What’s the point of owning and camping in a tent that has a gaping hole in it? Not only does it become a significant problem if it starts raining outside, but it’s also an issue in terms of holding in heat and keeping out the cold. Plus, it’s an aesthetic thing. No one wants to be the camper with the ragamuffin tent.

Fortunately, you can patch it up with a little know-how and some time to work on it. It takes several steps, from going over the tent, sewing in a patch, and adding some canvas glue, but it’s not like repairing a combustion engine or engaging in theoretical mathematics.

It’s one of those things where you can sit down and catch the latest episode of whatever on Netflix while you work on patching your tent up. You don’t need to go out and stock up on a ton of materials either.

You don’t even have to be a sewing expert to patch up the hole in your tent, just as long as you have the basics down.

How to patch up your canvas tent

Rural Campgrounds
Photo by Caylee Betts / Unsplash

Why wouldn’t you just buy a new tent whenever the old one sprouts a hole? Well, you could certainly do that if you wanted to, but your tent is kind of an extension of your home outside of your home. If something breaks inside of your home, it stands to reason that you would fix it.

The same goes for extensions on your home and it doesn’t help that it saves a lot of money in the long run, especially if you’re into the giant, multi-room family tents, as they can get pretty expensive.

It might even come as a surprise that you have any holes. Most recreational campers probably don’t spend a whole lot of time methodically going over their tent and looking for small holes. However, if you do find some, you need to patch them up before they have an opportunity to open wider.

In this guide, I’ll be covering:

  1. Clean and dry the entire tent
  2. Find a matching color
  3. Sew up the hole
  4. Patch it with nylon
  5. Apply a seam sealer
  6. Tent the tent out

Let’s dive straight into the first step which is cleaning it.

Step #1: Clean and dry the entire tent

It’s always a good idea to clean your tent before you effectuate any repairs. You’re going to be adding a patch to it that is much larger than the hole you will cover-up and the patch could easily conceal dirt, residue, mold, or mildew, which would then be free to grow to much larger proportions.

And, if you’re going to clean one spot, you might as well clean it all. You will need some mild detergent, such as Dawn or any other dish or hand soap, along with a good sponge, plenty of water, and a bathtub. If you can help it, don’t use a soap that has a fragrance.

  • Get all of your cleaning supplies, along with your tent
  • Open your tent up and spread it out
  • Shake it clean of all dirt, leaves, and other debris
  • Brush it down if you need to
  • Locate any particularly dirty areas and clean them individually
  • Fill up the bath with soapy water (think of it as a bubble bath, just not for you)
  • Push the tent down into the bathwater and allow it to remain there, soaking, for a few hours
  • Remove the tent and rinse it thoroughly with no soap or suds left behind
  • Ensure that the tent is completely dry before you start sewing

You don’t want to end up sealing any water underneath the patch, as that will encourage mold growth. It’s not important what kind of tent you are using, so long as your patch color and material match the tent type.

For instance, if you are using a blackout tent, you don’t want to patch holes with material that allows in a lot of sunlight or you’ll always be able to see the hole if there is any kind of light outside.

I’ve written an entire guide to properly cleaning a tent If you want a more practical and thorough approach.

Step #2: Find a matching color

You want to find a matching color for your tent patch and it should be made out of nylon. You can purchase patches of nylon that have adhesive (if you don’t want to engage in any kind of sewing) or you can get some that you can sew over the hole.

While adhesives are great, the sewing method is longer lasting because you are going to double-up on the hole, both sewing it together and patching it with a separate, glue adhesive on the outside and the inside. The first time’s a charm and if you want it done right, do it the best way the first time.

The good thing about nylon patches is they are cheap and you can find the stuff just about anywhere, but predominately in arts and crafts or hobby sections of places like Walmart, Hobby Lobby, or on Amazon.

Step #3: Sew up the hole

If you’ve never had to sew anything before, don’t worry, it’s not the hardest thing in the world. Depending on how many nylon patches you purchased, you can get in plenty of practice by using one as a spare, or by practicing on an old towel.

There are also plenty of sewing tutorials for beginners on YouTube, one of which we linked to above. Even as a beginner, you shouldn’t have much trouble with sewing the tent hole back together.

You will need a sewing awl, along with some heavy-duty sewing thread, which you can order, along with a nylon patch, if you want everything to come in at the same time. Practice your sewing until you have a pretty good feel for it and then get started on your tent.

Sew over the hole by placing one end of the tear slightly over the other. You don’t want to just pull the tear edges but effectively seal it as much as you can before you move on to the next step.

Step #4: Patch it with the nylon

If you have enough room to set up your tent inside, by all means. If not, you will need to set it up outside. Patching it properly means working both inside and outside of the tent and it’s easier to do that if you have the tent completely set up.

The patch should be just a shade larger than the hole in the canvas. Cut two of them to the right size and, if you can, cut them so that they are round patches. Square patches might peel up at the corners over time.

Fabric glue is the best glue for this particular job, so toss aside the Elmers glue and the hot pink, strawberry-scented glue stick, because you won’t need it.

You may want to have someone to help you do this as it will definitely make the job a little easier. Start on the inside of the tent. If you have someone on the outside, have them press a small square of cardboard onto the tear that you sewed up.

On the inside, apply glue to the tent and then to the patch—quickly, in case it dries fast—and apply the patch to the hole, pressing and holding against the cardboard that your friend is holding on the outside. Reverse positions and do the same on the outside of the tent, with a second patch.

Check the directions on the fabric glue so that you have an idea of how long it will take to dry completely.

Step #5: Apply a seam sealer

It might be a bit of overkill but sealing the hole with patches and adding a seam sealer will ensure that the repaired section is even stronger than the original tent material.

Make sure that the seam sealer comes with an application brush because you don’t want a bead of hardened seam sealer sticking out. When you’re ready, apply the sealer liberally along the circumference of the inside and outside patch.

Use the applicator brush to flatten the sealer down and smooth it all out. Allow it to dry.

Step #6: Test the tent out

If you set it up outside, feel free to run some water over it from the garden hose but only after it has had the time to thoroughly dry. You don’t want to apply any water to it before the patch glue and the seam sealer are sufficiently cured.

If you’ve done everything right, then the water should run off of the tent without a problem. Doing it in this way, with the sewing, adhesive, double patches, and seam sealer will strengthen that portion of the tent to a level that it wasn’t before and it should be completely waterproof as well.

It’s good practice to use a tent footprint if you want to prevent getting another hole in your tent when camping on uneven surfaces.

Final thoughts

That’s how you patch a canvas tent. Now, you’ve probably researched the internet and most articles are going to tell you to simply apply a patch on the outside and leave it at that. Doing it this way, by sewing the hole up and applying two patches, will ensure that it holds together and lasts for a long time.

The seam sealer is just a finishing touch that will add even more strength to the repair. Once it’s all complete, you will have a repaired section that is highly durable, something that a single patch won’t achieve.