Seam Sealing is the process of treating the stitch holes and seams in gear made from waterproof fabric to prevent them from leaking when it rains or snows to achieve maximum waterproofness. Tents and tarps of all types and ages often require some degree of seam sealing to prevent moisture from dripping through and onto your sleeping bag. While many new tents come with factory taped floors and fly seams, there are some manufacturers who still require that you seal your tent or tarp by hand.
There are a number of commercial products for sealing tents available at most outdoor retailers. I prefer McNett's Outdoors SilNet, a silicone based product. Silnet can be applied with a brush but I prefer to use a plastic syringe, when possible, because it gives you better control and requires less sealant.
I recently seam sealed my new Black Diamond FirstLight tent in preparation for early spring. Before I began, I waited until the temperature outside was well above freezing and I set the tent up in my garage with the door open for ventilation purposes. Next, I made sure that all of the seams were clean and free of debris and carefully identified all of the seams that I wanted to seal.
I began by sealing all of the seams where two panels of fabric met using my plastic syringe. I laid down a thin bead of sealant just above the seam and let gravity pull the sealant into it. You can see this in the photo below. The syringe gives you a lot more fine motor-control than a brush and helps accelerate the process. if you've laid the sealant on too thick, you can run your finger or a sponge along the seam to prevent droplets from forming.
Next, I used the brush to cover seams where the stitching is visible on the outside of the tent, around the awnings and the reinforced corners. For visible stitches, I squeezed the sealant onto the brush and painted it directly on.
After covering all the seams and stitches, I left the tent set up in my garage for a few days to let the sealant dry. After that, I did a final inspection of all the seams and used the brush to paint on touch ups. When I performed this final inspection, I tied the top of the tent to a rope and hoisted it up to hip level so I could look at all of the seams more easily. When I was finished, I lowered the tent and left it in the garage for a few more days to dry.
The process of sealing a tarp is similar. First you need to stretch out the tarp in a windless, but well ventilated area. Next decide which seams you need to seal paying particular attention to the ones that may leak water onto you when they get wet. This will vary depending on the shape of the tarp. Then apply the sealant using a syringe or brush depending on the type of seam and let it dry for a few days.
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