Whether it is a cross country trip on the Trans America Trail or a weekend in the Blue Ridge Mountains, your vehicle instantly becomes your new home that you rely on. During this type of travel, you may start to form habits of cleaning as you go, unlike a weekend warrior trip where you clean when you get home. Your choice of roof top tents these days are plentiful and diverse. Soft shell, hard shell, hybrids… they all have two things in common, they require maintenance and cleaning. To keep your rooftop tent performing at its best there are some simple steps you can take to help prolong the life of your tiny travel home. In this article we will discuss regular maintenance, cleaning and a bonus item if you make it to the end! Let’s get into it.
Before You Go
As you are installing your new rooftop tent you will want to prepare your tent for travel. No, that doesn’t mean just tighten all the hardware down. Yes, that is one of the steps, but you need to prepare the tent for inclement weather.
Okay, so you’ve installed your tent on your trailer or vehicle (and hopefully not like the image in the right)…now open it up. Set it up as if you were camping that evening, except close all doors, windows and points of entry. Do your best to ensure there is no way for water to get inside your tent. Now, this step is called “seasoning.” You will want to spray your tent down with water and get the external fabric completely saturated. A couple good minutes with a sprayer or shower setting on the hose, not JET! This process allows the sewing needle penetrations in the tent body created during the manufacturing process along with the thread to swell and then contract while drying. Seasoning will aid in creating a tighter weave in the fabric, ultimately sealing the tent fabric. Repeat this process of saturating the fabric and allowing it to completely dry 2 to 3 times. Once satisfied (and completely dry), stow your tent away for its maiden voyage!
Your First Trip
Hands on experience, actually using the roof top tent, is the best way to learn. Once you have a few camping trips under your belt you may notice certain things that you can do to save time while packing or deploying your tent. Well there are also ways that you can save time cleaning and maintaining your tent too! As you are preparing for your next trip you might have an idea about the terrain you will be experiencing. Varying terrain could very easily loosen a bolt or nut just like on your vehicle. Take a moment to check your mounting bolts and other hardware before leaving. It may save you the headache of having to find spare hardware on the trail because something wasn’t snugged before departure. Also, it’s a good habit to inspect the hardware of your tent as you progress through your travels to eliminate any potential failures.
Keeping it clean and well maintained
Now that you’ve traveled a bit, camped a couple nights and you are back home or at base-camp for a bit.
One of the single most important maintenance habits you can develop is opening and drying out your tent after use. During your overnight trips, weekend trips, or even your longer expeditions take the time to dry out your gear. Not only will that help prevent mold and mildew, but it will also reduce the chances of trapping dirt and debris between the folds of the tent fabric. Summer months lend themselves to easier and quicker dry times. The heat of the day will quickly dry a tent. Fall and winter may require a push to get completely dry. Placing a fan near an open door or window will assist in circulating air over the fabric. Pull your bedding and pillows out so that all items can have the opportunity to dry. Removing external debris with a household broom or shop vac is essential for the life of the tent. Over time and travels your tent fabric could damage itself if debris is trapped on it. Now understand, there will be wear and tear on your gear when you use it! It’s part of using it and enjoying it.
Wear and Tear
Also, keep possible wear points on your tent in mind…Can you think of a few areas that will see more wear than others? Well let’s start out in the folding areas of the tent. The middle of the tent, the hinge area, is a common wear point hence the plastic bolt head covers on the hardware. Sharp points on items are not friendly to fabrics. What about the high traffic area of the tent? The main entry is high traffic but what about areas of friction when setting up the tent or stowing it? This goes back with what was mentioned before. Traveling with a wet tent mixed with dirty fabric could and will lead to premature fabric wear. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent all wear, but you can do a lot by removing some of the morning dew or last night’s monsoon leftovers.
Have you found an area of excessive wear on your tent or maybe you set up a little too close to the campfire last night? Small holes, tears, ember burns, and branch snags can be mended with a product from Gear Aid called Tenacious Tape. This peel and stick tape is waterproof and will stick to about any material. It is a great item to keep in your kit for many kinds of repairs such as sleeping bags, jackets and awnings. We recommend if the damaged area is in a high-tension area then it would benefit to patch the inside and outside of the fabric for a more durable fix!
We’ve discussed maintenance, cleaning and even repairs…how about a BONUS TIP!
Bugs, and more specifically…mosquitoes…yuck! Have you ever woken up in your tent and looked out your mesh door? Did you notice the mosquitoes glaring at you like you’re an all you can eat buffet? You are not alone, there are many people who have been in this situation. Through a bit of searching, researching and testing we have found that Sawyer’s Permethrin spray is a good mosquito repellent for fabrics. Follow the instructions listed on the product, treating both the outside fabric and windows. In our experience, once we treated the tents and some clothing with Sawyer’s, mosquitoes were drastically reduced, and the buffet was closed! The spray treatment contains little to no chemical smells and does not discolor the tent bodies. Keeping bugs at bay makes for a much more pleasant camping experience.
Just like vehicle maintenance, both preventative and regular, tent maintenance is a must. A properly maintained roof top tent with lengthen the life of your investment and increase the joy in your camping experience. Remember, this is your awesome tiny adventure house on wheels! Get outside, use it and take care of it.