How to fix your canvas tent

Here are some suggestions for fixing common issues with older Canvas tents, please feel free to offer other suggestions and ideas. You might also want to look in the Links section if you need professional advice or bits.

Leaks. Possibly a big concern for many people buying older Canvas and one that can actually develop into an issue that maybe wasnt really there if you do the wrong thing. If Canvas is stored in a good dark dry place (like a centrally heated house) the fabric will become bone dry. When it is pitched at the start of the season, or when you just bought it in good faith from Ebay/wherever it may well leak. That is perfectly normal and not an indicator of a poor tent. Do not reproof the tent thinking that is what it needs, once you start reproofing you have to keep doing it and the tent maybe doesnt need it anyhow. Pitch the tent properly (neatly with all rubbers etc in place and door zips closed) and give it a really good soaking. The Canvas will soak up the water, the fibres will swell and it will possibly shrink a tiny bit (thats why you dont peg it too tight or it might tear or break a rubber). Leave it to dry out and soak it again. If the Canvas isnt dirty and paper thin from age the leaks should be gone. The process is called weathering and is quite normal for Canvas (but entirely un-necessary for plastic tent fabrics)

Flysheet tears are not uncommon in older tents especially designs that use pointed poles like Ridge Tents. A small piece of damage can be sorted easily at home (though not prettily) with Tenacious Tape inside and out. Slightly better (if the Canvas isnt heavy weight) is haberdashers iron on Cotton repair tape. If the area is a stress bearing part (eg close to a holder for pole) or you want it to look a little nicer, then something more robust would be needed. This is where proper Canvas patching and some sewing is going to be needed

If you have an old tent that has seen a bit of life it is possible that it will be looking like it needs a window replacement, mesh or panel replacement. If the window material is just milky there are ways to polish it back to usable with polish used for the plastic screens in convertible cars (<<to add links>>. But if it the window or panel is badly damaged then the best way forwards is replacement. If there has been some fire damage (from a flared stove for example) you are also likely to be looking at panel replacement, though severe fire damage is probably not economic to repair. If you are competent with a needle then you might find it possible to replace panels but many people pass this sort of repair to an expert. Look in the Links for window plastic, canvas supplies and tent repairers. Or if you can get the materials it is worth asking in your local sewing shop first as the techniques are not difficult (but the fabrics need strong sewing machines)

Something a lot of older tents can suffer is seam or zip stitching that is unraveling. Depending on why it is happening this can usually be fixed relatively easily with an extra strong polyester or linen thread (some people swear by yacht sail thread) and a good strong needle. Decent strong waxed cotton thread for tent use is better if you can get hold of it, as it swells when wet. If the reason for the problem is poor construction or rotting thread then this is a bit more serious and you will have to decide if it is worth keeping on top of the stitching or if your tent just became the raw materials for a nice canvas storage bag

A ground sheet puncture or tear (or mudwall) isnt usually that serious. Usually a rock or thorn finds itself into the wrong place at the wrong time and some minor damage is done. Tenacious tape is your friend again here, stick it on both sides and forget it. Some people swear by the PVC repair kits from people like Sevylor but not having tried then it would be good to have some feedback from someone who has success/failure with them. To avoid the problem in future quickly check your planned pitch site for thorny trimmings and sharp objects (or even a forgotten tent peg), many people have a "footprint" tarp which goes under the whole tent and takes any damage first, these also serve the useful purpose of keeping the tent much cleaner.

Inner tent damage is usually fairly easy to fix as damage tends to be less severe and the inner is not (usually) as highly stressed component. Generally the fabric is leightweight muslin type cotton fabric, if you need big pieces then Dunelm and similar places will stock plenty of different types to choose from. You can also try your local camping shop or use one of the tent repair companies on the Links page for fabric. If you have minor damage then sticky Cotton Haberdashers tape is ideal (similar to iron on hemming but made with proper cotton), it comes in different fabric weights & colours and once ironed on the glue is water proof - not that being waterproof really matters as the inner shouldnt be getting wet, but it is reassuring that the fix is damp proof and should be long lasting. If it is the roof lining and curtains that are damaged then similar approaches can be taken

Lost curtains or roof lining is a slightly bigger challenge especially if you can't get hold of the items for a template. But careful measurement and a little time with a sewing machine should produce serviceable replacements. Almost any decent polycotton fabric will do, so back to Dunelm or pull out that old duvet cover. The roof linings all use similar pole clips so these are readily available. Some tent curtains use 'J rail' and each of the main manufacturers tends to have their own prefered fittings which are used to attach the curtains to the tent - if you know the make of tent they should be readily sourced, as ever have a look on the Links page

Rusty poles can be a nuisance as they can stain the Canvas but can be cleaned to be serviceceable. There are times when people use masking tape to mark pole sections and this makes the pole sticky on the outside and rusty underneath (the tape seems to hold moisture, unlike insulation tape which doesnt seem to). Cleaning off the sticky mess takes patience and some 'sticky remover'. Cleaning off the rust is harder. The pole coating (often shiny yellow looking) that is still there will protect the steel from rusting so you dont want to remove it with metal polish, we tend to use white (non-stick) pan scourers and some water but if it really bad then you will need something more abrasive like very fine wet and dry paper. Painted poles in some cheaper tents (as opposed to coated ones like Cabanon) are probably easier in this respect as some proper prep and a decent enamel paint will solve the problem

If the rust makes the pole unserviceable or you have bent, broken or missing poles then identical pole replacement can be a challenge with older tents unless it is a straight section. Most manufacturers stick to standard tube sizes so, with a little luck you might find another brand of tent pole can be used or can be modified to fit with a hacksaw / hammer / vice. With the right kit (or friends) corners and brackets can be fabricated and welded too. The obvious place to start again is your local camping shop, some still have loads of poles in the back room somewhere. Another option is to buy a frame without Canvas (usually for not much money on Ebay) and you have yourself plenty of spares

Looking after zips is important and damage prevention is far better than cure. Zips can pick up a lot of dirt and wear, especially near the ground so it is important to keep them clean and lubricated. It is also important to peg out properly to minimise stress on the zips. Wax is an ok lubricant as it doesnt risk getting contamination of the fabrics but some people swear by Silicone lubricant applied with a little paint brush. Zip replacement can be a big job so you are probably going to visit the Links page for the Zip or a repair company to sort it for you. If you are lucky (and it is worth asking) the local sewing shop might be able to help

If you find your tent has a fusty smell and black spots on the Canvas then you have got mildew/mould. In tiny amounts it is not a dreadful problem - clean the area, soak it in 1/10 diluted Miltons Fluid, rinse thoroughly then leave in the sun to dry: this will kill the spores but is unlikely to get rid of the black marks. Another product that may be worth the cost is mould remover from Albion. If the mould is extensive then it is likely the Canvas will have its waterproof characteristics compromised and is effectively scrap - prevention is essential with sensible cleaning and packing away discipline. The fusty smell can disperse with use though if you want to help it along some people use a bit of fabreeze (only in the inner cotton tent mind). Sometimes the smell isnt coming from the Canvas at all but the groundsheet, we have a seen one or two smelly tents where the ground sheet was pongy and during storage (where everything was rolled rogether) the smell found its way into the fabrics. Another reason to use a 'footprint' to keep the tent clean. You can get groundsheet cleaners from people like Fenwicks or use a household cleaner if you are very careful to avoid contact with the Canvas and to rinse well afterwards

Canvas relies on its inherent properties to resist water penetration. As the fabric (and stitching) gets wet it swells up and prevents water droplets from passing through, while still allowing water vapour through. Dirt and wear gradually reduce the effectiveness of the Cotton to resist water but exposure to solvents, detergents and the like can severely compromise the water resistance. Its not just obvious stuff like washing up liquid when doing the dishes but kids playing with bubble mixture can wreck a perfectly serviceable tent too. It is extremely unlikely that reproofing will help as the proofer will not wet the fabric threads properly, but it might be your last resort. We have heard of white vinegar being used to clean detergent from Canvas (in the US) but never tried it - if you know it worked do please let us know. The Conway Owners Club has a useful sheet with some suggestions on how to clean Canvas (though they do suggest using dilute detergent in places!?), make sure you test things first before trying it on your pride and joy

To work well the Canvas fabric needs to be kept clean. Dirt will find its way into the threads of the fabric and stop them working properly, over time the Canvas becomes less waterproof (unlike solvent or detergent exposure where loss of water proofing is sudden). Some discipline to clean off soil and bird poo as it dries will help, as will a good wash down with a stiff clean brush and clean water every now and then. On no account ever put detergent in the water to clean your tent !

Looking outside the tent there are the guy lines, rubber bands and the fixing points that they use. The fixing points can be highly stressed so if one breaks make sure it is repaired properly (and try to understand why it broke so it doesn't happen again). Guylines get dirty in time and can be cleaned, but they are cheap enough to replace too. The rubbers that connect the bottom of the tent to the ground eventually crack and need replacing. No big deal to get new ones, the black rubbers seem to last a little longer though some people really like to use black shock cord variant


If you still have an issue or concern with your tent then dont forget to look in the Links section for experts and suppliers who have may be able to help

If you want to get some advice from fellow campers, why not go to the The Camping Forum

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