The Essential Guide to Camping in the Rain

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While camping in sunny weather is ideal, rain can sometimes take us by surprise. But contrary to popular opinion, camping in the rain does not always have to be miserable. Careful planning is key, as is a healthy adjustment of expectations.

Whether you’re planning a camping trip in the rain or preparing for rain in normally sunny weather, here are a few tips to make sure that it does not spoil your experience.

Find the right tent

First things first – shelter. Good waterproof tents are essential because you don’t want your shelter filling with water. Aside from not being able to sleep, you will probably end up with all your clothes and gear getting wet. To make sure you don’t spend the night getting soaked inside your tent, here are a few things to consider:

  • Material

Make sure that you’re packing a tent made with waterproof materials, typically siliconized nylon (also called silnylon) or polyester with a polyurethane coating. Even then, a waterproof tent fabric can still soak through if exposed to heavy or sustained rain.

Every waterproof tent has a waterproof rating expressed in terms of a hydrostatic head. Simply put, this is the maximum pressure at which the fabric can still stop water from getting through. Standard waterproof tents start at a waterproof rating of 1200 mm., while more heavy-duty tents have ratings that fall within the range of 8000 to 15,000 mm.

  • Seams

Even if a tent is made of high-grade waterproof materials, water can still seep in if its seams are not done properly. This may seem like a minor detail, but a lot of poor-quality tents tend to fail at the seams early.

Most tents have their seams sealed with “seam tape.” This is a waterproof tape which has been heat-treated to make it adhesive more robust. The quality of this seam tape can vary from one tent to another, but they will inevitably get brittle and peel off and flake away piece by piece.

Higher-quality tents use a silicone-based adhesive which has been applied on seams with a brush. These are longer lasting and retain their flexibility even when frequently exposed to rain and sunlight. This waterproof sealant seeps into any stitch holes in the tent fabric, preventing any water seepage.

The most prudent measure is to expect the seams of your tent to lose their waterproofing treatment eventually and be ready for when it happens. Fortunately, you can just repair the seams yourself with a waterproof sealant. Just a word of warning – these sealants take up to 12 hours to cure so repairing your tent seams should not be done when you’re already out in the wild.

  • Get a double-wall tent

A double-wall tent is simply a tent that has a separate rainfly, typically made with the same material as the actual tent wall. A double-wall tent is useful not just when it’s raining but for any other conditions where you’re expecting a high level of humidity.

The advantage of going with a double-wall tent is two-fold. It helps reduce condensation buildup on the inner walls of your tent, making sure that you and your gear stay as dry as possible even when it’s raining. The additional tent poles that typically come with a double-wall tent also help keep the tent upright against strong winds that can come with heavy rains.

The downside of a double-wall tent is that it’s invariably going to be heavier and more expensive than a single-wall counterpart. In fact, ultralight backpacking rarely goes well with waterproof gear – unless you’re willing to spend up to $500 for a tent.

  • Overall construction

Aside from the material of the tent and how the fabric is put together, there are also other more subtle features to look for. A tub-style floor is a necessity to prevent water seepage from the ground, although just about all tents available today are made in this style anyway. If you can get a tent with integrated groundsheets, then those can help keep you comfortable even when the ground starts to get wet.

A tent with a vestibule will also be nice to have when it starts raining. A vestibule provides a small area right outside the entrance of your tent where you can store soiled items like shoes or trekking poles without getting them wet in the rain. It would also be nice not to have to deal with the rain every time you open your tent door.

Check out this guide on how to waterproof your tent as well if you’re not sure your shelter will hold up in the rain.

Pick the right spot

Just as important as the quality of your tent is picking the spot to set it up on. This is an important camping skill, regardless of whether it’s raining or not. However, it’s doubly more crucial when you’re expecting rain during the night.

The main thing to watch out for is flooding. If you get caught in a spot where water builds up on the ground, not even the thickest tarp or the best seam enclosure can keep the moisture from seeping in eventually. For this reason, it’s best to pick a spot where a slight angle provides water runoff.

You do not need to sleep in a spot that is heavily angled – that would be uncomfortable and equally dangerous. The best spot is one with a gentle slope. Keep your tent door on the uphill side and sleep with your head pointed in the same direction so you don’t wake up with a headache.

Tarp off a living area

If you’re anticipating rain during your camping trip, then it’s worth the effort to burden yourself just a bit more and bring a heavy-duty tarp. In fact, you should consider bringing several and splitting the load between the members of your party. A tarp isn’t a rainfly – you need something thicker and heavier.

What’s the tarp good for? Different camping experts have different takes on this topic, but we prioritize placing the tarp underneath the tent. This helps prevent the flooding of the tent from below while also helping keep the ground surface more comfortable for sleeping. If you have extra tarp pieces, you can even line the inside of the tent, so you don’t need to worry about condensation.

If you’re planning to stay in the same spot for several days, then plan ahead with an extra-large tarp to place above your tent. This will take considerable work putting up but will provide a spacious living area where you can cook, share meals, and do camp activities even if it’s raining. If there’s one thing that will make you miserable, it’s being trapped inside your tent for days on end because it’s raining outside. Although, some backpackers actually prefer camping with a tarp.

Layered clothing is key

Now that you’ve got your living arrangements set up, it’s time to talk about clothing. The key is to be ready with three sets of clothes – cool activewear, a warm base layer, and a waterproof jacket or poncho. You never know how quickly the weather can change, so make sure that you can whip out that jacket quickly when the rain starts to fall.

Another piece of advice is to make sure that you always keep one set of clothes dry. You may have to pack these clothes inside a separate plastic bag, but it’s important to keep them dry at all costs. Ideally, these are clothes you can be warm in, as you might end up sleeping in them. Not having dry clothes when it’s time to sleep is surely up there in every camper’s list of worst nightmares.

Other tips

  • Bring LOTS of plastic bags

Between your electronic devices and a fresh change of clothes, there are lots of parts in your gear that you will want to keep dry. You will also inevitably end up with wet clothes. The key to storing these together in your backpack is to keep them in separate plastic bags. That said, you are going to need a lot of them. Make sure your plastic bags are large enough – garbage bags are perfect for this purpose.

  • Pack food that doesn’t have to be cooked

While eating warm meals is the perfect way to recharge on rainy nights, you might not always have the luxury of tarping off a large enough area for cooking. Under no circumstances should you cook inside your tent, or even under a tent vestibule. In times like these, you will want to have a food stash that you don’t need to cook. Jerky, pita bread, canned beans, or a sandwich that you made beforehand are a few no-cook meal ideas to consider.

  • Sleep with a bivy sack

Sleeping on the cold ground is one of the worst things about camping in the rain. If you have some extra space in your backpack, then we suggest packing a bivy sack. The idea is to place your sleeping bag inside the bivy sack, which provides an additional waterproof layer. This ensures that your sleeping bag does not get wet even if there’s heavy condensation inside your tent. It also adds another layer of insulation to help you retain body heat.

  • Check the weather forecast

Even if you have all the gear for camping in the rain, it’s still worthwhile to check the weather forecast before heading out. Camping in the rain is fine but getting caught in the middle of a storm or typhoon is much more dangerous. If there is a forecast of severe downpour and strong winds in the next couple of days, then it’s a good idea to just postpone your camping trip.

There are probably very few people who actively like camping in the rain. However, it’s almost inevitably going to happen if you go camping regularly. Rather than hope for the best, it would be better to just be prepared with the right gear and supplies for when you need to camp or go on a hike while it’s raining. If you can get past having to worry about keeping dry, then you might even find the experience of camping in the rain quite relaxing.

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