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Rip & Equip: Tents

Tips on buying the right tent for your backpacking style. Plus, cleaning and repair advice.

Care Instructions

Dirt and mold compromise waterproofing and clog zippers. But don’t wash your tent in a machine. Even on a gentle cycle or in a front-loader, the agitation damages the fabric and waterproofing. Instead, pitch your tent, spray it with a hose inside and out, and scrub off dirt with a soft brush or sponge and a bucket of water mixed with a drop of mild soap (Joy or Dawn work well). Rinse well so there’s no soap residue, let the tent air-dry, then treat any worn areas with a sealant such as McNett Gear Aid Tent to re-waterproof. When the canopy and fly are finished drying, stuff and store them. Before packing poles or stakes, inspect them for damage, scrub, and let dry.

>> Maximize airflow and prevent condensation. Use this high/low venting technique: Open the bottom of a door at one end and the top of a door at the opposite end.
>> Pitch your tent on a flat, well-draining surface. You don’t want water to pool underneath, even with a waterproof floor—the vestibule will still be a swamp.
>> Prevent UV degradation. Long-term exposure (think high-elevation basecamps) can cause coatings to peel and fabric to stiffen. Treat your tent with a UV protector such as Granger’s Tent and Gear Proofer; when possible, dry your tent in the shade.
>> Bombproof your tent by using every guy-out point. Fasten the pole attachments (on the inside of the fly) and stake them out securely. In snow and sand, tie the cord around rocks, sticks (turned horizontal), or fabric anchors, then bury them about a foot deep. To make the line adjustable, use MSR’s CamRing Cord Tensioners ($10;, or a tautline hitch (A). For a knot demo see
>> Keep snow and frost out. In wintry conditions, bring a tent brush and sweep out the white stuff before it melts.

>> Leaky seams Paint on a thin coating of sealer like McNett Seam Grip on problem areas (both inside and outside) and over seams.
>> Rips and holes For holes larger than a pencil eraser:
1. Wipe the area clean with water and an alcohol prep pad from your first-aid kit. Let dry, and trim away loose threads.
2. Cut an adhesive-backed patch (round the edges) to cover the hole by at least one-half-inch on each side. Try Tear-Aid’s Type A fabric patches (available at hardware stores).
3. Apply the patch to the tent’s inside and smooth out air bubbles.
4. For floor or rainfly repairs, patch both sides or seal the outside with Seam Grip (for PU-coated nylon).
>> Broken pole Slide a metal sheath onto the pole (your tent likely came with one sized for your poles) and center it over the break. Duct-tape it securely in place. When you get home, call your tent’s manufacturer for a replacement pole section.
>> Slack pole cord Remove the cap from one end, cut off five inches of cord, reknot the end back to the pole, and replace the cap.

Never Do This
>> Store a wet tent One word: mildew.
>> Snap pole sections together This chips and eventually splits segment ends, making it difficult to connect them. Instead, gently place the poles together.
>> Prime a liquid-fuel stove in your vestibule Runaway flames can easily melt the synthetic fabric.
>> Fold your tent the same way each time Creating the same creases over and over can compromise the DWR coating. Vary your folds, or stuff it.

Secret from the Pro
“Reality check: Once those ugly black mildew stains appear on your tent, they’re there for life. As for that rank smell that always comes hand-in-hand with mildew stains? Try this technique for removing it: Mix 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of concentrated lemon juice, and 1 gallon of hot water. Scrub the tent down using a vegetable brush or big sponge, then air dry it.”
— Excerpted from BACKPACKER’s Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance
and Repair ($20,

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