Canvas tents are warmer, sturdier, and last far longer than other types of tents. This is why it’s vital to repair them when they develop a small hole or a rip of any kind.
Here’s how to patch a canvas tent:
- Select a round patch 4 inches larger than your tear
- Make sure your patch lines up and fits the hole
- Cut your patch down to size
- Glue your patch with Barge cement glue, making sure it’s flat
- Patch the other side
- Place weights on each side of the patch overnight
But there are other types of holes and rips that require different maintenance. I’ve done some research that will help you repair holes and tears of any size and type, so let’s take a look in-depth below.
Step #1: Determine the Size of the Tear in Your Canvas Tent
Small holes and tears in your canvas tent aren’t a major issue. However, they do determine how you’re going to repair your tent.
If you have a small hole that’s around 5 millimeters in diameter, then your repair should be simple. This little pinch hole can be fixed with polyurethane glue. Gorilla Glue is common for this. Bring some Gorilla Glue on every camping trip in a canvas tent, just in case.
Then you can perform the following steps:
- Gently clean the area around the hole with warm water, then let it dry
- Place a piece of waterproof tape on the inside of the tent where the hole is
- Apply the glue, covering the hole and 5 millimeters around it on all sides
- Spread this glue evenly with an applicator brush or a flat spatula
- Leave the glue to cure overnight; if there are no cracks or lumps, your glue has cured correctly
- Remove the tape from the inside of your tent, and your hole should be fully fixed
However, it’s not so simple when you have a medium or large hole or rip in your canvas tent. If that’s the case with you, then you need to move on to the next series of steps.
Step #2: Determine If You’re Patching or Sewing
Before you patch or sew, you need to decide which option would be best for your tent. Measure the rip and take into account its location to help you determine this. You should also take into account how old your tent is.
Older tents of perhaps 5+ years won’t be as strong as fresh, new tents, so they may require sewing if you want a strong repair. Examine your tent and compare it to how strong it was when you first bought it. If the fabric seems thinner or weaker, then sewing would be best.
Almost all rips over 3 inches long require sewing, as those large tears also weaken the tent fabric. If you need to sew your tent, then move on to step #6.
A medium tear of an inch or two long can easily be patched, but sewing is still an option if desired. Patching is usually easier and I recommend it for that reason.
Step #3: Select Your Patch and Glue
If you’re patching over stitches or just patching in general, then you’re going to need to select the right patch and glue for the job.
The best glue to use is Barge rubber cement, as it’s the strongest and least likely to fail.
You can also use latex cement and any other kind of contact adhesive, but they all eventually fail at some point. You want something that lasts as long as possible before you need to re-patch.
However, you won’t need any adhesive if you choose a self-adhesive patch or canvas repair tape. You can use the seam seal tape linked above if you want something self-adhesive, and nylon patches are also common.
If you’d rather glue it yourself, you can either choose a pre-made patch or make your own out of a piece of canvas. I recommend making your own for reasons I’ll talk about in step #4.
You can also sew a patch on if you wish, but you’ll need to do it by hand. Some patches aren’t made of the best material for sewing, though, so glue is always a great and sturdy option.
Step #4: Get Your Patch Ready
When you’re patching your tent, you’ll want to select or create a patch 4 inches larger than the hole or rip.
Using a circular patch is best, as patches with corners have a terrible habit of peeling off. Even patches with rounded corners tend to do this. Circular patches rarely peel.
So, if the hole or rip in your tent is two inches long, then you’ll want a patch with a 6-inch diameter to repair it. A 5-inch patch works well on a 1-inch hole or rip, but anything bigger than 3 inches and you’ll have to sew.
Don’t cut your patch to size right away, though. Lay it on your tent and measure it, ensuring it covers the hole or tear with room to spare. Then you can mark out the sizing on your patch and cut it to size.
Measure it against the rip or tear again just in case you accidentally cut it too small. If everything lines up, then it’s time to patch.
Step #5: Apply Your Patch
The most important thing to remember when applying your patch is to keep the glue even. Spread it with a flat object like a wooden spatula, and make sure it covers the entire area the patch is applied to. You don’t want any loose edges.
Patch both sides of the tent for the best and strongest results, and make sure there are no wrinkles or air bubbles under these patches.
If any glue oozes out around your patch then you should wipe this off, as you’ll need to place a heavy object like a book on both sides of the patch. This is to ensure it’s glued down flat and stays fully in place until the glue dries overnight.
Step #6: Stitch Together Large Holes and Apply Seam Sealer
If you have a rip that’s over 3 inches long, then sewing it is often the better choice. You’ll definitely need to sew the tear if it’s in the seam.
If you notice the rip while at home, then a sewing machine is often the fastest and strongest choice for repairing your tent. You can sew a canvas tent the way you would with any other piece of fabric.
Use wax thread, and hand sew a lockstitch on every row once you’ve sewn up your tent with the machine. Here’s how to do a lockstitch if you don’t know:
You’ll also need to use wax thread and lockstiches if you’re out in the wild and can’t use a sewing machine. However, you’re going to be using them with a speedy stitcher instead.
The premise is the same whether you’re sewing by hand or with a speedy stitcher. Stitch your rows as tightly as you can, and use around 8 stitches per inch of the rip. Then add a row of lockstitches on top to fully lock everything in.
The smaller the stitches, the tighter and stronger they’ll be, so keep that in mind during your repair.
Once you’ve finished sewing, apply seam seal tape on top of the stitched area on the inside and outside of the tent. This will make the area waterproof.
Do You Need to Patch All Tears In Your Canvas Tent?
It can be tempting to leave pinch holes as they are, as they don’t seem like a big deal. However, these holes can grow larger when placed under stress such as stretching or heavy rain. This is why you need to repair all holes as soon as possible.
If you have no supplies and the area with the hole isn’t likely to be stretched laterally, then you should be fine to leave it for a few days until the end of your trip. However, if the weather is bad or the area is likely to stretch, it’s best to call it a day early and head home.
This is why I recommend bringing some Gorilla Glue on every trip. You’ll be able to patch small holes as they appear. Bringing self-adhesive patches and seam seals is also a good call.
How Long Does It Take to Patch a Canvas Tent?
Patching a canvas tent can take as little as 20 minutes once you’ve done it a few times. However, it may take up to an hour the first time you do it, as it can be a tricky skill to master at first. You need a lot of patience when you’re learning.
Whatever you do, don’t rush. You won’t do a great job, and you’ll end up with a leaky tent that needs further repairs. If you don’t feel comfortable repairing your tent yourself, then ask a professional to assist and potentially teach you how to do it at home.
However, all the time you put into your tent will be well worth it, as the pros and cons of canvas vs nylon show that canvas tents are better for serious campers and longevity.
And once you know how to waterproof a canvas tent and care for it accordingly, then you’ll have a tent you can rely on for 10+ years.
What’s the Best Way to Repair a Canvas Tent?
The best way to repair a tent is by identifying the type of tear you have and glue, sew, and patch your tent as needed. Make sure you do the best job you can as it will give the repair the best chance of lasting for years.
If you want extra strength you can patch tiny holes too, but it’s not necessary.
Small holes need gluing, medium holes need patching, and large holes need sewing. Always be prepared for this when you go out with a canvas tent, and remember that any repairs you make will be worth it due to the longevity of these tents.
It’s a good idea to practice repairs on scrap pieces of canvas as soon as you buy a canvas tent. This will set you up for being good at it in the future when you need to make some actual repairs.
Preparation is key in all areas of camping, and that includes preparing to care for your camping gear!