Stinky Tents: Check it over before heading out to camp

Taking some time to look your tent over before leaving on a camping trip will help assure it provides a cozy shelter from bugs and bad weather when camping. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Taking some time to look your tent over before leaving on a camping trip will help assure it provides a cozy shelter from bugs and bad weather when camping. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

I don’t know about you, but I like sleeping outdoors. The air is fresh. I like the breezes. And when a storm comes on, I usually hunker down comfortably in my tent.

Michigan’s camping season soon will be in full swing, and I am guessing many campers have not looked their tent over since it was packed away last year. It might be a good idea to do so before heading out.

Each year, I hear about people who put their tents away dirty and wet. Come spring or summer, when they pull them out, it stinks to high-heaven because of mold growth or mildew. Short of having an agitated skunk in camp, there is nothing like a stinky tent for fouling up a trip.

Sometimes, that mildew problem is fixable. Other times, the condition has gone too far, and a new tent likely is needed. But it’s worth spending the time and effort to get rid of the problem early on. I extended the life of one old tent I had for many years by following these simple steps.

The fix

The fix, if the problem is not severe, is to set the tent up outside on a dry, sunny day and start with a good cleaning. Wipe out cookie crumbs, pine needles, bug parts and squashed-bug juice. Then, sponge it inside and out with a light dilution of Lysol and water, or go over it with a soft nylon brush getting into corners and areas with visible mildew or mold.

After that, give it a fresh water rinse — I use a hose inside and out — and let it air and sun-dry completely before packing it up again. Putting it in a washing machine is not a good idea. The agitation puts too much stress on the seams.

A more severe problem might require a specially formulated commercial product such as McNett Mirazyme Odor Eliminator or another similar product. The company claims it removes all odors from camping and outdoor gear by killing the organisms that cause the smell.

I haven’t tried it, but most online reviews are positive about the outcome. A bottle costs $5.99. It’s a cheap fix if it works.

Inspection is best

Inspecting a tent before a trip is always a good idea. You might be reminded of the little leak in the ceiling, wall or floor seams or find you are missing one or two stakes needed to set it up.

Resealing tent seams is a simple and worthwhile task that can be done at home with a commercial seam sealer available at camping gear outlets. In most cases, it’s a simple as daubing or brushing the polyurethane-based sealant onto seams so it soaks into the stitching and seals the needle holes. Be sure to check the rain fly seams as well.

Tent poles are another potential area of trouble. A pre-trip inspection is the time to make sure all the segments are there and that none are bent or broken. Better to order a part early than arrive at camp, go to set it up, and find it won’t stand.

Do you know which pole segment goes with which? A quick refresher before leaving can eliminate the frustration that comes with arriving at camp late and pitching the tent in the dark, finding yourself uncertain about which part goes with which.

Look for rips and tears while you’re at it. Rolls of patching material with adhesive backing are readily available at most camping supply outlets. Better to fix those before hitting the woods.

Over the years, I’ve seen all sorts of makeshift solutions put into play at the last-minute. The one that always makes me laugh is the big blue plastic tarp that is hung over a tent to keep it dry.

People love to tell their stories about the flood of the century in their tent. But if truth be known, I prefer to forgo those tales knowing my shelter is bug-proof, waterproof and stink-proof, too.

I find I sleep better that way.


This feature appears on MLive Outdoors 

About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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