How Tight Should Guy Lines Be?

The quick answer? Tighten your guy lines until your tent isn’t saggy anymore, but stop before you notice that you’re distorting your tent’s shape. 

Loose, flexible or tight? What’s your best option?

To answer this question, let’s first clarify why guy lines are used in tents.

The Purpose Of Guy Lines

You may think that they’re primarily used to keep your tent from flying away, but that’s actually not the main reason for dome tents. In 90% of your camping experiences, the wind is not strong enough to get your tent rolling, although this is only true if you stake down your tent properly.

They do stabilize your tent, which can be important if you have a dome tent with only two poles, as these kinds of tents are more likely to collapse in high winds.

But a more important reason is to keep your tent taut in high winds. Have you ever missed a good night’s sleep because your tent kept flapping? Guy lines keep the fabric of your tent tight so this annoying noise can be avoided.

Not to mention, some tents can’t be fully pitched without the guy lines. They may feature a screen porch or a vestibule area that needs to be pulled to one side before it can be used.

Another important reason is to prevent condensation in your tent. Guy lines pull the rainfly away from the inner tent, allowing for more ventilation.

This is not only important for maximum airflow, but also because you don’t want your rainfly to touch the inner tent when it’s raining.

Although rainflies are supposed to be waterproof, in reality they’re usually only water-resistant. Rain doesn’t enter the tent because it drips off the bottom of your rainfly. However, if your inner tent comes into contact with your wet rainfly, the moisture is passed to your inner tent and eventually seeps inside.

a Coleman tent with guy lines

Tight or Flexible?

Based on these reasons, we can already remove “loose” from the possible answers. The question now is whether the guy ropes should be as tight as possible or whether they should give your tent some wiggle room.

The correct answer is tight but not over-tensioned, which is especially important in windy weather. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the seams, stitching and poles of your tent, as they can be damaged if you’re careless. Tighten your guy ropes until your tent no longer sags, but stop before you notice that you’re distorting the shape of your tent.

infographic: "how tight should guy lines be?"

The Problem With Most Guy Lines Adjusters

Remember those little sliders on your guy ropes? You can use them to adjust the length (i.e. tension) of your guy lines.

The problem is that most manufacturers make this part of their tent cheap. Many adjusters loosen overnight, leaving you with a tent that is more likely to build up condensation and make flappy noises. This is annoying because now you have to get up at night to retighten the adjusters.

The solution?

Clam Cleat Line-Loks (these work for guy lines with a diameter of 1 to 2.5 mm). These little things work pretty much the same as the adjusters, but they’re designed not to come off unless you want them to.

The video below shows you how to attach them to the guy lines of your tent.

How Rain Affects Your Guy Lines

Guy lines should always have as little stretch as possible, but the problem is that moisture affects their stretchability.

  • Synthetic guy lines often stretch when wet, so it’s best to tighten them a little more as usual if you expect rain.
  • Guy lines made of natural fibers can do the exact opposite. They shrink when they get wet, which can create a deadly situation for your tent. Make sure you loosen them a bit when it starts to rain. You don’t want your tent to be under too much tension.

If you have a nylon tent, keep in mind that the fabric stretches when it rains and therefore loses its taut pitch. You may need to tighten the guy ropes, even if they’re made of natural fibers.

Let’s Wrap Things Up

So, if I should summarize this entire article in a few lines, it would go as follows:

  • Tighten your guy ropes until your tent no longer looks saggy.
  • Depending on the material of your guy lines, loosen or tighten them when it starts to rain.
  • Install Clam Cleat Line-Loks on your guy lines to ensure your tent stays tight at all times.

Have fun camping!

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