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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear: Tents 101

There's a bewildering array of tent options available, including hundreds of three-season tents and specialized models built for hot deserts, Arctic summits, and steamy rain forests.

by: The Backpacker Editors

PAGE 1 2 3 4

Invest some time along with your money, and your tent will age well.

Set up your tent immediately after the purchase and make sure you have all the components, including all the necessary guylines, a pole repair splint in case a pole breaks in the field, and the right number of stakes (plus one to be safe). If the stakes are flimsy wires that bend when inserted in your lawn, replace them with better-quality lightweight models.

Check the manufacturer's instructions for seam-sealing. Unless the tent maker specifically recommends against it, seal every weather-exposed seam that doesn't have seam tape on it. In the case of single-wall tents, seal even the taped seams. If you're using a liquid sealer, apply two thin coats. If you're using the viscous kind in a tube (Seam Grip), use a single coat. Allow the tent to dry overnight, or better yet, for 24 hours. If there's any chance of moisture or freezing, let it dry inside your home. Then test your sealing under a sprinkler for several hours. If the manufacturer said no sealing was required, test the tent under the sprinkler anyway. Let it dry thoroughly before reapplying sealer to leaky spots. Allow the tent to dry completely before cramming it in the stuff sack.

Dry your tent between trips to prevent mildew, which can discolor the fabric, make the tent stink, and ultimately delaminate the water-repellent coating and destroy the fabric. As soon as you get home, hang the tent or set it up until it's 100 percent dry. Repair holes, broken zippers, and wear spots while you're at it. Gently scrub bad stains with mild soap and water, and leave the rest alone. Never put your tent in the washing machine, because the turbulence delaminates waterproof coatings with frightening efficiency.

Avoid shoving a wet tent into a stuff sack on the trail. Weather permitting, drape the tent and rainfly over branches or a stout bush before moving to your next camp. If you must stuff it wet, set up the tent immediately upon arriving at the next site. Experts are divided on whether to roll or simply stuff a tent in its sack. Stuffers say rolling causes creases that weaken the waterproof coating. Rollers dispute this and prefer the neatness of the fold-and-roll technique.

Use a ground cloth to reduce wear and tear on the tent floor. You can make one from any kind of plastic or weatherproof housewrap scrounged from construction sites. You can also buy a "footprint" from some manufacturers. If you make your own, cut it so it fits just inside the tent floor's boundary. Overlaps can direct water under the tent.

Don't set up your tent in the backyard to dry, then forget about it for a week or two. UV rays will damage the fly fabric or perhaps even destroy it.

Refurbish old floor and fly coatings with an application of waterproof treatment.

Return to the Backpacking 101 home page.
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Jan 23, 2012


LaMadre, Oregon Coast
Dec 03, 2011

Very well done! Thanks!

Jan 23, 2011

Typo in your heading: Mountaineering/Hhigh altitude

Sep 30, 2010


May 07, 2010


May 07, 2010

very cool


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