Basic Tent Care

News & Tips: Basic Tent Care

If you're new to camping and just bought a tent you need to know some basic tent care procedures, but first let's start off by talking about tents in general. Years ago tents were constructed out of only one kind of material, canvas, whether it was an army pup tent or a wall tent. Their cotton fibers absorb water and swell up thereby making it water proof. If you touched the sides it would leak.

Types of Tents

The biggest drawback of canvas tents is that they are heavy. About 25 years ago nylon tents became the rage and have pretty much put smaller canvas tents out of business. In fact, I don't know if you can even buy a small canvas tent anymore but the bigger sheepherder tents are still canvas though.

The most popular tent has to be the dome tent, which comes in various sizes. I have a small one for backpacking and a 10-by-12 foot one for short hunts. Dome tents are popular because they're so easy to set up.

I also have a 10-by-16 foot nylon cabin tent that I use if I'm out for a week or have my family with me. It has a lot more space and even has two rooms. As I stated above, I feared that nylon tents wouldn't be durable but I have camped all over with my 10-by-12 for close to 20 years. After numerous broke poles, zippers and holes burned in the cover it is worn out. I was pleasantly surprised by their durability.

For hunting in frigid weather, I have a canvas Army-type Wall tent. It's equipped to use a wood stove and 2-3 can hunt comfortably out of it. So as you can see, I think you need four different tents to survive.

We've discussed the benefits of dome tents. Cabin tents are nice for summer family camping or modest fall hunting. Some come equipped with a rain awning over the door. They can trap a pool of water and sag pretty bad.

The nice thing about big dome tents and cabin tents is that they have enough room so that you can sleep on cots. One thing I like about sleeping on cots is that it basically doubles your space. You can store items under your cot.

Tarp Over Tent
Use a tarp to help keep the rain off canvas tents.

Now let's discuss wall tents, sheepherder tents or whatever you want to call them. They're made of canvas and some come with floors, some don't. Some have poles to construct them and some you have to cut poles when you get there and make an A-frame set-up.

The good deal about wall tents is that they come equipped with a hole to run a stove pipe through. In cold weather, it's the ticket. Nothing is better than having a hot fire going in your tent when it's near zero outside. You can hang your wet clothes up to dry. A few years ago I was by myself and it was down around zero. I didn't particularly feel like going out and cooking breakfast before daylight in the driving snow. No big deal, I cooked on the stove.

Most outfitters and set-ups you see up in the backcountry will be wall tents.

They're also stout enough to hang a lantern from the roof. Many do not have floors so you will want to have a large tarp. Curl it up along the sides to keep water from running in. It also keeps you from sleeping on the dirt.

While on the subject of tarps, most people will lay a tarp under their tent to keep out the ground moisture. It also protects the tent floor from sticks, rocks and so forth. A few years back I started to also lay a tarp on the inside. This way if I got pounded with snow or rain I could still stay dry. Leave a blank spot by the door to put your wet boots and clothes and then you'll have a dry tent.

There are more styles of tents but the above mentioned are the most popular. Your local Bass Pro Shops can supply whatever size and model of tent that you can imagine. Decide what activity you're going to be doing and then go pick out one of their many models to accommodate your task.

Care Tips

You see some people hang a tarp over their sheepherder tents. This protects it from leaking and if you extend it past the door it also provides an awning. This can be nice to cook under or to store your gear so it is out of the weather. Some people will dig a trench around the high sides of their tent to divert water.

Before setting up your tent, you want to pick up all the rocks and sticks. They're not conducive to good sleeping, plus they can damage the floor of your tent. When setting up your tent, don't do so under dead trees. As you walk around notice all the dead limbs on the ground. You could wake up under one.

Before I fail to mention it, dome tents will have a rain fly that you place over the top. Nylon tents sweat, so the top is made to let condensation escape out the top. The top of the tent is mesh so you must place the rain fly over the top which is waterproof. With this system the moisture can escape so it doesn't collect on the ceiling and drip on you. Stake the fly out to the side to allow good air movement between the two layers.

And always dry your tent out before you store it. Otherwise it will mildew. Many times you will be packing up in the rain. Don't panic — if it's still raining when you get home just lay it out in the garage until the rain stops then lay it over your clothes line or fence to let it dry out.

To clean the inside, just invert your tent and shake it out or I've seen some people carry a little rechargeable dust buster vacuum cleaner to clean out the inside. I've never worried about washing mine. Like I said earlier, my 10-by-12 dome is at least 20 years old and the only washing that it has ever received is when it rains.


In my mind when we talk about tent repair we're talking about: waterpoofing, poles breaking, holes in the tent or rainfly, and broken zippers.


I'm told that certain waterproofing compounds for canvas tents can weaken the cloth so ask your Bass Pro specialist which water proofing compounds to use. Bass Pro also carries goop for treating the corners and seams on your canvas tent so they will not leak, but as we stated above, you don't want to be touching the walls in the rain.

To waterproof nylon tents, I use the spray can treatment. I just looked and the one I have is named Camp Dry by Kiwi. Most of these sprays are a little obnoxious to breath so spray your tent before you go out on a hike so they have time to air out before you to go to bed. There are also tubes and bottles of sealant to treat the seams. On dome tents all you want to treat is the rain fly and the lower sides of the tent. On cabin tents you need to treat all surfaces. The corners will sag in a heavy rain and pool up. You want to lift up the corners periodically to drain off the water.  

Broke Pole

Tent Repair Kit
A tent repair kit for nylon tents are a must for every camping trip.

In the course of events no matter how careful you are, you'll break a pole. One time Craig Laufert and I backpacked into the Raweh Wilderness area in Colorado on a blackpowder elk hunt. We got rained on, snowed on and about blown away. The high winds broke a tent pole. We used a stick to make a splint and tied it to the pole with string to get by. I've also used duct tape to tape a stick to the broken joint.

Buy a tent repair kit that consists of a few poles, an elastic replacement cord and metal wire to pull the cord with.

To repair a broken pole, pull the male end off the pole. Untie the knot and let the elastic cord slip back down the center to the broken one (hold on to the string at the far end of the broken pole so you don't have to restring the whole set). Lay the broken segment next to the new one and cut it to the proper length with a hacksaw. Then run the string back down the hole and out the end. They have a wire to help but last night I just ran the string down the hole. Tie a knot to keep the string from zipping out and you're good to go.

I've repaired numerous poles. It's easy and after the first time you'll be an expert. Some of the newer, higher dollar backpacking tents have thin metal poles. It's the same principle when repairing them.

Patching Holes

To patch holes, you have multiple options. Like with all cloth items the sooner you patch a hole the better so it doesn't rip out. If I have a tent rip along the seam I use a piece of canvas and sew it back together. I like to use canvas since it is stout.

For smaller pin holes such as when I built what can only be classified as a bonfire on a freezing elk hunt that had some hot embers flying right over my tent. The next day I noticed about 20 small holes. They have stick on plastic repair tape that works fine for this type of repairs.

Broken Zippers

For zipper repairs, unless you're a seamstress of sorts then you'll have to take it in to get replaced. Make sure they install a zipper that has a gripper on both sides. If it is only on one side put it on the inside for easy access. I once had one put on my tent with only one gripper and put it on the outside. That's not good if you need to hurry and get out of your tent. Well, happy camping.