How To Take Care Of Your Tent | Essential Advice - Outdoors Magic

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How To Take Care Of Your Tent | Essential Advice

Top tips and essential advice to help you keep your tent in prime condition for outdoor adventures

Inevitably, tents can take a bit of a battering when you’re wild camping, bikepacking or backpacking. The same applies to campsite tents, especially if they’re left up, exposed to the weather for days on end. Sustained use can take its toll, just like constant pitching and packing away. Over time, this is likely to affect a tent’s weather-resistance, all-round performance and general durability.

“You can ensure your tent will remain your most trusty camping companion for years to come”

So, just like a bricks and mortar home, tents need a little TLC now and again – which usually amounts to no more than a quick clean after every camping trip. It’s worthwhile, we promise. Given a little care and attention, you can ensure your tent will remain your most trusty camping companion for years to come.

What Causes Damage To Tents?

Many different environmental factors can affect the performance of your tent and limit its effective lifetime.

Exposure to the elements: Over time, the effects of wind and rain can weaken the fabric of your tent. This can reduce water resistance and compromise stitching or tensile strength, resulting in rips or tears.

It’s an extreme example, but Everest expeditions show the danger UV presents to tents. Photo: Bally

Ultraviolet (UV) light: Long-term exposure to the sun’s rays can damage a tent by degrading the fabric. Tent-care experts Nikwax claim that in some cases, just two weeks of UV exposure can lead to a reduction in the tear strength of the tent fabric by 50 per cent. UV damage also affects the fabric’s ability to repel water. If your tent starts to look faded or bleached, it is likely to have suffered UV damage. These risks increase in high UV areas, such as camping at altitude or in hot, arid environments like deserts.

“A build-up of grime can quickly start to affect your tent’s performance”

Dirt and dust: A build-up of grime can quickly start to affect your tent’s performance. That’s because dirt and dust reduce the effectiveness of a tent’s DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating, so the fabric ‘wets out’ rather than water beading and running off the tent. This may cause your tent to leak. In addition, water, dirt or dust sitting on the tent fabric reduces its breathability. This means water vapour inside the tent can no longer pass through the fabric, causing condensation. This explains why even if it isn’t raining outside, you sometimes still get dampness inside the tent.

Mould and mildew: Packing away a damp or wet tent often leads to mould and mildew developing. This causes an unpleasant odour and appearance but is a particular problem for canvas tents, where the problem can go so far as to cause the fabric to rot away, rendering your tent completely unusable.

How To Protect Your Tent

Although tents made from different fabrics need to be cared for in different ways, there are some basic measures that apply to all tents.

Make sure you shake off any moisture from your tent.
  • To help protect your tent from UV damage, pitch in shaded spots where possible. Don’t leave your tent up unnecessarily.
  • Try to ensure your tent is dry before you take it down. Air it thoroughly by opening the doors before you pack it away.
  • Sweep or shake out the inside of the tent before you take it down to get rid of grit, insects and debris.
  • If possible, brush or sponge the dirt from the underside of the groundsheet so you don’t pack it away muddy. Try and ensure the underside of the groundsheet is facing outwards as you pack it up.
  • When packing away, leave the door zips slightly open to allow air to escape.
  • If you have no choice but to pack away a wet tent, unpack and air it as soon as possible when you get home. Detach the inner and hang both the fly sheet and the inner out to dry. If you’re on the trail, try to pitch up a little earlier than usual the next night and fold back the door, so you have time to air the tent before going to bed.
  • Store your tent in a cool, dry place. If you have no choice but to store your kit somewhere prone to damp, like a shed or garage, then use sealed storage boxes or plastic crates to ensure moisture can’t get in.

How To Clean Your Tent

If you’ve managed to pack your tent away dry and dirt free, there shouldn’t be any need to unpack it at home and clean it again. However, once in a while it’s a good idea to give your tent a more thorough clean, which is also a good opportunity to perform other maintenance.

  1. Never put your tent in the washing machine, regardless of fabric type.
  2. It’s easiest to clean a tent when it is pitched, so set it up in in a well-drained area of the garden. If you don’t have outside space, hang it over the bathtub.
  3. Shake out the tent and then sweep inside with a soft brush to remove all debris.
  4. Do not use a detergent to clean tent fabric, as this can damage it. Instead, use a specialist product such as Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash, Storm Tent Wash or Grangers Tent + Gear Cleaner. Spray evenly to the outside of the flysheet, working in sections. Rub in well with a damp cloth or sponge, paying attention to particularly dirty areas.
  5. Rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.
  6. Leave the tent pitched to dry naturally or leave it hanging over the bathtub, with the bathroom extractor fan switched on.

Reproofing Your Tent

Over time, the waterproof coatings of tent fabrics can degrade, affecting performance. How often you need to reproof your tent depends on how often you use it, and in what conditions. However, if water droplets seem to soak into the fabric of the flysheet rather than beading on the surface, it’s time to reproof your tent. You might notice that your flysheet seems to darken when it rains, which is also a good indicator.

Firstly, try resealing the seams of your tent, which are the major point for water ingress. Pitch your tent with the fly sheet inside out to give access to the inner seams. Using a cloth, clean the seams with rubbing alcohol.

“Over time, the waterproof coatings of tent fabrics can degrade, affecting performance”

Then apply seam sealer, such as McNett Seam Grip for polyurethane (PU) coated polyester or nylon flysheets, or SilNet for silicone nylon (sil-nylon) flysheets. Other products are available. However, it’s important to make sure that the product you choose is suitable for the fabric of your tent. That’s because these different coatings or laminates affect the adhesion of specific products.

Most budget and mid-range camping and backpacking tents have a nylon or polyester flysheet with a polyurethane (PU) coating. The good news is that, in addition to resealing the seams, this fabric coating can be reapplied with a product like McNett TentSure. It can be used on the upper side of the groundsheet and the inside of the flysheet. However, it shouldn’t be used for sil-nylon tents, cuben fibre tents or polycotton/canvas tents.

Nikwax SolarProof can used on gear or tents.

It is safe to refresh the DWR treatment on both synthetic and sil-nylon tents though. This is applied to the outside of the flysheet and is most easily done with a proofing spray. Good products include Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof, Grangers Tent + Gear RepelStorm Tent Proofer or McNett ReviveX Tent Water Proofer. Most of these are best used on a wet or damp flysheet. Apply evenly to the fabric. After a few minutes, use a damp cloth to wipe off any excess spray. Leave the tent to dry completely before packing away.

Polycotton and canvas tents do not generally need to be treated with proofing products. That’s because the fibres swell naturally when they get wet, rendering them weatherproof. It is still important to keep them clean and dry, however, to guard against mould and mildew.

“Polycotton and canvas tents do not generally need to be treated with proofing products”

Ultralight tents sometimes use cuben fibre (now known as Dyneema Composite Fabric or DCF) flysheets, a very expensive material that is made by sandwiching super-strong Dyneema fibers between two layers of film. DCF is inherently waterproof and doesn’t absorb any water, so shouldn’t need reproofing or recoating. It is also much more UV resistant than other tent fabrics. Unfortunately, it has very little abrasion resistance, and in that respect is a delicate material that requires careful handling.

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