It’s never easy to let go of a favorite tent when it’s nearing the end of its life—especially when you don’t have the time or money to invest in a new one just yet. While you still will need to spend a little bit of time and money, you can put off the big-ticket expense with these five easy fixes and upgrades to your old one.
Despite what many people claim, it’s possible to get stink out of old tents using enzyme-based cleaners. If your tent has only a mild odor, re-coating it will also likely banish that musty smell. You’ll still want to wash your tent in a sink (not a washing machine) first with a specialty cleaner. If you don’t see a lot of cracks and peeling in the waterproofing, you can revive your tent by following that pre-wash with a wash-in, brush-on, or spray-on product.
If it’s peeling, scrub off as much of the flakey coating as you can using a stiff brush and then throw it in the wash machine with hot water to try to remove the rest. Set the tent up and use a seam sealer to coat all the seams. Then apply two coats (let the first dry 24 hours) of a polyurethane (PU) sealant. The flexible finish will make your tent look very close to new.
If the tension on the shock cords in your tent poles are too slack, you run the risk of the tent pole ferrules not fully seating when you set the thing up (especially in the dark). This is one of the classic ways poles break. If the pole segments that make up the pole don’t automatically snap in place or stay together anymore, one option is to completely replace the shock cords in them. The other, which is a much easier fix, is to simply shorten the existing cords. Both options will still give your poles five to 10 more years of functional life.
To replace the entire shock-cord, you’ll need to tie a stiff leader cord on each new shock cord to get the thing to thread through the pole. Others suggest adding a length of Spectra or Dyneema cord to each end of new shock cords. Apparently, this improves the ability of segmented poles to “snap together” and increases the cord durability.
To shorten existing shock cords, pull (carefully, using an extra strong grip plier) the aluminum end caps off each pole. Holding onto the slack cord, pull it until it’s taught (on the open end), keeping all the pole segments together. Cut the cord and tie a small knot. The cord should be about 65 to 75% of the length of the pole. Slip the little knot inside the last pole segment and replace the end caps. That’s all there is to it.
Replace Tie-down (guy) Cords
The only thing more important than a proper taut stake out is being able to see where the guy lines are in the dark. This is an easy fix. Install new lightweight reflective guy cords on your tent.
Upgrade Your Stakes
Chances are your old ones are flimsy and bent. Ditch ‘em: Today’s stakes are way lighter and more effective. You can even get stakes specific to a climate or soil composition. Both Y‑beam, hex or three-sided aluminum stakes are the most versatile and will work for a diversity of environments. Spiral stakes are good for securing tents in sand, while concave (spooned) aluminum stakes are a good way to nail down a tent in snow or sand. Backpackers obsessed with ultralight travel covet titanium or carbon fiber-core aluminum stakes in bolt, needle or peg styles. Think twice about ultra-ultra lightweight titanium shepherd hooks, however. Even when the tips are coated or painted, they have a tendency to vanish into thin air. Some people solve this by permanently attaching them to their tent loops with tiny Zip ties, but that options carries the risk of the stakes piercing tent fabric.
Upgrade the Interior
LED tent lights are not only fun but help you navigate your tent interior without disturbing the hikers in the tent next door. The best models ideally have 6 lumen bulbs with a minimum of 10 hours of battery power, and attach directly to tent fabric via magnets with red, high, low, strobe, and signal mode options. By adding a storage crib or gear line to your tent’s interior you get quick uncluttered access to gear, gadgets, or clothing. Lines with hooks and S‑biners allow you to attach the line vertically to maximize storage and save wall space, or you can set them up horizontally if you want fast, eye-level access to your gear.