For years upon years I relied on hand-me-down tents from my dad and, by the time they got to me, they were often in pretty rough shape, but they did the trick for a younger version of me and my friends, and taking proper care of these ragged cast-offs was rarely on our mind. We’d pack them up wet and dirty, many ended up with burn holes and broken zippers… basically we’d run them into the dirt.

But then I got my first tent of my own, a solo backpacking Sierra Design, and boy did the rules change. I dropped $300 on that tiny shelter, and it was going to last me a lifetime. Except for one time I regrettably lent it out, it’s never been mistreated, not even so much as an errant pine needle in the bag when it comes home.

And that’s just it: taking care of your tent will keep it sharp and functional for years to come, and camping gear ain’t cheap.

So what is basic tent care? Let’s break it down.

Choose a Flat, Smooth Surface

For starters, you want a smooth, level area free of brush, twigs, rocks, and other junk that might scuff up or even tear the bottom of the tent. The floor of most tents is thicker than the rest of the tent, almost tarp-like, so provide water resistance and a little durability, but they’re not indestructible. Rolling around inside, walking on the floor, and even wind, can cause a lot of friction between the tent and the ground, so be sure you clear your site as much as possible.

Find an open, clear space free of debris, sticks and rocks to set up your tent.

Use a Tent Footprint

Most tents have a tarp-like footprint that is designed to fit underneath the tent, both protecting it from the abrasions of the ground and adding another layer of water resistance. The footprint is usually an extra purchase, but it can help extend the life of your tent and can easily be replaced when it gets a little rough.

Keep it Out of the Sun

As with most things, sunlight can be damaging to tent materials. The UV light can cause the material to deteriorate, become brittle and tear. It will also reduce the water resistance. Find a site that is shaded if possible, or at least keep your fly on during sunny days.

Whenever possible try to set up your tent in a shaded area to prevent UV damage.

If you must leave it out in the direct sunlight – sometimes that’s just the best spot, right? – then consider putting up a tarp overtop during the peak sunlight hours.

Pack it Up Properly

A real key to keeping your tent in good shape has more to do with when you’re not using it than when you’re setting it up or sleeping in it.

Keep it Dry

Whenever possible, make sure your tent is totally dry before packing it up. Leaving your tent damp can cause damage, mildew, a real stench. And mildew can start to form in as little as 24 hours.

It’s obviously not always possible to pack up dry, sadly, so if you must pack up the tent went, be sure to pull it out again at the earliest opportunity to allow it to dry out, then re-pack it.

Keep it Clean

It’s inevitable that as you use your tent you’ll drag in some sticks, twigs, rocks, pine needles, and other forest floor goodness. These pieces of debris can abrade the tent materials over time and reduce water resistance or even cause holes or tears. To avoid junk in your tent, try:

  • remove your shoes before entering the tent
  • bring a small hand broom to sweep out the tent
  • before packing up, shake the tent out with the doors open, allowing debris to fall out

Roll It Up (Don’t Fold)

Folding your tent and fly can cause permanent creases in the same place, over and over, and this can wear down the fabric and lead to weak spots, tears, and poor waterproofing.

Instead of folding the tent up, roll it up (and your fly)!

Those are the basics of tent care, and by adhering to most of this you should extend the life of your tent indefinitely.

Leave any thoughts or ideas that I’ve missed in the comments below!

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