How To Prepare An Old Tent For Camping?

A man and a woman preparing an old tent for camping.

Your tent is your home away from home when you go on your outdoor adventures. If you’ve had your tent for a while, you may want to know how to prepare an old tent for camping.

Old tents can last a lifetime if you maintain and protect them the right way. The key to preparing an old tent for camping lies in the correct storage, cleaning, drying, and airing. You should also re-waterproof it if needed and repair any holes or rips. Taking proper care of your old tent will get the most out of it.

In this article, we aim to provide you with plenty of useful tips on how to prepare an old tent for camping. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Table of Contents

What is the average lifespan of a tent?

Some tens last just a couple of years and some are meant to be old and can last a lifetime. The material that your tent is made of plays a huge role in its longevity. The two most common materials used for making tents are nylon and canvas, with the latter being more durable. Check out our blog to learn how to make a DIY canvas tent easily.

Better quality tents usually come with a hefty price, but they are usually worth the investment. These are some of the factors that also affect the average lifespan of a tent:

  • The frequency of usage – a tent that is used more often is naturally exposed to more wear and tear.
  • Elements that a tent is exposed to – such detrimental elements include heavy wind, rain, and UV rays.
  • Maintenance and care – both of these are within your control.

Since both maintenance and care are within your control, let’s go into more detail on how to maintain and care for your old tent.

How to care for your old tent?

#1 Dry it and store it properly

When it comes to preparing your old tent for camping, a huge part of that preparation depends on how you take care of your tent at home and how you store it. Read our blog to find out if you can vacuum pack a tent. When you don’t store your tent properly, you risk mildew growth and material breakdown. To prevent this from happening follow these 2 steps:

  1. Properly dry your tent after camping trips and cleaning. This is the most important tent care rule. Hang your tent until it’s dry if you don’t have enough space to set it up somewhere indoors. Storing your tent while it’s still damp can lead to funky odor, and mildew and can damage the polyurethane waterproof coatings.
  2. Keep your tent loosely stored in a cool and dry place. Your tent’s fabrics should relax and breathe while stored. The stuff sack that came with your tent is not your best choice for storage. Try storing it in an old pillowcase or mesh bag that is big enough. Avoid basements, attics, or car trunks, since they are damp and hot storing locations.

#2 Watch where you pitch your tent

You need to prepare your tent for camping but you also need to prepare your campsite before setting up a tent. Here is how you can go about it:

  • Select an established campsite – Setting up your tent should not disturb wildlife and should have minimal impact on vegetation and soil. Camping on durable surfaces is a part of the 7 Leave No Trace principles.
  • Clear away debris – Clear sticks and stones away from your tent spot, as they can puncture your tent’s floor.
  • Lay out a footprint – A footprint is designed specifically for your tent floor and protects it from abrasions and the ground’s moisture.
  • Keep your tent in the shade – exposure to UV rays will shorten the lifespan of your tent. Polyester rain flys are the most UV-resistant parts and you can leave them on during the day.
  • Put your tent poles together piece by piece – Don’t whip your poles around while trying to lock their sections into place with their elastic cords. You can break a section, weaken a pol or accidentally whack somebody.

#3 Take care of your tent while camping

You should take extra care of your tent during the course of your camping trip, especially if it’s older. Here is how:

  • Don’t take it out on zippers – Zippers can get stuck and it can be frustrating, but don’t take your frustration out on zippers. Never force a stuck zipper. Hold the zipper slider with one hand and use the other to stabilize the zipper track while you gently pull away from it.
  • Leave your boots, shoes, and other dirty gear outside – dirt and pebbles can corrode the material and puncture your tent.
  • Keep your food outside – Your food should be stored in a secure container outside of your tent unless you want to share your tent with rodents and other small creatures.
  • Don’t leave your dog inside a tent – Your dog’s teeth and claws can seriously damage your tent. In addition, tents become pretty hot in the sunlight, so it’s not safe for your dog to be inside.

How to clean your tent?

You should clean your tent every time you return home if you go on longer camping trips. If you often go for short trips, try to gently clean your tent at least once per season. Before you give your tent a thorough cleaning, gather the supplies such as a non-abrasive sponge, fragrance-free soap, and a bucket or sink filled with cold to lukewarm water. You may also want to use a cleaner specifically designed for outdoor gear.

Never use a washing machine or dryer to wash your tent. They can stretch or tear tent fabric even on their gentlest cycles. Always wash your tent by hand. Avoid household cleaners and any soaps that have fragrances, as their smell stays on the tent and can attract insects, rodents, and even bigger animals. Some of the soaps can even break down the waterproof coating.

Once you are all set with your cleaning supplies and equipment, follow these easy steps to go about the cleaning itself:

  1. Spot clean any extra-dirty areas with soap gently.
  2. Fill your bucket or sink with cold to lukewarm water and add an outdoor cleaner product if you use it.
  3. Prepare your tent by unzipping the doors and turning your tent inside out.
  4. Soak your entire tent and rainfly in the water.
  5. Rinse your tent thoroughly a couple of times to remove all the soap.
  6. Hang your tent and let it dry thoroughly.

A woman preparing a tent for camping.

How do you freshen an old tent?

A tent can develop a funky smell over time. Nylon tents are particularly notorious for this. Here you can read about why nylon tents smell. Dirt and grime are part of the reason and there is also our sweat. The worst of all, the reason could also be fungi, particularly mold and mildew.

Mold and mildew form when moisture gets trapped in the tent. Their musty smell is not the only problem. Inhaling them is dangerous and they can make you sick. The good news is that you can get rid of them both by using DIY hacks, or an enzyme cleaner.

Soaking your tent in the mixture of lemon juice, vinegar, and warm water for up to three hours is a great solution to this problem. Due to its acidity, vinegar is a killer of both mold and mildew. Lemon juice will help you eradicate smells. If you decide to use enzyme cleaners, follow the directions closely and soak the tent accordingly. Soaking your tent for longer can break down waterproof coating.

How to waterproof an old tent?

It’s necessary to reapply waterproof layers and coatings every few years as they wear out over time. These are three ways how you can waterproof your tent:

  1. Seam sealing – if the water starts leaking through your seams, the best way to stop that is to seal those seams. For this, you will need some rubbing alcohol and the right type of seam sealer for your tent.
  2. Refreshing the coatings – if the coating on the inside of your rainfly or floor is flaking off, you’ll need to use your tent sealant. You’ll need a scrubber sponge, rubbing alcohol, and some tent sealant. Again, make sure to get the right type for your tent.
  3. Applying a durable water repellent (DWR) coating – if water isn’t beading up on your fly anymore, you can refresh the DWR coating. To do this, you’ll need a DWR spray, a damp cloth, and some water.

After all these steps make sure to let your tent dry before you pack it away. If you want to learn how to waterproof a tent zipper, check out our blog.


We hope our article provided you with some useful hacks on how to prepare an old tent for camping. If you follow our tips, your old tent can keep you company and provide you with shelter for many years to come. Make sure to also check our posts on how to prevent a rooftop tent wind noise or how to fully soundproof a tent in a noisy campground.

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