Given enough time out in the elements, tent poles are going to bend. There’s nothing you can do about it. Most tents just aren’t designed to handle severe weather.
Once your poles bend your tent loses its structural integrity, starts to flap, wobble and eventually collapse. Once the poles bent, you can either repair the pole or replace the tent.
Whether or not you can repair the pole depends on how bad the damage is.
Can you straighten a bent tent pole?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to straighten a bent tent pole. Even a slight bend in your tents pole causes permanent weakness. You can temporarily straighten and reinforce the pole, but it will always collapse at its weakest point.
You’re much better off temporarily splinting the pole and ordering replacement sections of pipe. Most tent manufacturers will send you a replacement section at no cost. If the tent is older than 1-2 years you might want to consider replacing the shockcord as well.
Bending A Pole Makes it Weaker
Remember when I said you’re better off splinting the pole and ordering a replacement section? That’s because once a pole starts to bend it loses a ton of strength. The metal starts to fatigue and matters just keep getting worse.
Any attempt to further straighten a bend just further weakens the metal. Although you can’t permanently straighten the pole you can replace the bent pieces and temporarily reinforce the pole. With minor bends, you might not even need to straighten the pole at all.
What Causes a Tent Pole to Bend?
So you just bought a brand new tent and you want to ensure a long life. How do tent poles bend? Although sometimes poles bend from strong wind, most poles bend as a result of neglect. Here’s the most common reason tent poles bend and how to avoid it.
- Strong Wind: Sometimes there’s just no avoiding the wind, like in open fields and above the treeline. In these situations, hopefully you have a quality tent. When you know there’s a serious chance there’s going to be bad weather try to setup beside a windbreak.
- Damage in Pack: When stuffing tent poles in your pack there’s always a chance you’ll damage the poles. Avoid stuffing the poles and be careful with surrounding gear. Some backpackers recommend strapping the tent externally, but you risk snagging the poles as you hike.
- Storage Damage: In the offseason be careful where you store your tent. Don’t stack heavy items on top of your camping gear and store it in a dry place to avoid mold.
How Do You Repair a Bent Tent Pole?
There’s only one way to permanently repair a bent tent pole. You have to completely replace the bent/broken section of pipe. To replace a section of pole you need to first remove the shockcord, replace the broken piece, and reinstall the shockcord(it’s pretty simple). If you want to replace the shockcord continue reading below.
Although the title of this article talks about straightening a pole, sometimes it’s just not worth repairing a tent pole. When you have a severe bend or break you should just purchase a replacement section. Most companies will send a replacement pole section at no cost.
Just take a picture and send it to their customer complaint center(most companies will replace it for free). If that doesn’t work post the picture to your twitter account and tag the company asking for help. I can almost guarantee a customer service rep will reach out with a free or cheap replacement(they hate bad press).
When you’re ready to buy a new pole just call up the manufacturer and let them know what tent you have. Measure the length of your pole and try to get an exact replacement. With old tents this might not be possible so you’ll have to be resourceful.
How Long Will a Repaired Pole Last?
You’d be surprised at how strong your pole will be after a repair. While I wouldn’t rely on a splint permanently I know from personal experience that repaired poles can handle serious wind.
Whether or not you actually need to replace the pole depends on how bad the bend is, where it’s at, and the weather. If the bend doesn’t negatively affect the tents pitch you should be okay. Most problems start to arise when there’s a slight dip that catches rain/wind.
In strong winds I highly recommend using addition guylines to further strengthen your tent.
How Do I Temporarily Splint a Tent Pole?
Have you ever watched as EMTs splint a broken bone? You use the same basic technique to reinforce a tent pole. There are two main ways to reinforce a pole depending on the situation.
On the trail, you can temporarily splint the pole using a tent stake and duct tape. For a more permanent solution, you can use a pole repair sleeve (On Amazon) wrapped in duct tape or a 1/2″ PVC pipe.
Since this is meant to be a temporary solution go with the cheapest splint you can find. All the tent repair splints are basically the same.
How to Use a Tent Pole Repair Sleeve
Using a tent repair sleeve(aka splint) is by far the easiest and quickest way to repair a bent tent pole. Your tent might even include a splint with the rest of your tent poles.
If you don’t have one just pick one up(On Amazon) along with a roll of Duct Tape. Make sure your pole repair splint is just a little bit bigger than the pole. If the repair sleeve is too big it’s going to slide around and shake as the wind blows. Here’s how you use a tent repair sleeve.
- Line up the broken/bent sections of the pole and straighten them out. It shouldn’t take much effort to gently straighten out the bend. Be careful, because you don’t want to snap the pole.
- Slide the sleeve over the end of your pole and center it over the bend. If it’s a bad bend you might need to use multiple splints.
- Sometimes the pole gets smashed and splays apart. If this happens take a wrench, multitool or rock and smash the bend in. It shouldn’t take much to slide the splint over top of the pole.
- Wrap around the splints using a liberal amount of duct tape or any other heavy-duty tape you have in your pack. I always carry a small roll of tape in my first-aid kit just in case.
Keep in mind that if your pole breaks at the joist of two poles you’ll need to fuse them together. If this happens you won’t be able to neatly stow away your tent poles. There’s just no way to effectively store your tent in the back of your pack if this happens.
You Can Use a Tent Stake or Stick as a Tent
If you’re on the trail and don’t have access to a pole repair sleeve you can use a tent stake or thick stick as a temporary splint. FYI this will also work if you have a broken bone.
You follow the same basic steps as with the repair sleeve. Just center the stake/stick and wrap it up with a bunch of duct tape. Obviously this is a temporary fix.
Replacing The Tent Shockcord
Once your tents shockcord starts to go limp it needs to be replaced. Without replacing your shockcord(On Amazon) you risk damaging the poles.Replacing your tents shockcord is easy. Here’s how to replace the shockcord.
- Start off by laying out your poles on the ground and straightening them out. This is when I like to label my poles to speed up my setup process. Pull the poles apart and cut the old cord with scissors.
- After snipping the cord pull it from the end of your pole. At this point you need to make sure you don’t accidentally mix up the poles. Just because the poles look the same doesn’t mean they aren’t slightly different strength/length.
- Sometimes poles have a place to tie them up on the end. These pieces are tiny so try not to lose them. If there’s no plastic piece untie the ends of your shockcord and set it aside.
- Lay down your new cord and next to the old shockcord and cut it to match. If the cord is old you might need to shrink it down a few inches(about a foot) due to stretching.
- Tie a knot at one end of your cord and feed it through the poles. Once you get to the last section of pole stretch it out a bit so you can tie another knot. This knot is only temporary so make it big and loose.
- Go back through the poles and connect each section. At this point if the cords still loose you need to shorten it a few inches at a time. Once the poles are held firmly together tighten up that knot, fold up your poles and put them away.