What the Heck is a “Guy Line” and Do I Need It?

You’re not the first person to find yourself here, and you certainly won’t be the last. So, let’s talk about why and how to use this small, but important part of your tent kit.

A man sitting in a chair working on his laptop outside his large tent in the prairie at sunset

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 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 is, anyway, and why and how to use this small but important part of your tent kit.

What Is a Guy Line?

A tent guy line, or "guyline" or guy rope, is a piece of twine, rope, wire, cable, or cord (most commonly) used to tie out a tent wall or rainfly/tarp to the ground. This can be done for a number of 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: 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 tents with poles, guy lines serve as additional structural support to keep the tent body anchored into the ground and upright—especially important in inclement weather, like a rainstorm, 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 or rainflies 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!). But 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 guy lines and keep your tent dry, roomy, ventilated, and stable?

How to Set Up and Use Guy Lines

A man in a yellow jacket securing his tent with orange 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, 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. Once you’ve got your lines 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 which 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 in at roughly a 45-degree angle, pointed towards the tent. This keeps the taut guy lines from simply pulling the stakes out of the ground!

Stakes are a great option and make setting up your tent and guy lines that much easier. However, not every environment is right for driving stakes into the ground. Should 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 how you anchor your guy lines. Whether the terrain rules out using stakes, or maybe you just 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.

Closeup on tightening a knot with turquoise rope outdoors

Photo by Thirdman

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, there’s an easy knot that 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 giving you the ability 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, 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!

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''—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!
  • Invest in good stakes. It may seem silly to drop a couple 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.
  • Practice your knots beforehand! Getting your tent setup, especially when you’re losing or have lost daylight, is basically the worst time to be learning 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.

So now you know what a guy line is, what it’s for, and how best to use ‘em! Get ready to hit the trails and keep dry, 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.

Camping & Hiking Expert Alex L
Alex L
Camping & Hiking Expert
Alex here! How can I help?
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Written By
Hey I'm Alex! I'm a born and bred city kid, but thanks to my parents throwing me into the Scouting program to "keep me outta trouble", I got to experience a LOT of the great outdoors and build up some pretty serious wilderness survival & outdoor recreation skills. I'm an Eagle Scout, and worked many...

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