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Camping is a great way to commune with the outdoors and bond with friends and family. Caring for your camping gear is essential when it comes to preserving the life of your equipment. Unkempt tents, especially, are prone to rip, tear, or leak when not cared for properly.

BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT
After purchasing your tent, take it out of its bag and inspect it before using. Put the tent together. Oftentimes, a tent that's set up is easier to work with and repair, if necessary.

Some tents have been waterproofed, others haven't. Learn about your tent's features by reading the owner's manual. If your tent has not been waterproofed, you'll need to do this yourself. Waterproofing material is sold in all outdoor stores in spray or paste form. Find the product that's best for the care and use of your tent and apply twice before camping, allowing for two hours of drying time between applications.

SEAM CARE
Even if you have a waterproofed tent, you'll want to give your seams some extra care. Tent seams are prone to gather mist, rain, and dew, causing your tent to leak. Seal all floor seams and those on the zipper fly with seam sealer liquid, spray, or tape. Doing double duty in this area will ensure a dry trip. Better safe than sorry!

PRACTICE SETUP
Much damage to tents is done during hurried, unskilled setups. Make sure you know how to operate your tent before packing it up and heading out. There's no worse feeling to a camper than trying to rig together an unfamiliar tent at sundown. Put it up in the backyard or living room a few times to familiarize yourself with the way it operates. Double check all the poles, connectors, ropes, and stakes to make sure you have an ample amount. While branches and twigs can be used in a pinch to help support broken poles or stakes, you risk ripping your tent every time you must use a makeshift part.

USE THE TAPE
Duct tape can be used to repair a number of tent injuries. Duct tape will hold together a bent fiberglass pole, patch small holes, reinforce moldings and seams, and more. Always pack a small supply of duct tape with your camping gear. There's no better field emergency repair kit around!

DON'T FORGET THE BOTTOM
Before setting up your tent, lay something beneath it. Waterproof tarps are inexpensive and work well, but can be substituted with other types of ground cloths. Not only will a tarp help to keep you dry, but it will prevent twigs and small rocks that may be lying on the ground from piercing your tent's floor.

GIVE THEM SOME AIR
Each person in your tent breathes and sweats a cup of water a night. That can lead to condensation and a wet bag. Provide your tent with adequate ventilation by cracking windows or unzipping the fly.

NEVER PACK WET
You will sometimes be left with a wet tent. Whenever possible, never pack a wet tent. Once mold and mildew have started to form, they are impossible to remove. If you need to tear down your site during a storm and rain shower, leave it as open and spread out as possible. Never repack in a bag. Once you've arrived home, set up your tent (indoors or out) or hang it over a clothesline to allow it time to dry. If your tent does mildew, it's okay to wash in mild soapy water. Do NOT use detergents, however, as they will strip the waterproofing from your tent and ruin the fabric.

MENDING
When rips and tears are found, be sure you patch or repair them before heading out. In an on-site emergency, duct tape will suffice until you return home. Patch kits specially made for tents are available at camping stores and are relatively inexpensive. Be sure to allow enough time for the patch to adhere itself to your tent before disassembling.

DOUBLE CHECK
Before heading out on any trip, it's a good idea to set up your tent and double check for rips and tears. The most common place rips occur is in the eyelit area of the floor, which holds your spikes in place. Rips and tears here require bonding or mending before use, as further tears are less likely to be repairable. Also, be certain to check the roof area and sides of the tent, where support beams can often poke through thin, nylon and/or canvas tents.