Pitching your tent correctly in a proper location will mean staying dry, keeping small critters from moving in with you during the night, and sleeping soundly and comfortably. Parks and campgrounds usually have prepared locations for tents. If you're hiking and camping on the trail, you have to prepare your own site. Whether you camp in a park, a trail site or a wilderness site, where and how you set up, or "pitch" your tent means everything. Here are some basic considerations for pitching a 2 to 4 person tent correctly and in a proper location.

Practice pitching your tent before leaving home. Be sure you have all required parts that come with your tent. You will want to include a tool to tap the tent pegs into the ground and a small whisk broom for sweeping dirt and debris out of the tent. Look for damaged parts or torn fabric. Check fiberglass tent poles for cracking or splintering. Putting tension on the damaged pole when setting your tent up may cause it to snap and possibly cause injury. Check metal poles for pinching or buckling which will weaken the pole. Purchase a plastic ground cloth that can be used as a vapor barrier between your tent and the ground. This can be a sheet of clear plastic or pre-cut plastic known as "blue tarp." It should be the size of your tent's floor, light and easy to pack.

When you set up camp on the trail, locate a level surface for your tent. Avoid low areas as they may be subject to flooding or standing water if it rains. If you are camping in the mountains, avoid setting your tent up on summits as there is too much exposure. Pick a mid-point. Check the ground around your tent for insect mounds. Sweep sticks, stones and other debris away from where your tent will stand.

Place the extra layer of plastic on the ground. Open your tent on the plastic. Pre-position tent pegs and poles at the places they will be used. Make sure there are no dead branches hanging over or near your tent.

Follow the set up instructions for your tent. Use hand pressure to begin pushing your pegs in the ground at a 45 degree angle leaning away from the tent. After the peg is started, tap the peg with firm blows with your tool. Be careful about holding the peg with your hand as you may miss the peg and injure your hand. If the peg hits strong resistance, don't try to force it as it may be hitting a rock or root. Trying to drive it through the barrier may damage it. Reposition your stake or reposition your tent. If your tent has ropes connecting to poles and pegs, keep them loose until all tent pegs are firmly in the ground then tighten them. Pegs should be deep enough not to be tripping hazards. When the tent is set up, check for protruding edges of the ground plastic. If it is protruding, tuck the protruding edge under the tent by folding it inward and under the itself. This will prevent the protruding portion from channeling water under the tent if it rains. Tighten the ropes to make the fabric taught. Whether in the tent or outside, keep all openings zippered closed.

Take your tent down. After removing your gear, sweep out the tent. Open it up and let it air out. This will remove any inside moisture that may have accumulated. Small tents can be flipped upside down so dirt falls out and the bottom dries faster. Keeping your tent up also allows the warmth of the sun to dry up outside moisture from rain or dew. Count poles and pegs prior to packing them away to insure that you have all of them. Tightly roll or fold your tent. Smaller tents are usually rolled and larger tents are usually folded. Pack it the way it came when you acquired it. Brush dirt and debris away with each roll or fold so that it doesn't get packed in the tent and do damage. If you strike your tent while it is wet or damp, be sure to set it up later to dry in indirect sunlight, as lengthy exposure to direct sunlight will eventually damage the material. Drying your tent this way accelerates the drying process and prevents mold and mildew.

Restore your site before you leave. No matter where you camp, do everything you can to minimize the impact of your presence. Carry all trash out with you. If you camped along the trail, do not leave a bare spot indicating where your tent was. Use a fallen branch to sweep the spot. Do not leave food or trash. There should be no evidence of your presence. This practice preserves it for the nature that lives there, the next camper and for you if you return.

Remember the cardinal rules: read the directions, do a practice set up and take down, observe safety, and use common sense.