You finally did it. The days of arriving at the campground, tired from a thousand ‘are we there yets’ and marred by the task of erecting tents, inflating mattresses and setting up shelters are over. You’ll be enjoying the view in no time with a cold beer after a stress-free setup – like so many others you have watched effortlessly unfold their home away from home – because you bought a camper trailer.
You can’t beat an upgrade, but before you head out on your maiden voyage – and the many trips to come – let’s cover some essential canvas preparation and maintenance advice worth listening to.
When camper trailer tents are first produced, attaching all the pieces together and sewing up the seams uses thread, and a lot of it. This results in plenty of needle holes in your canvas that water can penetrate, so you’ll want to do something to fix that. For those real newbies out there, the term ‘seasoning’ might conjure ideas of salt and pepper, but completing this exercise with your new trailer tent will allow the fibres to swell and shrink to a tighter weave, and close the stitching holes, to further make your camper waterproof. Fully set up the trailer (poles and guy ropes) in the backyard and make sure you have several fine days together. Thoroughly wet the tent with a hose, paying particular attention to the seams, and leave it to dry. Repeat these steps three or four times and allow at least four hours in between soakings. After this, your camper trailer will be ready to take out in any amount of inclement weather and you should stay dry inside; if you find some seams are still admitting water, use a wax stick to provide a waterproof coating.
Canvas works so well for camper trailer tents because of the waterproofing agents applied to the material during manufacture. Superior coverage is achieved by dipping the fabric into a solution – which provides the longest durability – but a satisfactory result is also reached with a sprayed-on coating. For this reason, applying a waterproofing product after purchase is not necessary and will only serve to clog up the pores in the material and prevent it from breathing. This will leave you with a major case of condensation build-up – which will only compound if you are camping in the rain – so you should only reapply waterproofing agents when your tent starts to leak which may be after several years of use. Repeating the seasoning process and keeping the canvas clean and dry will do more to keep it waterproof and in good condition in the long run, but if you are away often and for long periods of time, you may need to apply a product annually. Waterproofing solutions will rejuvenate and add UV stabilisation to the fabric, but overuse can do more harm than good.
Always ensure your canvas is dry before storing it away, but if you do have to pack up wet, don’t delay in setting it up again when you get home to allow it to dry properly. Always it is a good idea to set up the following weekend and wash off any dirt, bird droppings or sap that make have accumulated during the previous trip with a soft brush and lukewarm water. Leaves and vegetable matter can stain the canvas and bird droppings should be treated as soon as possible because of their acidity. The use of detergents and soaps will damage the canvas and reduce waterproofness over time, so a simple spray down with the hose is best and will keep dust and dirt from becoming ingrained. This simple method will remove the need for more severe cleaning, however, in most environments, a thorough cleaning will still be required every two to three years. Your canvas may need reproofing with a purpose-specific product after it has been cleaned extensively, but sticking to a water-based solution will ensure the fabric pores don’t become blocked with petroleum or silicone-based compounds. Thoroughly wet down the camper trailer after the waterproofing product has fully dried to make sure water beads along all surfaces, this way you can be sure of a good, even job.
Mould and mildew thrive on dirt, moisture and decreased airflow and will form if you store your camper trailer in a damp place or pack it down wet. If you find mould or mildew, dab on a solution of nine parts water to one part vinegar and let the canvas dry completely before you remove any traces with a brush and vacuum cleaner. Chemical mould removers or bleach products can reduce waterproofing, UV protection and fade the colour so it’s best to steer clear, however, mould growth can degrade the canvas over time, so it’s essential that it is removed the moment it is discovered.
Most people check the weather forecast before leaving on any trip, so if rain is scheduled and you haven’t used the camper in a while, it’s a good idea to season it again by setting it up outside for a couple of nights to expose it to the humidity; the fibres will expand and contract to maximise their waterproofness. Proper maintenance will soon become second nature and many of the small things, like checking for rips and brushing off dirt can be done whilst you’re away as part of the camp chores. The longevity of your canvas fabric and your camper trailer rests with effective cleaning, so vacuuming out and removing all food scraps and other ‘nesting’ items, like scraps of paper or packaging, after every trip will mean that you never open up to ant trails or a rat’s nest. Avoid using hairspray, spray deodorant or insect repellents inside the tent or near the fabric as they can impair water repellence and cause staining. Similarly, never expose the canvas to petrol, solvents or related fluids for the same reasons. A careful and methodical pack up routine will reduce the risk of jamming the fabric against the poles – which will create wear spots – or getting pieces caught in the zips that result in tearing. Well looked after, your canvas will last you a lifetime and you’ll have many years of memorable – and dry – camping.