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How to square a tent

On the Job | June 1, 2008 | By:

Q: What is the correct way to square a tent?

A: A tent that’s properly laid-out or squared is structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing. Pre-staking or squaring the stake line is the preferred method of squaring your tent. If you are using another method or are new to the industry, do yourself a favor and take the time to learn this method. It will save you time during setup and also will extend the life of your tent tops. Your tent setups will be perfect every time: no more guesswork or stake placement decisions put in the hands of the installer.

Using a four-person crew for a 40-by-60-foot tent, two men can lay out and drive stakes while the other two are unrolling and lacing the tent at the same time. The tent top does not have to be stretched and dragged, and you will be sure of a perfectly squared stake line. Anchor points can be accurately marked on the ground, removing any speculation in the setup. Gone is that nasty tangled ball of string that we used to use as a guide. The anchor points are accurately installed—first time, every time.

Unfortunately, squaring the tent by pulling the fabric seems to be the most commonly used method in the industry today. Unlike the pre-staking method, only one task can be accomplished at a time, and there is a very real danger of damaging the tent top as well as getting your stake line out of synch with your tent. Repeated dragging even on top of a drop cloth has been proven to put abrasions and pin holes into any piece of vinyl, particularly blackout vinyl. There are some installers who can use this method with modest success, but the majority of the time, the stake line will not be true to the tent.

Regardless of which method you use, it is imperative that you inspect the tent after squaring it. Use the following questions.

  • Has everybody laced the top correctly?
  • Are the rain flaps closed and secured?
  • Are the overlap connections at the lace line connected?
  • Are the ropes or webs attached to the tent and to the anchors?
  • Are there holes or tears in the top?

Fix any problems or incomplete connections immediately to avoid compromising the structural integrity of the tent.

For information on properly squaring a tent, including specific instructions on pre-staking, please visit The free download, “How to square a tent,” includes information and useful diagrams and will be available online until the end of June.

Michael Tharpe is the sales manager for TopTec Products LLC in Laurens, S.C. The information here and on is drawn from the manual for TopTec’s Tent School, an annual hands-on training session for tent installers. Tharpe can be reached at or 800 845 2830.

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