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leslie's guiding traditions

Camping was a part of Guiding from earliest times. In the early days of Guiding, the tents tended to be ex-army bell tents. As the old Guiding book, "Campcraft" said "Bell tents have many good points but they are heavy, and their weak spot is their ventilation. If the door is opened a large portion of the tent floor may be exposed to the rain; and they are apt to be draughty if the wall is raised. On the other hand, they stand better in a wind than any other shape of tent."   

Drive in two pegs (back to back, touching and upright) to mark where the centre pole will be positioned, and to pull the pole against when raising it. Join up the pole, then drive in four pegs, each a pole's-length from the centre pegs you have inserted - A where the door will be, B directly opposite, C and D directly opposite each other at the direct right angles. Open out the tent flat in the form of a rough triangle with the door uppermost, the bottom edge of the tent against the centre P and the cap in the direction of peg B. Make sure the ventilator hoops are fully open; they sometimes get bent in packing and this cannot be remedied once the tent is pitched.  

Next find and undo the main guys, which, with an army bell, will be the first, sixth, and thirteenth, counting from the front to the left, and the second, seventh, and thirteenth counting from the front to the right. This, however, varies according to the size of the bell in use. On some tents certain guys are distinctly marked, but as a rule these markings will not be of use for the method of pitching described here. Slip the two side guys over the side pegs C and D, leaving the rope at its full length.

Insert the pole, fitting the head carefully into the grommet (which can be reached through a ventilator) and place the butt against the centre pegs you inserted. To raise the tent, choose one strong, sturdy person to steady the pole, preventing the butt from slipping out of place, while another raises the top until the strain is taken by a third person holding the first and second guys which are both slipped onto the front peg A as soon as the tent is upright. Meantime the second Guide slips the back guy over the back peg B. Tighten the side guys and the tent guyed at four points will stand. Adjust all four guys until the pole is absolutely straight. If there is a strong wind, four additional pegs can be quickly driven in, one between each of the main guys. These are useful in any case to show how the tent is setting. (It occasionally happens that tents are inadvertently issued with guy lines and poles of incorrect length. If the pole is too long or the guys too short, strain will be experienced in raising the tent, in which case the pegs will have to be moved closer to the centre.)

Hook the door brailing across. Undo and peg down the remaining guy ropes, beginning with the two on either side of the back peg B, then work forward on each side towards the front peg A, which can eventually be removed. If there is only one person available the pegs should be put in alternately on either side to take the strain on both sides evenly. When the whole is standing symmetrically, go round and tighten up the guys alternately on each side. By this means there is an even tension all round so that the canvas is well set and there is no undue strain at any point.

Draw the sod cloth inside and peg down the tent walls, which should incline slightly inwards so that water from the eaves will not drip on to them. The slight incline inwards allows for the ropes and canvas shrinking when wet. Is is easier to put in brailing pegs if the guy rope immediately above it is taken off for the moment. Put in the brailing loop over the peg after the latter is in, otherwise the mallet is apt to chafe the canvas and the loop may get buried. Undo wall door, throw back the flaps (two sections), remove peg A (which is in the centre of the doorway), and roll or loop up the brailing to air the tent, which will otherwise smell very stuffy as the result of being packed away in a bag.

To strike the tent, take out all the brailing pegs, release and coil all ropes, sliding the runners up then tying the ropes in double overhand knots, with the exception of the four main guys. Then put in two pegs behind the centre pole, to help support it. The tent will be lowered away from these two pegs. One person should stand by each of the four remaining guy ropes, and one at the centre poll. The four guys are lifted off the pegs, and each person takes the strain as they lower the tent down. The centre pole can then be carefully slipped out, and the tent laid out as flat as possible, and uncreased, in the form of a rough triangle with the ventilators folded back. Fold the tent from top to bottom several times, until the tent is in a strip slightly narrower than the length of the tent bag. Lift the ends over to within about a foot of the centre, then roll tightly from one end. While folding and rolling, pull out all creases and press the air out of the canvas. Hold the bundle firmly to prevent it working loose, slightly raise one end and draw on the tent bag until it is more than halfway up. Hold the mouth of the bag, lift and shake until the tent drops to the bottom.  

The most common and well-known of the ridge tents is the "Icelandic" - which was created for use at a week-long event in Iceland in 1930, and then sold off afterwards at an economical price, being secondhand, hence they were great sellers at the time, and afterwards. As sturdy, practical tents, they have sold well for decades, and can still be bought nowadays.  

To pitch a canvas ridge tent such as an Icelandic, Stormhaven or Nijer, begin by assembling the poles, and lay them in position on the ground. Often the ridge poles are a lighter shade of green than the uprights. From the ends of the ridge, insert 4 large pegs at the four corners, in each case by walking three steps forward from the end of the pole then three steps to the side. These will be the 4 main guy (or 'dolly guy') pegs.

Lay out the canvas, and insert the ridge pole, through the loops along the ridge if the tent has them. Then insert the upright poles - there may be two or three of these depending on the tent. If there are three, then one will have a shorter spike - it will be the middle pole. The two end poles have longer spikes, which go through the hole in the ridge pole and then through grometted holes in the canvas.  

With one strong person on either end pole, swing the ridge pole of the tent up to an upright position, fit the main guys onto the pegs you inserted, and tighten up the runners. At this point, the four guys should be able to hold up the tent by themselves. Make sure the doors are fastened at both ends. On the four corners of the tent there will be either one guy, or two. If there is one, then peg it out diagonally, so it stretches the tent into it's shape. If there are two corner guys, peg them at right angles, so that the guy ropes follow the lines of the seams. Once those are in, then add the pegs inbetween. Adjust the runners so the tent is pulled out taut, and the pegs in line with each other. 

Once all the side guys are in place, then add in the brailing pegs. Where other pegs are put in at an angle, they are put in vertically. If the loops are a little loose, you can twist them once or twice before hooking them onto the peg. Tuck the sod cloth inwards, ready for ground sheets to be put on top of it. Then check that the poles are all quite straight.

To fasten the tent door, take the topmost loop across and through the eyelet, then draw it straight down. Draw the next loop through the eyelet, through the last loop which is hanging down, and then draw it straight down. At the bottom of the door there will either be a toggle and small loop, or a short string. The advantage is that to undo, once the bottom toggle is undone, you can draw one finger up the door and the loops will undo easily.

Each morning, unless weather forbids, you will seek to air the tent. First, 'loop up' the tent - underneath the roof eaves on the outside of the tent are small loops. Lift up the bottom edge of the tent, and slip the wooden button or the knot of the brailing rope through this loop, continue doing this all the way round. This will lift the 'sod cloth' off the ground and let it dry. Only once the sod cloth is fully dry, slip the buttons or knots out of the loops and let the walls back down, then go inside the tent and tightly roll up the sides of the tent inwards. You will find that inside the tent there are strings which line up with the loops on the outside. If the walls are rolled up tightly, you will be able to slip the strings through the loops and tie them off, the tent doors will tie back in the same way, leaving your tent with just it's apex roof. For this reason, ridge tents of this sort are ideal in high summer, with excellent ventilation.

Pitching a Lightweight Tent

Most modern lightweight tents have fibreglass poles, and are erected in a broadly similar way. There two varieties are those which pitch inner-first, and those which pitch outer first, like the one pictured. We'll start with an 'inner first' tent.

Unpack the tent, and find the poles for the tent, then assemble these. Check for signs of colour coding. Generally, there will be two long poles, each of which runs diagonally to support the roof, perhaps also a shorter pole for the doorway (usually coloured differently, the colour matching that of the fabric).  

If your tent has a 'footprint' groundsheet then lay it out. Then find the inner of the tent and lay it out where you want the tent to be, checking to ensure you have the door facing the direction you wish it to end up being. Insert one of the poles through the diagonal sleeve or row of loops, leaving the end of the pole clear of the tent at either end. Then repeat with the other pole running diagonally in the other direction. In each corner of the tent there will be a metal 'key' - a spike on a ring. Insert the key into one end of the nearest pole. Or a canvas strap with grometted holes, and a 'spike' on the end of the pole which fits into the holes. Then gradually bend the pole upwards in a curve until the key at the other end of the pole can also be inserted/the end of the pole fitted snugly into the grometted hole. This will give the tent it's shape. Next open up the flysheet (outer) of the tent. Drape it over the tent, there will usually be coloured panels to match the line of the poles so that there will be a seam running along each pole. If there are any poles to insert directly in the flysheet (such as a doorway) insert them now, as before. Then peg out the fabric round it's edges, making sure that it is pitched far enough out from the inner tent that it does not touch it at any point. At this point, undo any side guys, and peg these in position to give extra stability.

If your tent pitches outer-first, then construct the poles, lay out the flysheet and work out which pole goes where. Insert the poles through their loops, leaving the ends of the poles sticking out of the fabric. At the end of each sleeve will be a 'key' - a ring of metal with a spike - this spike is inserted into one end of the pole. Or a canvas strip with grometted holes, which the spike on the end of the pole fits snugly into. The pole is then gently bent into a curved shape, until the key at the opposite end can be inserted, or the pole spike fits the grometted hole. These curved poles give the tent it's shape. Now position your tent where you want it to be, paying attention to where the doors are positioned. Peg out the edges, stretching the tent fabric so that it is taut. Once all the edges are pegged out, next unfasten and peg out the guys, to ensure the frame is secured. If you have a 'footprint' groundsheet, insert it next and peg it down so it does not stick out beyond the tent fabric at any point. Then upack the 'inner' compartment. On the inside of the tent there will be loops, and on the compartment there will be toggles, the top middle one will be colour coded. Insert it first, then insert the remaining toggles down to the back corners of the tent first. If there are loops for pegging down the back corners of the sleeping compartment, do so now - or if there are hooks to attach to the loops at the bottom of the tent pole, attach these. Once this has been done, you can then start fastening the toggles down the two front edges of the sleeping compartment to the sides of the tent; once this has been done lay out the groundsheet flat in the porch area of your tent.

Once your lightweight tent has been pitched, check outside to make sure that no parts of groundsheet or footprint stick out beyond the edge of the tent fabric - otherwise any rain that falls on the edge of the groundsheet will trickle down into the tent. If your tent doesn't come with instructions, they can often be found and downloaded online, and there can also be videos.

Whatever sort of tent you are using, once it is pitched, fetch the tent bag and insert in it any components which belong with the tent (such as instructions, spare pegs or pole bag, mallets), and insert it in the porch of your tent, so it doesn't stray and is easy to lay hands on when you come to strike the tent.

For camping, it is useful to build up a 'camp bag' which contains useful items which you will need. For lightweight tents, it would include a small soft brush and dustpan for sweeping out the tent, and some absorbent cloths for mopping up damp groundsheets. For all types of tents, spare guyrope and runners, spare pegs, and duct tape. Other useful items can be a spare torch, a spanner for gas bottles, a small length of hosepipe and a jubilee clip which can be used to fill up water carriers rather than have to try and hold the weight of the water carrier and work the tap at the same time.