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Tent DIY Repairs

Here are the instructions for some simple tent repairs you can do in the field or at home. Please review them. Few tools are required and knowing a few 'tricks of the trade' may well allow you to recover from a sticky situation in the field. It may also avoid the need, expense and inconvenience of sending your tent away for repair.

Fixing Continuous Coil Zip Problems

The most common continuous coil zip problem is slider wear and distortion. It is caused by the use of excessive force to operate sliders on dirty, unlubricated zips, or where something is jammed in the zip. It shows up as the two sides of the zip not closing or meshing properly behind the slider (illustrated below). The single most important thing you can do to keep the zips on your gear trouble-free and to prolong their life is to regularly lubricate them. Spray cans of silicone lubricant like the one shown at the right are readily available from upholstering suppliers. Here are some notes on how to solve nearly all the zip problems that we have seen over the past 30-something years. Abrasion of stitching

ABRASION OF THE STITCHING that holds the zip coil to its tape flange is more common on packs than tents. It happens when a zip coil is not protected by a cover flap and the zip is typically dragged against a masonry or rock surface. Abraded coil stitching may require complete zip replacement but short sections can be fixed by hand stitching with a fine needle and strong synthetic thread. Also, if you have access to a clothing weight sewing machine you can set the straight stitch length to the same pitch as the zip coils and work, hand winding the balance wheel, one stitch at a time along the damaged section. Be careful to align the zip coils correctly over the zip tape. Also, quickly melting the ends of worn threads with a match then pressing the melt flat with a finger tip will stop further unraveling.

SLIDER DISTORTION involves the upper and lower plates of the slider opening apart lightly at the trailing edge. You can see this with the left hand slider of the pair shown below. The extra clearance allows the zip coils to avoid each other (middle illustration). Provided the distortion is not too great a solution is to tap the trailing end of the slider closed again. Run the slider to the 'zip open' end of the zip, as far as you can. In the end of a small block of wood cut a narrow notch just large enough to fit the arch that holds the slider pull tab (right hand illustration). Place the block over the back (narrow) end of the top of the slider so each side rests on the upper plate of the slider (just above the zip coils). Give the block a light tap with a hammer to close the gap between the top and lower plates where the zip coils run. Proceed with caution, checking after each tap! (In place of this tapping method it is possible to squeeze a slider closed by reaching over to the back end with pipe type pliers. Be careful! It is easy to go too far. In some cases it may be necessary to replace a slider that is weakened from distortion or badly worn inside. Zips should be regularly sprayed with silicon or teflon spray to lubricate them, reducing the force, heat and wear of operation.

Zip coils not closing behind zipper

BROKEN OR MISSING SLIDER PULL TABS. If the metal pull-tab on a zip slider is damaged or missing on a tent zip it is best to simple tie a pull cord through the bridge on the slider surface. Our most recent tents are done like this. If the bridge is broken off a new slider must be fitted. Unless you are handy with a sewing machine it's probably best to have a new slider fitted by a repair service.

Using side-cutters to open the arch Most zips are fitted with a cord loop

Fixing Fabric Tears and Rubs

INSECT SCREENING AND MESH. It really isn't possible to repair insect screen neatly with a sewn patch. Seam allowances and stitching remain visible and untidy after patches have been sewn on. What we do for all screen repairs is to simply hold the sides of tears together with masking tape then run a bead of Seamgrip® along the tear or over the damage. The illustrations below shown a long tear that has been repaired in this way. We find the application of the PU sealant easiest when done from a 10ml syringe. Fill the syringe from the back, insert the plunger and give the air bubbles time to float up before you start. SeamGrip dries to a tough, translucent film by taking moisture from the air. Leave it overnight. Remove the masking tape once it has set. Extensive areas of screen damage can be repaired by cutting out the damaged area and butt-gluing in an identically sized piece of new mesh. This is most easily done by placing a new piece of mesh over the damaged panel, both pieces tensioned out flat over a cutting surface, then cutting through both layers at once with a trimming knife. An alternative to gluing is to hand sew a patch with say 10 to 15mm overlap all around. Make a rounded shape patch, use a weaving action and a fine thread of matching colour.

SILICONE ELASTOMER COATED TENT FABRICS. Fabrics finished BOTH SIDES with silicone elastomer compounds must be either patched by stitching OR glue-repaired with silicone elastomer adhesive/sealant compounds like Dow Corning Silastic® RTV or 'roof and gutter' or 'window and glass' silicone sealants (from the hardware store). These 'heavy-duty' sealants are excellent for small butt-glued repairs, as described in the mesh section above. PU sealants like SeamGrip® do not work on silicone elastomer finishes and compounds formulated for seam sealing (like Sea To Summit Sn240® Sealant or SilNet®) do not have sufficient solids content. Stitched patches should be used on extensive tears and the stitching then hand sealed with these liquid sealants. All repairs using silicone sealant compounds may need to be dusted with talcum powder to eliminate any residual tackiness and prevent adhesion to other parts of the fabric.

LIGHT AND MEDIUM WEIGHT COATED FABRICS. For repairing rips in coated and other smooth fabrics a more immediate alternative to the glued repairs described above is the use of a piece of 'sticky back' self adhesive sail marking fabric, or similar - many outdoor retailers sell 'ripstop repair tape'. The adhesives on sail number fabric are unquestionably high grade so this material is preferred. Sail makers usually have offcuts they only throw out. Always round the corners of patches when you cut them so they are difficult to lift once in place. 'Sticky-back is also good for repairing damage to down sleeping bag shells (when the alternative is a nightmare of hand stitching or reconstruction). Make sure the surface you are going to stick the patch onto is clean and dust-free. If the equipment comes in from the field with residual adhesive from gaffer tape or Leukoplast® stuck to it, first clean this muck off with white spirits (or methylated spirits, according to adhesive type) and allow to dry completely.

SEAM TAPE ON SMALL NICKS AND TEARS. Do-it-yourself repairs of small nicks or tears in coated or laminated fabrics can also be done by hot-pressing on using a piece of seam tape with a hot iron. (Seam tapes can sometimes be obtained in retail repair kit packages, sometimes from product distributors). Set the iron to medium. FIRST test that the coating and fabric formulation is compatible with the application of heat by placing a piece of white photocopy-weight (80gsm) paper over a part of the coating that can be risked. Touch the tip of the iron briefly on the paper, long enough to heat the coating through it. If the coating is unaffected try ironing a larger area, ALWAYS with the paper separation. Keep the iron moving. If the fabric and coating are still unaffected and NONE of the coating transfers to the paper it is safe to proceed with hot-pressing on seam tape repairs. Place the seam tape face down on the inside of the tear (make sure the tape has a minimum of 7mm overlap onto unaffected fabric around the repair) and then cover with a piece of photocopy weight paper (the iron must not contact the fabric or coating directly). Apply as much pressure as you can with the hot iron for say five seconds, remove the iron and paper and check the tape adhesion by trying to roll back the edges. If necessary repeat increasing the time and iron temperature.

SOFT OR STICKY PU COATINGS ON AGED TENTS. Ironing can be a cure for this problem of old age softening of PU coatings. It depends on the coating formulation so a non-critical area must be tested first. Carefully separate fabric layers if they have stuck or 'blocked' together. It may not be possible to do this without some coating damage. Set your domestic iron on cotton, non-steam. TEST the coating for heat sensitivity FIRST, as described in the section above. Always work with a piece of clean photocopy paper (80gsm or heavier) between the iron and the fabric. If the test goes OK then systematically iron all the coated area. Keep moving to avoid excessive heating. Ironing will harden the coating and drive out moisture. If the coating ahderes to the paper then, unfortunately, it is beyond recovery. If parts of the coating are damaged or missing (hold the fabric up to the light to see this most easily) one possibility is to smear Seamgrip® over these areas. Use a plastic scraper to spread it evenly. If damaged areas are extensive this may not be practical. Whether you Seamgrip or not, finish by spraying the coated face of the fabric with a silicone or Teflon based water repellent. This will stop the surfaces sticking together again. Your specialist outdoor store will have a suitable product. As you should always do, store the tent unrolled, coated sides out to minimise self-contact.

RE-APPLICATION OF SILICONE ELASTOMER COATING TO OUTER TENTS. This is a home cure for worn out or damaged silicone elastomer coatings that we have been testing. It appears to work well and also seals seams at the same time. Wait for a weather forecast with at least two straight days of fine, warm weather before launching into this job. If you are not a skilled painter and can not work quickly with a paint brush enlist a friend who can. The ingredients and tools required are a tube of CLEAR Silastic® RTV (or a good quality window and glass silicone sealant), mineral turpentine and a 50 or 75mm wide good quality paint brush. All these are obtainable from any good hardware store. Clean the outer tent thoroughly to remove any dirt or dust. Set the tent up in the direct sun for a few hours to make sure it is absolutely dry (longer for a nylon tent). Tension the outer fabric skin as tautly as possible. A gentle wipe over with a rag dampened with mineral turpentine is probably an advantage in assisting adhesion of the new coating. Mix one part sealant with three parts turps in a narrow container like a food tin. 240ml of mixture covers a typical 2/3 person tent easily. Whisk vigorously. It takes a while for the silicone to emulsify in the turps! For the application stage transfer the mix to a wide mouth container - a 2 litre plastic icecream container works well. When you are ready to coat the tent move it into the shade where working time will be extended. Apply the silicone slurry with the brush, spreading it out to a thin, even film as quickly as possible. Do not allow puddles or runs to set! Spread them out. Avoid unnecessary lapping back over areas already covered. Work the coating well into the seams. It is impossible to avoid some streaking but that's ok. The turps will evaporate quickly and the silicone will then also set quickly as the acetic acid leaves the compound. Unfortunately, throw the brush away. You will waste far too much turps trying to get it clean! Leave the tent where it can cure for a few days. Do not allow the fabric to touch itself during this time and avoid dew falling onto it (just to be on the safe side). When the tent is ready to pack away the coating should not be sticky. Test this by pressing it against itself for, say, 30 seconds. It should separate immediately the pressure is released. A dusting with talc should not be needed but that is the cure, albeit an unsightly one, for a sticky surface.

Repairing Tent Poles

Wilderness Equipment tents have used three brands and types of aluminium alloy tent poles in the course of 30 years of tent manufacture. The reasons for changing suppliers have been both technical and commercial. Most poles are identified by the maker's logo but other differences also make identification simple.

Easton Aluminium E9 (black) tent tubes we used had clear anodised insert type connectors. Tube section lengths varied according to tent model, pre-bends vary according to pole position in the tent and section position in pole line. End tips can not be removed by hand so field repair is difficult. Two tube diameters used over whole tent range.

DAC Featherweight (black) tent tubes use a double swage connection. Each section has a reduced diameter end and an expanded diameter end. The two sizes nest together, avoiding the need for and extra weight of the insert tube. Tube section lengths are all identical except end ones are cut to produce desired overall pole length. Pre-bends vary according to pole position in the tent and section position in pole line. End tips removed easily by hand so pole can be disassembled for repair or shock cord tension adjusted. Two tube diameters used over whole tent range: 8.88mm and 9.35mm. Double swaging makes salvage and re-use of broken sections almost impossible.

Yunan Air Hercules (black) poles use a single swage connection (one end reduced, the other plain) and are made from an extra high strength aluminium alloy that includes the element Scandium, improving the strength to weight still further. The swaged end has a readily visible external collar to prevent locking of the connecting pole on the swage taper. Tube section lengths all identical except end ones are cut to produce desired overall pole length. Pre-bends vary according to pole position in the tent and section position in pole line. End tips removed easily by hand so pole can be disassembled for repair or shock cord tension adjusted. Two tube diameters used over whole tent range: 8.88mm and 9.4mm. (Plus I-Shadow uses 10.2mm Yunan insert tube poles). Single swaging means broken poles can often be salvaged and re-used in emergencies.

Yunan Air Hercules FC (FLOATING CONNECTOR) pole sections have a simple plain finish on both ends. Completely separate floating connector components are threaded onto the shockcord between each pair of sections. The tubes are made from an extra high- strength aluminium alloy that includes the element Scandium, improving the strength to weight still further. Tube section lengths all identical except end ones are cut to produce desired overall pole length. Pre-bends vary according to pole position in the tent and section position in pole line. End tips removed easily by hand so pole can be disassembled for repair or shock cord tension adjusted. Two tube diameters are used depending on the tent model: 8.88mm and 9.6mm.

COMMENTS ON POLE REPAIR OPERATIONS. Add these comments to the above information on the different brands and connection systems and, given sufficient parts, you will be able to do as much as we can in tent pole repairs!

BENT POLE SECTIONS. The main cause of this problem is accident. Only the combination of extreme wind and non-guying will otherwise distort a pole section permanently. TO STRAIGHTEN A SLIGHTLY BENT TUBE section requires a resilient, gently curved pad against which to pull the tube (like a human knee!). Whatever you use make sure it will not crease the tube at any point. Pull slowly against the bend until you feel it yield. Do it a little at a time, checking progress. Badly bent sections (particularly where the tube cross-section is appreciably flattened) will need to be replaced since attempting to straighten them often leads to tube failure or unacceptable residual stress. The only tent pole spares we routinely stock are whole tent pole sets. Whether or not we have a replacement section in stock will depend only on what we happen to have accumulated in the parts bins.

SHORTENING A POLE THAT IS TOO LONG FOR THE TENT. Atmospheric humidity affects the dimensions of nylon fabrics. In very dry conditions nylon fabrics shrink and tighten. In 2000 we made the arch steps on our tents adjustable to accommodate this. The main reason for a pole being too long these days is it having got mixed up with a similar sized one. It is a simple matter to shorten it (except Easton – see removing end tip instructions below). Determine how much to trim off the pole, allowing for the end tip length. Remove the end tip (any end) and untie the shockcord if it terminates at the end tip (all except Easton). then trim the tube with a tube cutter or with a fine hacksaw blade. Either way you must then carefully file the cut end flat and round the inside and outside edges. (You can use the sharp edge of the file tip to scrape the inside and the flat of the file to round the outside). Re-assemble the shockcord and end tip. If the end tip screwed in chances are you just cut off the retaining dimple. Don't worry, if the shockcord is properly tensioned the end tip will stay put.

Using vice grips to hold the shock cordDIS-ASSEMBLING POLES FOR SECTION REPLACEMENT. First count the number of full sections, note their length and also the length of the end sections. Remove end tips as above and untie the shockcord. Unthread the sections off the shockcord maintaining the order. Mark them if you want to be sure. If the overall pole length is around 3 metres or less it will have pre-bent sections with the amount of bend greatest at the center and decreasing until end sections are straight. When re-assembling or replacing sections make sure the pre-bend in the replacement pole suits its position in the line. If you are asking for a replacement section you need to fully specify the section: brand, connection system, outside diameter, section overall length, which section of which pole of which tent model it is from. It also helps if you include the overall pole length so we can cross-reference.

SPLIT SECTION ENDS. These are 99 percent caused by pole sections not being fitted together fully before the tent is erected. It is not possible to split an open tube end when the insert part on the next piece is fully inserted. (Try it with some old poles). However it is relatively easy to cause a split if only 10-15mm of the connecting insert is in the open tube. We fix short split ends by cutting off the split part with a tube cutter or fine hacksaw blade, crunching the off-cut to get it off the shockcord and then carefully filing the tube end smooth. Wrap the shockcord in tape to protect it from the file while you do this. Use a sharp edge of the file's handle point end to get into and scrape the inside edge of the pole end smooth. NB: It doesn't matter if the pole is a centimetre or two shorter than the original overall length.

Adjusting shock cord tensionADJUSTING SHOCK CORD TENSION. The shockcord tension in a pole line should be as tight as possible but not such that it interferes with disconnection and folding the sections up for packing. (When folding always break the pole in the centre, then in half again, and so on. If you start at one end and work towards the other section by section you will run out of shockcord give). Check your poles, particularly if they are old, and re-tie the shockcord to a suitable tension. Remove one end tip to do this.

JOINING SHOCKCORD. Here's a tip you may find useful with tent poles and elsewhere. If you find you need to join shockcord but can't have a bulky knot, roll back the braided sheath of each end to be joined. Get hold of the rubber core and pull out an extra four or five centimetres, then trim this off. Pull the sheaths back and tie them together with a single fisherman's knot. Voila!

REMOVING EASTON END TIPS. Remove an fixed Easton end tip (for re-use) by gripping it firmly in a vise and then rocking the tube it is fixed in from side to side. Don't rock too far off centre. Pull on the tube as you do this. What you are trying to do is to 'walk' the tip out of the tube. It should fall out after about 10 rocks. To Refit an Easton end tip: The end tip should easily slide into the tube up to its 'buldged' middle. Now hold the tube tightly in one hand and tap the end tip in the remaining way with a small wooden block or small hammer.

TO DIS-ASSEMBLE AN OLD EASTON POLE, first connect up the pole sections as if ready to fit into a tent. Now pull either end tube away from the rest of the pole line so a good length of shockcord is exposed. Take a loop of the shockcord and tie an overhand knot in it so, after it is cut, it won't be lost down the pole line. Now cut the outer end of the visible shockcord hard against the insert ube in the end tube section. (The shockcord does not terminate at the pole end tip but just on the other side of the insert tube). Remove the end tip from the now free end tube so you can push out the shockcord knot and restricting spring washer with a piece of (coat hanger) wire. To remove the glued-in end tip you will need to grip it in a vise and then rock the tube section gently from side-to-side, pulling firmly on it at the same time. This action will 'walk' the tip out of the tube end. To dis-assemble the pole line, carefully untie the looped overhand knot and unthread the sections, making careful note of their order. Re-assemble in the correct order. (When tying off the shockcord in the end section don't forget the small spring washer that stops the end knot pulling through the end section insert tube).

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