How to Replace Shock Cord in Tent Pole

There are numerous tiny components in a tent that can break, but they don’t warrant buying a whole new unit. Tent pole shock cords can easily malfunction, over time they deteriorate and become brittle, and eventually lose their elastic properties. When the shock cord in your tent pole doesn’t function anymore, you might think new poles need to be purchased. However, buying new tent poles can be very costly, and there’s a much cheaper alternative.

If you’ve ever thought about building your own tent, then you can definitely make this DIY repair. Replacing the shock cord in your tent pole is easy, all you need is a few materials and a can-do attitude! In this article, you’ll get the low down on several different techniques you can employ to repair broken tent pole shock cords. We’ll also share a little bit about why shock cords are important, as well as the measures you can take to prevent future damage. Read on to discover all this and more, and expertly replace the shock cord in your tent pole.  


A person camping beside a tent with a flashlight.

A broken tent pole out in the field doesn’t need to be a cause for alarm, as long as you know how to fix it.


What is a tent shock cord and why is it important?

Modern tent poles contain shock cords, their main purpose is to keep your tent poles attached together. Earlier tent designs featured poles which simply broke apart into smaller sections, while this modern improvement keeps all your poles in one piece and makes pitching your tent easier. If a shock cord from one of your poles breaks, then you can still use the pieces separately. 

However, as your tent poles are designed to be connected, it might make pitching your tent quite a challenge. It’s also much easier to lose components of your tent and poles when they aren’t attached together, so shock cords are very useful in this regard. Tent pole shock cords are made of an elastic material so that the different segments are held together with elastic once the poles are assembled. You can use a non-elastic shock cord to keep your tent poles together in one piece, but the elasticity is definitely beneficial when assembling your backcountry shelter.


What you need to replace the shock cord in a tent pole 

Before settling down to repair your tent, make sure you have all the materials necessary. You can buy a replacement shock cord at your local camping store, and there are many retailers online as well. You will need:


  • Shock cord (size ⅛” or smaller) with enough length for all of your poles that need to be repaired
  • Scissors or sharp edge
  • Measuring tape
  • Sharpie or marker pen
  • Lighter or matches to melt the ends
  • Masking tape 


How to replace a faulty shock cord in a tent pole 

So, now you have all the tools required, as well as some appropriate cord to replace your old faulty shock cords, it’s time to get started repairing your shelter. Follow our steps and your tent will be as good as new!


1. If your cord is still intact, the first thing you need to do is pull apart two sections of your tent pole and use scissors to sever the shock cord inside. Once the cord is cut, your tent pole will fall apart into its different sections. We recommend laying the pieces out on the floor, taking care to keep them in the same order and orientation. It’s likely that the pole sections in the middle are identical, so the end pieces where the cord is tied are the most important part not to confuse. There should be a peg, called a grommet peg, at either end of the poles; remove these, and you’ll see the old shock cord tied on. You may need to unscrew your grommet pegs and then untie the remaining cord. When dismantling your tent poles, you could use the masking tape or marker pen to label them, ensuring no mix-ups follow. 


2. Now you need to measure out the length of the cord to replace the old broken one. If you’re replacing the shock cord in multiple different tent poles, make sure you take the correct measurements for each one. Measure your pole from end to end to discover the total stretched length of cord you need, but remember the actual length needs to be shorter to allow for some stretch and tension. Use a marker pen to mark the length of cord needed, but don’t make any cuts yet! If your old shock cord hasn’t lost its elasticity, you can lay it out and mark your new cord to the same length. If you can’t use your old cord as a guide, then mark the replacement to about 8 inches shorter than the pole, or to about 75% of its total length. Remember, you will need a little extra cord to tie knots in. You’ll need to cut the cord to a longer length than your tent poles to allow for room to thread it through. 


3. Take the loose end of the new shock cord and tie it securely to one grommet peg, ensuring the knot cannot slip through. Then, take the longer end and begin threading it through all the segments of your tent pole. Make sure you’re careful about the order, this part should be easy if you kept the pole pieces organized earlier on. Be careful you thread the cords in the correct orientation, male to female, otherwise, they won’t fit together when you’re finished. Once you get to the end of the pole, thread the cord through the remaining grommet peg, but don’t tie it on yet. 


4. Assemble the tent pole, so all pieces are connected together, as you would when erecting your tent. The loose end of the new shock cord should be threaded through the peg, but not tied on at this instant. When all the pieces of tent pole are secure, start pulling on the cord so it stretches out the end. Keep putting tension on the shock cord until you see the mark you made earlier. When you’ve stretched the cord to the right length, make a knot here so that the peg is secure. 


5. Cut the excess cord after the knot on each end, leaving about 2 inches of spare length. Then, use your lighter or matches to singe the end of the cord, so that it won’t fray or unravel. Then, fold down the cord so it’s inside the tent pole, and carefully replace the pegs on either end of the pole. There should now be no shock cord visible outside the pole, with everything tucked away and reassembled. Repeat the process for every tent pole shock cord which you need to replace. 

That concludes our instructions for replacing the shock cord inside a tent pole. As you can see, it’s easy to make small repairs to your camping gear, and much cheaper than constantly buying replacements. All camping gear suffers wear and tear, but most times a replacement isn’t necessary.

You can fix holes in your air mattress, make backpack repairs out in the field, it’s amazing what you can do yourself with the right motivation. This is a great method to use if you’re at home and need to make some repairs, but what happens if your shock cord breaks while you’re out on a camping trip? Read on to discover some alternatives to this technique, if you don’t have a spare length of tent pole shock cord on hand. 


How to Repair a Shock Cord if it Breaks in the Field

If you’re already out on a camping trip and are struck with a snapped or overstretched shock cord, it can make assembling your shelter difficult. Luckily, there’s an easy fix if you want to repair the cord without replacing the whole length. This isn’t as permanent a solution as replacing the cord, however, it will make your tent functional for a little while longer. 

If the cord hasn’t broken, and rather it’s too stretched out for your tent pole, there’s an easy fix. Just remove the peg from one end of your poles and untie the cord. Then, pull through the shock cord until it’s taught once again, and retie it at the grommet peg. The cord might not be as stretchy as before, but removing the slack will help the poles to function better. 

If your old tent pole shock cord has broken, you’ll need to disassemble the pole according to our instructions above. When you’ve located the break in the cord, you’ll need to thin out the material. On either side of the break, remove a few inches of the cord’s elastic core, leaving only the braided sheath. Tie this thinner bit of cord into a secure knot, then trim and singe the excess to prevent fraying. The reason you need a thinner section of cord to tie is so that the knot won’t get stuck in the poles, and can still pass through easily. 


A girl in a tent with her dog by the water.

You can easily fix a bent or broken tent pole no matter where you are.


Using string as a temporary replacement for a broken shock cord 

If the shock cord in your tent pole is beyond repair, but you don’t have a new replacement cord on hand, you can use a string to attach your poles together. Keep in mind, this won’t have the same elastic properties as proper shock cord, however, it can serve well as a temporary replacement until you can make more substantial repairs. All you need to complete this DIY fix is a length of strong string and a hair bobby pin, so it’s an easy repair to make with limited materials.

Firstly, disassemble your tent pole as we explained above, including the grommet pegs at the ends. Once again, you’ll need to take care you don’t mix up the pole segments, so you can easily put them back together afterward. Remove the old shock cord and discard it, you won’t need this anymore. Measure your string to the total length of your tent pole, plus a few extra inches to tie the knots, and cut it. 

Tie the string securely to a flattened bobby pin, which will make it much easier to thread back through the tent. Tie the other end to the first grommet peg, and then begin threading the string through the pole. You can do this by dropping the bobby pin down through the pole, and then carefully pulling it through from the other side. Continue until you’ve threaded the string through all of the poles and then reached the peg on the opposite end. 

Because you’re using string, and not an elastic cord, you can’t pull it tight before tying off. Instead, you need to ensure enough loose sting is available so that you can disassemble the poles and fold them up. Allowing for this extra length, tie off your string on the grommet peg, and then singe the ends to prevent fraying. We recommend unfolding your poles once you’re finished, to check there’s enough slack to pack away your tent. If there are any errors, you can untie the end at a peg and make any adjustments necessary. 


How to repair a broken tent pole 

The shock cord isn’t the only thing that can break on your tent pole; sometimes, the outer poles themselves can be prone to breakage. If you suffer from a tent pole breakage when out on a camping trip, it can make your shelter completely useless! That’s why you need to know these easy ways to repair a broken tent pole as well as replacing the bungee cord, so you’ll be prepared for every eventuality. 

The easiest way to fix a broken pole is with a pole repair sleeve, also called a splint. Often, you’ll receive one of these with your tent purchase, it’s an important piece of camping equipment you should remember to bring with you. If your tent doesn’t come with a repair sleeve, it’s inexpensive to purchase one, you never know when you might need it. 

Firstly, line up the broken pole sections. If the tent pole is only bent, and not fully severed, gently bend the metal back into place. Slide the sleeve onto the pole and position it over the break. If there are pieces of broken tent pole metal in the way, try using some pliers, or otherwise a rock, to bend them back inwards. Once the sleeve is in place, use liberal amounts of duct tape to secure it to the pole, try to avoid any gaps. 

If you don’t have a tent pole repair sleeve, you can use a spare stake to splint the pole. However, note that this might make assembling your tent more difficult, so you need to use your judgment to decide whether to perform the repair before or after the tent is erected. Line up the broken tent pole as before, and then use duct tape to attach the stake at either side of the break. You can cover the whole thing in duct tape, just make sure your repair is secure. 


Preventing damage to your tent poles in the future

If you’ve made a repair to your tent pole shock cord, and want to avoid having to do the same again in the future, we have some advice on preserving and extending the life of your tent poles. At any time, avoid setting your poles down on the ground, especially in loose dirt, gravel, or mud. When your poles are folded up, there are openings into the hollow interior.

It’s best to avoid any debris getting inside of your tent poles, as this can abrade the shock cord and cause it to break again. It’s best to keep all of your outdoor gear out of the dirt, as a rule, this will extend the longevity of your equipment.

When erecting your tent and putting together the tent poles, try to connect the middle segment first. When putting away, separate this segment first as well. This will reduce strain on the elastic shock cord inside, helping to prevent breakages and the need for replacements. Follow these few tips, and you’ll be much more likely to avoid repairs and replacements in the future. 


A person inside a rent tent.

If you’re prepared to make a few simple repairs, then relaxing on your camping trip is even easier.


Final Verdict:

Replacing the shock cord in your tent pole is sometimes a necessary task, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Making small repairs and replacements to your camping gear can save a lot of money in the long run, and it’s also significantly better for the planet. Learning how to complete these small fixes is easy, and above all else, it will make you a better camper. 


Bonus tip: Check out this video for some more tent pole repair tips!



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