Tent Care 101

Make your tent last with these tips for setup, cleaning, and repair.

For most camping and backpacking outings, your tent is the cornerstone of your whole experience. It provides protection from bugs and bad weather, locks in warmth on cooler trips, and gives you a space to laugh with friends as the fireflies come out. Your tent is your home away from home. And for most people, a good tent also represents a significant investment.  

With so much riding on a single piece of gear, it’s important to treat it right. This guide will cover the four basic areas of tent care:  

  • Proper setup
  • Tent care in the field
  • Storage tips
  • Tent repair basics  

Proper Setup

Most rips and tears come from improper setup. Here’s how to set yours up for success.


Pick the right spot  

The bottom of your tent takes a lot of abuse from you, your gear, and the ground. To avoid undue wear, choose your tent location carefully. Look for flat, established tent sites on smooth ground. Comb the area thoroughly to remove any sticks, rocks, pinecones, or other sharp objects that could poke through the bottom. (Bonus: Your site will be way more comfortable with a little grooming, too.) 

Use a ground tarp 

No matter how thoroughly you inspect your tent site, your tent floor will still encounter abrasion from the debris below, which can wear through the material over time. For additional protection, consider using a ground cloth or footprint beneath your tent. Ground covers reduce abrasion and are easier—and cheaper—to replace should they develop a hole or tear. 

Pro tip: Cut it or fold the edges of your ground tarp so that it doesn’t extend past the edges of your tent; otherwise it could funnel rainwater beneath you while you sleep. 

Exercise patience

When night falls and the weather’s coming in, you might be in a hurry to pitch your tent, but be careful not to rush things. Forcing poles through the pole sleeves or being careless with where you let the ends rest can lead to tears and holes that, at best, will let bugs and water in, and, at worst, may make your tent unusable.

Avoid direct sunlight

Over time, UV rays can break down the lightweight materials common in tents these days. One day in the sun won’t have too much of an impact on your tent, but keep in mind the cumulative effects. If you have an option, choose a tent site out of direct sunlight. 

Another option: Cover your tent with a rain fly, even on nice days, as flies are often made of more durable materials that are better at resisting UV rays. Plus, if your fly does take on UV damage, it’ll probably be cheaper to replace than your tent body. 

A man looks to close his tent

Tent Care in the Field

Heed these tips for entry, exit, and clean camp living to extend the life of your tent. 

Keep it clean 

Dirt, pebbles, sticks, and other debris can get caught between your sleeping pad and tent floor and rub a hole or tear in the delicate material. Leave your boots outside, and shake out dirty gear before bringing it in. 

Leave out the smell-ables

Food, deodorant, toothpaste, lotions, sprays, and other smellable items can spill and permeate your tent material. These odors can “stick” even after cleanup, and can attract critters that might nibble through your tent for a taste. Store all smellable items in a bear bag or canister overnight, or leave them in your car. Also be aware that harsh chemicals like DEET-based bug sprays can permanently damage tent materials. 

Supervise your pets

It’s natural to want to cuddle with your pup on a chilly night, but you may want to think twice before bringing Fido in the tent. Claws can puncture tent floors, and some dogs are prone to chewing when they get anxious. Never leave a pet unattended in your tent. 

Be gentle to your zippers 

Zippers take a lot of abuse, but they’re key for keeping you protected in your tent (they’re also hard to replace). Avoid yanking or tearing at a zipper, especially when there’s a piece of fabric caught in the slider. Instead, tug slowly and carefully to work out jams. When you can, use two hands to open or close a zipper: one to pull the tab, and the other to support the material around it. 

Storage Tips

Tent care doesn’t end when the trip does. Here’s how to prevent mold, mildew, and funky odors. 

Dump the debris 

When it’s time to pack up at the end of a trip, unstake your tent, unzip the doors, and pick it up to shake out any dirt, leaves, or other debris. If you can, also let your tent dry out completely before packing it up.

Give it a bath 

Dirt can abrade fabrics, impede water-resistant coatings, and cause undue wear over time. If your tent is dirty or muddy, spray it off with a garden hose as soon as you get home. Use a tech wash or mild, fragrance-free soap and spot-clean dirty areas with a soft sponge. Never put a tent in a washing machine. 

Dry it out 

Whether or not your tent got a wash, erect it again at home to dry out once more before long-term storage. If it's raining at home, erect or hang it inside near a fan. (Avoid putting tents in clothes dryers, which can damage them.)  

Keep it loose

Store your tent in a loose, breathable bag, rather than its stuff sack. Loose storage prevents tight twists, which could stress the fabric over time.  

Tent Repair Basics

You don’t need to be a gear wizard to fix some of the most common tent ailments.  

Reseal your seams

Seams hold your tent together and take a lot of strain. They are often waterproofed with seam tape. If you see the tape peeling away from the seams or feel water dripping through, it might be time to reseal. Lay out your tent in a garage or other dry, spacious area. Remove the seam tape and apply a thin coating of liquid seam sealant along the seams, painting it on in a band about the same width as the seam tape. Let it rest for about a day before using (always follow package instructions). 

Patch Holes

If you have a hole in your tent, opt for a permanent patch over duct tape. (You can get patch kits from tent manufacturers or at most gear stores.) Clean the area around the hole, and cut the patch to be larger than the hole by about a quarter-inch on all sides. Spread out the torn material on a flat surface and glue the patch in place, giving it about a day to dry before using. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.