How to Properly Care for Your Tent - Before, During & After Camping

How to Properly Care for Your Tent

If you are anything like me, you spent quite a bit of time researching the right tent for your camping needs, and then ended up spending more money than you had expected, but now have a tent that you love! This means that there is nothing more frustrating than your tent getting damaged on its first or second use, or finding that it is ruined when you pull it out after a few months in storage.

Good quality camping equipment needs to be cared for to make it last and ensure the value of your investment. Here we will explore what you can do to look after your tent and make sure it lasts many, many camping trips.

Tent Pitching

Tents are made to be used, and to protect you from the elements! But taking a bit of extra time and care when using your tent will help minimize damage from the elements, and from any accidental bad treatment.

If you have a new tent make sure you practice pitching it at home. This can be a good idea with old tents too as it gives you an opportunity to double check that you have all the bits and fix any problems. Practicing pitching just means that you can figure out how to use your tent when you have time and privacy, rather than struggling with something unfamiliar on a campsite, where it might be raining, and you may have children and other campers trying to ‘help’, and you may inadvertently damage your tent.

When you are on site, make sure the ground where you pitch your tent is free of debris such as stones, sticks and old pegs, as these can do damage to your groundsheet. You can provide further protection for the bottom of your tent by laying an extra piece of material between your tent and the ground. You can buy specialist camping footprints, like this Leaptech footprint that we are currently using, or go DIY and use something like builder’s plastic sheeting.

It is also a good idea to lay this plastic sheeting around the door of your tent, and wherever you may store muddy boots or wet clothes, to offer a bit of extra protection. You can also protect your tent by avoiding hanging wet towels on it to dry. Clothes detergent can strip the waterproofing from your tent, and even the residual detergent from washing your towel can do quite a bit of damage. Unfortunately, for the same reason you shouldn’t let your kids blow bubbles near the tent, as if the bubbles pop on the tent, you can quickly find yourself with wet patches.

Anyway, when pitching your tent also make sure that you position your guylines carefully so that the fabric neither flaps excessively, which will accelerate wear, or is pulled too tight, putting stress on the fabric. You should check the tension of your guylines regularly throughout the trip as changes in temperature and weather conditions can cause the fabric to respond differently.

In hot weather, you may be tempted to think that you don’t need your tent’s fly, but it is a good idea to use regardless, as UV can do damage to the fabric of your tent, and the fly will help protect against that. If you don’t have a fly, you can grab one pretty cheap. I’m currently using the MIER waterproof fly.

Tent Packing

Often at the end of the camping trip you just want to take everything down as quickly as possible, but it is worth taking a little bit of extra time with your tent, as lot of damage can happen between the time you pack it away and the time you have a chance to store it properly at home.

Always start by wiping off as much mud and grime as possible, off both the fabric of your tent and the poles and pegs, rusting can start to happen surprisingly quickly! You should also pack the pegs and poles separately from the tent, to avoid them damaging the fabric.

Make sure the fabric of your tent is as dry as possible before your pack it away so that trapped water doesn’t cause mold during transport. Shake off as much water as possible, and wipe the tent down with a dry cloth, though one that has not been washed in detergent! If you have room in your vehicle, drape the tent over other baggage if it is still a bit moist. If you have to pack it a little damp, make sure you unpack it as soon as possible to let it dry. A damp tent left for a few days can be ruined.

Tent Cleaning and Waterproofing

Cleaning your tent after use and before you store it is the best way to ensure it has the longest possible life. Cleaning is also a great opportunity to waterproof, as the waterproofing on tent fabric doesn’t last forever, and is easily degraded, particularly by cleaning detergents as these are designed to cut through grease and similarly cut through waterproofing.

It is easiest to clean and waterproof your tent while it is up, as you can access the entire tent. Setting up your tent at home can also help you look for rips, tears, and other problems that may need fixing.

To clean your tent::

  • Pitch your tent.
  • Brush off loose dirt, and where necessary scrape off dirt using a flat bladed knife.
  • Using a cleaning liquid appropriate for your tent’s fabric to clean your tent, making sure you follow the instructions closely to avoid damage.
  • If necessary, you can use bleach on, particularly nasty stains. It should be mild bleach, like the kind used to sterilize babies’ bottles. This probably won’t clean away black stains but will kill the organisms that caused the stain, and that cause the smell.
  • Rinse the tent fabric of all cleaning fluid with clean water.
  • Never put your tent in the washing machine!
  • Let you cleaned tent dry naturally.

You should also apply waterproofing to your tent while it is up. Again, make sure you get a solution that is right for the type of tent you have, and let the tent air dry after application.

Tent Repairs

If you did any temporary repairs to your tent while camping, or if you spot any damage to your tent while it is up for cleaning, now is to the time to deal with it.

You should have a small repair kit for your tent for making any repairs while you are camping. Tents often come with a kit that includes a short section of pole, spare guy ropes, patches and fabric adhesives, needle, thimble, and strong thread, and waterproofing spray. You might also want to add to this gaffer tape, and a few extra pegs.

Gaffer tape is the quickest and easiest way to repair rips and tears in the field, just make sure that the area around the damage is clean before you apply it, and spray with waterproofing to prevent further damage to the area. At home, you can sew up holes and patch with new fabric.

Apart from tears, damaged poles, split seams and guyline anchors coming loose are the most common problems you will encounter, so make sure you inspect and clean these areas. Also, don’t forget to inspect your zips and apply lubricant to any that might be sticking.

Tent Storage

Once your tent is clean, waterproof, dry and repaired, proper storage will ensure that it is still ready the next time you want to use it.

How you store your tent will depend on your tent. Some tents are designed to be stored with their inner fabric still inside, though I generally choose to store this separately in case there is any residual grime on the outer sheet. I also always store my poles, pegs and other bits separately, as these can easily damage the fabric of the tent.

When you fold your tent, avoid folding it the same way each time as it can cause undue wear along the folds.

Finally make sure you store your tent in a dry, cool place that it out of direct sunlight, and do not store in a plastic bag, as this can cause condensation, undermining the work you just did to keep your tent clean, dry and mold free!

About the Author:

Jessica Elan

Jessica Elan is a hiking and camping enthusiast living in and exploring the Midwest. Originally from England, where the Lake and Peak Districts were her backyard, she has lived in the US for 15 years and now has 2 children, 2 dogs, 3 cats, and one RV.

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