How to Know if You Need to Upgrade Your TentPublished on 08/17/2023 · 11 min readIs it time to upgrade your camping shelter? Learn the signs that indicate your tent is due for an upgrade so that you can stay comfortable on all your camping trips!
Photo by Kamil Macniak
No matter where or what kind of camping you do, chances are you’ve put your tent through the wringer. Your tent keeps you warm and dry during torrential downpours and high-speed winds, and shades you during the hottest summer days. And like any piece of outdoor equipment, tents have a certain lifespan. Over time, they can get holes, leaks, broken poles, and even start to break down. So how do you tell when it’s definitely time for a new tent?
My name is Hunter, and I’ve been an avid camper basically my whole life, thanks to my dad’s enthusiasm to get me outdoors as a kid. At this point, I’ve been through about ten tents, including the ones I grew up using. I’ve also worked in the outdoor industry for seven years now, which keeps me up-to-date on new tent and camping gear technologies. Through my work and personal experiences, I’ve learned what can be repaired, and when a tent needs to be replaced. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the seven signs that it’s time for a tent upgrade!
1. Holes and Leaks
One of the most obvious signs that it’s time to upgrade your tent is if it has holes or leaks. Of course, holes and leaks are bound to happen, no matter how careful you are. However, leaks can be dangerous if you’re camping in the rain or cold because they have the potential to soak your entire sleeping setup, which can drastically diminish your sleeping bag's ability to keep you warm. Holes also open you up to getting wet in stormy conditions, as well as bugs and critters.
How do holes and leaks happen? Setting up your tent in areas with sharp rocks and plants can easily puncture your tent material, especially on its floor. If you keep food inside your tent, you’re also more prone to holes from tiny critters biting through to access your food. The outer material of your tent will also just break down over time if it’s exposed to the elements a lot. Sun, rain, and the strain of set-up and break-down make the fibers of your tent more fragile, so holes and leaks—especially near the seams—are bound to happen.
How to prevent this issue:
- Use a tent footprint: A footprint is an extra piece of material, usually made from the same fabric as the tent, which goes under the tent to provide an extra layer of protection between sharp objects and the floor of your tent. Some tents are sold with these, and others are sold separately.
- Use a UV protectant spray: The sun can do some real damage on your tent. Most tents are sold with a UV protectant coating, but if you’re using your tent mostly in the summer in sunny areas, it’s a good idea to reinforce every other year with a spray-on UV protectant, such as the Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof Spray.
- Proper storage: Storing your tent wet or slightly damp can cause mold and mildew to form, which eats away at your tent’s fabric (and will make it stink next time you use it!), so make sure your tent is completely dry before storing. If you had a rainy camping trip, set your tent up when you get home (inside or outside) to let it fully dry before storing it.
- Proper storing food during camping trips: To avoid critters and other wildlife eating through your tent walls, make sure to store your food outside your tent in a secure area like a car, cooler, or bear canister.
2. Diminished Water Resistance
Even if your tent isn’t leaking yet, diminished water resistance is another sign that it’s time to upgrade your tent. You’ll be able to tell your tent isn’t as water resistant if it feels heavy and soaked after rain. While tents come with a water-resistant coating, it wears off over time. Ideally, water should bead and roll off the rainfly, but if it isn’t, then it’s best to upgrade before your next rainy camping trip—or you’ll be in a wet sleeping bag!
How to prevent this issue:
- Use a waterproof spray: Heavy rains, constant UV radiation, and wet storage can all diminish your tent’s waterproof coating. Once a year—or twice if you use your tent frequently—spray your tent with a waterproof spray to help it stay waterproof for longer. I personally recommend the Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarWash and their SolarProof spray I mentioned before. SolarWash removes any dirt or residue that’s compromising the waterproofing, and the SolarProof renews the waterproof coating. This is a good way to extend the tent’s water resistance, but if your tent needs this treatment more than twice a year, it’s time to upgrade.
3. Broken Zippers or Poles
Perhaps the most obvious sign that it’s time to upgrade your tent is if some part, such as a pole or zipper, is broken beyond repair. Tent poles have the tough job of keeping your tent upright and stable despite heavy winds, rain, and regular usage (including repeated set-ups and break-downs). I’ve experienced poles breaking, bending to the point that they have an unfixable curve, and no longer maintaining a straight position after the internal string that connects them gets stretched out—all of which are bound to happen with heavy use.
Zippers are another weak point in tents, which commonly break from overuse, dirt/dust getting trapped, and getting zipped and unzipped too roughly or with fabric in the way. A broken zipper can lead to a multitude of issues, such as reduced wind and rain resistance, bugs or critters getting inside, and even rips or holes in the fabric around the zipper.
Broken poles and zippers should be fixed right away. If either of these occur with a newer tent you haven’t used much, make sure to check the tent manufacturer’s warranty to see if it’s eligible. If you’re not eligible for the warranty, it’s time to upgrade. Quick note: tent stakes always seem to break after a year or two with every tent I’ve had. If that happens to you, don’t worry! Stakes can always be purchased separately, so that alone doesn’t mean you need to upgrade quite yet.
How to prevent this issue:
- Be gentle when zipping and unzipping: If the zipper isn’t opening or closing, make sure that there’s no dirt or fabric that might be blocking it. Also, don’t zip or unzip with too much pressure or force, as this can cause it to break.
- Proper storage: Storing your tent and poles in their proper bags and ensuring they’re dry helps avoid rust buildup, mold, and unnecessary scratching—all of which can compromise the performance of your poles and zippers.
4. Outdated Design
Tent designs have come a long way in the last 20 years or so. Newer designs will make your nights sleeping outdoors comfortable no matter what kind of climate you’re in. Most tents used to have single-wall designs, with the rainfly integrated into the body of the tent, which makes the inside of your tent more prone to condensation. A separate mesh paneling rainfly you can take on-and-off lets condensation escape, ensuring it’s dry on the inside of the tent. A removable rainfly is also nice because you can remove it for a better view of the stars when it’s not storming, or extra airflow in warm weather.
Modern tents also tend to have better and more ventilation than older models. This can come in the form of mesh paneling, mesh windows, or just a more breathable tent wall fabric. If you’re camping in the summer, it’s important to have a well-ventilated tent to keep you cool, so you have a better night’s sleep for your next full day of adventures.
The last design feature that tends to be better on newer tents is the setup. Almost all tents now come with color-coded poles, pole attachment points, and pole clips, which make it easy to figure out where everything goes. Newer tents generally have a more streamlined design, where you just clip the poles to the outside of the tent. Older tents were designed such that the poles fit into sleeves on the tent body, which is less intuitive and increases the risk of ripping fabric. If you’re having any issues with condensation, ventilation, or just get a headache every time you set your tent up, it’s time to upgrade to a newer design!
5. Outdated Materials
Tent materials tend to get better each year. A lot of older tents were made of canvas, which can be super durable, but it isn’t good for frequent use because it takes a while to dry, is heavy, and not very breathable. Most modern-day tents are made of ripstop nylon or polyester, which is lighter, more breathable, and incredibly-fast drying compared to canvas. Ripstop nylon is constructed of small nylon squares so that if there’s a small rip or tear, it doesn’t continue through the fabric, stopping at the end of the particular square that ripped. Regular nylon, which some older tents are made of, will keep ripping once there’s a small tear in it—therefore, ripstop is more high-quality and will result in a longer lifespan.
When thinking about materials, you should also think about tent poles. Back in the day, tent poles were generally made of stainless steel, which was very durable and sturdy, but heavy. Poles are now more commonly made of aluminum or carbon fiber, both of which are durable, but way lighter than steel.
6. Camping in a New Location or Doing a Different Kind of Camping
If you’ve primarily used your tent for car camping, but are getting more into backpacking (for example), it might be time for an upgrade. Backpacking tents prioritize low weight and packability, so they don’t weigh you down on the trail, while car camping tents prioritize comfort over weight. If the type of camping you’re doing is changing a lot, it’s worth it to invest in a tent that will make your trip more enjoyable! Similarly, if you’re going from camping primarily in a dry climate like a desert, to a wetter climate such as the Pacific Northwest or a colder climate like winter in the mountains, you might want a tent suited for the climate. Tents for desert camping prioritize ventilation, whereas tents better for wetter climates keep you and your gear dry in heavy, constant rains, while winter tents are made to keep you warm in freezing temperatures.
7. Need for More Space or Features
Another change that might warrant an upgrade is if you need more interior space or are looking for extra features. If you recently had a child or got a dog, you may find your old two-person tent is more cramped than it used to be, which is a great reason to upgrade to an updated design with more space to accommodate your growing camp crew. Many tents now come with features that aren’t necessarily must-haves, but might make your camping experience just that much better. This could include an extra door (good if someone has to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), an integrated light (which many Big Agnes brand tents now have), extra gear lofts, or more internal pockets. Some larger tents for car camping even have multiple rooms for privacy in a large group; these tents tend to have vertical walls and enough headroom to stand up inside them, which is nice if you want an area to wait out a storm or get some shade in the middle of the day.
Next Steps for Upgrading Your Tent
As you can see, there’s many reasons you might need to upgrade your tent, and if this is the case, don’t get too down on yourself. Tents are meant to be exposed to the elements, and by nature (pun intended), that will cause them to wear out and need replacement. But there’s also a handful of places to donate your old tent to ensure it’s life isn’t over: organizations such as Gear Forward, Tents-4-Homeless, and Share/Wheel will give your old tent to someone experiencing homelessness. If your tent is in really bad shape, I’ve also had luck donating to local garden-oriented non-profits that use them to cover plants in the wintertime.
Now comes the exciting part: shopping for a new tent! If you need help figuring out which tent will be a good replacement, chat with one of Curated’s Camping & Hiking Experts such as myself. We’ll go through your needs, preferences, camping experiences, and more to recommend the best options to keep you protected during your outdoor adventures for years to come. Happy camping!