What the Heck Is a “Guy Line” and Do I Need One for My Tent?

Published on 05/05/2023 · 10 min readUnsure what a guy line is? Let’s talk about why and how to use this small but important part of your tent kit.
Alex L, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Alex L

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava

So there you are, eagerly reading through the instructions for your new tent as you attempt to set it up in your yard or living room. Good on you, making sure you’ve got everything, and you know how it works before you hit the wilderness! You’re almost to the end; the tent looks even better than the picture, but then you read it: “attach guy line to guy loop on right side of the tent”. You look around and see some strings, maybe some funky plastic hardware bits you thought might’ve been part of the packaging, but what the heck is a guy line?

You’re not the first person to find yourself here, and you certainly won’t be the last. So, let’s talk about what the heck a guy line or guyline cord is, anyway, and why and how to use this small but essential part of your tent kit.

What Is a Guy Line?

A tent guy line, guy cable, guyline, guy rope, or guy wire is a piece of twine, rope, wire, cable, or nylon cord (most commonly) used to tie out the walls of your tent wall or tie the rainfly/tarp to the ground. This can be done for several reasons, which are not always mutually exclusive:

  • Keeping dry: Staking out your rain fly or tarp keeps the water out. By keeping the rainfly taut, water will roll off and drip to the ground instead of inside your tent, which would admittedly defeat the purpose. Poorly set up or missing guy lines are a big cause of water leakage in tents.
  • Ventilation: Tent guy lines, in keeping your rainfly taut, also prevent it from resting directly on the interior wall of your tent. This allows for easy ventilation of air throughout the tent, which keeps you less stuffy and avoids pesky condensation.
  • Space: Staking out your tent walls using tent guy lines helps prevent sag and gives you more space to spread out and store your gear while also helping to keep it watertight. Similarly, tents with vestibules (spaces outside of the interior wall created by the rainfly) often rely on guy lines to create those vestibules. A tent vestibule is a great storage place for gear that you don’t want inside your tent, like those muddy boots.
  • Stability: Non-freestanding tents, like pup tents or most ultralights, rely on guy lines to stand up at all in lieu of more spacious and heavy poles. For freestanding structures with poles, guy lines serve as additional structural support to keep the tent body anchored into the ground and upright through velcro loops—especially important in wintertime and other inclement weather, like a rainstorm, isolated snow, or heavy winds. If nothing else, you want a stable shelter!

Okay, But Do I Need to Use Guy Lines?

The short answer? Yes. The long answer? Mostly yes.

Not all tents, tent covers, or rain flys will have guy lines or necessarily require them to function well. Some tents may only use them on the rainfly, which you may skip on a warm, clear night to catch some stars (I know I do!). They can improve the flexibility and dexterity of your tent, producing most of your tent's structural stability and reducing the chance of mildew and tent way and rainfly abrasion. Overall, guy lines serve many clear and significant purposes, so they’re definitely worth using if you have the ability, especially considering how easy they are to set up! More than just accessories, you can also keep them pretty lightweight and small to fit easily into one of the smaller pockets of your pack. So, how do you set up your guyline system and keep your tent dry, roomy, ventilated, and stable?

How to Set Up and Use Guy Lines

Photo by Thirdman

Fortunately, guy lines are super easy to set up—just a couple of quick knots, and you’re good to go. The first thing you’ll want to do is tie the guy line to your tent or rainfly. Most tents have little loops, known as guy loops or guy line loops, to attach the line to. Some rainflys will simply have grommets. Either work! You can tie the line onto the loop using a variety of knots—dealer's choice! I recommend using Two Half Hitches, a sturdy sliding knot, and sliding it all the way up to maximize the length of your line. Half-hitch knots are great knots for anchor points, and if you want to really get fancy, the slippery half-hitch knot has the same strength with ease of release for a quick get up and go. Once your lines are attached to your tent, it’s time to anchor everything! Where you’re camping and what tools you have available to you will determine how best to anchor your guy lines.

Typically, you’d want to use a tent stake to anchor the line into the ground. To do this, you’ll find a spot that will still give you enough slack to tie on your line, and use your foot, a rock, or a hammer (if you’re fancy) to bury the stake in the ground. Ideally, the line will be positioned roughly perpendicular to the edge of the tent or rainfly you’ve attached it to. You’ll want the stake to go at roughly a 45-degree angle, pointing towards the tent. This keeps the taut guy lines from simply pulling the stakes out of the ground!

Stakes are a great option, making setting up your tent and guy lines much easier. However, not every environment is right for driving stakes into the ground. If you find yourself in a site that’s super sandy, rocky, or otherwise too difficult (or too easy) to drive a stake into, you’ll have to get creative with anchoring your guy lines. Whether the terrain rules out using stakes, or maybe you don’t have any (we all lose them all the time, no worries), heavy rocks, trees, or logs serve as easy substitutes for stakes to anchor your guy lines and will still maintain the tent's structural stability.

Whether you’re using stakes or more ad-hoc options, you’ll want to tie the guy lines to your anchor points and make them taut enough to truly support your tent or rainfly and allow it to do its job. Fortunately, an easy knot provides adjustability and is designed exactly for this purpose! The Taut Line Hitch is an adjustable knot that will keep your lines taut while also allowing you to adjust the tension at any point. Once you’ve tied your tent and rainfly out to all the anchors and tightened the hitches to make the guy lines taut and stabilize the tent poles, you’re good to go! Now you can rest easy and know your tent is ready to keep you dry and comfy, even if strong winds roll in!

Photo by Thirdman

Step-by-Step Instructions on Tying Your Guy Lines

There are going to be some guy lines that come with your tent. Usually, one guy line for anchor points not already reinforced with stakes or elastic.

One end is going to have a fastener and one is pretty bare, that bare end is the end that goes through the looped tabs on the rainfly.

Photo by Travis Hill

1. Left: Running the end of the guy line through the rainfly.

2. Right: The working end of the guy line looped.

Photo by Travis Hill

3. Left: Running the end of the guy line through the loop you just created.

4. Right: Then hold that end behind the working end.

Photo by Travis Hill

5. Left: Take the running end back up over the working end and through the loop.

6. Right: Tighten your knot!

Step-by-Step Instructions on Setting Up Your Guy Lines

The fastener end of the guyline is going to give you the ability to re-tighten your tent for constant stability. So now that the bare end of the guy line is secure to your rainfly, it;s time to stake it in!

Photo by Travis Hill

1. Left: Bring the fastener to the end of the guyline where it's knotted.

2. Right: Pull out a good portion of line from the second hole of the fastener.

Photo by Travis Hill

3. Left: Keep pulling out line until the fastener is halfway up towards the other end of the guy line.

4. Right: The pulled line loop goes over a stake and is staked in the ground.

Photo by Travis Hill

The friction from the fastener will keep the tension tight and tout on your rainfly and you can adjust easily by moving the fastener up as needed!

Tips and Tricks for Using Guy Lines

  • Use brightly colored or reflective cord or rope for guy lines to avoid tripping over these little fellas on your midnight bathroom run. When visibility is low, guy lines become invisible. In the absence of reflective or bright guy lines, take a few minutes to attach a few pieces of orange flagging tape or other reflective material to each line. This will accomplish the same effect. No twilight faceplants for you!
  • Many guy lines come equipped with “tensioners or tighteners—small plastic bits on the lines which take the place of the Taut Line Hitch and allow you to tighten your guy line without tying a knot. GET RID OF ‘EM! Tensioners are no substitute for a real knot or the knowledge of how to tie one. They can also break and slip easily, leaving you in a collapsed tent at best or a soaking wet one at worst. They save a few seconds from the jump but are not worth it in the long haul.
  • For freestanding tents, ALL anchoring (both on the tent itself and with the guy lines) should be done as the LAST step. Doing so before you finish setting everything else up will add more headache and lead to a less structurally-sound tent.
  • Keep your lines taut but not too taut—you don’t want to rip or stretch the fabric of your tent too much, but a little stretch to keep the natural fibers of your guy line is ideal.
  • Invest in good stakes. It may seem silly to drop a couple of bucks on a stake when you can get a standard one for under a dollar. But crappy stakes are just that—crappy. They’re great for soft ground, but it SUCKS to set up your tent in the dark and have to deal with bent, twisted, and funky stakes. Good ones like the MSR Mini Groundhog will stay straight and strong for many trips to come. It’s worth it, trust me. Also, keeping an extra set of stakes is always a good idea. Extra stakes can also be utilized as additional support.
  • Practice your knots beforehand! Getting your tent set up, especially when you’re losing or have lost daylight, is the worst time to learn a knot. Don't ruin Day One of the camping experience, and take some time and practice with the links above before you head out—you can thank me later!
  • When driving a stake, DO NOT do so at a right angle, straight into the ground. This will cause the stakes to pop out at the first sign of trouble.
  • Pack a flashlight or headlamp to be able to check the tent's pole structure and the tent flaps at night. Being able to see well at night when moving around and ensuring the tent's structural stability is essential.

Expert Tip: If all supplied guylines are not required in the tent set up, that extra cordage can be utilized as an impromptu clothesline.

We have talked so much about tent guylines, and all the components that go along with setting up the complete rigging system. Some considerations to keep in mind, even though mentioned, are the different types of vegetation you are setting up in and the weather. Keep in mind the potential impact of humidity—especially if you are using a single-walled tent—and be prepared to combat condensation.

So now you know what a guy line is, what it’s for, and how best to use them! Get ready to hit the trails and keep dry, the insects out and stay cozy, and feel safe and sound in your awesome new tent from Curated. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or one of my fellow Camping & Hiking Experts here on Curated.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read next

New and Noteworthy