Setting Up a Tent at Night

If you don’t have to set up your tent after it gets dark, you should definitely avoid it. Depending on where you’re planning to set up camp, or how far you are from civilization, there are many alternatives.

Find Other Sleeping Arrangements

Going back to your car and sleeping there is the best option. You can set up the tent tomorrow after you wake up.

Unfortunately, sometimes the car is too far away to get back to, or you didn’t drive in the first place. In these cases, the next best thing would be to find a mountain home or hotel to spend the night in. This all depends on whether there are any nearby. Another reason you should get informed about the area you plan to camp in.

Set Up Your Tent Before It Gets Dark

Alternatively, you can set up your tent before it gets dark, even if it’s not in the location you were planning on.

You should still keep in mind the advice we gave about choosing the best terrain, but things will go much faster, as you’ll be able to see more clearly.

Always Have an Emergency Set Up Prepared

Emergency bivy bag, also known as “body bag” in many camping and survivalist circles, is a waterproof, well-insulated one man, no-pole foldable tent, very similar in appearance to its nickname. You can use it to sleep in without any additional cover over or under you, and if you line it with a Mylar blanket, you can be reasonably warm even in wet and windy conditions. It is incredibly easy and quick to set up and you can fold it back up once you’re done.

Even though it is far from ideal, the emergency bivy can save lives in cold, windy, or wet conditions and it is pretty lightweight considering its value. A serious camper should never leave on a camping trip without one.

To Sum It Up

Here are the four things you should never forget when going on a camping trip and setting up a tent after nightfall:

  • Know where you’ll be camping and what you’ll be facing
  • Come prepared for the conditions
  • Have redundancies and alternatives
  • Have an exit strategy or a plan B

Finally, remember to always review your campsite once the visibility increases. Double-check everything and make improvements to your camp if necessary. Find more useful tips about camping and outdoor life on our blog, and have an easier time camping in any condition.

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