If you’re new to camping and you just invested some good money in a quality tent, you should really know a little bit about tent maintenance. There’s a lot of mistakes that you can make that will destroy or damage your tent, and it’s imperative to know how to care for your tent.
Here’s a list of possible things that you might be doing wrong, and how to avoid these common mistakes.
1. Always use a tent footprint
From the first time you pitch your new tent, the floor is going to get damaged if you are not using a tent footprint. Sadly, many people rely solely on the promise of the manufacturer that their tent is designed to cope with any kind of rough terrain.
If you are planning to camp on the beach, I doubt that the floor will not get damaged from the highly abrasive sand. Do yourself a favor and buy a ground cloth. There’s nothing worse than looking through the rips and holes of an expensive tent.
Now, I know that these sheets can get too expensive, especially if bought straight from the tent’s manufacturer. But no rule says you can’t make one yourself for as cheap as 15 dollars. Just make sure you learn how to use a tent footprint, so you don’t create other problems.
2. Recoat it with a waterproof solution
While most camping tents come coated with some sort of waterproof solution (although waterproof is a misleading term; the proper word is water-resistant ), it’s important to know that this will not last forever. It actually wears off quicker than you might think.
A quality tent will usually have two coatings:
- one layer of urethane coating which is the main thing that prevents moisture from penetrating the fabric;
- a second layer of DWR solution – this has the purpose of repelling the water, helping the urethane coating to achieve better results.
With a little help from the rain and repeated packing and pitching, these two protective layers will wear off, leaving the fabric unprotected and very susceptible to rot and leaks.
A DWR spray shouldn’t set you back for more than $10, and, depending on the size of your tent, one or two spray cans should be enough. The same with the urethane coating, it’s about 15 dollars for a quality one.
Read our comprehensive guide to find out how to waterproof a tent.
3. Never store a wet tent
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to dry your tent before storing it for a long term. If you don’t do that, mold spores will quickly grow, and it’s going to be a nightmare to remove it. Not to forget that you’ll need to deal with a bad smell as well.
So, if you got caught by rain, do your best to dry it before you pack it. If possible, do it straight away, on the campsite, because there’s always a chance that you’ll forget about it once you get home.
It’s better if you dry it in a shaded and windy place; I know, it will take longer to dry out, but it’s the safest way to do it.
Never put it in a machine-dryer, as these can generate more heat than the fabric was built to resist. Some fabrics can also get warped if exposed to high heat.
4. Learn how to clean a tent
Unless you’re camping in the living room, your tent will get dirty, and it’s important that you clean it straight away. But here’s where many beginners fail to do this safely and can ruin their tent right after their first camping trip.
If possible, the right way to do this is by trying to dry-clean it. Perhaps it’s not the easiest way and will not always be possible, but by doing this, you reduce the exposure to chemicals and high mechanical pressures that can destroy the coatings.
If dry cleaning is not an option, be careful with washing your tent in a washing machine. Show it some love and hand wash it with cold water and without using any detergents. After you’re done with this, don’t forget the earlier drying tips!
Sometimes, your tent will end up smelling, and it’s important to get rid of that smell quickly.
5. Don’t camp in direct sunlight all the time
Summer camping is what we all are waiting for, but our tents hate the sun. Well, not really the sun, but the UV radiation coming from it, that can do some serious damage to the tent fabric.
So, how do we deal with this?
The smartest thing that you can do is to pick a shaded spot to set up the campsite. This is easily achievable if you’re heading to an area with hills, trees, and tall vegetation.
Now, if you’re planning to camp on the beach, for example, there are little chances that you’ll find any shade at all. So then you need to consider buying a UV protection spray to prevent fabric degradation. If that’s not an option, covering the shelter with a reflective sheet will work even better.
6. Don’t ignore small rips and tears
It may not happen in the first days, but there’s a good chance that at some point, due to extensive usage, small rips and tears will appear. At this point, you need to act quickly and patch/sew that damaged spot.
Not doing this will only cause the tears to spread until the tent becomes irreparable.
If you want to do it fast and on the spot, you should consider buying an inexpensive tent repair kit. This can also help with other problems that may appear, like broken poles or guy ropes.
So the advice? Repair the small rips on the spot, otherwise, you’ll forget once you get home.
7. Don’t camp on the wrong ground
I’m sure you keep hearing that you need to pick the right ground to pitch the tent. But what does the soil has to do with your tent getting damaged?
First, the rough and abrasive ground is the tent fabric killer. So you’ll want to avoid them as much as possible.
Secondly, uneven ground can cause problems with weight distribution and structural stability. If you camp on a very inclined slope, there’s going to be a lot of weight on the lower-side poles. This might not be a problem for lightweight tents, but for massive family tents, it can cause the poles to snap.
Finally, if you camp on flat ground, there’s a good chance that you’ll get flooded if heavy rain will start. So the right place will be on a slightly inclined slope to achieve better drainage, but at the same time not to cause any structural instability.
8. Don’t Forget to fully stake your tent
It’s a calm and windless afternoon, and you think that using all the stakes provided is not necessary. After all, you know your tent, and there’s no need for more than two stakes. Wrong!
Or you might be anxious to get the pitching done quickly and open up a cold beverage and forget about the stakes.
Well, if you ignore to stake your tent properly, you might find yourself running after it if an unexpected wind gust hits. But that’s silly, and it’s probably never going to happen, you would say.
I’ll tell you what can happen: a heavy tent can collapse on you if it’s not properly secured. And then, some of the poles will most likely snap, leaving you with a costly repair.
9. Never omit ventilation
There’s one thing that annoys everyone who’s camping in a tent: condensation. And guess who’s to blame for it? You, me, us! For not letting the tent to properly ventilate.
An average person will produce around a liter of water vapors per day while inside a tent; that’s a lot for a small space such as a tent.
While camping for many days, all that moisture can cause mold and bad odors to appear.
If your tent has vents, make sure you open them, even if it’s raining outside. If it doesn’t, keep the from door opened and the rainfly off if it’s not raining.
Always have sufficient airflow to prevent condensation from happening.
10. Stop cooking inside your tent
Doing this can hurt your tent not by physically damaging it (unless you start a fire inside), but by infusing it with all those nasty smells.
I know that you’ve seen so many comments or articles that say it’s not safe to cook inside a tent. More than this, some camping stove manufacturers even ban the use of these devices in any enclosed spaces. I really think that using them with common sense is safe.
Pay attention though and never leave them unattended. Your tent fabric might be fireproofed, but it’s some sort of plastic after all, and it will melt even though it will not sustain continuous combustion.
11. Use all the tent poles according to the instructions
I really don’t see another reason why somebody would not use all the poles, other than laziness.
If you think the tent you’ve got has too many poles, and it’s too complicated to erect, just buy an instant or inflatable tent.
What can happen if you skip some of them?
First, you need to understand that 80% of the structural stability is sustained by the poles. The rest is achieved by good guy ropes and stakes.
Secondly, you’ll look stupid to anyone that will take a closer look. I really can’t imagine how you’ll even be able to erect it.
Finally, you’re transferring the weight and tensions to the tent fabric, which is not designed to sustain this, and the seams will crack open. There’s your $500 family tent gone to waste.
12. Don’t carry beach sand inside
Beach camping, the best thing ever for you, the worst thing that can happen to a tent.
Once inside the tent, with a lot of movement and weight pressing on it, the sand will start rubbing against the floor, acting like it’s “sister”, the sandpaper. No, having mats or sleeping pads will not help with these; it actually can make it even worse if the sand gets underneath them.
Unless you’re 6 years old, you can control how much dirt and sand can get inside a tent.
So, no more shoes inside the shelter. Always keep a brush or a cloth to brush off any sand that’s on your feet. And keep a small sweeper to remove sand that gets inside.
13. Stop being too harsh with the zippers
You’re in nature, and things get dirty. That will always be true. So if some dirt gets trapped between the zipper’s teeth, don’t lose your patience and force them to zip close. Clean it first; it only takes one minute.
Found your zips to work quite hard? Consider lubricating them with a special lubricant from McNett.
Once in a while, the fabric can get caught in the zipper. Again, you might be tempted to force it out. There are 10% chances that you’ll get it out by force, and 90% that you’ll rip the fabric. Slowly “back up” and with subtle moves, try to release the material.
If you break it though, check this guide about zipper repairs.
14. Always fix the leaking seams
To be fair, you might not even know that you have a leaking seam. Most often, people confuse a seam that’s leaking with natural condensation that occurs inside a tent.
If you’re not sure if it’s a leak or not, my advice is to seal it anyway. Use some inexpensive tent seam sealer, that will not cost more than $12, and gets the job done quickly and straightforward.
Ignoring this can lead to some material to rot over time, causing the damage to be unrepairable. Not to say that water will get in, doing even more destruction.
15. Always pitch at a safe distance from the campfire
Right, so you have a brand new tent, and the manufacturer said it’s fireproof, and you believe them, and you erect it close to your massive campfire. Because you think that fireproof means it’s indestructible.
First, your manufacturer is right. It is fireproof, but that only means it will not sustain a continuous fire. It will still melt if the temperatures are too high.
Secondly, the things that you have inside your tent might not be fireproof, like sheets and clothes. Any flying sparks can light them up easily.
16. Don’t use a cot without padding the legs
If you really want a hole in your tent’s floor, then this is the way to do it: Sleeping on a cot that doesn’t have some sort of foam or soft material wrapped around its legs.
So, there’s a couple of things you need to do to prevent this from happening.
- Clear the pitching area from any sharp rocks, wood, roots (you can’t clear roots, avoid them).
- Buy some cheap pool noodles from any Walmart or CVS, and wrap them around the cot’s legs.
- For extra safety, lay down a layer of foam underneath the cot.
That’s it; you’re good to go. Now the tent floor should be safe from any rough mechanical friction.
17. Prevent dogs from getting inside
I know you will allow your dog inside your tent no matter what I will say about this.
The problem with dogs is that they don’t have retractable claws, and often, especially at small dogs, the claws are quite sharp as well. So if they start jumping all over the tent floor, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend the afternoon patching up some punctures.
Some tents that are designed for dog owners have a much ticker floor that will offer better protection. If you really want your dog to stay with you inside, consider getting one of those tents.
In theory, a couple of floor mats will also help with this issue.
18. Never rush the disassembly process
There’s one problem with pitching and disassembling the tent: everybody wants to rush the processes.
Here’s what can happen if you don’t care and rush it:
- You’ll most likely lose some stakes, poles or guy ropes.
- You’ll end up pulling and forcing everything causing tears and rips.
- Never ever will you manage to pack the tent properly. I’m sure that it will not even fit in its storage bag.
- You’ll give little to no attention to cleaning it from dust and dirt
19. Don’t store food inside
I never had this problem, but apparently, critters can chew through the fabric to get to food if they are really hungry.
I don’t know how true this is; What I know, is that mice and rats can do this, so it’s better to store your food somewhere where no creature can’t reach it.
Read our full guide about camping storage ideas.
20. Don’t fold it: roll it
If your tent is made from a slightly sturdier fabric than usual (e.g., winter tents), it’s better if you roll it when you’re packing up. Folding it over and over again will create creases, that will eventually get permanent. Now, you might not care if the lines are visible, but you should know that on those lines, the waterproof coating will not be that efficient.
Also, the durability of the fabric is decreasing, and those are the areas most susceptible to tears and rips. Some people advise folding it differently each time, although, I think this will make things even worse. Stick with rolling it every time. There’s a reason why the storage bag is “always” rounded.