14 Rules to Proper Tent and Swag Care

Gazebos Australia knows how important proper care is in prolonging the life of your temporary shelters outdoors, so we have compiled the top 14 rules a camper needs to remember after purchasing a tent or swag. Use these rules to get the most out of them for years to come.

Rule 1: Practice Setting Up

The first thing you should do is practice setting up your tent or swag at home to become acquainted with its assembly process. This lets you figure things out without any pressure. Remember, learning the proper tent setup not only builds confidence and knowledge, it also reduces, especially for novices, the risk of sagging, ripping, broken poles and cut guy lines - the little accidents that you may encounter if you do things in a hurry outdoors.

This also allows you to confirm that you have all of a tent's parts and accessories, like stakes and guylines or guyropes, as well as familiarize yourself with the manuals that come with your purchase.An unfortunate situation would be having to flip through multiple pages while the sun, or worst, rain beats on, so save yourself the frustration.

Take this time to check your gear and make sure nothing is missing, set up somewhere out of direct sunlight and put on the fly. Then, make sure to anchor everything down and draw it tight. Check for factory defects too; as OutdoorOz maintains, although we ship directly from the manufacturers and manufacturers do their very best to make certain everything is fit to standard in their products, some unfortunate events during the manufacturing process can lead to undetected damages. The proper time to check for problems is soon after you get your tent; that way, if repair or replacement is necessary, it can be done at an earlier time.

Point to remember:

Some warranties are limited to a short period of time (90, 60, even only 30 days) to a short period of time and may have already expired, so be prompt. Register your gear immediately if it's required to avail yourself of the warranty.

Rule 2: Conditioning your Tent or Swag

It is important to season or condition your tent or swag (especially if made of canvas) when it's new and after long periods of storage or disuse. Clean your tent or swag, pitch it and, with all doors, windows and other openings secured and hose it down with water. The liquid will shrink the canvas around the thread of the stitch lines and shrink the stitch holes, tightening the tent and allowing the cotton in the canvas to swell.

Note: Even if your tent or swag says you may use them right out of the packaging, it is important to condition them to avoid any mishaps when you finally get them out in the field.

You may need to repeat the process of conditioning a couple of times--just make certain you allow the tent or swag to completely dry out before repeating the process; likewise pitch in an area where it won't be disturbed. This process may take some time, but a seasoned tent or swag performs better and lasts longer.

Campsites. Photo from exploreaustralia.net.au.

Rule 3: Pitch on Even Surface

Do not pitch a tent or swag on uneven surface. Choose a level, smooth surface with shade (if possible) and good drainage in case of wet weather, so water won't pool around your gear. Clear away tiny debris and avoid rooted areas that could bulge or cause punctures. This is to safeguard not only the condition of the tent or swag, but your own personal comfort when you sleep, as well.

Another thing is to stay away from dangerous locations like under dry trees where debris or large branches may fall, or near land/rock-slide prone areas. Accidents do happen out in the wilderness and help is often difficult to obtain. So, stay away from danger.

With regard to the surroundings, you can move away some rocks and stones, but avoid further disturbances- especially of the major kind - to the site. Always live by the "Leave No Trace" principles when camping outdoors. Remember, a good campsite is found, not made, so altering a site is not necessary. And keep it small. Focus all your activity in areas where vegetation is less if not completely absent. Technically, there are already clearings in campsites left by previous visitors so just make do with those instead of looking for your own. Respect the natural landscape...always.

Rule 4: Use a Footprint

Use a footprint, or ground sheet, to protect your tent and swag from abrasion - either a custom cut ground cloth made of basic low cost tarp. Mats or flooring specifically made for this purpose can also be used: just make sure however that they fit the floor plan of your tent. Here at Gazebos Australia, we actually have a range of tarps, mats and flooring options that can accommodate any tent size. Feel free to browse around and we're sure there's one that will suit your needs!

In the case that your footprint doesn't fit properly, say, when there's an excess of the material, tuck as much of it in as you can. Remember, any material that extends beyond the perimeter could catch water and collect it.

Footprints can also provide a clean surface where you can fold and roll your tent and swag on in the morning. Now when confused whether to "footprint" a tent or swag on the "innie" (inside) or on the "outie" (out), we highly recommend putting your ground cloth underneath it. This helps keep the tent or swag clean and prevents the rock or root you missed from ripping through your tent from beneath.

A note on footprints:

  • Moisture and condensation can be a pain in the neck during camp-outs especially in rainy conditions when water can collect between the floor and a footprint. This can easily give the appearance of leaking water beneath the tent or swag. So, use non-generic footprint sheets, preferably those NOT made of nylon or plastic - these just DON'T dry out as effectively and end up trapping water in.

  • Sleeping on top of an uneven surface where many low points, small depressions or trough sexist under you could mean there's room for runoff to accumulate. You may want to pitch on an elevated area.

  • Avoid sagging by staking your tent or swag as taut as it is allowed, using guy lines or guy ropes to keep the rain fly tight. Sagging could expose small portions of even a custom-cut footprint and turn it into a catch basin for condensation.

Rule 5: Leave Footwear OUTSIDE the Tent

This is a common-sense tip for all campers, but can sometimes be easily forgotten or neglected. Leave boots or footwear outside so dirt isn't dragged into the tent or swag and you don't end up sleeping as if directly on soil or sand. If you want to have them on, shake or pat off any dirt and soil so you don't end up carrying it in.

Rule 6: Avoid Direct Heat or Sunlight

Extreme heat or the sun's ultraviolet rays not only cause a camper to break into sweat, but also cause nylon material to degrade. If your campsite offers little or no shade during the day, as in the case of the outback, cover your tent with its rainfly. The rainfly's urethane coating helps it hold up better under the sun's glare.

Tarps over tents or swags is a good outdoor combination. We cannot stress enough how sunlight and its UV rays accelerate the deterioration of even the most expensive tents or swags, especially at high altitude. You may not be able to stop the sun from shining, but you can use a tarp rig to cover the top of your tent or cover your swag, which is a common trick for basecamps. A tarp rig will decrease the amount of direct sunlight that falls on you and your gear, which is important if you intend to set up for a week or longer (like during summiting expeditions). If you cannot find a place where there's an ideal amount of shade, extend the life of your equipment this way so the damage on the fabrics over time is lessened.

Rule 7: Freestanding Models

If you're using a freestanding model, pick it up and simply shake out debris in the morning before you pack up. But, make sure you pick up any trash that falls out and pack it away as well (remember LNT - Leave No Trace). Sweep out your tent and make sure rocks, leaves, dirt and branches are all taken out of the interior before packing. You can use a sponge and mild soap (if there's any) to wipe off a dirty tent, but always let it air dry completely before you roll everything up. Once you get home, do not use a washing machine to clean your tent (I will explain this further in the next items). This applies to swags as well.

Rule 8: DO NOT Snap Shock-Corded Poles

Ah, the temptation of shock-corded poles (included in some types of tents and swags). You simply cannot resist the urge to whip them around to cause the sections to just "snap" together, which is fun. But, this could chip the sections' fittings, thereby weakening the poles. Please DO RESIST this urge; instead, fit each section by hand one at a time. Remember, you won't always have replacements handy, and an outdoor camping store (like Gazebos Australia) can't deliver in the middle of the wilderness.

During disassembly, it's better to separate a pole starting in the middle rather than at the end of the pole. Do this to ease the tension, especially for shock-corded poles. Do not snap! Again, resist the urge!! Expand them section by section. This will greatly extend the life of your poles, aiding the splinter protective coating and allowing longer sturdiness on the overall structure of the tent. If you have to collapse the poles, collapse near the centre while avoiding pulling. It is easier to just push the pole through the pole sleeve.

In the case of swags, close all zips on the top or sides of the swag before you roll it, folding excessive fabric to the centre. Then, follow either the foot to head or head to foot roll. First, check with the manuals or manufacturers which end of the swag has more density. It's good advice to roll from where it is less dense; that way, you don't excessively compress the section where you have most of your weight while sleeping.

Ropes can remain attached to their eyelets, but tuck them in so that they don't catch on anything and rip or damage the fabric. It's a bad idea to put your foot on the swag straps to tighten them. Tightening will not make the swag smaller; it will simply just crease the canvas.

A tip for swags with included foam mattresses:

When the foam is excessively compressed, you can refresh it by exposing it to the sun for a short period of time. Some swags actually stretch or shrink, inside and outside, under varying conditions.

Rule 9: Avoid Folding on the Same Place

When packing, avoid folding the tent, its rainfly fabric or your swag's fabrics in the same place over and over. Why? Creases made on the fabric can become permanent and brittle over the years, further adding to the damage your temporary shelter may incur due to wear and tear. A crease formed in the fly will break the fabric, allowing water to seep in. It may be harder, but folding the tent in different places prolongs its usage, while rolling a swag is better than folding it.

Another common mistake done during tent and swag packing is folding everything into a neat little package. A tent's "stuff sack" is called a "stuff" sack for a reason and you guessed it! The swag bag has ample room to store everything, so no need to maximise the space further by compressing the swag.

A trick you might want to try:

So, it's okay to just take the sack, put in the poles, the fly and tent body in. It doesn't have to be in that order, but it's the order that makes the most sense when packing your tent especially if you consider scenarios like setting up during strong winds. If you put in the tent body last, it will be the first thing you grab when you set up, as it should be.

Proper care means more nights outdoors. Photo from travel.nationalgeographic.com.

Rule 10: Store DRY--Always!

Store a tent or swag dry. No other tent- and swag-care rule is more important. If a tent or swag is left wet, or even damp, for a long period of time, you are inviting mildew and encouraging its growth on the fabric. So after a trip, unpack your shelter and inspect it for dampness - if you detect even a small trace of moisture, set it up in a shady spot like your garage and allow it to simply air dry.

If you have excess space, store the shelter loosely outside of its stuff sack or bag for some time, but avoid storage in basements, especially if it's damp, or in attics when it's hot. And if it's raining when you break camp, it's all right to pack wet, HOWEVER, look for an opportunity during the day like while on a rest stop or when the sun has broken through in order to attempt to dry it out.

A note on Mildew:

Drying out your shelter is the best thing to do in order to avoid mildew. Mildew is a curse caused by wetness that is very difficult to get rid of once it gets into the material, so, just like your sleeping bags, you must allow the tent or swag to hang out after each trip. But if they do mildew (and sometimes this is unavoidable), here's what you can try:

  1. Wash it gently with warm water, but don't use detergent or harsh chemicals as this can ruin the waterproofing of the swag or tent. Alternatively, you could use a baking soda and water solution, or mix a cup of salt and a cup of concentrated lemon juice in a gallon of hot water. You can use this to do spot treatment for apparent mildew stains; it also controls odors caused by spoiled food if there had been any inside the interior.

  2. There are also some specially-designed, shelter fabric-friendly products and cleaners that you can use. Mix with water in a bathtub and then dip the tent or swag in to remove the mildew (ask your local camping stores for a recommended mildew remover).

  3. For serious cases, we recommend contacting the manufacturer, including, if there's still a mildew smell after you've washed your shelter. It would be a good thing to get some fine advice on how to deal with this problem.

Rule 11: Secure Your Tent--Stake Them Down!

Although freestanding tents and some swags don't require you to stake them down, the weather will. So, secure your shelter anyway. Remember that it's possible for a strong wind to move a tent - even with campers still in it! No kidding!

Now, if you're setting up on a windy day, you can actually use your pack and gear to help hold your shelter down while you pitch. Just put them inside. Also, while you stake down, make sure to allow the proper amount of tension in your lines - the tension should allow your gear to flex in the wind, but not so much that the material sags or flaps and beats itself, causing damage.

Some further advice:

Do not pull out stakes, especially if they're still connected to the body, eyelets, hoops or stake loops. Use a stake puller or, if you don't have one to remove stubborn stakes, the end of a mallet can be used. Now, if you do accidentally rip stake loops, you can just sew them back in, but be sure to seam-seal the stitching afterwards.

A remedy for forgotten stakes:

A friend once said that there will always come a time when someone forgets to bring the stakes along, lose one or all of them, or you encounter grounds that are too hard to permit staking. What to do? Take out some cord, collect a few good-sized rocks and do the following:

  1. Makeshift lines can be created by tying lengths of cord or rope, fishing lines, even dental floss around some rocks - about 3-4 would do. Attach these to the exterior webbing found on each tent or swag corner.

  2. By pushing the rocks apart and away from your shelter, check if the fabric is tight. Make it as stable as you can. But leave about 1 foot of your makeshift line between the rock and the webbing.

  3. On this leftover length, place a second rock, or even a third and fourth if it's needed. These additional rocks will press on the line to ground level, adding weight and friction for security.

  4. No materials for the lines? No problem! Some smooth rocks gently placed one on top of another on each tent corner should do a temporary fix. If the rocks are smooth, you could consider placing them inside the tent to anchor the corners. But this is still risky. The possibility of abrasion is huge, so consider doing this ONLY when it is very much needed, and when there are no other alternatives.

Rule 12: Ventilation is Important

Ventilation is important. The tempting thing to do on a cold night is to close tightly all the windows and flaps of a tent or to shut that swag tight. But this can actually cause more problems that it solves. As you sleep you expire (through sweating and breathing) about a cup of fluid. Imagine how much that is when 6 or more people are in the tent, or the swag is for 2! Also, when the inside of the shelter becomes warmer than the outside air, moisture builds up and condenses, creating a drench inside by morning, making you feel as if rain had leaked in overnight. You'll agree, it's not the best way to start your day!

So, open at least one window for ventilation. Or better yet, buy a well-ventilated tent or swag so at least that issue is covered.

Rule 13: Let Air Escape Before Packing

Before you pack your tent away, give air an escape route. It's easy to do. Just open the doors and windows to allow air out as the tent is collapsed, then roll toward the openings instead of away from them to push any remaining air out. The result is a tighter pack for easier storage. If you can't expel the air in this way (as in the case of swags, where you aim for the denser area), flatten the swag first to allow as much air as possible to escape before you pack up.

Rule 14: Seam-Seal and Waterproof Your Tent

Here's a fact: The floors and rain-flies of nearly every tent come with factory-sealed seams, with seam tape that plug the tiny holes created by sewing needles when fabric sections are stitched together. One exception to this, however, are "ultralights" that use silicone-treated nylon flies because seam tape does not bond with silicone. Swags follow the same principle, but are slightly different in terms of design and use.

Regardless, you will need to seam-seal and waterproof both of these temporary shelters after you get them. We know they may say waterproof, but the fact is that only a double (or even triple) seal will fully ensure tents and swags won't leak in bad weather. Trust us, you'll appreciate this after you survive your first downpour and don't find yourself sitting in a puddle of rainwater.

So, buy some seam sealer, follow the directions on how to use the applicator, and seal all the outside seams of your gear - from fly to floor. It's not a fun job really, but it will give you a completely watertight shelter. If you want to be extremely thorough, you can seal the inside seams as well, but this is usually unnecessary.

On single wall shelters, seam sealing is a compulsory task. Why? Because although the seam is taped on the inside, single walls have exposed seams outside so sealing is necessary to make it completely watertight. It usually takes around 4-5 hours, so it's truly a "labour of love".

Now, there is a tendency to miss a spot when sealing. Don't fret. You can temporarily fix this by applying wax from a clear wax candle, rubbing the candle on the exterior of the stitch line and on the spot. The wax will act as a waterproof barrier, quickly sealing that seam or spot.

More Tips and tricks:

Of course, the list of 14 above doesn't cover every eventuality. So, here are some extra tips and tricks you can use when tent or swag camping outdoors:

Pitching your tent. Photo from anjanettew.

Your pole breaks? Most manufacturers include a pole repair sleeve that can straddle a damaged pole section, much like a splint would straddle bone fractures. The diameter of a pole sleeve is slightly larger than that of your pole for the purpose of slipping it over the bent or broken section. Now, they say the best accessory to carry with you during a camping trip is duct tape, and if that's available, it's a good idea to secure the sleeve by wrapping a few strips around both ends. It helps the sleeve hold better.

  • Tent stake and peg replacements are available, but not always handy and, when stakes bend, especially in hard ground, you may need to use alternatives. Using guyropes, you can tie your tent or swag to rocks or other stable objects as a temporary fix. You can use roots to your advantage as well, but only if they don't end up harming the tree. Remember LNT! As campers, we should live by its principles.

  • Your Tent Needs Cleaning? When cleaning a tent or swag, it's best to use a non-abrasive sponge, cold water and mild, non-detergent soap. You may also consider using synthetic cleaners specifically blended for tent and swag fabrics (ask you local camping store or supermarkets about it) to clean off dirt and grime. Gently scrub soiled areas, no hard scrubbing since excessive friction may do away with the waterproof coating.

  • Avoid household solutions. Almost all household soaps, rinse, bleaches and dishwashing liquids contain scent and perfume. This will be an invitation to bugs, mice and other critters that are attracted by the smell. Not only that, the chemicals in these products may mask the water repellent coating.

  • After cleaning, rinse thoroughly, set up in the shade and leave to air-dry before packing.

  • Conserving Interior Waterproofing: It would be wise to NOT touch the tent's insides. The oils released by your skin are slightly corrosive and can affect the tent's waterproofing. Although this may be quite difficult for swags since its proximity leaves little space, you can try using a barrier between your skin and the canvas like sheets or your sleeping bag. Keep foreign liquids like cooking oil, sun block and petroleum-based liquids off your shelter. This is important, especially in the case of single walls as their properties can be easily diminished and rate of deterioration accelerated by these liquids. If you do get some on your tent or swag, use warm water to wash them off.

  • Keep foreign liquids like cooking oil, sun block and petroleum-based liquids off your shelter. This is important, especially in the case of single walls as their properties can be easily diminished and rate of deterioration accelerated by these liquids. If you do get some on your tent or swag, use warm water to wash them off.

  • Always Have Duct Tape. Don't leave home without it. Why? Because it can be used for a large number of field repairs. You can use it to patch a small hole in the fly, hold a zipper when it has ripped, mend poles and even substitute as rope (which can be done by rolling the sticky side together to make a line)! They say that, when backpacking, carrying at least 6-12 feet of duct tape pays in cases of emergency. But do remember this, duct tape does not stick to moist areas and is useless when cold. So, use a lighter or warm the strip against the fire before using for repair.

Simple Repairs:

Learning to do simple repairs in the field can prove to be useful, especially when you are spending long periods out in the wilderness all by yourself. Hopefully, you won't need to repair your tent or swag outdoors (and we do not pray for that), but in case you need to, here are our top tips:

  1. Rips and tears can be mended by heated duct tape. It's always the easiest solution around. Works well for poles too, since they absorb most of the stress in a set up and are usually the first items to break. Duct tape + repair sleeve = temporary fix. A ripped pole sleeve can also be mended by duct tape. Just don't forget to warm the strip so it sticks better, and replace it as soon as you get a hand on the proper replacement parts. Duct tape you see leaves sticky prints on everything, and is impossible to remove when left on for long periods. That's why it's just recommended as a temporary solution.

  2. It pays to bring extra parts when camping. Extra zippers, fabric and other materials will help you make field repairs. Keep in mind that the longer it takes to repair the damage, the greater the damage will become.

  3. Broken zippers can be a most annoying thing to repair, particularly tent zippers that deal with a lot of friction. For mesh doors, zippers can be sewn on the mesh as a temporary fix, or you can use the zipper repair kit (if the tent comes with one) to rejoin the broken zipper. Manufacturers usually include such repair kits with their product. Broken zipper teeth, however, are another issue. Sadly, there are no kits to repair broken teeth.

  4. If the zipper separates, but only along a small length, release the tension on the tent or swag and give the zip enough slack before trying once more to run it through and rejoin the teeth. You should do this before the separation lengthens. Speaking of zips, here's a fact you should know: Coleman tent zippers are self-repairing. Simply fit the coils into the zipper slider and slide it to fit.You can do this as a little preventive before the separation lengthens

  5. An after-tip: make sure your tent and swag zippers are working well before you head out on your expedition. It'll save you a considerable amount of time and frustration!

  6. No matter how much you want to, NEVER machine-wash a tent or swag. The back-and-forth churning of a washer's agitator could snag the fabric, overstretch it or even pull the seams apart. Repeated tossing and tumbling could wear the waterproof coating off as well. Machine-drying a tent or swag is also NOT an option as too much heat could cause the material to deform, distort or melt.

  7. Your old, well-worn tents or swags may need to have the waterproof coating on floors or rainflies revived. How can you tell when it's time? It's usually noticeable, with your tent rainfly or swag walls showing signs of sagging. You can use wash-in or spray-on products to revive waterproof/breathable outer coats. You can do this with single walls as well. Be careful to use the correct products however. That way, you can enjoy more years with them.

Final Note on Tent and Swag Care:

Camping tents and swags are ideally durable enough to stand against the worst that nature can throw at them. But despite this, they are NOT maintenance-free. Camping tents and swags will last only for as long as they are well taken care of. Therefore, learning how to maintain the quality of camping tents and swags is essential. Remember, they are usually the only thing that stands between you and survival in the wilderness, so proper care is vital. Trust us, the effort is worthwhile because a tent or swag. like a fine wine, improves with age, and can continue to do its job expertly for as long as you need it to.

Have other care tips you would love to share with our fellow campers and bushwalkers? Contact us! We'd love to hear them out!!

Safe camping Aussies!