How to Set Up a Tent in the Rain

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If you tent camp often enough, inevitably there will come a time when you have to set up your tent in the rain.

And while the easiest answer is just to wait until the rain stops, that’s not always possible. 

So, here’s everything you need to know about how to set up a tent in the rain and stay as dry as possible. Plus, we have a few bonus tips for you at the end.

Let’s jump right in!

Choose A Great Spot

Aside from trying to stay dry while setting up your tent in the rain (which we’ll cover extensively below), you need to first take safety into account.

This means choosing a spot that is away from water sources, such as rivers or lakes. Likewise, stay away from spots where water is likely to gather (canyon floors, depressions, dry river beds, and low-lying areas). This will help keep you safe in the event of a flash flood.

Important: Flash floods present a real danger to campers, so it’s very important to set up camp away from rivers, dry river beds, etc when it is raining. And keep an eye on weather updates so you are in the know.

Instead, look for higher ground with natural rain blocks. For instance, in a clearing among thick trees, under an overhang, in an alcove, or near a large boulder that can serve as a windbreak. If none of the above is possible, opt for the top of a slope at the very least.

Use A Tarp

Having a tarp over your head as you set up a tent will make a world of difference. If trees are surrounding your campsite, it’s going to be fairly easy to set up the tarp.

Try to set it up at an angle that directs water downhill from your tent. That way, the rain doesn’t gather on top of the tarp or roll off and seep under your tent. Besides providing an extra layer of protection, a tarp allows you to hang your clothes in front of the tent and make a mini lounge. Check out our guide on how to put a tarp over a tent for some important tips.

If you don’t have a tarp, then you can opt for a rain fly or vestibule. Having somebody to help you with the paracord will be ideal if the guy lines are too short. Otherwise, make sure to get plenty of practice before you go camping solo.

Ideally, you also want to have a heavy-duty tarp or another underlayment underneath your tent. This is called a tent footprint. Make sure that no part of the footprint extends from underneath the tent. If any portion is sticking out, rain may gather on it and roll underneath your tent. If you’re new to tent footprints, be sure to read our guide on how to use a tent footprint the right way!

Get A Single-Wall Tent

As the name implies, a single-wall tent is constructed from a single wall of fabric. The alternative is a double-wall tent, which typically takes longer and is more inconvenient to set up in the rain.

One reason a single-wall tent is easier is that it doesn’t have a separate rainfly to install. While, as mentioned, a rainfly or vestibule can help keep you and your tent dry after setup, it will make your life a little harder when you’re trying to set up your tent.

Wear Waterproof Shoes

The last thing that you want to get wet while setting up a tent is your shoes and socks.

Waterproof shoes or boots are slightly more expensive than regular footwear, but they are lifesavers in the rain.

Another protective measure to consider is gaiters. They not only protect your socks and feet from getting wet but also the bottom of your pant legs.

If you didn’t pack waterproof shoes, you could use plastic bags over your shoes or between your shoes and socks. If you opt to wear them over your shoes, make sure the bag is tied or taped tightly to prevent any rain from getting in.

Bring Rain Gear Or Similar Options

Besides having waterproof shoes, it’s worth it to waterproof as much of your gear and clothing as possible. Plastic bags are a lifesaver in this regard. They are lightweight, easy to pack in, and very affordable.

Ziplocs work well for small important items, such as your firestarter, while larger garbage bags can be used to keep firewood or your backpack dry.

Outside of plastic bags, you can use a waterproofing spray on things like backpacks as well—or anything that’s cloth for that matter, but for most camping gear, there are waterproof versions available.

Take A Waterproof Bivvy Bag With You

Cheap plastic bags aside, it never hurts to have an emergency waterproof bag. Also known as a bivouac shelter, bivvy bags are essentially a waterproof cover for a sleeping bag.

Many campers never set up camp without one. If you can’t get your tent set up in the rain, or, worse, your tent is damaged, these emergency shelters are invaluable.

Campers also love them because they’re lightweight and fit easily in a rucksack. If you do find yourself sleeping in a bivvy bag, don’t be surprised if you actually get too hot. Your bag will reflect most of your body heat back at you.

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Wear The Correct Clothing

Choosing the right type of clothing material on a camping trip is crucial when it rains. Don’t wear cotton because the rain seeps into it and takes forever to dry.

Instead, wear lightweight clothing that dries quickly and is unlikely to leave you sweaty.

Tip: Layers can be a big help in that department as well. If you get too hot or your clothes get wet, you can just shed the outer layer.

Materials that work well in the rain include nylon and synthetics, designed to avoid absorbing the rain and wick moisture away. You should also always have a rain jacket and rainpants packed.

Set Up Camp During Daylight

Don’t make setting a tent up in the rain more complicated by doing it at night. It’s always best to make camp during daylight so that you can pick out the best spot. Animals are also less likely to be active during the day.

If there is no way to avoid setting up at night, make sure you have a lantern or flashlights and take your time finding a safe place that’s on the high round.

Planning And Testing

You want to avoid unpleasant surprises while you’re camping, so it’s important to plan.

Part of your planning should include knowing how to set up a tent in the rain—or set up your tent in general. It’s never a good idea to take a brand-new tent you’ve never set up camping. It could be missing parts or have damage from the manufacturer, but you’ll also be unfamiliar with the setup process. Every tent is a little different.

Set up your tent at home before you leave and do a full inspection to make sure everything is in good shape and well-sealed. Test out all your rain gear and make sure that the waterproof clothing and items actually can prevent water from penetrating.

If you notice water soaking through your tent, it’s time to waterproof it. Check out our guide on how to waterproof a tent for the complete step-by-step process

Bonus Tips: How Do You Keep A Tent Dry In The Rain?

We’ve covered a few tips to keep a tent dry in the rain already, such as placing a tarp above and under your tent and choosing the right location.

But there is a bit more you can do:

  • Bring a sponge or extra towels to quickly dry the inside of your tent if you have to set up your tent in the rain.
  • If your tent did get wet, make sure to maintain good ventilation for awhile.
  • Make sure your tent is waterproof rather than just water-resistant to help keep the inside of your tent dry.
  • Apply additional sealant on your tent seams before camping.
  • Consider additional tarps to build sidewalls if it is both windy and rainy.
  • Never wear wet clothing into your tent.

Check out our guide on how to keep your tent dry while camping for more useful tips.

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