Tent Care

Tent Care A little care is all your tent asks. Treated well, a quality tent should deliver years of service. Here's how to care for yours.

A little care is all your tent asks. Treated well, a quality tent should deliver years of service. Here's how to care for yours.

Tent Care in the Field

Tip #1: When selecting a setup spot, look for an established campsite with a smooth, level surface with no vegetation. Clear away tiny debris (pine cones, twigs, small rocks) that could jab you in the back or poke a hole your tent floor. Avoid disturbing a site any more than that. As prescribed by Leave No Trace principles: "Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary." Also from LNT: "Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent."

Tip #2: Use a footprint— a custom-cut ground cloth designed specifically for the floor plan of your tent. Footprints protect your tent floor from abrasion, and in the morning they provide a clean surface where you can fold and roll your tent.

A reader asked how to avoid having water collect between the tent floor and a footprint during rainy conditions. Our advice:

  • Use a footprint, which is customized for your tent's specific dimensions, not a generic ground cloth such as an 8 x 10 sheet of nylon or plastic. If only a nonspecific ground cloth is all this is available, tuck any excess material under the tent floor. Any material that extends beyond the tent's perimeter could catch water and collect it.
  • Avoid sleeping atop any uneven surface. Any small depressions or troughs under your tent could create low points where runoff could accumulate.
  • Stake your tent tautly and use guylines to keep the rainfly taut. Sagging could expose a small portion of even a custom-cut footprint and turn it into a collection zone/catch basin.

"Condensation can occur between the floor and the footprint and could easily give the appearance of leaking or water migration. This occurs when the ground is cold and the footprint is as well. The tent floor is slightly warmer allowing a small microclimate of differential temperatures to exist between the 2 layers. The moisture that is held by the slightly warmer air around the floor can condense on the footprint, since it is colder and therefore has a lower dew point.

"This same thing occurs with a Therm-a-Rest mattress and a cold tent floor. You will often get condensation under the mattress that can appear like a leaking floor. It isn't (most likely). It is more likely that the condensation build up between the 2 layers (warm Therm-a-Rest and cold tent floor) caused the moisture."

Tip #3: When you climb inside your tent, leave boots or camp footwear(and all the debris clinging to them) outside or in the vestibule.

Tip #4: The sun's ultraviolet rays cause nylon to degrade. If your campsite offers little or no shade during the day, cover your tent with its rainfly. The rainfly's urethane coating helps it hold up better under the sun's glare.

Tip #5: If your tent is a freestanding model, pick it up and shake out debris in the morning before you pack it away. Pick up any trash that falls out and pack it out.

Tip #6: If you forget your stakes, lose them or the ground is too hard to permit staking, dig out some cord, collect a few melon-size rocks and follow these steps:

  1. Tie lengths of cord (or fishing line, even dental floss) around 4 rocks and attach 1 cord/rock combo to the exterior webbing at each tent corner.
  2. Push the rocks away from the tent until the tent is as taut and stable as you can make it.
  3. Leave about 1 foot of cord between the rock and the webbing. Then place a second rock (and a third and fourth, if needed) atop the cord. The additional rock (or rocks) pushes the cord to ground level and adds weight and friction for security.
  4. No cord? Find some smooth rocks and gently place them atop each tent corner. If the rocks are super-smooth, you could consider placing them inside the tent to anchor the corners. The possibility of abrasion, however, makes this a risky move.

Tip #7: With shockcorded poles , resist the urge to whip them around to cause the sections to "snap" together. It's fun, yes, but all that snapping could chip the section fittings and weaken the poles. It's smarter to fit the sections together one at a time by hand.

Tip #8: When disassembling a tent, first separate a shockcorded pole in the middle rather than starting at the end of the pole. This eases tension on the entire cord while it is stored.

Tip #9: What if a tent pole breaks? Most tent manufacturers include a pole repair sleeve that can straddle a damaged pole section and act as a splint. The diameter of a pole sleeve is slightly larger than your tent pole, so it can slip over a bent or broken section pretty easily. If tape is available, it's good to secure the sleeve by wrapping a few strips around both ends.

Tip #10: When packing a tent, don't fold the tent or rainfly fabric on the same crease lines time after time. Over the years those creases could become permanent and might grow brittle as the tent ages. Fold a tent in different places each time you pack it up, even if you're just moving the fold fractionally.

Tent Care at Home

Tip #1: Before taking a new tent to a campground or into the backcountry, first set it up at home to become acquainted with its assembly process in a no-pressure setting. A practice setup also allows you to confirm that you that you have all of a tent's stakes, guylines and accessories.

Tip #2: When you store a tent, make sure it is dry , and we mean dry, Dry, DRY. No tent-care rule is more important. If a tent is left wet, even damp, for a prolonged period of time, you are inviting mildew to overtake it. After a trip, unpack your tent and inspect it for dampness. If you detect even a trace of moisture, set it up in a shady spot (a garage, for instance) and let it air dry. If you have the space, store it loosely outside of its stuff sack. Avoid storing a tent in damp basements or hot attics.

Tip #3: The keep-it-dry rule applies on the trail, too. If it's raining when you break camp and you must pack your tent wet, look for an opportunity during the day—ideally, during a rest stop when the sun has broken through—when you can attempt to dry it out.

Tip #4: To clean a tent , use a non-abrasive sponge, cold water and a non-detergent soap. Gently scrub soiled areas by hand. Avoid household cleaners such as dishwashing liquid, bleach, spot removers or laundry presoaking products. (Why? Virtually all household soaps are perfumed and will attract bugs, mice and other critters. These soaps also mask a tent's durable water repellent [DWR] coating.) Rinse thoroughly, then set it up in a shady spot and let it air dry completely.

ip #5: Do not machine-wash a tent. If placed in a traditional top-loading washing machine, the back-and-forth churning of a washer's central-axis agitator could snag the tent and overstretch it or even pull apart its seams. In a front loader, repeated tossing and tumbling could potentially wear off waterproof coatings. Machine-drying a tent is never an option; too much heat could cause the material to distort or melt.

Seams and Waterproofing

The floors and rainflys of nearly every backpacking tent (and most family camping tents) come with factory-sealed seams . Seam tape is used to plug the tiny holes created by sewing needles when fabric sections are stitched together. One exception: tents (usually the ultralight variety) that use silicone-treated nylon rainflys. Why? Seam tape does not bond to silicone.


  • Any tent seam that is exposed to moisture and is not factory-sealed must be sealed manually using seam sealer , a liquid or glue-like product often sold in a tube with a needlenose or brush-on applicator. Follow directions on the product. Seal seams prior to camping in the tent away from home. Typically, seam sealer should be applied to the coated (shiny) side of the floor or rainfly. Shininess indicates a waterproof polyurethane coating has been applied to that side of the fabric. Seam sealer should also be used to plug seam leaks that sometimes emerge on a heavily used tent that was originally had its seam-sealed at the factory.
  • Well-worn tents may also need to have the waterproof coating of their floors or rainflys rejuvenated. The latter becomes apparent when you notice your tent rainfly or walls increasingly sagging due to rain or dew. Wash-in or spray-on products used to revive waterproof/breathable outerwear can be used for tents, too.
  • Single-wall tents (typically used only by mountaineers or weight-conscious explorers) are constructed with a waterproof/breathable fabric. Wash-in or spray-on products used to revive waterproof/breathable outerwear can also be used for these tents.

Removing Mildew

Mildew can develop any time your tent is stored wet. It looks bad, smells bad and can damage your tent's waterproof coatings. DON'T LET IT START.

Alas, if it already exists, here's how to approach it:

  • Try some light scrubbing with a sponge during a regular cleaning session.
  • If water and thoroughly scrub afflicted areas by sponge.
  • Set up the tent in a shaded spot and allow it to air dry.
  • Rub the solution into the visible mildew and once again, allow the tent to dry.

This procedure will stop mildew growth and eliminate the odor, but it will never remove the stain. This can also be used to control odors caused by spoiled food.

Sourced By T.D. Wood