It's strange that a thin sheet of nylon strung together with cord and poles can feel like home, offering both physical protection from the elements and peace of mind. But if you've ever spent a night out in the woods in a camping tent, you've felt the security they bring.
Just like a home, tents must be taken care of properly and maintained well. Here are a few tips to help you get the most use out of your three-pound home away from home.
Preserve your tent's floor
Your tent floor's biggest enemies will be the exact ground you're laying it on. Rocks, roots, gravel, and plants can all lead to cuts and abrasions that will compromise your tent's ruggedness, not to mention let in dew, critters and other wilderness staples
Find a ground mat that fits the size and shape of your tent that you can lay on the ground first. Sometimes you'll see these labeled as footprints, and they are great for extending the life of your tent. Keep in mind that abrasions can come from inside, too. So before entering, be sure to leave the hiking boots outside.
Once your trip is over and you're packing up your tent, take the time to turn the tent inside out and shake out any dirt that accumulated. Don't be afraid to wash down the tent with a hose every now and then, just be sure it is fully dry before it goes back into storage. While the nylon the tent is made of won't be damaged by moisture, other parts - thread, zipper tapes and coatings - can be damaged.
It may seem counterintuitive, but instead of folding your tent, stuff it in its sack. This will prevent wear lines from forming.
Dealing with mildew
As with other camping gear, if you store your tent while it is still wet, or if you store it in a damp place, you run the risk of mildew forming. This fungus actually has the strength to penetrate the waterproof urethane coating of your tent, and grow between the nylon and the coating. This can ultimately destroy the coating.
If you spot mildew on either the rainfly or the floor, you'll need to take extra caution when cleaning so as not to peel off the polyurethane coating completely. Heavily diluted bleach is known to work well when spot cleaning your tent, and letting it dry outside will help get rid of the smell.
For mildew on other areas of the tent, simply wash the tent by hand with a mild non-detergent soap and water solution.
Stay out of the sun
Nylon can stand up to moisture no problem, but sunlight is a different story. UV rays can cause serious damage to the nylon fibers of the tent's fabric. To minimize this risk, pitch your tent in a shady spot if you can. What's most important is to not let your tent receive sustained, direct sunlight. Leaving it up for your kids as a playhouse all summer is a surefire way to degrade those fibers.
After prolonged use, the seams of your tent could potentially fail. Keep a bottle of seam sealant handy, like Seam Sure, Seam Grip, and Sil Net, so you can patch up any leaky seams.
A well-conditioned tent will be an essential piece of outdoor gear. By taking a few minutes to make sure your tent is pitched in the right spot, used correctly and packed up carefully, you'll find that a little bit of nylon and rope can truly feel like home.
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