Cleaning a tent regularly is important, but keeping it in tip-top shape while you use it and how you store it at home can also prevent damage and ensure a longer lifespan. There are a few essential things you should know about caring for your new tent.
Basic tent care tips
- Choose a suitable campsite and use a footprint to protect the bottom of your tent
- Take care during setup and use – read the instructions and be gentle with poles and zippers
- Properly disassemble and store the tent – never store a wet tent
- Regularly clean the tent, including spot cleaning and deep cleaning as needed
Before leaving home
New tent? Practice pitching your tent at home in a stress-free environment. Make sure you have all the necessary pieces and accessories. When you get outside to camp, you might find yourself racing against daylight or trying to beat out incoming rain, so having set up the tent beforehand will be helpful. Knowing how to properly set up your tent will avoid mistakes that may cause damage.
Old tent? If your tent isn’t new and you’re well versed in pitching it, it’s still a good idea to pitch your tent at home ahead of each camping season to check for damage that may require repairs before you get out in the wilderness. Look closely at the seams, zippers, and rain fly. If you see anything that could use a refresh or repair, now’s the time to get your tent in tip-top shape before heading outside.
Setting up the tent
Step 1: Find flat ground. Hopefully there is a well defined area within the campsite for your tent so you don’t have to trounce or flatten on any other land. Before you set up, be sure to remove rocks and twigs that could puncture the bottom of the tent. Other than this simple clearing, try not to disturb the campsite any more than is necessary, and follow the Leave No Trace principle.
Step 2: Find some shade. A shady spot is going to be preferred for a few reasons. One is so that you aren’t awoken by early morning sunlight or heat, but also to protect your tent. Ultraviolet rays are harmful to a tent’s fabric and can degrade it over time, causing it to become brittle, which can result in rips and tears. Sometimes being in the sun or partial sun is unavoidable, though. If your tent is set up in direct sunlight, try moving it before you venture out for the day. If that’s also not possible and your tent will be in the sun for hours on end, make sure to put the rain fly on even if it’s a clear day. The rain fly is the most solar-resistant part of the tent, and it’s easier to replace if it’s damaged. Fun fact: polyester is more resistant to UV rays than nylon.
Step 3: Use a footprint. A footprint is a custom-size fabric that is sold with your tent to provide a barrier to the ground, protecting the tent from moisture and other debris. The footprint should be a synthetic material and can even be a tarp.
Tip 1: Respect thy zipper. Once your tent is set up, the zippers will get the most wear and tear as you go in and out. You’ll want to keep the tent zipped shut at all times to keep bugs and critters out. It is likely that as you go in and out of your tent that your hands will often be full, but don’t be tempted to rip open the zipper one handed. We’ve all tried this and probably failed more times than we’re succeeded. Aside from the frustration this causes when it doesn’t work and you have to drop your load, it’s important to use both hands when zipping and unzipping to protect the zipper and fabric.. Use one hand to hold the end of the zipper track secure while unzipping with your other hand to keep it from snagging and ripping material. Stubborn zippers are so annoying, and this is definitely one of those times where it pays to go slow and steady even when you’re in a hurry.
Tip 2: Leave boots and dirty gear outside the tent. This mostly refers to dirty or wet shoes and boots, but if your pants, jacket, backpack, etc. are also grimy, leave them outside or in the tent’s vestibule. Bringing dirt into the tent can damage it from the inside out as rocks and pebbles rub and cause holes.
- If you’re concerned about spiders or critters crawling into your shoes at night, bring them inside. I typically do this and just make sure to bang out all the dirt first and then stash them near my feet so I don’t have to smell them.
- Bring a small doormat or rug to leave outside the tent to catch dirt and sand or wipe your feet on the way in. You can also use a sit pad for this.
- If you’re dirty and need to get inside, try this: when entering the tent, dust off your bottom/pants, unzip the tent, and sit down butt first with your feet outside on the ground. Take off your shoes and dirty socks, leave them there, and climb inside.
Tip 3: Store food away from the tent. Keeping food inside your tent is a personal invitation for little critters to come chew through the fabric and feast to their heart’s delight. Don’t even entice the rodents (or bears!) with any fragrant products inside the tent. Keep food and personal items safely stored outside.
Breaking down the tent
Step 1: Shake it out. When taking the tent down, it’s important to properly shake it out. Start by keeping the tent in tact with the tent poles still in place. Turn it upside down with the doors open and gently shake, shake, shake. Then shake out and/or wipe down the footprint, which will probably be dirtier since it was directly on the ground.
Step 2: Push—don’t pull—the poles. If the tent poles are inserted through fabric loops or sleeves along the exterior of the tent, push the poles out the opposite end, rather than pulling them toward you. When pulled, the shock cord separates the poles, which can snag and rip the material.
Step 3: Dry it out. This is a vital step. It’s crucial to completely dry the tent before storing it in the stuff sack or bag. Trapped moisture turns into mildew—smelly mildew—within a few as 24 hours, and you will not be happy with yourself if you’re greeted with a stinky, moldy tent next time you go camping.
- Chances are your tent got some kind of wet while you used it, so find somewhere to let it air out before packing it back up. Drape it over a picnic table, big rock, or bush, being careful not to rip the material.
- When it’s properly dry and ready to be packed, roll the tent instead of shoving it into the bag to protect the mesh, zippers, and other bits and pieces. If your tent isn’t completely dry when you have to go, make sure to unpack it and air it out before storing it at home. Learn more about proper tent storage here.
Step 4: Wipe the poles. Use a rag to wipe off dirty or dusty poles before storing. If you were camping beachside and the poles are sandy or salty, you especially want to clean them well before stuffing and storing, as it can damage and corrode the steel.