Close-up view of a person repairing a tent pole using a repair sleeve

Tent repair and care

A good tent can provide you with years of comfortable camp shelter. But rough surfaces, sharp edges, dampness and UV exposure can reduce your tent’s lifespan. Here’s how to ensure your outdoor home lasts as long as possible, and how to do a few simple fixes in case something needs repairing.

Learn how to:

  • Choose a good tent site: Tent care starts with where and how you set up.
  • Pack your tent properly after a trip: The infamous roll vs. fold debate, resolved.
  • Do easy tent repairs: How to repair a broken tent pole with a repair sleeve, how to do a permanent fix at home, and how to patch tears.

Choose a good tent site

Camper setting up a tent

Keeping your tent in nice shape starts with the tent site. If you can, select an established site with a smooth, even surface and minimal vegetation. Uneven ground, sharp rocks and sticks can tear a tent floor. Using a tent footprint also goes a long way in preventing abrasions and rips.

When possible, protect your tent from direct sunlight. Extended UV exposure can turn a tent fly into something resembling tissue paper. If you have to pitch your tent where it’s not shaded, consider putting a tarp over it during the day. Read more tips for selecting a tent site.

Setting up your tent

When setting up camp, try not to whip or snap the poles to extend them – it’s tempting, we realize, but it can cause them to crack. Unfold them gently and allow the elastic to pull them into place. If the poles get grubby after a season of camping, gently wipe them down with a damp rag. If your poles are aluminum and they were exposed to sea air or salt water, you might want to rinse them and let them dry before packing them. Salt water can corrode aluminum and make it brittle.

Packing and storing your tent

How you pack your tent matters. Prevent mildew and preserve the fabric and its waterproofing by consistently packing and storing your tent with some care.

Video: How to pack your tent

Make sure it’s dry

Pack away a damp tent and you’re asking for trouble. Mildew is smelly and potentially harmful for fabrics, and mildew can build up in as little as 24 hours. To prevent it, let your tent lie flat in the sun before you pack it to eliminate any humidity or dampness. If you have to pack up in the rain, remember to spread your tent out to dry as soon as possible.

Make sure it’s clean

Sand, dirt and pine needles are probably going to get into your tent. But do your best to keep grit to a minimum, as it can abrade fabrics and damage waterproof coatings over time. The simplest solutions?

  • Remove shoes or boots before you enter the tent, so you don’t track dirt and mud inside or damage the floor with the tread on your boots.
  • If you’re setting camp for several nights, a small broom or sponge is great for removing dirt and debris.
  • When it’s time to pack up, unzip the doors and give your tent a good shake to remove any remaining debris.

It’s equally important to keep the outside of your tent clean. If your tent gets dirty or muddy on a trip, wash it with a garden hose at a gentle pressure. If you need to, use a sponge or brush to clean it. Avoid using powerful household cleaners or soaps, as these can damage tent materials. Once it’s clean, let it dry thoroughly before packing and storing it.

Roll, don’t fold

This is a big one. Folding a tent or fly on the same creases risks creating permanent lines over time. Creasing can negatively affect waterproofing and the durability of fabric coatings. Instead, carefully roll or gently stuff your tent into its sack. If you must fold a tent, be sure to fold it differently each time you pack it, and try not to store it folded for long periods of time.

Easy tent repairs

Over time, even the most well-kept tent will need a bit of maintenance. Take a look when you bring it home after a camping season to see if it needs any tweaks or fixes.

How to repair a broken tent pole

Most tents include a pole repair sleeve so you can make a quick repair while you’re outdoors. Missing a repair sleeve? Cut open an aluminum can to make an impromptu sleeve. Roll it tightly around the break and tape it in place – just make sure all sharp edges are covered. When you get home, you can make a more permanent fix.

Video: Using a repair sleeve to fix a tent pole

  1. Slide the pole sleeve over the broken tent pole section. You might need to squeeze the pole with pliers to allow the pole sleeve to slip over top.
  2. Adjust the pole sleeve so it’s roughly centred over the break.
  3. Grab some duct tape (a must-have for repair kits) and wrap a couple of pieces around the ends of the pole sleeve, so it holds the sleeve in place.
  4. Keep on camping/hiking/canoe tripping/bike touring before you come home for a permanent repair – see how to replace the broken tent pole section below.

Video: How to replace a broken tent pole section

  1. Contact your local MEC store for replacement tent poles in the right length and diameter for the broken section.
  2. At the end of your tent pole (choose the end nearest the broken section), there’s a small end tip – pull it or unscrew it to reveal the bungee cord and knot inside.
  3. Hold onto the bungee cord with one hand. With the other hand, unhook the small stopper from the cord. Then pull on the end of the bungee cord to undo the knot – keep your finger on the bungee cord so it doesn’t recoil back into the tent pole.
  4. Next up: take the pole sections off the bungee cord until you get to the broken section. Keep those fingers on the cord, and set the pole sections aside in an organized way so you know how to put them back together.
  5. Remove the broken tent pole section and put the replacement tent pole section in its place. Make sure your replacement fits with the two sections on either side.
  6. Replace the other sections of the tent pole in the right order.
  7. When all the tent pole sections are replaced, tie a looped knot in the bungee cord (watch the video to see how). Clip the metal stopper back into place.
  8. Feed the bungee cord, knot and base of the stopper back into the pole, and check your work. If the poles don’t fold up compactly, you likely didn’t pull them on in the same order they came off in.
  9. When it’s all good, pat yourself on the back – your tent is ready to go again.

Note: If you’re repairing hubbed poles, bundle and wrap all the sections you’re not working to make it easier to handle (and so you don’t accidentally jab someone nearby).

How to patch a hole in a tent

This is a simple task, and there are lots of products available to create a permanent waterproof fix. The only thing you need to know is the material that your tent is made of (silicone-coated fabrics need an adhesive formula that will stick to their slippery surfaces), then you can choose the right tent patch, tent repair tape or product and follow the repair instructions.

If you have a few tiny tears in your tent mesh, try this quick fix:

  • Apply the base of your palm on one side of the torn mesh.
  • Place your other hand on the other side of the mesh, and place your hands together with the mesh in between.
  • Rub the mesh vigorously between your hands. If the tear isn’t too severe, this quick fix should realign the threads.
  • For more severe tears, invest in an easy-to-use mesh repair kit.

How to fix a tent zipper

If the zipper suddenly stops short on your tent door, check out our how to fix a zipper page for advice and videos.