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Whether you only occasionally use a tent or it’s your primary accommodations when you’re overlanding, there are some tent maintenance activities you need to undertake to ensure it gives you long-lasting protection from the elements.
Most tent maintenance is pretty straightforward and not time-consuming at all, so it’s really a matter of keeping an eye on the tent and addressing any issues as they arise.
Let the guide below serve as a good checklist for keeping your tent in tip-top shape.
Check for Rips or Tears in the Tent Walls and Rain Fly
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Each time you set up your tent, give the walls and rainfly a good once-over to check for any holes, rips, or tears in the material. This is the first step in tent maintenance. If you find problems, you can easily address the issue, even if you’re well off-grid.
In emergencies, duct tape will do wonders to seal up any damage to the tent material. If you have more time and the appropriate materials, you can also make a permanent fix.
First, lay out the tent on a flat surface. Clean the area around the hole or rip with rubbing alcohol. Doing so will remove any dirt or grime and allow the patch – duct tape or a real patch – to properly adhere to the tent material.
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Next, cut the duct tape or the repair patch to fit, ensuring that there’s plenty of material to overlap the hole or tear on all sides. Round the corners of the duct tape or the repair patch as doing so will help prevent it from peeling when it rains or snows.
Then apply the patch to the hole or tear. In the case of a repair patch, you’ll need to remove the back cover to reveal the sticky backside. Press the patch or duct tape to the tent material. Depending on the location of the tear, you might need to apply a patch on the inside as well. For example, if the tear is in a high-tension area, like near a corner, an inside patch will be necessary.
It’s best to allow the patch to “rest” for a day or two, but obviously if you’re in the field, you’ll have to make do with the circumstances. Emergency patches are best removed and redone once you get home.
Tent Maintenance: Repairing Tears in Tent Seams
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Sometimes, tears occur along the seams of a tent or rainfly. This makes sense because the seams are under a lot of stress when the tent is deployed.
If a seam tears, the best way to address the issue is by sewing it back together with a needle and thread. This requires some finesse (and appropriate outdoor-rated thread), but it can be done, even by novices.
If you’re in a bit of a jam and need a faster fix, duct tape will be your best friend. Simply lay the tent flat, get the two sides of the tear as close together as possible, and apply duct tape over the tear. If you happen to identify the tear when you’re still home, grab a hairdryer and give the duct tape a couple of passes. The heat will activate the adhesive even further and improve its bond to the tent material.
Pro Tip: Having seam sealer on hand is a good form of continuing tent maintenance. Since seams can be vulnerable to water leakage, sealing them periodically will give you an added layer of protection. Plus, if you repair a seam, you’ll want to seal the new seam as well.
Inspect the Floor of the Tent Too
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While holes or rips in the wall or rainfly of your tent might seem far more alarming than holes or tears in the floor, problems with the floor of your tent can still lead to a very uncomfortable camping experience.
Even small holes or tears give dirt, water, and bugs an ingress into the tent – even if you have a tarp or custom footprint under your tent.
As with repairing damage to walls or the rainfly, a patch to repair a hole in the floor is your best bet. As before, simply clean the area around the hole, ensure the floor is nice and flat, and apply a patch. If there’s a big hole or a tear, duct tape will be your best bet. Apply the tape on the underside of the floor, and on the inside of the tent, apply silicone sealant over the tear. You’ll need to let the sealant sit for 12 hours or more, so this is probably not tent maintenance that you can tackle while backpacking in the wilderness.
Pro Tip: If a tent pole breaks, you can patch it using duct tape and a tent stake. Use the stake as a splint that extends over both sides of the break. Then tightly wrap duct tape around the break and the stake, ensuring that you wrap several times around to improve the strength of the repair.
Tent Maintenance: Take Care of Your Gear to Get the Most Life Out of It
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As with any outdoor gear, the secret to getting the most life out of your tent is to simply take care of it. In addition to doing periodic checks for holes, rips, or tears, you also need to seal the seams, repair damaged zippers, and patch holes in the mesh of the tent doors or windows.
Also take care to pack your tent appropriately. Doing so will minimize the chance that accidental rips or tears occur when packing it away.
Likewise, when setting up camp, be sure you take care to clear debris away from the area where the tent will be set up. Twigs and rocks can easily puncture the floor, even if you have a footprint under the tent.
These are all common sense tips, but you’d be surprised how many tent campers simply don’t heed this advice. Just take care of your stuff, and you’ll have less tent maintenance to do – and you’ll have a tent that lasts you much longer as well!