How To Keep Your Tent Dry While Camping In The Rain

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Spent months planning a camping trip only to have mother nature rain on your parade – literally?

While in an ideal world, all our outdoor adventures would be all sunshine and rainless rainbows, in reality, it pays to be prepared for adverse weather in the wilderness.

That’s where we come in. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to keep your tent dry while camping, along with some other tips and tricks to keep you and your gear less soggy.

1. Bag Up!

If your gear gets wet, so will your tent. That makes step one keeping all your stuff dry, and plastic bags are one of the best ways to do that. Bring along a plethora of plastic bags of all sizes.

Larger trash bags can be used to bag your firewood, large packs, and anything else you don’t plan to store under a tent vestibule—which is good to have for dry storage as well.

Grocery bags are great for placing between your shoes and socks to keep your feet dry (assuming you don’t have waterproof boots). Smaller Ziploc bags can be used for important items, such as your firestarter kit or medicine.

In other words, bring lots of different sizes of bags. They will help keep you and your tent dry and even help keep your tent clean while camping.

2. Take The High Ground

No matter how many bags you use, if your tent is set up on low ground, you’re going to get wet. As we all know, water—among other things—rolls downhill. Avoid pitching your tent in low-laying areas or at the bottom of slopes.

Instead, look for the high ground and aim for the top of the slope rather than the bottom, even if it means a bit more hiking to get there. If you can find an area without a lot of above-ground roots, placing your tent near a tree can also provide some additional natural rain cover.

Important: Do NOT pitch your tent near dry creek beds, rivers, etc. Getting wet can be annoying, but getting caught in a flash flood can be deadly!

3. Put A Tarp Or Ground Sheet Under Your Tent

It’s not just the rain that often catches campers by surprise, but that having a rain guard isn’t good enough to keep a tent dry. That’s because as rain soaks into the ground, the bottom of your tent gets soaked as well. Most tents have decent waterproofing, but in a good rainstorm, it may not be enough.

Place a thick tarp or underlayment, also known as a tent footprint, under your tent to give it a little extra protection, and make sure that it is entirely under the tent. That last bit is important. If your tarp is larger than your tent and sticks out, rain may hit the tarp and roll under your tent. Check out our guide on how to use a tent footprint to ensure you get the best results.

4. Cover The Inside Too

Placing an additional layer outside and inside your tent may seem like overkill, but trust us, you’ll be thankful when your tent stays bone-dry. You can line your tent floor with a second tarp if you can find the right size, but the thick plastic used in construction works better. It’s easier to cut to size.

I recommend cutting the piece about six inches larger than your tent so that it folds up the walls a bit. With double layering, you’ll be sure to stay dry.

5. Put A Tarp Over Your Tent Too

Hanging a tarp over your tent isn’t so much to keep the rain off it. The rain guard covers that aspect. It’s to give you a dry area to take off your soggy shoes and clothing and hang them on a drying line to avoid bringing that moisture into your tent. If you make it large enough, you can even cook in there.

If you have a large tent vestibule and are on a short trip, this step might not be necessary, but for longer trips, it can still be helpful in keeping a dry camp. Remember to make sure the tarp slants downhill away from your tent, but in such a way that the wind won’t catch it. If there are no trees nearby, you can use hiking poles.

Check out our guide on how to put a tarp over a tent for step-by-step instructions and some important tips.

6. Bring Some Extra Tarps

We don’t sell tarps—pinkie promise. It’s just that, much like plastic bags, tarps can be invaluable when trying to figure out how to keep your tent dry while camping. Extra tarps allow you to cover anything too large for bags, like large fire piles, tables, or bikes.

You can also use them to build windbreaks or side walling. If the wind kicks up, rain can come at you sideways. Hooking a tarp between some trees to make a wall could make sitting by the fire to cook, for instance, a lot more pleasant.

7. Seal The Seams

Even if your tent says “pre-sealed,” it’s a good idea to apply additional seam sealing. You can also use tent sealant to fix any small holes in your tent, awnings, or rainfly.

Keep in mind that these sealants typically need between 4 and 8 hours to cure, so this is not a step you want to take while camping—especially if it’s raining. However, you can buy field repair kits to fix holes in your tent, which I recommend having on hand.

Either way, a thorough tent inspection before you leave for your camping trip is a must, and while you’re checking your tent for damage is a great time to seal the seams.

8. Ventilate

It may seem counterproductive to open your tent vents in the rain, but you want to do so every few hours. Proper ventilation ensures that humidity doesn’t build up inside your tent from your breath, wet hair, etc. In other words, it will help prevent condensation build-up and help keep the inside of your tent dry.

This is especially important first thing in the morning when temperature shifts may contribute to higher humidity levels. If you place a tarp above your tent, you can even open the tent windows to air things out quickly.

9. Pick A Good Tent

Of course, there are far more reasons than keeping dry while camping to pick a good tent, but it is one more reason. Some tents are water-resistant, while others are waterproof—and they are not the same thing.

A water-resistant tent will handle light rain just fine, but in heavy downpours or multi-day soggy camping adventures, the fabric can become saturated. I highly recommend going for a tent specifically marked “waterproof,” or that has a minimum rating of 3000HH.

If waterproof ratings are a foreign concept to you, check out our guide on how long waterproofing lasts to get a better understanding of your tent’s rating and if you need to apply more waterproofing spray to your tent.

Related: How Do You Know if a Tent Is Waterproof?

If your tent does need more waterproofing applied, check out our step-by-step guide on how to waterproof a tent! And be sure to use a high-quality waterproofing product like Nikwax.

10. Set Your Tent Up Right

Finally, even if you get stuck setting up your tent in the rain, take the time to make sure it’s properly staked, and the rainfly, awnings, or vestibules are taut. Any slumping or sagging could give water a spot to pool.

Likewise, a tight rainfly will keep a gap between the top of your tent and the rainfly, allowing air to circulate to prevent condensation.

Important: Be sure your tent is dry when it comes time to take it down and pack it up to prevent mold growth. If you notice mold or mildew on your tent, check out our guide on how to clean a tent with mold.

Extra Tips: How To Keep Your Clothes Dry When Camping

As mentioned earlier, all your attempts to keep your tent dry while camping will be useless if you’re getting in your tent dripping wet. Knowing how to keep your clothes dry while camping is just as important as knowing how to keep your tent dry.

Some of the tips above will help keep you dry, such as using plastic bags for your gear and creating a buffer space of sorts around your tent with tarps and/or a vestibule. But there’s more you can do.

  • Waterproof. Waterproof. Waterproof. Use rain ponchos, coats, and waterproof sealants to waterproof your outer clothing layer from head to toe.
  • Wear layers that you can remove before entering your tent.
  • Set up a drying line to hang soggy items.
  • Opt for clothing designed to wick away moisture.
  • Don’t wear cotton. It holds moisture. Synthetics are your best bet, with wool a close second.
  • Pack lots of extra clothing.

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