Do I need a tent?
Pennsic is a camping event. There are no cabins or bunkhouses provided (although some limited space is available for RVs), so most people camp in tents. If you don't own one of your own, try checking with friends or family to see if anyone has one you can borrow, or space in theirs that they can share. Another option is to make arrangements to rent a tent from a rental company near Cooper's Lake. While many people have period pavilions, they aren't required; modern tents are perfectly acceptable.
If you'll be using a modern tent, don't trust the capacity rating on the label or box. To come up with these ratings the manufacturers figure how many bodies can lie side-by-side on the floor of the tent. To allow space for you, your possessions, and room to move around, it's a good idea to divide the rating by three to four. So while a nominal four-person tent will be fine for one person, it's going to be cramped for two. When choosing a modern tent, try to get one that has a full fly, as it will help to keep the tent dry and to maintain proper airflow. If your tent doesn't have a fly, you can always throw a tarp over the whole thing to keep it dry. But doing so can make it very hot and stuffy inside the tent. If your tent (whether it is modern or a period pavilion) has a floor, be sure you have a waterproof groundcloth underneath it to protect the floor from rocks, twigs, and decay.
Whatever style of tent you wind up using, it's a good idea to do a test run by setting it up at home a couple of weeks before leaving for Pennsic. This way you can make sure you have all the necessary parts and that you know how to set it up. For used tents, this is the time to check for any areas in need of cleaning or repair. For new tents, this is the time to seal all the seams so they'll be waterproof. It's also not a bad idea to do a general check of the waterproofing of any tent, new or used, by running a hose over it. But be sure to let the tent dry completely before repacking it.
Some people like to bring two tents - one to sleep in and one in which to store their armor or other bulky or awkward gear. If you're borrowing a tent and you can't locate one large enough for you and your belongings, borrowing two for this purpose might be an option. Many people also bring shade awnings. While some camping areas at Pennsic have lots of trees, others have none, so don't count on having them available for shade.
If you are camping with a group, be sure to tell your Land Agent (or "Camp Mom") the dimensions of your tent, awnings, etc., so they can plan to fit you in. Remember that (if you pre-registered) they are allotted 250 square feet for you, and some of that has to be used for staked-out ropes, walkways between tents, or common areas.
When you set up your tent at Pennsic, be sure you stake it down thoroughly. If you have a self-standing modern tent, don't fool yourself into thinking that your belongings inside the tent will weigh it down and hold it in place. The wind can get very strong at Pennsic, and if your tent isn't staked down, it will fly away. In fact, many people don't bother with the plastic or thin metal stakes that come with most tents, opting instead to use heavy-duty metal stakes that will hold better. When placing guy-ropes, you should flag them with strips of white or pale cloth or other material so they'll be more visible in the dark, and people will be less likely to injure themselves tripping over them. When placing your ground cloth, be sure that it covers the entire bottom of your tent, but doesn't stick out. Any spots sticking out will funnel rainwater under your tent, leading to mildew and rot, not to mention soggy belongings. Some people like to dig small trenches around their tents to direct rainwater away from the tent, particularly on any uphill sides. If you go this route, take care when removing the sod so you'll be able to replace it later with a minimum of disturbance to the area.
Of course, if camping really isn't your style, you can always choose to stay at a nearby hotel or motel. If you go this route you'll be driving to and from the site every day, and no discount is given for staying off-site. But you will have the advantage of air conditioning and a guaranteed hot shower.