Trail Life 101: Tent Care

Like most outdoor fanatics I scrimp, save, and scan Gear Trade  or other sale sites for the backpacking tent I have been drooling over for the past six months (or more).

Backpacking tents are one of the largest investments that any avid backpacker or climber will make. Taking time to give your new investment some TLC after every trip will help to ensure a number of comfortable evenings for many trips to come. 

Basic Cleaning and Storage

One of the top priorities in tent care is properly cleaning and storing it after each trip. Not only will this prolong the tent’s life, you will also avoid that disgusting smell of mildew next time to you go set up camp ten miles in. Shake out loose dirt, clean off any mud, wipe down the floor, and fly with a sponge and water when you return home from every trip. Make sure the tent and fly are also both dry (avoid direct sunlight) before packing it away. If you live in a humid environment consider storing your tent loosely in a stuff sack or box to avoid mildew.

Mildew will kill a tent and your sense of smell. This fungus will penetrate the urethane coasting of the tent fabric and grow between the fabric and coating eventually lifting the coating from the fabric thus loosing all waterproof capabilities. Should mildew begin to form you can sponge-wipe the tent with a solution made up of 1/2 cup Lysol to a gallon of hot water, or rinse with a solution of 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of salt to a gallon of hot water.

Zipper Care

Most of the problems experienced with tent zippers are due to wear in the zipper sliders, rather than a failure of the coil itself. (The slider is the metal part that you move to zip and unzip the zipper.) Particles of dirt and grit on the coil, accumulated during use, abrade the mechanism inside the slider head. Once a slider becomes worn it will stop engaging the teeth of the coil correctly and cause the zipper to slide out-of-place. Avoid accelerated wear and tear by cleaning the zipper coils after every trip, especially in sandy and gritting environments. Zipper cleaners and lube are available at most outdoor stores, or you can use paraffin wax or lip balm if you’re in a pinch. Petroleum based lubricants are not recommended.

Sun Damage

One of the biggest causes of tent damage comes from the sun. UV damage will cause nylon and polyester to become brittle and eventually tear. When traveling in dry and sunny environments try to set up your tent in the shade whenever possible. Consider using the rain fly even on clear days as it acts as a sunscreen for the tent and is less expensive to replace if it is damaged.

Tree Sap

Tents are made from a variety of materials so it is difficult to say what substance will or will not damage your tent. You are best to start with only a small spot on the tent and with substances that are less likely to do any damage to begin with. Some die-hard backpackers swear by butter or vegetable oil rubbed into the area with a paper or cloth. Unless you enjoy the midnight invasion of woodland creatures licking your face or attempting to tear down your tent, make sure to immediately follow this method with soap and water to remove any oil and residual smell.

Tales from the Road: Smell Ya Later!

Original posting from’s Dirtbagger Diaries

“Been Camping, Have You?”

© Patti Poulin /

© Patti Poulin /

With the rolling green hills and overcrowded freeways now behind me, I found myself driving in the early morning hours along an empty two-lane highway with the sun barely peaking over the distant mountains. The landscape was vast, like that of the moon, and I had packed up my tent only hours earlier.

Having just spent four more days along the eastern Sierra in efforts to be reacquainted with my own company I was now feeling like the king of the road. I was living off pasta, eggs and soup, and my clothes were beginning to smell. My hair was turning dark from dirt and grime. My last shower was four, maybe five, days ago. The smell of campfire lingered on my clothes and I had a stupid smile upon my face. I was back in my element and the comfort of my own company came around quicker and easier than I thought it would. I had room to stretch out in my car with only my own gear stashed in the back and Sienna was riding shotgun with her head out the window.

I was headed toward the southwest, as California was being slammed with storm after storm. I’d had enough of the rain and was ready to get back into the desert during the best time of the year, spring. Avoiding the main thoroughfares and in need of gas, I drove for miles through open eastern California high desert before finally stumbling upon a lone service station surrounded by abandoned buildings.

Suddenly feeling transported into a terrible B-rated horror movie, I pulled off the highway and onto the shoulder of the road before pulling up to the gas pump. I can spend days on end out in the wilderness without a problem, but now I was afraid to pull into a decrepit gas station. Looking back at Sienna for reassurance, she was snoozing in the backseat and completely oblivious. I must have sat on the side of the road for ten minutes and not a single car drove by; my gas light flickered on and I was really in need of caffeine. The decision was obvious, I was going to face my (ridiculous) fears and pull into the gas station.

Slowly pulling up to one of only two gas pumps on site I scanned the area for signs of life. Starting to wonder if the station was even open, I crawled out of my car and walked towards the glass door that sat ajar. I peaked in looking for an attendant, the station was dusty and the shelves were stocked with supplies that looked as if they had been sitting there for centuries. As I made my way toward the cold drink section, the sound of a deep, raspy voice made my heart stop and my entire body lunge forward.

“Can I help you?”

Now stopped dead in my tracks and no longer focused on the Coca-Cola that was within grasping range I turned my head towards the counter to see a large man with a scraggly beard now standing behind the cash register.

As I opened my mouth, a squeaky voice I had never heard before came rushing out.

“Good morning, just need to get some gas and a cold drink.”

I awaited a response but all that I got from the man was a grunt. Grabbing my drink, I hurried to the counter and slid some cash in his direction. I attempted to make small talk as he rung up my purchase but all that I received in return was a glare. That was until he handed me my change and receipt. As I put out my hand to pick up the five-dollar bill that he slid across the counter I once again heard that deep raspy voice that had stopped me dead in my tracks moments earlier.

“Been camping have you?”

I lifted my eyes to look at his face that now had an impish smirk.

All I could utter was “uh huh.”

As I turned to scurry out the door, I could hear him utter only a few more words:

“Well, it certainly smells like it!”