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Tent Care

Photo: Dave Bishop

A good quality tent can provide years of comfy shelter, but jagged ground and harsh weather can rough up your backcountry home and cause it to deteriorate. A little care and preventative maintenance will preserve the fabrics and keep your tent sound and impermeable.

Maximize Your Tent's Life

The greatest threats to your tent are UV exposure, mildew, and dirt.

  • Minimize UV exposure
    Exposure to the sun's rays will ultimately ruin most tents. UV-damaged fabric becomes crisp and eventually develops tears. If you usually carry your tent packed away during the day, UV exposure won't be a major problem. But if you're staying in one place for a day or more, pitch your tent in the shade or under the cover of boulders or trees.

    Consider applying a solar proofing spray to the fabrics. These treatments slow down UV degradation, but they don't reverse it, so the earlier you use them, the better. A single application at the beginning of the season is fine for most campers. If your tent sees lots of use or high-altitude exposure to UV, treat it more frequently.

  • Prevent Mildew
    The spores that cause mildew to grow are everywhere. The black dots and stains don't just look ugly and make your tent smell unhealthy, they weaken the fabric and its waterproof coatings. Sunlight and air circulation prevent mildew from growing. So while you're camping try to minimize dampness and condensation by leaving the doors fully open when it's sunny, and keeping just a small opening at the top of the doors when it's wet or cold.

    A wet tent in a dark stuff sack is an ideal environment for mildew. The warmer it is, the faster mildew grows. In summer, it can sprout in as little as 24 hours. If your tent is really wet and warm, spread it out in the sun during lunch. If your drive home is longer than a few hours, spread out the tent loosely on top of your other gear in the trunk or the back of your vehicle. Roll down the windows a bit to allow air circulation. Once home, air dry it completely before storing.

  • Remove Dirt
    Tracking soil or sand into your tent is almost unavoidable. The grit can abrade fabrics and waterproof coatings and cause zippers to jam. Keep a small broom or sponge handy to remove dirt while you're camping. When you pack up the tent, unzip the doors and shake it to get rid of dirt. (You may need to invert it to get all the dirt out of the corners.) Pull it right side out before you put it in the stuff sack.

Cleaning and Storage

Once you're home, proper cleaning and storage will ensure your tent is ready for its next adventure.

  • Brush off any loose mud or dirt. If you need to wash the tent before putting it away, set it up somewhere warm and dry, either inside or out. Mix a small quantity of mild, non-detergent soap into warm water. Using a sponge, gently wipe down the tent. Rinse it thoroughly with fresh water and let it air dry completely. If there's sand or grit trapped in the zippers, you can flush it out with water (use a hose if you're outside) or gently scrub the teeth with an old toothbrush.
  • Don't try to remove tar or tree sap. Removing these may damage the fabric or its waterproof coating. You can dust these stains with talcum powder to prevent them from sticking when the tent is stored.
  • Never dry clean, machine wash, or machine dry your tent. This can damage the waterproof coatings.
  • If the tent poles have been exposed to salt water or salt air, rinse them in fresh water and let them dry before storing. Aluminum doesn't rust, but unseen corrosion can make it brittle over time.

Before storing, make sure the tent body, fly, and footprint are completely dry. Even a little dampness can cause irreversible mildew damage.

  • A dry, cool place such as a linen closet is ideal for long-term storage.
  • Store your tent loosely stuffed in a cotton bag, like a sleeping bag storage sack or a pillow case. Reserve the stuff sack your tent came in for carrying it in the field.

Pole Repair

Some MEC tents include a pole repair sleeve to use in the field if a pole is damaged. You can also purchase replacement pole sections from MEC or most other outdoor suppliers.

To repair a pole while you're camping:

  • If you have a pole repair sleeve, slide it along the pole until the break is fully covered and secure it with duct tape or tape from your first aid kit.
  • If you don't have a repair sleeve, carefully cut open an aluminum can to make a metal sheet. Tape the edge of the sheet to the pole to cover the break, and roll it tightly around the pole. Tape it in place and make sure all sharp edges are well covered. If you don't have an aluminum can, try making a splint from a wire tent peg and some tape. Bend or cut off the hooked top and be sure to cover any sharp ends with tape.

To repair a pole at home:

  1. Carefully pull the tip out of the pole assembly at the end nearest the break. Untie the shock cord from the pole tip and note the kind of knot so you can retie it later.
  2. Remove pole sections from the cord until you've removed the broken piece. Thread the replacement section and the others back on. (You may need to attach a temporary piece of cord on the end of the shock cord so you can pull it through the final pole section.)
  3. Retie the knot to the pole tip, then reinsert the shock cord and tip into the pole end.

Patch Tears

Before you begin to repair a rip in the tent body or fly, you'll need to know whether the fabric is polyurethane-coated or silicone-coated. For polyurethane-coated fabrics, use urethane adhesive. For silicone coated fabrics (they feel very light and slippery), use an adhesive formulated to stick to silicone.

  1. Use a tent fabric swatch if one was supplied with your tent. You can also purchase fabric repair tape or, in a pinch, cut a repair swatch from your tent's stuff sack.
  2. Trim the patch into a round or oval shape, curved edges are less prone to peeling off than sharp corner. The patch should extend at least 2.5cm beyond the tear on all sides.
  3. To hold the edges of the tear in place, apply a strip of masking tape to the outside of the tear. You can remove it once the glue is cured.
  4. Brush a thin coat of adhesive onto the patch, wait for it to become tacky, and then apply it. Once it's on, rub your thumb in a spiral motion from the centre of the patch to its edges, to ensure full contact and work out any air bubbles.
  5. Adhesive residue can bond to fabric long after it's dry to the touch. To prevent the fabric from sticking, dust the area with talcum powder or corn starch before packing.

Re-seal Seams

Over time, even a high-quality tent may develop small leaks at the seams. Seams on most tents are heat sealed with tape bonded to the fabric, but packing and unpacking can eventually start to break the bonds. Before you seal the seams, cut away any unstuck tape, trimming as closely as possible to the edges where it's still bonded.

  • For polyurethane-coated fabrics, use urethane sealant. For silicone coated fabrics (they feel very light and slippery), use a sealant formulated to stick to silicone. Work in a well-ventilated area and follow the application instructions.
  • Many sealants can stick to fabric long after they feel dry to the touch. To prevent freshly sealed seams from sticking, dust them with unscented talcum powder before packing.