Both the frequent and occasional camper have probably wondered about the lifespan of tents at some point. There’s a good chance you have a tent in a closet or basement that you’ve had for nearly your whole life.
There’s also a decent chance that you’ve picked up a quality new tent that had to be retired after a couple of years or so.
Many factors contribute to your tent’s lifespan, but it can be difficult to know how long they last.
Generally, they should last several years at least. While there’s no specific answer, this article will help you get a better understanding of how and why a tent wears out quickly, as well as things you can do to get the most out of your tents.
So, How Long Do Tents Last?
Tents often last anywhere from 2-10 years based on how often they are used, if proper maintenance is performed, and the tent’s shape, model, materials, and so on.
To prolong the lifespan of a tent, regular maintenance and care are a necessity. While it’s difficult to properly estimate the lifespan of a tent, the deciding factor is how you take care of it.
Qualities like waterproof coatings need to be reapplied somewhat often. Using a tarp or footprint can prevent floor damage and extend the lifetime of your home away from home as well.
Like most products, the durability of a tent will vary greatly, and the stressors of different environments and trips may age your tent faster.
I recommend researching your tent further, and practicing proper care so it will last for several years.
When should I replace my tent?
If you have an older beat-up tent, you may be wondering if it is time to replace it. The primary consideration when replacing most outdoor gear should simply be asking yourself if it meets your personal needs.
If you’re using a pair of beat-up hiking boots but they work for how often and how hard you hike, there’s little need to replace them. The same principle applies to a tent.
If you’re using a threadbare old tent that your parents gave you, but you only camp in good weather, or you don’t camp often, then you may not need to replace the worn-out option.
If you camp a good deal of over a year, you expect to encounter some poor weather (You should always plan for this anyway, but that’s a whole separate discussion!), and you’re beginning to notice lots of leaks or holes, you have a more pressing need to replace it.
In many cases, things like waterproofing can be improved with patches or waterproof sealants that you apply yourself. However, there will come a day when no amount of Durable Water Repellent coating will fix the leaks in your tent.
Do tents lose their waterproofing?
Over time, the waterproofing of tents will generally lose effectiveness.
Some will say that this is a marker of needing a new tent, but that’s not strictly true. In many cases, you can recoat the outside of your tent, the seams, and the rainfly to make it hold up to weather just as good as new.
Obviously, this is not a permanent fix or one that will make a holey and threadbare tent as effective as its fresh-off-the-shelf counterpart, but it’s part of the required maintenance you will need to perform every so often.
Below are short waterproofing fixes for common problems:
You will likely need to further research what is required for your type of tent, the type of product you will need based on its material, and to see how to properly perform required maintenance.
1. Leaky seams
Take your tent and rainfly to a brightly lit area, and set the items inside out. You will seal the inner seams of both using a seam sealing product. The type required depends on your tent’s materials (A product coated in silicone and a product coated in polyurethane will not use the same sealant).
If there is any seam tape that’s beginning to come loose remove it, leave undamaged areas alone. Carefully clean the seams with rubbing alcohol and a cloth. Apply the seam sealant to the seams. It is recommended that you reseal all seams if one is leaking, as it may soon fail. Allow it to dry.
2. Urethane Coating Flaking Off
You may have noticed something flaking off inside your rainfly or tent. This is most likely the urethane coating. Lay your tent/rainfly out and begin to scrub off the flakey areas with a sponge and rubbing alcohol.
After this, take a tent sealant product and begin to apply it to the entirety of the rainfly or floor of the tent. Allow it to dry for 24 hours before packing it up.
3. Rain not beading up
If rain no longer beads and rolls off your tent, you should renew the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. Spray your rainfly with clean water. You do not have to allow it to dry if you’re just now washing it.
Begin to evenly spray the entirety of the rainfly with a waterproofing DWR spray. Wait a few minutes and wipe off any excess with a cloth. Allow it to dry before packing it up.
These are just basic waterproofing care that will need to be redone on occasion. Regularly inspect your tent, and the integrity of its waterproofing to prevent further degradation of your tent’s capabilities.
Tent maintenance and care
The first true tent care recommendation anyone should follow is to practice setting it up and taking it down before using it on a trip.
While you likely won’t damage it when setting up without practice, there’s a chance that you can. It’s also important to understand how to quickly set up a tent as a precautionary measure, as you never know when your practice will pay off.
Setting it up before going on a trip also allows you to double-check that you have all of the required parts to set the tent.
However redundant or boring it may seem to practice, it pays off to know what you’re doing before you’re on a trip and needs some shelter quickly.
Also Read: What Are Tents Made Of?
Setting up camp
When setting up your tent, it’s helpful to look for established campsites. Look for smooth areas without much vegetation or debris, and perhaps an area with trees or canopy above for added shelter.
Clear debris like small rocks and twigs from your campsite to avoid getting holes in the floor of your tent. I also recommend using a footprint or tarp for extra protection.
If using a tarp, cutting it to fit your tent floor can prevent water buildup that would otherwise accumulate near areas like your entryway. If possible, avoid setting your tent up in direct sunlight.
UV rays will eventually weaken your tent’s fabrics. Some materials are more resistant to sunlight than others, but they will still prolong your tent’s lifetime either way.
Also Read: Best Small 2 Person Tents
Care while camping
After your tent is set up, you’re not off the hook for taking care of it. The most basic campsite rule of tent care is to take off your boots or footwear before entry.
It would be awfully silly to put a hole in your shelter from a pebble stuck to your shoe. If you get a stuck zipper, do your best to avoid the urge to aggressively force it one way or the other.
Wiggle it and carefully remove stuck fabric to avoid punctures. If the zipper splits, attempt to realign it, whether that calls for simply reversing it, or using a pair of pliers to set things straight.
Animals are a hazard to the fabrics of a tent, so practice proper food storage and keep most of it outside your tent.
When breaking camp, make sure to shake out your tent and footprint. Pack your tent carefully, ideally rolling it to avoid extra tension on the fabrics.
If your tent has moisture buildup from the night, make sure to dry it before throwing it into storage.
Water damage, mildew, and mold are among the worst things for your tent’s lifespan. If you’re still outdoors and plan to pack up, if you’ve got the chance, hang or drape it somewhere to dry.
If not, unpack and dry your tent once you return home. Store your tent in a dry area that’s fairly temperature regulated. If not, plastic bins are a great place to keep them fresh and undamaged.
Cleaning your tent
While you won’t need to clean your tent often, it will be occasionally necessary. First, brush off what sand or dirt you can, and shake the tent out. Take a non-abrasive sponge or cleaning cloth, and non-detergent soap and carefully scrub problem areas.
Soaps with mild/minor scents are ideal. Many companies also make outdoor cleaning products made for outdoor gear that holds up to wet and cold conditions.
Also Read: How To Secure A Tent Without Stakes
Fill a bucket or tub with lukewarm water, and add some cleaning product described above. Turn it inside out, unzip any zippers, and place the tent and rain fly into the water.
Soak it based on the tent and cleaning products recommendations. Rinse it with clean water to remove any products and soaps, and dry the tent.
A more thorough cleaning may be necessary for some problems, but for most people cleaning a tent, this process will work exceptionally well.
How do I repair a tent?
1. Patching tears
Clean the area surrounding a tear with rubbing alcohol and a cloth. Cut a piece of repair tape that fits the hole, and leave at least an inch of extra space around what would cover the tear or hole. It is recommended that you cut the patch to be round for longevity.
Place the patch on the problem area. If the tear is especially bad, or near a high tension portion like a seam, patch the inside and outside. Allow it to cure for a day. If patching a mesh area, instructions are mostly the same.
Follow the recommendations of the product you use. In a pinch, duct tape isn’t bad for a makeshift patch kit.
2. Bent tent pole
Utilize something like a rock to carefully bend the tent pole back to shape. Depending on how bad it is, you can also just hold it or use your leg, etc. Whatever fits the situation.
3. Broken tent pole
If you happen to have a tent repair sleeve or splint, this process will be easier. These tubes often come with a tent, or they can be purchased aftermarket.
Fix any bends in the broken pole, and slide the sleeve so that it is centered over the break. If it does not fit, bending the broken area to be straight may be necessary.
After it is in place, tape down the edges with something like duct tape. If you do not have a repair sleeve, you can utilize a straight piece of metal like a tent stake the same way.
Place the stake in the broken area after straightening any bends. Tape it in place similarly, and cover it with extra tape to avoid movement.
Note: Stores like REI often offer tent repairs for more severe problems. While it may not work, it’s worth a shot to keep your tent in good shape, or if you’re in a bind for time or don’t trust yourself to perform repairs at home.
With a little care and maintenance, your tent should last for several seasons of outdoor adventures.
I have outlined the basics of caring for a tent, but there’s always more you can learn. Like always, I recommend researching your tent specifically and looking into any cleaning or repair instructions before practicing them.
Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you!
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About the Author
Hussain is a passionate hiker and traveler that love the outdoor and enjoys what nature has to give, whenever he can he love to write and give tips & honest reviews to help others get out there and just seek more unforgettable experiences