A small tear in a tent can worsen quickly, but it's easy to repair even on the trail. Carry mending materials with you to keep your tent secure.
Tools: small scissors, sewing awl, straight pins, grommet setter.
Materials: for nylon tents -- ripstop nylon repair tape, seam sealer made for nylon; for canvas tents -- taffeta repair tape, seam sealer made for canvas; for both -- waxed thread, scrap nylon screening, grommets.
Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the damage.
Most rips, tears, and leaks occur because a tent has been pitched too rigidly; find ways to set up your tent so that it can flex in high wind conditions. Use shock cords wherever possible. Check your campsite for dangerous limbs, projecting roots, and sharp rocks that could cause damage; if you must pitch your tent on a hazardous site, pad sharp rocks and clear away debris before pitching it.
Rips and tears. To mend small tears, cover the damaged area with cloth repair tape -- ripstop nylon for nylon tents, taffeta for canvas tents. Apply a liberal patch to both sides of the tear, smoothing the edges of the tape carefully to prevent snags and leaks. Coat the edges of the patch with seam sealer, on both sides of the tent. Be sure you're using the right sealer; canvas sealer could damage a nylon tent.
Large tears must be sewn closed or patched with repair tape. If the tear is in a part of the tent where extra pressure doesn't matter, turn the top edge of the tear under about 1/4 inch and stitch the turned fabric over the outside of the bottom torn edge, using a sewing awl and strong waxed thread, forming a new seam. Plan your sewing to account for water runoff; turn the edges of the patch to create a shingle effect to shed water, not a shelf to hold it. Make your stitches short and close together; double seams are strongest. To ensure a watertight seal, apply a bead of seam sealer to the bottom edges of the overlap or patch, on the outside of the tent.
Patch holes or tears in tightly stretched areas of the tent with strips of repair tape cut at least 1 1/2 inches longer and wider than the damage; if necessary, overlap strips in a shingle pattern to cover the damage completely. Tape both sides of the damaged area, and seal all edges of the tape with seam sealer, inside and out. If the patch isn't sturdy enough, replace it when you get home with a patch of tent fabric.
Cut the patch about 3 inches larger than the damaged area all around. Set it over the damaged area on the outside of the tent and pin it in place. Turn the edges of the patch under 1 inch and repin it. Topstitch around the entire patch 1/16 to 1/8 inch from the edge. Topstitch again 1/8 to 1/4 inch in from the first row of stitching and remove the pins. On the inside of the tent, trim the damaged area into a square or rectangle, trimming as close to the damage as possible. Clip the corners in diagonally 1 inch. Turn the cut edges under 1 inch pin them into place, and topstitch close to the edge around the entire hole. Topstitch again 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the first row of stitching, and remove the pins. If desired, make additional topstitching in a quilting fashion to strengthen the patch. Finally, apply a bead of seam sealer to the perimeter of the patch on the outside of the tent.
Reattach torn ties, flaps, windows, and zippers the same way, forming overlapping shingles and applying seam sealer to the finished mend. Patch torn screens with a patch slightly larger than the tear or hole, stitching all around the edges with the awl.
Grommets. Tears around grommets require the removal of the old grommet and replacement of the damaged material. Cut the grommet out with a small scissors, being careful to remove as little fabric as possible. Reinforce the grommet area with repair tape; stick the tape to one side of the fabric and fold it over on itself to produce a double-strength patch over the grommet hole. Stitch the patch into place with a double seam. Set in a new grommet with a grommet setter and seal its edges with seam sealer. Seal the edges of the stitched-in patch with seam sealer on the outside surface of the tent.
Leaks. To stop a leak in the rain fly or upper surface of your tent, apply seam sealer when the fabric has dried out. Leaks in the floor are probably the result of tears. Locate and repair the tear; be certain that the ragged part of your seam is on the inside surface of your tent. Seal this seam. To protect the patch, cover it with repair tape. To prevent any further damage to a waterproof floor, use a plastic dropcloth under your tent.
Another option for protecting yourself from the elements while camping is a tarp. Find out how to make your own on the next page.
For tips on caring for and repairing other types of sports equipment, try the following links: