Caring for your Tent

I know that it may seem like camping is a lot of work before and after the actual trip . . . all the gear aired out, cleaned up, repairs made, etc. And it is kind of true, but taking care of your gear will make it last longer and decreases the chances of gear failure on a future trip. Tents are pretty easy to take care of.

Only Store A Dry Tent.    The most basic thing is making sure that they are stored dry so that mold and mildew doesn’t start growing and damaging the tent, not to mention, making the tent smell bad.

Sealing Tent Seams.     Seam sealing your tent is quick and easy, and it will make sure that the seams don’t leak. If you buy a new tent, there may be a bottle of seam sealer included. Otherwise, you can pick up a bottle at any camping store, like Cabela’s or REI. Here’s my technique:

  1. Find out what side of the tent you should seal. To determine what side to seal, look at the seams of the tent. The sealed side is usually shinier. If you sprinkle water on it, it will bead up. I try to reseal the same side as the original sealant, so once you know what side of the tent you want to seal, buy sealant designed for that side. Tip: I have generally found it easier to use sealant on the external side, rather than the interior.
  2. Lay everything out in a well-ventilated location. I like laying out a plastic tarp in the backyard. The tarp prevents grass and dirt from getting on the tent, while you are working.
  3. Read the instructions on the bottle.
  4. Figure out what seams you want to seal. These are usually the seams between the floor and tent, along the zippers, corners and windows, and the fly—any seams that might get wet during a windy rain storm.
  5. Prepare the seams to be sealed by removing any peeling or cracked sealant along the seams and clean the seams with some rubbing alcohol.
  6. Set up tent up, but don’t stake it.
  7. Flip it over and apply a generous coat of seam sealant along the seams of the floor and the tent body. Then, seal seams along zippers, corners, windows, and any other tent seams that might get wet. It is not necessary to seal seams of the tent walls, since the walls themselves are porous.
  8. Let dry as per the instructions.
  9. Once the floor seams are dry enough, put the fly up (this will require staking), and apply sealant to the fly seams.
  10. If you really want to make sure that everything is sealed up tight, you can set the tent up under a sprinkler to see if there are any leaks. I usually find this more effort than it is worth, especially after the first time with seam sealant.

Re-coating Your Tent.     Exposure to the elements can damage the tent’s fabric, causing delamination, which in turn will allow water to seep through. Prolonged sun exposure is particularly tough on tents, and, before the green tent, I’ve had several tents delaminate. Once, I woke up with a stream of waver coarsing through the tent. Not pleasant. And it is avoidable, if you pay attention to your tent’s condition.

You can usually seam seal and re-coat at the same time. The steps are basically the same, but might vary depending on the type of coating that you use. Some recommend applying the coat to the nondelaminating side of the tent. Some sealants smell bad and can take a while to dry, so make sure that you have a dry ventilated space for this task. I’ve had good results with Aquaseal Polycoat.

Repairing Holes.    I’ve never had to repair a hole in my actual tent, although I’ve repaired a lot of holes in other things, include jackets, rain coats, etc. The theory is basically the same. When you bought your tent, there may be a repair kit included. If not you can buy them at camping stores.

The gist is to cut a rounded patch large enough to cover the hole generously. Like bandages, rounded corners stick better and don’t unpeel as easily. Some patches use glue, others are sticky tape patches. If the hole is large, you can fold over the patch material and cut two identical patches. Then, afflix the patches on both sides of the tent. Seam the seals of the patch with sealant to make sure that it is waterproof.

Although I’ve never tried this on a tent, I recently used Gear Aid’s Tenacious Tape, costs about $5, to repair some small holes in the green tent’s bug screens and pockets. Even though the holes were small, I used identical sized patches on both size of the netting to ensure that the patches were strong and also used the tape on a hole in a compression sack that I then used for a three week trip, I am now confident that the tape is way strong enough. Still, the double side patches are bomber.


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