Tent Care 101


Tents tend to be fairly durable and with the right care and some light maintenance, can serve you well for many years. By following our suggestions here in Tent Care 101, your tent will be a piece of gear you’ll be able to enjoy for many hiking and camping trips.

Finding a Spot

When you are looking for a site to set up camp, in the backcountry, look for an established spot that doesn’t have a lot of plants and rocks that could abrade the floor of your tent. This area should also be relatively flat. When you’ve decided on your perfect spot, clear away whatever may be on the ground, sticks, stones and anything else that  could tear a hole in your tent floor, wear away the waterproofing or just make for an uncomfortable surface to sleep upon.

A ground cloth is the best way to protect your tent floor. It will protect your tent floor from rips, holes and abrasions. Remember the tent floor is WATERPROOF until you poke a hole in it. A fitted nylon or polyester footprint may be offered for your tent. It is specifically made for your tent and will attach securely to your tent. These fitted ground cloths are made by the tent manufacturer for a specific tent model and can not be interchanged with any other model. The fitted ground cloth will be easy to attach and use but will also be pricier than a piece of 4 or 6 mil polyethylene. When using a polyethylene sheet the most important factor is that the sheet is trimmed smaller than the tent floor (1-2 inches for backpacking tents and 3-4 inches for family style tents). The reason being is that while the floor is rated as waterproof that is an industry standard and not a submarine, so water given enough time and pressure could penetrate the tent floor. You do not want water between the ground cloth and the tent floor where pressure from a person standing or sleeping could cause the waterproof rating to be exceeded. The ground cloth does not have to extend to the very edge because generally because of the slope of the tents sidewalls you will never be standing or sleeping on that part of the floor and the greater danger is that you will channel water between the ground cloth and the tent floor and increase the risk getting wet.

Set up your Tent

For optimum performance from your tent, make sure it’s set up correctly. We suggest that you practice this at home a few times first, so you’ll be a pro, by the time you hit the trail. In fact it is a very good idea to set your tent up before every trip just to be sure that it is still in good shape. You won’t know a mouse chewed through it or that you forgot to repack the stakes and poles unless you look. A properly set up tent has no sagging parts and should be staked out for additional tautness and security. If you are unable to stake it out, you can use guy lines or cord to tie it out to trees or rocks. It’s very important to have everything taut. If it isn’t, the fly will sag against the tent body, and condensation could seep down into the interior. Also, try to set up your tent a shaded area. UV rays from the sun can degrade your tent fabric, and will have you back buying a new tent, sooner than you would like. Attaching guylines and stakes increases the structural strength of the tent. Tents are designed with the idea that they will be used. Not using them can decrease the life of your tent and seriously affect their performance in bad weather.

When putting together your tent poles, be gentle. While it’s fun to let the shock cord do the work and let the poles just go together by themselves, it’s not the best idea. Join them together carefully, so that the ends don’t crack or chip. When taking the poles apart, begin breaking them down from the middle joint, to relieve tension on the cord.

If a pole breaks, you may be able to use a pole repair sleeve. Many manufacturers have repair sleeves for specific models. A replacement pole sleeve is a short aluminum tube that has an inner diameter slightly larger than your tent pole; you slip it down over your tent pole and then tape it into place. Pole sleeves can be used on tents with aluminum poles but not usually on tents with fiberglass poles. For fiberglass pole repair Campmor offers fiberglass pole replacement sections that are easily installed. For broken steel poles you might be able to fashion a repair sleeve out of PVC tubing but it might be easier to seek a replacement from the manufacturer.

In and Out of your Tent

When you enter your tent, it’s best to leave your shoes outside, and the dirt that’s attached to them. Dirt tracked into a tent, from dirty shoes, can rub against the floor and cause damage. Even of you don’t bring your shoes in; you should shake out your tent before breaking it down. Consider using a small throw rug just on the inside of your tent door. You can wipe your feet and leave your shoes here rather than outside.

Breaking Down your Tent

When packing away your tent, the most important factor is that it is dry and clean from any debris. At the campground you may pack up your wet tent and store it for a short while but within 24 hours you must thoroughly dry it out. You can set it up to dry at home or hang it somewhere to dry. When it is completely dry lay the tent flat on the ground with the floor on the bottom. Take the tent bag and lay it out at either end of the tent. This will serve as a guide to show you how long the folds of your tent should be. Family tents may be folded in any number of ways but generally it is easier to fold it in thirds or quarters depending on the length of the stuff bag. Fold your fly and lay it lengthwise on the tent. Fold the tent over that so that you have the fly inside the folds of the tent. Put the poles in their sack, drop the stake bag into the pole bag and lay the whole thing across the folded tent. Roll it up tightly, starting with the poles. Roll slowly, forcing the air out of the tent. Done properly the whole tent should drop right in the bag.

At Home

Take the time to set up a new tent at home, before you head out. The more familiar you are with the process, the more comfortable you’ll be, once out on the trail. And being able to set up your tent quickly and easily is a good skill to have, in case you find yourself making camp in the dark or in the rain. Setting up your tent at home is also a great way to check to make sure that you’re not missing any critical parts.

We do NOT recommend washing your tent. You can rinse them but soaps and scrubbing are things that were not meant for tents. We do understand though that in some cases washing a tent must be done. So, never machine wash a tent in a top loading washer as it can cause damage to your tent. Washing machines can tear fabric and tent seams, melt fabrics, delaminate waterproofing. You can wash your tent in a front loading washer but it is almost always better to wash it by hand. Use a sponge, and a non-detergent soap and gently hand wash and rinse the tent.

Waterproofing Seams

The overwhelming majority of tents have been factory seam sealed, using seam tape to cover the small needle holes in the fabric, created when the tent was sewn together. Any seam that consists of two coated materials will need to be sealed if it is exposed to the elements. Any seam that has one coated material and one noncoated or two non coated materials does not have to be sealed.  Seam sealer can also be used to replace seam tape that has worn away because of heavy usage. When seam sealing two light coats of sealer are better than one heavy coat.


The best way to stop mildew from damaging your tent is to prevent it from growing in the first place. You can prevent mildew from forming by not storing your tent away when it is wet. However if it has started to grow, you must take action to stop it from growing. Set up your tent. With a moist sponge rub the affected area gently to clean it off. This will remove some of the mildew. Next in a 1 gallon pail mix 1 cup of lemon juice and some non-detergent soap. Dip the sponge and re-clean the areas affected. Next rinse the sponge in clean water and go over the affected areas. Let dry completely and the put your tent away. Please note that mildew infiltrates the actual fabric of the tent so you can kill it but the spots will remain. Your best defense is to not keep a wet tent in its stuff bag for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

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  • Rick

    Wanted to add a brief comment about folding tent poles as you simply stated “Put the poles in their sack…” I learned long ago with the elastic shock cord type poles, breakdown should begin in the middle and continue outward evenly until poles are completely folded. This prevents the elastic cord from being over stretched at one end. This is typically most important at the end of a trip if you plan to store the tent away for a couple months until your next outing. If you are backpacking and will pitch the tent nightly at new vistas, well, not as important – but a great habit to get into! Happy camping!