I try to take good care of my gear, but I’m also a bit of a klutz. I’ve been known to accidentally stomp on a tent pole or two, snapping or kinking them.
Best case, it means a sleepless night, wondering if my shelter is going to collapse in the wind. Worst case, it does collapse, leading to an uncomfortable night curled up in the car.
While a broken tent pole can be a real bummer when car camping, it’s downright dangerous if you’re unexpectedly exposed to the elements, or you’re on a backpacking expedition. Luckily, wherever you are, you probably have what you need to repair your tent pole. Here’s how.
What Breaks On a Tent Pole?
It’s generally one of two things: The pole can snap, or the shock cord that keeps the poles together can wear out.
“Over time, pole sets can also develop slight memory bends, which do not diminish the structural integrity of the pole set,” says Harry Sandler, senior repair tech at Big Agnes. “[It’s] similar to a hiking boot getting broken in over time.”
Repairing vs. replacing tent poles
The choice between repairing a pole or buying a new one depends on the extent of the damage. “On larger pole sets when the majority of the segments are damaged, it may be more economical to buy a replacement,” says Sandler. “However, repairing is almost always cheaper and more environmentally sustainable.”
Can I fix my own tent pole?
Absolutely. “It’s a simple process, and most people should be able to repair poles themselves,” says Sandler. “Don’t overthink it.”
But if you prefer, stores and manufacturers like TentPole Technologies, REI and Big Agnes offer tent pole repair services.
How To Repair Broken or Kinked Tent Poles
The tools and materials you’ll need to repair include:
- Duct tape or a similar heavy-duty kind;
- A pole repair sleeve (aka splint). A proper sleeve should be slightly larger in diameter than your pole; your tent probably came with one. Look for it jingling around in your bag of tent stakes. Or you can just use a tent stake.
Caution: If you have aluminum poles, be careful of sharp broken segments. If they’re fiberglass, watch out for degraded and snapped fiberglass, which can cause splinters and cuts.
Also, try to source parts from your tent manufacturer, because using the wrong segments and tips can cause further damage. If in doubt, send in your pole for professional repair. If you’re confident in your ability, follow these steps.
- For a bent pole, exert gentle pressure to straighten it.
- Slide the sleeve over the pole onto the damaged area. Pliers can straighten out any splayed pieces so it slides better.
- Wrap duct tape around the ends of the sleeve to secure it to the pole.
- If you’re using a tent stake, center it along the damaged area, then wrap each end with tape to secure it to the pole.
How to Repair Tent Pole Shock Cord
The elastic that keeps your poles assembled wears out over time. While you can still use a compromised pole, it’s a pain, and you’ll probably want to replace it.
The tools and materials you’ll need for shock cord repair include:
- Needle-nose pliers with a cutter, or a pair of small locking pliers and scissors;
- New shock cord elastic;
- A marker or tape.
Note: If using non-locking pliers, a small clamp holds tension on the cord.
- Lay out the pole sections in a line, making sure not to mix up their assembly order. It’s best to label them with a marker or tape.
- Cut the old cord and pull it out. Be careful so you don’t lose any metal pole tips.
- Cut a new piece of elastic about the same length as your pole.
- Tie one end so it sits in the tip of the pole. Then feed the other end through the length of the segment, stopping once it’s through the second-to-last segment.
- Pull the cord as far out as you can. Then clamp the pliers on the cord just past the tip of the second-to-last pole, which will keep the cord stretched out.
- Slide the last section onto the cord and tie it off in the pole tip.
- Unclamp the pliers.
- Make sure all the poles fit together firmly. If the cord is loose, untie the end and remove a few inches at a time until it properly holds the poles together.
“People sometimes put too much or too little tension in the shock cord when they are repairing at home,” says Sandler. “The poles should be held snugly together but not be so tight that they snap violently together during set up or there isn’t enough slack to allow the pole set to break down.”
Finally, don’t forget to recycle your aluminum poles. Fiberglass poles cannot be recycled.