Poles provide the structural integrity which keeps your shelter upright and so require a little care and maintainance. The two most common failures are cracked poles at connection points and slack shock cords and both are easy to minimise. When stored or in transit it makes sense to wrap an elastic band around the poles to pull them close together; this reduces the pole ends banging together, reducing the number of cracked poles at their most vulnerable point. Cleaning after use and removing grit and dirt will also help keep the connections smooth and assist in distributing the stresses when pitched.
When pitching or striking camp assemble and disassemble poles starting from the centre and moving outwards to the ends. This will help evenly distribute the tension throughout the shock cord that runs through the middle of the poles. If you feel a section of shock cord getting stiff or noticeably less elastic replace the whole pole length of cord as soon as possible.
The industry's ability to produce ever lighter and thinner materials have seen groundsheets become more vulnerable than ever before. The focus on weight means grounsheets are thinner and even those with a hydrostatic head high enough to repel water coming from underneath are now more likely to get punctures from pine needles and stones. The result has been the rise of the Footprint, to the extent that it's now rare to find a tent that doesn't have one as an optional extra. Some would say that tents should be manufactured without the need for a footprint as was the case 20 years ago but in the real world a light weight is key to sales and the only solution is to buy, and carry, a footprint. While the extra weight may be unwelcome not only will it reduce wear and tear on the underside of your groundsheet but will also make cleaning, both in the field and at home, easier and for the sake of £20-£30 on a £200+ purchase it makes sense.
The zip is the most mechanical component in your tent and therefore most likely to fail. Constantly under tension the door zip is essentail to the tension of the flysheet yet is the part of the tent most likely to come into contact with mud and grit, both of which will both inhibit its free movement and cause premature wearing. In general it's always advisable to use both hands when operating a zip; one hand tensioning the fabric while the other slides the zipper to maintain a constant and even pressure.
Pay special attention when negotiating a zipper past tie-back loops which may hang down into the line of the zip to avoid snagging the zip and on cleaning pay equal attention to the lower part of door zips where mud and dirt will accumulate. Consider adding extended zipper pulls for the zipper nearest the ground to aid opening outer doors smoothly.
Condensation is probably the largest single cause of complaint with tents, but due to its nature it's almost impossible to eliminate completely. Condensation occurs wherever you have a high temperature gradient on either side of a material and there's few better examples than a tent with a body-heated interior and a cold exterior. The only answer to condensation is to ensure a good air flow through the tent, so evaporating the majority of any condensation. Pitching correctly in relation to the wind can help enormously as the inner and outer doors allow the greatest degree of manipulation. In practice we've found that inner doors with a large, upper, mesh panel are a big help in maintaining airflow, particularly where the lower part of the inner door can be left unzipped for cool air to enter.
When condensation does occur the best solution is to remove the fly and allow it to dry in the sun and wind, but if you're striking camp a quick wipe with a dry cloth will remove the vast majority of any water droplets and help with drying at home.
While we'd all prefer to be camping in sunshine than rain sunshine is the tent's enemy. UV rays physically degrade the nylon fibres of the tent, turning them dry and brittle. While not a problem most of the time in the UK it's a particular issue if you use your tent at altitude, when the sunshine is stronger, or for prolonged periods in strong sunshine. There's not a lot you can do once the fabric is showing signs of UV caused degradation but it's something you can watch out for. If you feel the flysheet, for example, is slightly stiffer than usual the chances are it's starting to be effected. The key areas are around stress points and seams, where the material is most likely tear.
The golden rule of storage is simple; NEVER store a tent damp or wet. It doesn't matter how good the Silicone coating is, leaving a tent wet will allow water to to breakdown the coating. Mildew can start forming in less than 24 hours and once its got a hold its pretty much impossible to shift. The tapes over seals will start detaching as the coating breaks down and your tent will lose its waterproof abilities.
Under normal cicumstances the only cleaning your tent will require will be an occassional wash of the groundsheet outer, using warm water and a non-detergent based mild soap. After washing always make sure you rinse thoroughly and dry completely.
Tents should always be stored in a dry place away from direct sunlight and if space allows should be stored in an oversized, preferably cotton, bag in a similar way to sleeping bags. Stuffing a tent bag rather than rolling the tent can prevent excessive wear on specific points; something that can happen when folding a tent time after time along the same lines.
With these 6 simple tips you should get years of use from your investment and should the time come that one part fails you'll only be looking at a replacement fly or pole rather than a complete new tent.