Lying in my tent after a day of cycling through rain in the Yukon and trying to recover from a head cold and fever, I was lost in my book when a cracking sound abruptly woke me out of my relaxation. I sat up to find the source of the sound and saw my tent pole had snapped at a 90-degree angle. My night had just taken a turn for the worse.
While I was still in the planning stages of my adventure in the fall of 2016, I was shopping for the gear that would take me from Alaska to Patagonia. A reputable outdoor gear company (ROGC) had a new ultralight tent, and it seemed perfect for what I was about to do. As a new tent, there were few reviews, but I decided anyway that this was a suitable home for the next couple of years, clicked buy, and waited for it to ship. I was so focused on the weight I was saving that I didn’t stop to think much about quality. This was my first mistake. But past Natalie didn’t care and future Natalie would pay the price.
So what was my first step when a tent pole snapped in half? I took a deep breath and assessed the situation to ensure my safety.
The second step was going to pee because that pot of tea I had made was filling up my bladder.
Now that my bladder was empty, I could get to work on fixing that tent pole. I thought of this like a doctor fixing a broken bone: sometimes you can stabilize from the outside but other times you need some steel on the inside acting as a new bone. So I looked through my gear to find what I could use to reinforce what was broken. Some odds and ends I kept with me on that long tour were athletic tape, Krazy Glue with brush, and a few zip ties.
If you find yourself with tent pole problems, there are a number of ways to go about remedying the situation.
If your tent pole only has a small crack, wrapping it with tape and hardening it with the glue should hold it together until you can get a replacement. But if it’s a full-on break, then more drastic measures are required.
Everybody’s poles and stakes are different. My stakes happened to be square-shaped and were small enough to fit inside my broken pole. If yours don’t, a splint or tent pole sleeve might be your best bet.
If the break is in the middle of a pole section, try and use a spare tent stake as a splint and bind it to your broken pole tightly using whatever you can, although I recommend the tape and glue combo. If the break is at a join, you can try making a pocket strong enough to be reused, but I suggest affixing them permanently together in a similar manner as before. Sure, it may make it unwieldy, but it will be stronger.
What I ended up doing this first time was very cavewoman-esque. I took one of my unused tent stakes and stuck it in the pole — the squeeze was tight, but it fit. To take care of the hook at the end of the stake, I banged on it with a rock until the hook snapped off. Thankfully, these were also made to be ultralight so it was quite easy to do. With that accomplished, I stuck the stake in the pole, put my tent back together, and crawled into my sleeping bag to get warm and dry.
If you thought ordering this tent was the only mistake I had made, you are sorely mistaken.
Shortly before I left the U.S. for Mexico, I got the bright idea to contact ROGC to get replacement parts since they have a good warranty and return program. With the new parts, I was left with a spare pole section that I kept in case this happened again. Which it did. Twice. Every time it snapped, it was raining.
With my final fix, I had to join two sections together so I was unable to properly pack my tent. The pole stuck out a half meter behind my bike until I got to a friend’s house in Colombia where I had a new tent waiting for me, one that had been tried and tested for many years. And wouldn’t you know it — for the rest of my trip, that tent never broke.