Keeping your tent in good condition is important if you want it to take care of you when you need it most. Of course keeping it dry when you can and avoiding punctures is important. But when you want to make sure that you will be dry if a storm kicks up, you need to know how to seam seal a tent.
It would be nice if tents came from the factory with sealed seams. But the vast majority don’t, and once you seal your seams you will understand why. Seam sealing is a labor intensive process, and you have to do it under the right conditions. So let’s get started on what you need to know to keep your tent in working order.
Why Seal Your Seams?
When a tent is sewn together there are thousands of little holes created. Everywhere the needle penetrates the fabric creates a potential spot for water to penetrate. Sealing your seams puts a barrier up so that no water can pass through your seams and into your tent. There are many products available to do this, and they are usually synthetic.
Many seam sealants look a lot like a glue stick, but others are a liquid that you paint on. It is important to remember that all sealants are chemically unique, so making sure they will work on your tent is a must.
In addition to liquid sealants some companies make spray-on sealer. These are not a replacement for seam sealants, but can be used in addition to them.
Not only will sealing up your seams and rainfly help to protect the stitching of your tent, it will also limit the need to use a tarp over your tent in the rain. This means that your tent will be able to breathe, and you won’t have to waste energy carrying unnecessary weight with you.
Preparation Is Everything
Now that you’re aware of the various kind of products that are in the market, here is what you need to do to effectively seal the seams of your tents.
Step 1. Find Correct Sealing Product
The first thing you have to do when sealing your seams is talk to the manufacturer of the tent. Not every kind of sealant will work with every tent. In fact some will damage the wrong kind of fabric. So find out what kind of sealant the manufacturer recommends. There may be a selection of sealing products available, so be sure to inquire as to which one would be the best tent seam sealer for the job.
In many cases the better sealing products will come at a premium price, spending more isn’t a bad idea if you are getting quality for your money. If you use good materials when you seal the seams on your tent, the job you do will last longer.
Step 2. Clean Fabric
Even if your tent is brand new, it is a good idea to wash it with plain, warm water. Just get a big bucket or plastic tote and give it a rinse. You will be removing anything that could keep the sealant from doing its job. If your tent isn’t new, you will want to use some kind of cleaning agent to get the fabric as clean as possible. For useful tips on how to clean a tent, check out our earlier article to find out.
The best course of action is to contact the manufacturer of the tent to see what kind of soap will react well with the fabric. You never want to use a cleaning product with detergent, it may destroy your tent. Wash the fabric a few times until the water isn’t dirty. You want to make sure to remove all the dirt and grime that is possible.
Step 3. Allow To Dry
It is imperative that your tent is completely dry before you begin the seam sealing process. If you have the ability to pitch your tent in a place where it will dry slowly, that is ideal. A well-ventilated garage or shady spot in the morning would be perfect.
Some people prefer to pitch their tent while it dries, and others just hang it up like a piece of normal fabric. But be careful, many times wet fabric can pick up small amounts of dirt and dust.
You will be maintaining the cleanliness of the fabric, and clean fabric is very important if you want the sealant to adhere without problems.
Step 4. Pitch Your Tent
By this time your tent should be nice and dry. In order to seal the seams on your tent, it needs to be pitched perfectly and dry as a bone. Make sure all of the poles are taut, and everything is seated correctly. It is at this point in the process that there are more opinions about the best way to proceed.
Step 5. To Tape or Not To Tape?
There is a lot of debate when it comes to the issue of taping off your tent seams before you apply sealant. If you want to do a professional job, it’s time to get out the painter’s tape and start masking off your seams.
Apply the tape on either side of all of your tent’s seams, and leave about a ¼ of an inch showing. You may need someone to stand on the other side and help you to get the tape to adhere. It can be tricky to make the tape stick, and using a smooth, hard piece material on the other side of the tent can really help you to get the tape fastened securely.
Despite what many people say, it is not necessary to tape off your seams. It may be a very good idea in some cases, as the texture of the sealant can be very runny.
Another factor to consider is whether or not you want the job to look good. If you choose not to tape off your seams it is unlikely that there will be a difference in the performance of the sealant.
Step 6. Sealing The Interior
You will want to begin sealing your tent in the interior. Most people think that it is better to start high, and work your way down in altitude.
You will want to use the brush that the sealant manufacturer recommends. Some kinds of brushes are made from materials that may react badly with the sealant, so be sure that you know what kind of brush is going to work.
Once you begin, all you have to do is lay a coating of sealant between the two tape lines. Don’t be afraid of using too much, you want to make sure that this gets done right. Work your way down to the seam that connects the bottom of your tent to the walls, and do that seam last.
You want to pay special attention to the needle holes, and make sure that they are totally filled with sealant. Even a small hole can let a lot of water in, so paying attention to all of the stitches is really important.
Put a solid coat on all of your seams, and if possible, a second layer on the lower seams. This is because when it rains, the water will collect on the ground. The higher seams are less likely to let water pass through, but the lower seams are more at risk for water transmission.
Step 7. Outside The Tent
You will want to do roughly the same thing on the outside, so as soon as you get out carefully zip the entrance to the tent closed. Closing the door will make sure that your tent is as taut as possible when you apply the sealant to the exterior seams.
Begin on the top seams of your tent, and work your way down. Again, you will want to make sure that the lower seams are given a healthy coat of sealant.
Step 8. Rainfly Sealing
Sealing up all the seams on your rainfly is a good idea as well. If you are already sealing up the seams of your tent, you might as well do the rainfly too while you have all the right conditions.
You can either wait for the tent to dry, and put the rainfly on to seal it, or you can lay the rainfly out on a clean area of grass. Taping off the seams is a good idea, and with the rainfly you can leave a somewhat wider gap.
The process is the same, and you will want to be very careful to completely fill in all of the stitching so that your rainfly is giving you all the protection it can.
Step 9. Let It All Dry
Once you have applied sealant to both your tent and rainfly, you have to wait at least 24 hours before you move it so that the sealant can cure completely.
Leaving your tent in the garage overnight is a good way to go, if you can. Leaving it set up outside is an option as well, just be aware to start the sealing process early in the day. You want the sealant to be mostly cured before the dampness of the night comes. The next day, you can take the tape off, and you are almost done.
Step 10. Testing!
Before you take your tent out into the bush, you have to make sure you did a good job sealing it all up. The easiest way to do a good test of your sealing job is to take your tent out into the yard during the day and get it wet. Go ahead and pitch your tent just how you would if you were camping, and get the sprinkler or hose out. If you have a lot of time and a helping hand, jump into your tent and close it up, and have your helper turn on the sprinkler.
Just hang out in your tent for half and hour and let the water pour over it, then start looking closely for any leaks. If you do, be sure to take care of them. Unfortunately you will have to wait for your tent to dry, but the fix should be easy by applying more sealant to that area.
Wrap It Up
Now that you tent has been sealed and tested, it is time to let it dry once last time. When you store your tent, it is extremely important that it be completely dry before you pack it up. Make sure to let you tent dry slowly for at least a 24-hour period before wrapping it up.
Some Sealant Insight
In addition to sealing your seams, you have the option to use aerosol-based sealants for the entire tent. If you are taking the time to seal up your seams, this gives you the opportunity to treat the fabric of the tent as well.
The application of fabric sealants is much easier, and once your tent’s seams are sealed up, your tent is dry, and the masking tape has been removed, you can easily apply a spray sealant. Using this sort of sealing product is especially useful for the base of the tent, where the damp and dank from the ground is most likely to try and sneak in.
The process is simple, all you have to do is spray the sealant on, and let it dry for an hour or two.Because you are applying a much lighter coat of the chemical, it doesn’t take nearly as long to cure. Again, be sure to check with the manufacturer of your tent before treating it with any product.
Take Good Care And Have A Blast
Taking care of your tent will make it last longer, and help it to do its job when you are out in nature. Having a rainfly is a good start to keeping dry outdoors, but well-sealed tent seams add a lot of protection. The costs involved are minimal, and really you are just spending a few hours doing some labor that is going to be a big asset to your tent.
Some people seal their tent seams every year, but if you are in doubt, just do a sprinkler test and see if you need to reseal the seams that season.
If you do a good job sealing your seams, there is no reason why the new sealant won’t last two or three years. Learning how to seam seal a tent will pay off for you in the long run, and you will be grateful that you did a quality job when it starts pouring rain. For a review of the best mountaineering tent, see our article for more useful options.
We love to find out how your seam sealing experience. If you have any tips or tricks for us, please share them below. You can do a lot to help others learn how to seam seal a tent, and we all love to learn from each other, so please share your insight with us.