Tent Care

7:32 p.m. on April 4, 2005 (EDT)
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Wanted to post this for feedback before I send to ezines. Please be brutally honest:

How To Keep Your Tent Forever

One in a Series of Five Camping Gear Care Articles

A tent is your home away from home, your second skin. The right care will keep it reliable, and keep you protected.

First, clean your tent:

Usually you can just shake your tent, but occasionally it will need cleaning.


Here is what I do:

Step One:I shake my tent to get rid of large debris. Then I wipe the outside of the tent floor with a damp cloth to remove ground in dirt, and vacuum the zippers with the brush attachment.

Step Two:I pitch my tent and clean the tent walls, inside and out, with Down Soap. For stubborn soil I use a solution of 1/2 cup Lysol to one gallon of warm water. I sponge-rinse the tent TWICE to ensure all soap is gone. I never submerge it in water or rub waterproof coatings (like inside the tent floor and the underside of the rain fly).

Step Three:To remove sap from the tent, I scrape it with a non-serrated butter knife being careful not to cut the fabric. DO NOT USE SOLVENT. For gooey sap I use tissue and carefully pinch off the sap (don rub or it will smear). A small spot is ok. Eventually it will collect dust and won be sticky. If I need to pack the tent right away I stick tissue to the sap and remove it later. To remove the sap completely, I mix glycerin and water in equal parts and apply it to the sap, then let it sit. The sap should rub off the tent fabric easily. (If not, let it sit longer).

Step Four:A musty odor, and/or small cross-shaped spots on tent fabric indicate mildew formation. To get rid of mildew I mix 1-cup salt, 1-cup lemon juice (concentrated), and 1-gallon hot water. I rub the solution into all visible mildew. Then I pitch the tent with affected areas facing the sun and allow the tent to dry.

Second, maintain your tent:

Zipper sliders, the moving part of a zipper, wear from grit or sand, which causes failure over time. I use McNett's Zip Care to lubricate tent zipper teeth to reduce wear. You can also use paraffin wax or bar of soap if you're in a pinch. DO NOT USE PETROLEUM BASED LUBERICANTS.

If the sliders on my tent zippers start to fail, I squeeze the slider head (from front to back) firmly but gently with a pair of pliers.

Third, store your tent properly:

I never put my tent away damp. Damp tents will mildew, smell, and eventually deteriorate. If you can pitch your tent outside to dry then use a guest room or a basement, just as long as the tent is dry before you pack it.

I pack my tent poles in old pillowcases or a canvas bag to prevent accidental punctures to tent fabric.

I pack my tent loosely. An oversized bag or cardboard box gives it breathing room. I don store my tent in a plastic bag or airtight container.

Proper care of your tent will make it last forever. I clean mine once a year after the camp season before long-term storage. You will be glad you did.

Kirby Kinkead is a camper, backpacker, and outdoor enthusiast. Contact him by emailing kirbykinkead@opentrees.com

11:22 a.m. on April 5, 2005 (EDT)
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First comment is more a question to Dave, who runs this site - the article has some interesting and potential information ... UNTIL the blatant commercial ad on the last line. If you were really interested in commentary on a "helpful hint", you should have left that off (right, Dave?), gotten the comments, then published it on your own commercial site.

2. A lot of the information is the same as provided in the brochures the tent manufacturers provide (yeah, yeah, who ever reads those?), although some points contradict those brochures. I suggest you review the brochures and catalogs on tent care from folks like TNF, Mtn Hardwear, Marmot, Black Diamond/Bibler (some specifics below)

3. One thing I have long practiced since someone else demonstrated it to me (too long ago for the Old GreyBeard to remember who) - when getting ready to put the tent away each time you break camp, turn the tent inside out to shake out all the dirt and debris that has accumulated. This is hard to do with a family-sized car camping tent, but it is very easy with a backpacking tent. Exceptions to this are the obvious break camp in a downpour or blizzard, or high winds when it might be torn from your grip and disappear into the distance. But it is easier on the tent than sweeping with a stiff-bristled brush or broom.

4. As the tent manufacturers recommend, minimize sun exposure. This means, when you are airing or drying the tent after washing or getting it home after a wet campout, set it up to dry in a shady area or indoors (well-ventilated, of course), like your garage (you don't use the garage for parking the cars, do you? Oh, yeah, it's too crowded with the bicycles and ski gear -- soooo, use the living room).

5. There are some solvents that are safe for nylon and polyester tent fabrics - see the manufacturers brochures. I am not so sure about Lysol, but if it works for you, ok

6. tent poles (the bungeed kind that are almost universal, at least on top quality tents) - At one time, a number of manufacturers had a specific recommendation for tent pole care - (a) unfold them carefully, don't let them snap into place (snapping into place bends the ferrules and can crack the pole ends, as just happened to me by accident a couple months ago) (b) when re-folding them, start in the middle and work toward both ends symmetrically (this lengthens the life of the bungee, which will lose elasticity over time. Working from one end to the other as many people do uses all the stretch by the time you get to the far end of the pole) (c) bungees lose elasticity at low temperatures. To get the elasticity back for really cold winter or high altitude camping, put the poles inside your parka for 10-15 minutes to provide a little warmth (I learned this one at 17,000 ft on Denali when we got there during -35F temperatures and 40 knot winds).

(7) There has been a controversy raging for years about stuffing vs folding vs rolling tents. The manufacturers that put a recommendation in their brochures say "stuff". The reasoning is that folding tends to be along the same lines each time, which will speed cracking of the plastic coating on waterproof floors, flies, etc, and it tends to create long-term damage to zippers. Improvements in the coating materials and techniques over the years have made this less of a problem - except when repeatedly folding during a very wet trek without the chance to dry things out (promotes mildew, which will lift the coating right off the fabric, except for SilCoat materials). When rolling, you generally have to fold a few times to get the width of the roll to match the stuff sack. So actually a worse problem, since the rolling makes the fold tighter. Stuffing, according to the brochures I have at hand, puts the bends in the fabric at different places each time, so there is less build-up of repeated stress. (besides, it's a lot faster when trying to pack in a storm). However, different folks have different preferences and widely varying reasons for choosing rolling vs folding vs stuffing. There are no statements in any of the tent "owner's manual" brochures I have here at hand that say anything about storing loosely (a la sleeping bags) vs in their supplied stuff sacks. I once asked several manufacturers at one of the OR Shows about this with the response universally being that as long as the tent is stored clean and dry, the stuff sack is perfectly fine (one company, who also makes sleeping bags said something like "this isn't a sleeping bag, which loses loft when stored stuffed tightly")

(8) On zippers - used to be a recommendation in several of the manufacturers' brochures to stuff the tent with the zippers UNzipped. The comment was that the zippers are bent in the folding/stuffing/rolling, and a closed zipper will get worn and distorted more quickly. Since I haven't seen this in a brochure recently, I asked a couple of the tent manufacturers and the YKK folks at last summer's OR Show. The reply was that there has been progress in the design and materials, and this is not as important now, although a good idea.

(9) Be very careful to no get DEET, Permethrin, sunblocks, or other chemicals on the tent fabric. DEET in particular will weaken the fabric and will lift waterproof coatings off the fabric (see, for example, the very strong wording of Gore's comments on DEET on Goretex).

1:02 p.m. on April 5, 2005 (EDT)
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Thanks a lot for all you hard work and great comments! The first point is well taken and I appoligize for the careless copy and paste. Don't mean to offend, I will not make the same mistake twice. Perhaps Dave will edit?

It is obvious that this site is far more advanced than this "helpful hint" provides for.

Thanks again. Look forward to other comments.

2:26 p.m. on April 5, 2005 (EDT)
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1,261 forum posts

Now hold on there pardner.

Yessiree, theres gonna be some cowpokes out there on that big camping range who are gonna be much obliged you did all that swet and toil out on the back forty while Miss Darcy was in the hall closet beating off the indians.

happy trails to ya pilgrim. May the dust stay off your boots and outta your pony's ears.

giddy up Earl.

9:13 p.m. on April 5, 2005 (EDT)
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6,007 forum posts

No problem. I notice that Dave did edit out the one line.

As Ed says and I noted in my first reply, your "handy hints" are potentially quite useful. There are just a few points to clean up.

As it happens, I just got a new tent and spent the afternoon seam-sealing it. Which is a point you left out and I forgot to remind you of - virtually all tents, including the top of the line by the top of the line manufacturers, need to be seam-sealed if they are going to be used in any kind of damp weather.

The "owner's manual" happens to include a section commenting on UV damage and says to pitch the tent in shade if possible. Now this is a top of the line expedition tent that is normally used well above timberline (which is where my spouse and I will be in about 7 weeks). There ain't no shade up there, folks! In fact (being Alaska), it's daylight 24 hours a day during the time we will be there. And the manual goes on to say that just one month's worth of UV at high altitude can completely do in a tent. Now that's a scary thought when you consider that expedition tents cost in the multiple hundreds of dollars. Isn't that the cost per night of a luxury hotel?

Anyway, as Ed said, this site has folks who are absolute beginners posting questions, and some (like Ed) who have years of experience and lots of advice to offer (some think that just because I have a grey beard and have several decades of outdoor experience that I might know something - except I can't remember any of it and have to learn all over again every time I go out.

Keep adding to your "hints" posts.

2:23 a.m. on April 6, 2005 (EDT)
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You guys are great! I have four more to go... (any suggestions? I was thinking multitool care.)

Talk to you soon.

6:00 a.m. on April 6, 2005 (EDT)
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1,261 forum posts

You good man. You keep posting tips.

You post tips on hammock camping?

Ed G want learn hammock camping.

you have good day.

11:34 a.m. on April 6, 2005 (EDT)
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6,007 forum posts

Kirby, be careful of this guy Ed if you write a "hints" on hammocks. He has probably fallen out of more hammocks than anyone else on Earth. He's the only person I know who awaited a massive hurricane hanging in his hammock (in his living room, no less). His best advice so far is to measure the alligators at the chosen campsite and hang the hammock just a bit higher than the reach of the largest local gator (or was it a croc? Or maybe it was gaiter?)

As for topics for hints, care of sleeping bags and boots are a couple of things that I see neglected among many hikers and backpackers. I saw a thing on RealAge about foot care that prescribed changing socks at least once *during* the day, which seems a bit impractical on a multi-day backpack. Realistic hints about foot care and the role that socks and boots play in it might be good (yeah, I know, there are entire books on the topic, but something concise for the beginning hiker would be good).

2:15 p.m. on April 9, 2005 (EDT)
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749 forum posts

Oh gee I lost the post when I logged in.
All I ever do is hang my tent in the garage for a few days to dry then roll it up. My bibler is only used in snow - never been cleaned. My summer tents are mostly used on sandy low mud content soil in the Sierras which just brushes off. Haven't lubed a zipper in 20 years. I do seal all seams of all tents with "seam grip" and I use the catalyst otherwise you end up with a sticky mes and maybe a damaged tent.
Jim S

May 27, 2018
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