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A Field Guide to Tent Repair

Mountaineering is a sport that’s inherently tough on your gear. That includes your tent, which is subjected to wind, rain, snow, and rocks when you take it into the alpine.

In my guide to tent repair, I’ll cover some of the most common tent problems and explain how you can address them in the field. Not all of the solutions I suggest will look pretty or last forever, but they’ll get you through the night and can save a multi-day adventure from disaster.

How Much Do You Need to Worry about Tent Repair?

Before I dive into some common tent problems and solutions, it’s worth asking a more basic question: do you really need to worry about tent repair at all? After all, you’ve got a limited amount of space in your pack and dozens of other things to worry about in the alpine.

The truth is, tent problems happen fairly frequently in the backcountry. Most mountaineering and backpacking tents are made from ultralight materials like silnylon. That’s great for cutting down on weight, but thin sheets of nylon aren’t all that durable. Pair that with sharp tools like ice axes and crampons, and you can see the potential for tears. Lightweight tent poles, too, are susceptible to bending and breaking, especially when strong winds blow down the mountain.

On top of that, when tent issues happen in the alpine, they can be hugely problematic. If you’re at camp deep in the backcountry when a storm comes through and snaps your pole, simply heading home isn’t an option. A damaged tent can let in rain and snow, which means a wet sleeping bag and potentially hypothermia. So, you need to be able to repair your tent in the field.

How to Repair Ripped Tent Fabric in the Backcountry

Ripping through your tent’s nylon walls is relatively common. It can happen if you accidentally snag your tent with an ice tool or if the tent fly catches on a pole in the wind. I’ve even ripped open my tent on a rock wall that I built too close to the tent in an effort to block out the wind.

Thankfully, fixing a nylon wall or rain fly is pretty easy. If there’s just a gash and no fabric is missing, you can simply tape the ripped pieces back together with a piece of gear tape. I’d recommend Tenacious Tape or another type of fabric tape, since that’ll work as a permanent fix. However, you can also use duct tape in a pinch.

If you find that you can’t pull the two pieces of your tent wall back together to tape them, you can close the gap with a bit of nylon. A square of nylon is a great item to carry in your pack because it also works for patching a leaky sleeping pad and weighs almost nothing. You can also cut it into strips with a pocketknife if needed. Tape the nylon down on both the inside and outside of your tent wall to make sure it doesn’t leak.

How to Repair Leaking Seams in the Backcountry

Leaky tent seams aren’t as common as rips, but they can be problematic if you’re caught in a storm and find your tent taking on water. If you don’t see a rip (which you can fix with tape), the problem is probably with your seam sealing. Tent seams are sealed by the manufacturer with a waterproofing coating. However, this coating can wear off over time.

The solution is to dry off the seam as best you can and then apply some sealant. This will take a few minutes to set, but after that it should stem the leak. It’s a good idea to apply more nylon sealer at home later, when you can get the seam fully dry.

How to Repair a Broken Tent Pole in the Backcountry

Tent poles typically break in one of two ways: either the pole itself snaps or the shock cord inside it tears.

To fix a snapped pole in the field, the best thing you can do is apply a tent splint. Most tent manufacturers include these when you buy a new tent, but you can also buy them at any gear store. Just slide the two pieces of the pole inside the splint and then bend the pole to apply pressure and lock them in place. Of course, you’ll still want to buy a replacement tent pole when you get home.

If you don’t have a splint with you, you use duct tape and any small, rigid object to bind the broken pole pieces together. Taping a tent stake or a section of a trekking pole to the broken tent pole usually works alright, although this might not stand up to heavy winds.

If the shock cord inside a pole splits, you can still use the pole. Just carefully assemble the individual pole sections and then bend the pole to lock them all into place. You’ll want to replace the shock cord when you get home, but it’s not an essential repair in the field.

The Best Tent Repair Kits

You’ve probably noticed that the repairs I’ve listed require a few specialized items. So, to make sure you can repair your tent in the field, it’s a good idea to bring a tent repair kit with you.

If you want to make this as simple as possible, there are some good pre-made tent repair kits you can buy. MountainSmith makes a universal tent repair kit, for example, that includes nylon squares, a mesh patch, seam sealant, and two pole splints. The whole thing weighs 1.6 oz, and realistically you could leave half of it at home to cut weight. Gear Aid makes a similar kit.

To make your own kit, here’s what I would recommend:

  • A few pieces of Tenacious Tape
  • A 3” x 3” piece of nylon
  • A small tube of tent sealant
  • A mesh repair patch
  • A pole splint (make sure it will fit your tent poles)

Put these items in a Ziploc and put them in your tent stuff sack so you don’t forget them.

Conclusion

Tent problems can and do happen in the mountains, but the good news is that most common rips and breaks are easy to fix. All you need is a small repair kit and a bit of knowledge about how to fix common issues.

I live in Bellingham, Washington, at the base of the wild North Cascades. Over the last ten years, I've explored much of the region's steep terrain and endless layers of ridges and peaks, both on foot and on skis, often linking far-flung ridges together to push deeper into the range.

*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.