Purchasing a backpacking tent is a big investment. As such, it's important to take proper care and maintenance of your tent. This will keep it in top condition for many years to come. Today we hope to answer some of the main questions about caring for your tent, including preparation, cleaning, and repair. Keep in mind that most of the following advice will also apply to backpacking tarps, which are often made from the same fabric as a tent rain fly.
How do I care for my tent?
If you have just purchased a new tent, be sure to do a trial run of setting it up at home and inspecting it to ensure there are no defects or missing parts before hitting the trail. This is a good idea even if your tent isn't brand new, but hasn't been used for a while. Check for holes, seam rips, broken zippers, etc. You may also wish to use a waterproofing spray on your new tent, but more on that in a minute.
Before you pack your tent up on the trail, be sure to sweep or shake any dirt or debris out from the inside and close all zippers. Ideally, make sure your tent is dry before packing it away. If this isn't feasible, be sure to set it up at home again to dry as soon as possible. Keeping your tent dry before storage is one of the most important things you can do to keep it in good shape for years to come. Damp tents can cause mold and mildew, unpleasant smells, and break down the waterproof coating.
You will occasionally need to clean your tent. Typically, it's recommended to do this after each long trip or once per season if you take shorter trips. Start by gently spot cleaning it with a soft sponge, cold water, and a non-detergent soap.
Choosing an appropriate soap is important as many household cleaners use scents that can attract unwanted critters to your site and detergents can damage your tent's fabric and deteriorate the waterproof coating. Mild dish soap like the original blue Dawn is acceptable. You can also use your backcountry soap, like Camp Suds.
After spot cleaning, it's time to wash the whole tent. This works best in a bathtub or outdoor kiddie pool. Mix an outdoor gear specific wash, such as Nikwax Tech Wash, with cool water to soak your tent. Be sure to follow the directions on your cleaner of choice for soaking times and unzip doors and turn your tent inside out before submerging. Be sure to rinse thoroughly once finished soaking. After washing, hang your tent outside to dry.
Store your completely dry tent in a cool, dry place. Treat it similarly to your sleeping bag by keeping it stored loosely in a mesh bag, if possible.
Similar to a tent, a tarp can be cleaned the same way. Wash it in the tub or by spot cleaning it gently with non-detergent soap and cool water.
Do new tents need to be waterproofed?
Typically, most new backpacking tents will be ready to go out of the box and will not require additional waterproofing. Be sure to check the seams. If they are taped, then they will be waterproof. If they aren't, then you might check with the manufacturer to see if they've been seam-sealed at the factory or if that needs to be done prior to use.
To seam sealer your tent, turn it inside out and pop the seams up to where you can see the stitching. At this point, run the seam sealer along the edge. Try to make as smooth a seal as possible so you don't leave any gaps.
If your tent is several years old and has seen a lot of use, you might consider applying some new waterproof spray your tent to refresh the waterproofing. This is especially important on the rainfly, which sees a lot of rain and UV exposure which can wear down the waterproofing over time. A new application of waterproof spray can give you the extra peace of mind you need in case you run into exceptionally wet conditions on your trip. You will also likely want to spray your footprint if you are using one.
How can I repair a tear or hole in my tent?
For the tent body or rainfly, start by cleaning the area around the tear with rubbing alcohol, if possible. Using a repair tape, such as Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, cut out enough tape to cover the hole or tear plus an extra 1 inch in diameter. Cutting it in a circle or oval will help the patch last longer as opposed to a square or rectangular piece. Lay the area as smooth and flat as possible and place your patch. It is advisable to place a patch on the inside of your tent as well in high-tension areas, such as near poles. This patch "sandwich" will last a lot longer than patching only on one side. Ideally, let your patch set for a day before packing your tent away. This process works on tarps as well.
Mesh repairs work similarly, but you will need a mesh repair kit. Place your mesh patch over the tear and apply the patch with some pressure. Ideally, you'll apply a patch on both sides to ensure a strong repair. When done, let your patch sit for at least a day before packing up.
In a pinch, some good ole Duct Tape works as well for any hole, regardless of fabric. Place a piece on both sides of the hole or tear for a better seal. This can fix holes in tarps quickly as well if you do not have a tarp repair kit.
Here's a detailed video that goes over repairing both tent fabrics and mesh panels.
Can you put a tent in the washer?
No. Please don't ever clean your tent in the washer as it can compromise the seams and deteriorate its waterproof coating. The agitator can also stretch or tear the fabric. The same goes for the dryer.
When should I use my tent's footprint?
For sandy areas, such as the desert or the beach, it might be a good idea to use your footprint. Sand is very abrasive on tents and you don't want your tent floor breaking down unnecessarily, causing leaks. You may also want to use it on rocky terrain to keep any rocks or pebbles from creating tears or holes.
How do you get the musty smell out of a tent?
If your tent is smelling musty, an enzyme cleaner may just be your new best friend. Try Mirazyme Odor Eliminator or Revivex Odor Eliminator and follow the directions closely. Leaving your tent to soak for too long in these enzyme mixtures can cause, you guessed it, the waterproof coating on your tent to break down.
Is it better to stuff my tent into the stuff sack or roll it?
It is really up to you and your personal preference. There is no hard, clear answer on which is better. Many tent manufacturers recommend rolling, mostly because it's easier to get the rolled tent back into the stuff sack for long-term storage. However, many backpackers admit that they stuff most of the time.
The one benefit of stuffing is that you're never putting stress on the same areas each time, so it might extend the life of your tent slightly.
How does a tent pole repair splint work?
Hopefully, your tent will come with its own splint (we include a splint repair kit with all of our tents) so you will already have the appropriately sized one for your specific tent. If not, you will need to find the diameter of your tent pole and order the correct size to fit it.
Repair splints are easy to use. While your pole is straightened/not in use, simply slide your splint over the broken segment. Then pitch your tent with the splint in place and the tension of the bend in the pole will usually hold it in place. You can always use rubber bands or even some Duct Tape to secure the splint further.
We hope that you found this guide informative and that it's answered any questions that you might have had on caring for your backpacking tent (and tarp too). If we missed anything, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment below.