What is a guyline on a tent?
A guyline is typically a cord or string that is used to secure a tent or tarp to the ground. In short, they provide structure to parts of the tent or tarp where the poles cannot.
Why are they important?
1. Stability. Especially necessary in windy environments, guylines will add a lot of strength to your tent frame. This extra tent support is a must with the weight of snow or heavy rain.
2. Ventilation. Assuming you are camping in a double walled tent (mesh tent insert wall plus the rain fly makes two walls), guylines will help ensure the two walls stay separated. More specifically, they will prevent the rain fly from resting directly on top of the tent. This separation is crucial for enabling air circulation and preventing condensation.
3. Space. You might notice some loops located in the middle of some edges or the walls of your tent. These are designed to pull out a potentially sagging area of the wall and, subsequently, provide more space.
4. Dry. Most backpacking tents come with some sort of rain fly or vestibule (like a mini front porch). More often than not, this rain fly is not fully supported by the tent frame and requires guylines for setup.
5. Required to Stand. By definition, non-freestanding tents require guylines in order to stand at all.
Guyline anchoring rain fly down.
How to tie and stake down a guyline?
STEP 1: Attach One End of the Line Securely to the Tent.
Notice the loops on your tent or tarp. These are called "guy out loops". Most of them are on the corners. However, some additional ones might be located on the walls and/ or on the edges. These loops are all potential points for you to attach your guyline to.
You can use string, cord, twine... practically anything. I personally prefer to use an ultralight backpacking reflective cord (like these or this). The reflection helps prevent a late night trip and fall-on-the-face.
Your tent's manufacturer might have already attached some sort of guylines for you to use. Big Agnes (tent in the photo) already attached these and they work great. Keep in mind some lines from the manufacturer are very short or poorly tied though. Feel free to cut them off and source your own. Sourcing your own also allows you the flexibility to customize the length (typically about 3 ft per guy line).
Once you know what points of the tent or tarp you want to attach your guyline to, you need to attach it to the guy out loop with a knot. This knot will need to be secure - either fixed (not adjustable) or tightening (tightens with tension). I recommend using either a bowline knot (not adjustable) or two half hitches aka 'clove hitch' (tightens with tension).
Guy line secured with a fixed bowline knot.
STEP 2: Find Your Method to Anchor and Adjust.
Select your anchors. I always prefer stakes. However, if the ground is too hard (rocky) or too soft (sandy or muddy), you will need to get creative with weighted rocks, logs or trees.
There are a ton of different methods to attach the line to the actual anchor points. The main goal here is adjustability. The ability to lengthen or shorten the guy line will open up more options for anchor points (which can be hard to come by). I find tensioners (aka 'tighteners') to be the easiest method of adjusting the line. However, if you do not have a tensioner, there are a variety of knots you can use. Or you can take a stab at your own DIY tensioner from a soda can top.
The taut line hitch is a classic Boy Scout knot ideal for staking down a tent. See how to do it here.
Tensioner being used to adjust line length.
STEP 3: Stake Down Tent Properly.
Once your knot is tied or your tensioner loop has been set, all you need to do is stake it down. Adjust the length and tension as needed.
For the strongest anchor, I recommend a) keeping the line straight and directly perpendicular from the tent and b) angling the stake at a 45 degree angle inward, towards the tent. Otherwise, if the stake is angled outward, away from the tent, it would just act as an extension of the guy line with minimal resistance. If any force pulled on it, it would be more likely to pop out.
Proper way to stake a tent - facing in.