Reluctantly, even though next week is forecast to be in the mid-60s in Northern California, I am putting my summer toys, and by that I mean camping gear, away for the winter. The rest of the year, my garage looks like a gear rental shop: tents and sleeping bags slung over drying racks, backpacks hung on door corners, uninflated sleeping pads folded and stacked on a table. I use those toys, I mean tools, often in the warm months, so I don’t bother with packing them away nicely.
After a summer’s use, however, my tents especially are filthy. I don’t pay particular attention to cleanliness while on the trail, and I’m just going to get the thing dirty soon again once I return from a trip, so I prefer to store my tents loose and aired out. But when winter rolls around, I want to be sure my tents are put away clean and with care. I have a tent that’s 15 years old that still, other than sun bleaching, looks and works good as new. A little care goes a very long way.
With that in mind, we reached out to NEMO’s Kendall Wallace for a Q/A about how to treat something as crucial as a tent so that it treats you well too. Wallace is the person who deals with customer questions and warranty issues with NEMO’s gear, including NEMO tents, so he’s well aware of best practices to keep them functioning properly.
How to Store Your Tent
AJ: I’ve camped a boatload this summer. My tent is dirty. Really dirty. I want to keep the poles collapsing and opening free and easy without getting jammed with old grit, and to be sure there aren’t any oils or patches of moisture that will fester over the winter. How should I clean it?
KW: Dirt and grime can work on the microscopic level to degrade the coatings on your tent that help keep you dry and comfortable. If your shelter needs a thorough washing follow the general cleaning instructions on the manufacturer’s website, which usually include hand washing the tent body and rain fly in a basin or bathtub. Use a cleaner and re-waterproofer that are designed for tents—regular detergents can actually do more harm than good [ed note: We like Nikwax’s Tent Solarwash].
Your tent poles also need care so they last as long as possible. Use a wet rag to wipe off any dust or silt, starting from one end of each pole section and working towards the opposite side. Take extra care cleaning the ferrules of the poles (the part of the pole that inserts into the next segment). Grime can build up on the ferrule easily, causing the pole to get stuck and not fully insert into the next segment. When bent into position these areas have a higher tendency to crack or break from the additional stress on the connection.
One area that commonly gets overlooked are the zippers of the tent body and fly. These can accumulate dirt, sand, and other debris which can quickly lead to issues properly opening and closing. A toothbrush, preferably an old one, is a perfect tool to give your zipper tracks a good cleaning. Have you ever seen your zipper “re-open” behind your zipper slider? This is usually caused by the zipper slider (the metal part) being contaminated with grit, forcing it open. Depending on the damage this can be fixed temporarily or may require a new zipper slider.
Most importantly, make sure every component is fully dry before storage for the offseason. Don’t ruin your hard work by letting mold or mildew grow on your tent while its “drying” in a clump in your garage.
2. Is there any reason to avoid storing a tent rolled up in its stuff sack?
Folding a tent in the exact same pattern can lead to a premature breakdown of the waterproof coatings on the fabric. Switching up the rolling pattern or stuffing the tent directly into the stuff sack will help to minimize any breakdown of coatings. During the offseason we recommend loosely stuffing the tent body and rain fly into an oversized breathable sack like an old pillowcase or sleeping bag sack. This will help let any residual moisture escape and keep the fabrics happy.
3. I’ve discovered a tear in my tent wall while getting it ready for storage. Help?
Take care of it now! Don’t plan to “do it in the spring” and then totally forget about it until the day before your first trip. Depending on the size of the tear it may be something you can repair with purpose-built patch (we love tenacious tape) or it may be something that needs the help of professional repair facilities. Many gear companies and repair facilities are at the end of their busy season and are more than happy to give you a quick turnaround on your repair. Broken zippers, tears in the floor, holes in the mesh, broken poles, and more can all be repaired. However, stay away from duct tape, even for a quick repair. The adhesives in many tapes are almost impossible to remove from tent fabric and may make an otherwise easy repair impossible to complete.
4. If it’s dirty but I’m lazy – is there any harm in storing a dirty tent without cleaning it?
If you put away a tent dirty it’s going to come out dirty. Just like a pile of dirty dishes, it’s advantageous to clean your tent right after use to minimize any crusty spaghetti sauce that needs 5 minutes of scrubbing to remove. Stains and dirt can make their way through the fabric and set permanently, especially if the fabric is damp. Take the time to clean your gear and it will last you for many seasons to come.
5. Any tips for refreshing waterproofing of a rain fly?
If you notice water seeping into the fabric instead of beading like it did when the tent was new it probably means that the DWR (durable water repellent) coating needs a refresh. This can happen on any of the waterproof fabrics on the tent, so check the tent floor if you see this happening on the rain fly. Use a cleaner specifically made for your item and follow it up with a re-DWR treatment. Many of these treatments won’t properly adhere without a cleaning, so don’t skip the cleaning step.