Things to look out for when buying a second-hand tent

If you are not sure you will enjoy camping, buying a second-hand tent is cheaper than purchasing a new expensive tent. 

It is essential to be aware of what you are looking for before you exchange money as you do not want to pitch your tent for the first time and realise that it is damaged.

How can you tell if the tent you are viewing is repairable?

Always view a second-hand tent and pitch. Check for dark spots, mildew or mould, often a wet sock smell—trusting sense of smell for vomit and body odour. Discolouration leads to damaged waterproofing. Check all seams, zips, and main body of the tent for rips. Check for broken poles and pegs.

When you have decided to purchase a second-hand tent, have an idea of the type of tent you want, especially if you are a first-time buyer.  Visit several different camping retailers.  Look inside and out at the different styles and spaces inside.

Take notes of the names of the tents you like and the price, as you don’t want to be paying a 2022 price for a 2019 tent.

Second-hand tent faults: how to repair and cost

If you are lucky, you can purchase a good bargain and not worry about the condition. But often, purchasing a second-hand tent requires you to consider how to fix the damage, the cost, and how long the repairs will last. 

Identifying damage and understanding if you can repair it is essential. You don’t want to buy a tent that will only last for one trip or be unrepairable.

Use your sense of smell, as this will be your first confirmation of the condition of the tent. If you smell vomit, body odours, animal smells, or cigarette smells, these will be hard to remove., involving a lot of cleaning. The smell of urine indicates mildew or mould. If it is strong-smelling, walk away.

Identifying types of tent damage

Types of damageHow to check for damageHow to Repair damage Cost to repair
Mould or MildewCheck for black spots on the tent’s roof, walls or corners.Cleaning minor mildew or mould only.Natural remedy
– Warm water and white vinegar
If a double-walled tent, check both the inner layer and rainfly.Mix approximately 1 cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of white vinegar into a spray bottle. Or unique mould and Mildew remover.Or
If small spots are not thoroughly ingrained in the material, you should clean them off.Spray onto the area and leave to sit for a while.
Mould and stain remover for tents IOSSO Mould & mildew stain remover – £24.99
If more, walk away.Gently rub the area, but don’t add too much pressure, or you will stretch it.
Open all doors and vents to air your tent and dry thoroughly before packing away.
Split poles & Shock CordsCheck all pole sections for split units, which severe weather conditions can cause.Damaged tent poles are replaceable.Replacement of poles does vary depending on your tent pole size and age – £18 – £40.
Replacement shock cord due to slackness.You can repair it temporarily but consider purchasing new poles as you do not want your tent to collapse whilst you are away.Tent pole repair sleeve Temporary only) – £4 – £10.
Poles come in different sizes. 
Measure the length and the diameter of the tent poles before buying.
Shock cord for inner poles – £4.99.
Missing or damaged pegsCount the pegs per guy rope fixing.Replace pegs, and do not worry about trying to repair them.Heavy-duty galvanised rust-proof £10.99 for pack 10.
Check for quality, rust and bending.Or
3mm light steel pegs – £3.99 for pack 40
Guy ropesUnravel and check for frays, knots or missing guy ropes.Remove the existing guy line by unknotting and measuring the length against the new guy rope.Consider luminous guy ropes – 4.99 for 4m.
Cut replacement to size.Prices will vary on the type you purchase.
Create a loop on the opposite end of the slider and thread it through the hoop on your tent.
Thread the long section of guy rope through the hoop and pull gently, forming a tight fixture.
You can add another knot to make it more secure.
Damaged seamsThese are hard to confirm. Check to see if there is any water leakage along the seams.Carefully remove seam tape from the inside of your tent. 
Apply seam guard along the seam.
Highland Stormsealer Clear Adhesive for repairing tents seam to reseal the seam inside  – £9.99.
OrGently rub down into the seam to fully cover and waterproof, leaving it to dry thoroughly.Plus
Does the existing seam have replacement tape covering it?Spray the outside of the tent with a waterproof guard: approximately 10 cm away.Scotchguard Heavy Duty Water Proof sealant for the outside – £17.99 800ml.
Leave to dry and repeat waterproofing.
Water LeakingSpray or tip water onto the surface of the tent.Waterproof on a warm, dry day only.Nikwax Tent and Gear Solar Proof.
If the water does not lay on the surface, you will need to waterproof your tent.Clean your tent with warm water and a mild detergent or Tech Wash.500ml – £8.61
25 Ltr – £20.38
Before drying, spray your tent with a waterproof solution, wiping off any excess.
Leave to dry thoroughly.
RipsCheck for rips around door edges and the tent’s base, especially where the guy ropes are attached to the tent.Tent repair tape is only a temporary fix.Tent repair tape

99p – £1.99 from local DIY stores
Consider if you need to walk away.
Dry the tent area, place tent repair tape over the rip, and secure.
Air tube punctureListen for escaping air or if the tubes do not stay solid.Removal of air tubes will vary per design.Tubes will vary in price depending on your tent.
It’s hard to judge over a short period.Keep all valves and other fixings safe when replacing.Prices range from £34 – £60.
Zipper corrosionTest the zip and if they seem stiff.Place 3 in 1 oil in the main pull zip area.3 in 1 oil – £1.99 – £7.00.
Run soap down the length of the zipper several times to lubricate.Standard bar of household soap.
How to decide if you should buy a second-hand tent or is it possible to repair?

Checklist when buying a second-hand tent

It is possible to purchase excellent second-hand bargain tents from eBay, Preloved, Facebook Market place or local adverts. But this is not always the case, so when you view, don’t be afraid to ask questions and investigate all the nooks and crannies of the tent.

Creating a checklist of everything you need to ask and inspect is a great way to ensure that you do not get distracted by the seller or forget anything. 

When arranging to view, don’t be afraid to ask the following:

  • Why are they selling
  • Where do you need to travel too
  • Price
  • How old is the tent
  • Where has it been stored – a tent stored in a shed or garage will increase the possibility of mould or mildew.
  • Are pegs, poles, sleeping compartment, sewn-in groundsheet rain-fly if a double-walled tent
  • Is there an additional awning available to buy
  • Is there any damage or mould
  • Can you pitch the tent on arrival, as this will allow you to inspect poles and guy ropes and confirm how easy the tent is to pitch

If you do not want to buy a second-hand tent, there are several ways to buy a new tent. Not only by visiting trade shows or end-of-season sales, but you can use your everyday shopping to help save on your camping gear. You can buy a new tent by using apps such as Quidco and Shoppix, selling unwanted vouchers, and many more ways.

Using the money-saving tips, our first ever camping trip, including the tent, cooking facilities, and pitch, cost me only £294.88. This was a combination of using items from our home.

Related questions

Can you return a second-hand tent?

Where you have purchased will depend on whether you can return your tent. Returning a tent because you have decided you no longer want it is not acceptable.

If you have viewed the tent, are aware of the condition, paid by cash, and the seller refuses to accept the tent back, it is possible to place a claim via a small claims court. But you will need to be sure before you take this step as it can be costly. Plus, if you have viewed it, you are aware of any damage.

Purchasing and paying on eBay provides you with some protection if you have paid by Paypal. You can place a dispute against the seller, although this is not a quick resolution.

Don’t buy second-hand if you want more security when purchasing a tent. Wait for shop sales to start.

When is the best time to buy a tent or camping gear?

The best time to buy a tent or camping gear is out of season. Camping season is generally from May to October. Most camping trips have ended by August, and people will consider upgrading their gear.

You can find good bargains on eBay, Preloved, Facebook Market Place, local adverts or specific Facebook groups. Outdoor retailers will start their sales or offer discount codes in October, but the leading retailers’ sales will begin in January.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

Recent Posts