Picture this; you’re out with your $100 tent, and when setting it up, you realize one of the poles has cracked, or rather, it starts to split, about 1/3 of the fiberglass section. Disappointing.
The obvious solution would be to contact the original manufacturer for replacement parts, but the problem is you live quite far, and shipping a new pole to your location is 3x the cost of the pole.
So, you’re left with a broken pole, and what’s even worse is you’ve an upcoming camping adventure and are too broke for a tent replacement or rental.
That was me several years ago.
Now, I know most of you can relate, or at least have faced a broken tent pole situation.
It’s a disheartening moment to have your tent pole break on you without a previous warning.
But on the brighter side, there’s a myriad of DIY ways to fix the tent pole.
And I know what you’re thinking; wrap duct tape over the tent pole. While that might be a sufficient temporary fix, there’re plenty of other ways to repair the cracks on your tent pole.
In the guide below, I’ll be candid with you and share some tips on fixing a tent pole.
You don’t need to go through the hassle of replacing your tent poles or even cutting short your adventure because of a cracked pole.
Fixing a Tent Pole
After the tent fabric, the poles are probably the most important part of a tent.
Poles play a key role in maintaining the structure of your tent and helping it stand upright.
Now, in case a pole-tube is compromised, either cracking or breaking, your tent is likely to flutter, lose shape, and collapse.
It’s, therefore, necessary to know about the basic repairs of your pole to avoid further damage.
The good news is there’re a couple of fixes are quite handy on a broken pole.
And in the guide below, I’ll teach you how.
I’ve broken down the DIY fixes into three main categories for simplicity.
1) Taping a splint
2) How to use a splint to fix a broken tent pole
3) How to replace a tent pole shock cord
Taping a Splint
Our first DIY fix is a simple and temporary solution, best suited for emergencies & outdoors.
It’s ideal for the days when your tent pole breaks on you in the wild and you don’t have the resources for a full repair.
The taping method is more like a mitigation method that prevents the exacerbation of the crack and cushions against further breakdown.
- Gaffer’s tape
- Flat surface
Find a clean and flat working surface. I’d recommend a picnic or camping table, but if it’s not available, you can use the top of your ice chest or toolbox.
Simply put, find a flat working surface to work on.
The working surface should also be clean and free from debris. Remember you’re using tape, and debris such as sand, dust, leave, and twigs may compromise its sticking ability.
Unspool the gaffer’s tape into a strip that coincides with the length of the pole splint section from one end to the other end. No harm if you measure the length of the segment. I’d recommend that the tape strip extends into a few more inches than the exact length of the broken segment.
If you didn’t include a gaffer’s tape in your list of camping accessories and tools, you could go with the regular duct tape.
But I would strongly recommend the gaffer’s tape because of its high strength. The tape can maintain the structure of the splint section and has incredible holding power.
Press the lateral edge of the gaffer’s tape over the split segment.
Next, cover the entire pole segments, and depending on the diameter of the tube, you can would the tape severally.
I’d recommend wounding the tape a couple of times over the splint segment for proper reinforcement and more strength.
But more importantly, consider wounding the tape lengthwise instead of wrapping the ends. A lengthwise wrap will cover more surface area of the splint segment, which generally results in better strength.
Meanwhile, it’s also important that you wrap the tape cleanly and avoid wrinkling or the formation of creases. You can even use your hands for smoothing the tape surface.
While taping the splint pole method isn’t the most effective or practical DIY fix, it offers a nice temporary solution.
And if done correctly and with the right tape, it should take you through your entire camping trip or even the remainder of the season.
Using a Splint to Fix a Broken Tent Pole
If your tent breaks, you’re in for a long night.
But our second DIY method, using a splint, will help fix the cracked segment like it was never there before.
It’s my go-to DIY fix; whether I stepped on my pole or a gush of wind took a toll on the pole.
Using a splint to fix a tent pole is an umbrella category further sub-divided into two other categories.
1) Using a repair sleeve
2) Using a tent stake
We’ll go through each of the methods so you can see what option suits your needs best.
Repair Sleeve Method
I’m a big fan of using metal sleeves because of their reliability and ease of use. It’s also not as clumsy as the first one.
- Repair sleeve
Repair sleeves are thin-walled stainless steel tubes that are slipped over a worn or broken pole segment to provide a sturdy segment.
Usually, most popular tent models come with a couple of stock repair sleeves. But if your first aid kit didn’t come with the replacement kits, you can get them at your local hardware store.
The right metal sleeve should have just a slightly larger diameter than your tent pole so that it doesn’t play around.
The first step to using a repair sleeve is the preparation of the tent pole.
Assuming the pole broke and splintered, it’s likely that it jagged on the broken edges, which may prove to be an obstacle when fitting the repair sleeve.
So, you need to trim or remove the jagged section. I usually use wire cutters to remove the shards sticking side.
You’re free to use any other alternative to give the affected segment a uniform thickness.
Also, if the pole was bent but not broken, you’ll need to bend it back to shape. The pole doesn’t need to take a straight line, but it should be fairly straightforward for the repair sleeve to fit.
You can use your hands to straighten the bent pole, and if you find it challenging, consider using an arbor press and use it the same way you use to bend aluminum sheets.
Line up the broken pieces so they’re on a fairly straight line.
Gently slide the sleeve over the damaged pole section. Ideally, I prefer when my sleeve extends past the ends of the broken edges for greater strength.
Also, the repair sleeve must be centered as evenly as possible.
Wrap the ends of the repair sleeve flush with the tent pole. I prefer wounding the tape a couple of times for more strength.
If you’ve enough tape, you can even wrap around the entire sleeve.
A big problem with this method comes when the broken segment inserts into the next one. It means you need to splint the two sections together, which will ultimately prove costly for portability since you can’t fold the poles.
But overall, it’s a nice solution and will allow your tents to endure the harsh conditions of multiple camping sessions.
Using a Tent Stake as Splint
When packing for the wild, it’s easy to forget your fixing sleeves. It has happened to me before.
If it happens, and you don’t have your sleeve with you, a tent stake or a straight, sturdy stick can serve as an acceptable alternative.
- Tent stake/ straight & straight sturdy stick
Line up the two segments. One end should be on the same line as the other end.
As with the step above, straighten the bend section.
Along with the stake centrally, adjacent and flush with the broken segment.
Wrap the camp tent stake against the cracked edge with a gaffer’s tape or whatever tape you’ve.
I’d recommend you wound the duct tape severally over the broken section for more strength.
Replacing Tent-Pole Shock cord
Sometimes, the shock cords on your tent poles might get frayed, broken or stop stretching anymore. This means one thing; time for a replacement.
And in the section below, I’ll share the tools you need for elastic cord replacement and a step-by-step replacement process.
- New shock cord
- Long pliers
Start by closely inspecting the ends of the poles and see how the elastic cord is connected.
Generally, most steel tent poles have a removable plastic or metal tab you can unscrew or pull out so you can undo the old cord.
Once you’ve an idea of how the pole system is set up, take a permanent marker and number the pole sections so you’ll have an easy time putting them together in the original order.
Untie or cut the old shock cord.
Pull the old cord and lay it on a flat surface to full length. Measure the original cord and then cut the new cord to the same length as the old one.
Choose an end to attach to the tab and tie a knot.
From there, start to re-thread the cords through the diameter & length of the pole. You’ll be grateful you took the time to number them earlier.
Before threading the final pole section, double-check the set-up, pull the cord tight and pinch it off with a clamp or vice. This is to ensure the final section of the cord isn’t under tension when working.
Finish off by attaching the new cord to the pole tip and tie off the loose ends.
How to Avoid Tent Poles Breaking
Tent poles breaking is inevitable, and sometimes, it happens when you least expect it.
However, there’re a couple of tips I’d like to share with you.
See, most tents break or crack during tent assembly or transport, so you need to be extra careful during these two processes.
When setting up or taking down your tent, you should work from the center out. Avoid collapsing the pole from one end first because it may exert undue stress on the pole resulting in a break.
Also, avoid whipping or snapping the poles for an extension. It’s tempting, but it might just cause them to crack. Instead, roll them gently.
Pole maintenance is also critical in extending their life.
For example, I always try to keep my steel tent poles out of the dirt and sand. This stuff can get inside the pole joints and ultimately compromise its integrity.
If you feel your poles are getting grubby, you can wipe them with a damp rag. Also, when camping at the beach or near saltwater sources, consider rinsing the aluminum poles and letting them dry before packing. Saltwater has corrosion properties, which may make the pole brittle.
While at it, protect your tent from the elements, especially direct sunlight. Extended exposure of the tent materials can turn an amazing tent into a shell of its former self.
Ideally, I’d recommend setting up your tent in a shaded location, and if it’s not possible, consider assembling it under a tarp.
Finally, it’s nice to set up your tent on a smooth, even surface with minimal vegetation. The uneven, wet ground with sharp rocks can result in tears, holes, abrasion, and rips, which ultimately affect the integrity of your tent.
DIY tent repairs shouldn’t be a hassle anymore.
I’ve provided you with some DIY fixes that will keep you running before finding a new pole or permanent solution.
These tips are particularly handy in emergencies when you don’t have access to replacement poles or another viable solution.