The Definitive Guide to Tenting Your Wedding

Whether it’s part of your design scheme for an outdoor bash or a “just in case” rental while you cross your fingers that it doesn’t rain, there’s a whole lot more to tenting part (or all) of your wedding than just putting up a structure and proceeding with your plans. From styles and sizes to specifications for space, it turns out tents can actually be pretty intricate! But tenting your wedding doesn’t have to be a headache. Here we share the ins and outs of wedding tents.

The Basics

Tents for weddings come in three basic categories: tension pole tents, frame tents and clear span structures. Tension pole tents—including sailcloth (or Sperry) and vinyl (or Century) tents—have center poles that hold up the roof. They rely on a pattern of stakes and tie-downs to achieve stability and usually require less decorating. The poles and the fabric, especially for sailcloth tents, are beautiful in their own right, so the structures can be left as-is. Frame tents (including clear- and white-top tents) and clear span structures have frames that support the roof, with an open space beneath the canopy. They are self-supporting, and can be weighted down if the ground does not allow for staking. Frame and clear span tents generally require interior draping to conceal the internal framework, which can increase the cost of the tent rental.

Space and Sizing

Only clear span tents can be safely installed without additional space for staking, as the stakes go directly into the base of the legs. All other tents require a clearance of between 5 and 10 feet around the perimeter to allow room for tie-downs and stakes.

Tents can be customized to almost any size, ranging from an intimate backyard dinner to a gala of 1,000. If you’re planning to have both dinner and dancing within the tent, you’ll want to allow for between 20 and 25 square feet per person. For dinner only (without a dance floor), you’ll need between 18 and 22 square feet per person. For example, a tent for 200 people with dancing would require a 46’ x 125’ sailcloth tent (with central poles) or a 40’ x 120’ frame tent (with an entirely open space beneath the canopy).

What Your Tent Company Needs to Know

When you decide to rent a tent, a representative from the company will come survey the site. They’ll measure the total available space and any grade change (if the space you’re tenting is sloped in any way), note the type of surface it will be on, and measure for any connecting canopies you’d like to install between tents or between a tent and a building. They’ll also look for overhead obstructions, such as tree branches or power lines, and indications of any underground utility lines. The tent company will contact public utility companies to have them mark their lines, but in the event of private utilities like private electric or gas and on-site sprinkler lines, it is the client’s responsibility to let the tent company know if there is anything in the vicinity.

Upgrade Options

When it comes to customizing and upgrading your tent, the possibilities are limitless. Any tent can be draped, whether it’s just the side poles or a full ceiling treatment. Flooring options range from artificial turf to hardwood plank and sisal carpet that rivals the interior of a beautiful home. Platform flooring can be leveled to adjust for even severe grade changes or dips in the ground beneath the tent. If you have beautiful views but are concerned about climate control, frame and structure tents can be fitted with glass walls to keep heat or cool air in. And, of course, lighting is the most important factor in dressing up a tent. Many tent companies carry a limited selection of fixtures built specifically for their tents, while specialty lighting companies can really take it to the next level.

When to Book

Tent availability all depends on the date you’ve chosen for your wedding. During the busiest months, you’ll want to reserve your tent as soon as possible, as last-minute plans may mean the tent company is completely sold out. Get a quote and discuss the equipment you’ll need as soon as you’ve chosen your date, even if it’s just in case of bad weather. You’ll need to pay a nonrefundable deposit to hold the tent, and most tent companies need to know if you’ll be using the tent 24 hours before they’re scheduled to install.

Set-Up and Timing

Setting up a tent can take anywhere from a couple of hours to two weeks or more. Most backyard weddings, with a standard tent set-up, can be assembled and pitched in a day or two, though ideally you’ll want your tent set up four or five days in advance to allow time for the decor and rentals to be delivered and installed.

Safety First

Finding a trustworthy and reputable tent company is the most important part of tenting your event. Seek out someone who will take the time to talk you through the process, from securing the proper permits and surveying the site to sending detailed diagrams and providing proof of insurance. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and images of events with similar equipment. As they say, the proof is in the pudding!

This article was written by Jaimie Mackey for
Photo: Stephanie Reeder Photography

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