Top Ten Tent Tips
For many, a tent may be the most expensive single piece of outdoor equipment they buy, and for those that use them regularly, a faithful companion on trips and treks that over time, becomes as familiar and loved as your best pair of walking boots. We all fear that horrific sound of groundsheet being punctured, or poles snapping, and not only because of the cost of repair, but often because it means we'll have to say goodbye to an old friend.
Here's my ten top tips for keeping your tent tickedy-boo, in no particular order!
1) Use a groundsheet protector (GSP/Footprint)
Most modern tents use lightweight fabrics for all components, and on the whole, these are tougher than they look, but they're still vulnerable to damage from stones, glass or sticks that you may end up pitching your tent on.
A groundsheet protector (GSP/Footprint) will provide protection from all but the sharpest of punctures, and additional waterproofing (which is not normally needed). They're normally pretty light and pack small, so unless you're ultra-hardcore in your weight limit you shouldn't have a problem carrying it. They're also a lot cheaper than getting the entire tent floor replaced!
I should add that many of the cheaper summer tents use much heavier groundsheets (so not great for trekking) and you probably don't need a GSP.
2) Always 'sweep' your pitch
Obviously no-one's invented the collapsible travel-broom yet (I haven't seen one in any case), but whether you use a GSP or not, you should always give the spot you're pitching in a good look over.
Remove any sharp stones, glass, sticks or anything else that can either threaten your groundsheet, or promise to give you an uncomfortable night's sleep. Of course this will also help ensure you don't have the irritation of discovering your pride and joy is now covered in sheep or dog's mess!
3) Never assemble poles sections by 'flicking' or 'snaking'
Often aluminium or fibreglass poles are joined by cord to make them super easy to erect and save you losing the odd section. Sometimes these are referred to as 'flick lock' poles, and it does look impressive to assemble the sections with a quick flick of the wrist. Tent poles, however strong in flex, are actually weakest around the ends and often the force of banging sections together can cause them to fracture, which can rip fabrics and lead to costly repairs.
Always assemble and collapse tent poles gently, taking care not to whack the ends together!
4) Do not leave your tent pitched for longer than necessary
UV light degrades all fabrics over time, weakening them and eventually causing them to rip at the smallest of things. On the plus side this usually takes quite a long period of time (unless you're camping under equatorial sun for weeks of course).
When you're on the trail you won't have much of a choice, but if you can, do try to not leave the tent fabrics in sunlight for longer than is necessary to sleep, dry or pack them. There are items on the market to help slow down this natural degradation, Terra Nova UV Proof being one of them, or even simply placing another fabric over the tent as a sacrifice.
5) Don't cook inside your tent
We've all been there, soaked to the skin, hungry and with not even a glimmer of respite from the rain. It's tempting to risk cooking your meal inside the tent, what harm can it do really?
The answer unfortunately, is quite a lot. Assuming you don't pass out from the fumes your gas or multi-fuel stove is giving off there is the very real possibility of setting the tent on fire. Most tents are Fire Retardant to required safety levels, but it's still no guarantee that you won't suffer some nasty plastic burns. Best case scenario is that you only burn a hole in the floor, requiring patching or a new groundsheet, rather than skin grafts.
6) Clean and dry your tent after use
Tents fall into the rucksack/walking boots category of 'I'll do it later'. The last thing you really want to do when you get back from a trip is do a gear service, but your tent will thank you for it. It doesn't need to be much, shake out any detritus that's built up inside, wipe off the groundsheet and fly and make sure it's all properly dry before you put it back into storage. Putting it away wet and forgetting about it for a year will not do it much good.
A tent, like any waterproof fabric, benefits from occasional washing. I tend to do mine at least once every year (or when a trip has been particularly dirty). Simply fill up a bath with hand warm water, add some Nikwax Tech Wash and agitate. Then rinse until the water runs clear. Every once in a while it's worth applying a coating of Nikwax Tent Proof or similar, to fly and groundsheet to restore the water-repellency.
7) When trekking, you don't have to use the tent bag
Even lightweight tents can look quite large, and occupy a fair old volume in your pack when 'factory-packed'. You can however, save a lot of space and even weight if you split the tent up. I never roll my inner or fly around the poles, instead I slide the poles separately into my pack (or use the compression straps on the exterior sides). That allows me to split the inner/fly and pack as 'filler' wherever there's a bit of excess space. I usually place the fly somewhere easy to reach so it can double as an emergency bothy. Of course for those in a party can always split the tent between members. Split a 3kg tent 3 ways, and you won't even notice you've got it!
8) Emergency tent repair kit
Depending on how lightweight you need to be, it's a good idea to carry a basic tent repair kit just in case. Many tents come with a small selection of fabrics to enable field-repairs, but make sure you take some seam-sealer to glue them on. A pole sleeve can help if a pole does fracture, allowing you to at least pitch the tent. My poles all have a small length of gaffa tape wrapped around them, which not only helps with tent repairs, but can be used for all sorts of gear emergencies.
9) Dogs, cigarettes, alcohol
All things that should really be kept out of your expensive tent! The first two are self explanatory, but camping and a nice beer often go hand in hand, so if you are drinking around your tent it might be prudent if your tent hasn't already, to invest in some reflective tape for guy-lines, and reflective zip pulls to avoid some of the most pointless and embarrassing tent related accidents known to man. Plus it might help the other merry campers on the site avoid your guylines when stumbling around at ungodly hours!
(Image from BBC Scotland, Island Blogger Barney)
10) Use it!
The best tip on here, and saved for last, but there's nothing like the feeling of waking up with the sun in the wilderness! Camping can be a cheap holiday, and whether with friends, partners or solo, it's the best way to experience the Great Outdoors!