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December 2007

Make Your Gear Last Forever

Backpacker's Ultimate Fix-It Guide

fix icon Block UV damage (Online Bonus)
Sunlight will degrade tent fabric just like it burns your skin. Plus, UV damage can’t be undone. Protect your tent by pitching it in the shade, striking it as soon as it’s dry, and not leaving it up in the yard for weeks at a time. If you anticipate lots of tanning time for your tent, treat it with a UV protectant (see "Products").

fix iconpole Pole problems (Online Bonus)
Broken shaft You can avoid most malfunctions by gently setting up and taking down tents cautions McGowan. "Operator error is the cause of 99 percent of our tent failures." When a break occurs, repair broken and cracked poles promptly to prevent the rough edges from severing the elastic cord. Split the broken pole by sliding an aluminum pole sleeve over the damaged area and taping both ends in place. (Sleeves are 4-inch tubes included with most new tents; you can also purchase them separately.) Back home, contact the manufacturer for a replacement section or mail-in repair.

fix icon Pole problems
Loose cord Cold weather and repeated yanking can cause a shock cord to lose its elasticity. If that happens, pry off the cap from one end using a multi-tool, cut off about 5 inches of slack cord, re-knot the end, and replace the cap. Incurable limpness or severing requires manufacturer attention.

fix icon Wash out a tent
Never put your tent in the washing machine or dry-clean it. Both will destroy its waterproofing. Instead, clean it manually during and after each trip. Before you take down a freestanding tent in the field, turn it upside down shake out dirt. At home, wash the floor with warm water (soap can degrade coatings). Hose down muddy sidewalls, taking special care to flush out zippers and power wash the floor. Air-dry the tent completely before storing it in a cotton sack.

fix icon Kill the stink (Online Bonus)
If your tent is the victim of an extraordinarily foul event–skunk spray, baby poop, late-night vomit–dunk the suffering shelter in a tub of warm water and odor-eating McNett Mirazyme (see "Products").

fix icon Build your own tent footprint (Online Bonus)
Many tents these days come with an option to buy a footprint that fits in the pole grommets where the fly attaches. If you’re only interested in using the footprint as a ground cloth (rather than a lightweight shelter option), save yourself $50 or more and follow these steps to make your own.

  • Supplies: Choose a material that is lightweight, pliable and waterproof. Some of the best options include plastic Tyvek, painter’s plastic, nylon tarps. You’ll also need a grommet kit (available at most hardware and outdoor stores for about $12, which includes metal grommets along with a hole punch, cutting board and die.
  • Place the fabric on the ground and set up your tent on top of it. Using a marker, trace around the perimeter of the tent and also trace the grommet holes where the rainfly attaches. (1)
  • Following the instructions on the grommet kit, attach metal grommets to the fabric on the circles you marked where the fly hooks onto the tent. You want the finished ground cloth to be held in place underneath the tent by looping the grommets onto the tent poles, just as the fly attaches over the tent.(2)
  • Cut along the tracing line in the corners where the grommets are located. For the rest of the ground cloth, cut two inches inside the line marking the tent perimeter. This is to keep rain water from channeling and puddling underneath the tent floor. (3)

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