How to Survive Camping In The Rain in a Tent (And Stay Dry)

A rainstorm can turn a camping trip into an adventure or a miserable wash-out. (Sometimes both.) With smartphone apps and detailed radar, it’s easy enough to track bad weather as it speeds towards you but what happens when it arrives? Most people who have spent any time camping have tales of leaky tents and soggy sleeping bags. It might seem like getting wet is an inevitable part of sleeping on the ground outdoors, but fortunately, it’s not. Based on years of camping experience, we’re sharing our best advice and camping in the rain hacks on how to survive a rainstorm—and stay dry.

The key to staying dry while camping—especially when a tent is involved—is a mix of both thoughtful strategy and quality gear. To truly stay dry and ride out a storm, you need both. (For instance, a top-of-the-line tent won’t do you any good if you set it up at the bottom of a hill or within a few yards of a stream.) Remember that no matter the weather report, you should always be rain-ready when you’re camping and pack the necessary gear. In most parts of the country, summer weather is unstable and it pays to be prepared. Here’s how to do just that:

Use a weather-resistant tent.

This first tip seems obvious but not all tents are equally weather-resistant. Less obvious is that there are ways to determine how waterproof a tent might be. We’ve listed some of our favorite weather-resistant tents at the end of this article but here are factors that can make the difference between a leaky tent and a watertight one:

  • Shape: A boxy tent or a design that doesn’t have steep angles is more likely to collect water. Choose a tent shape that will cause the water to flow off (and away from) the tent.
  • Floor:The material that the tent floor is made from should be thicker and more rugged than the rest of the tent. The sturdier this material, the less likely it is to leak.
  • Seams: Taped seams keep water from seeping between the places where the tent fabric is sewn together. In the manufacturing process, a strip of plastic material is often melted along the inside of the seam. You can spot taped seams from inside a tent. If a manufacturer labels a tent (or clothing) as waterproof, it will have taped seams.
  • Rain-fly: A rain-fly (or rain cover) is an additional piece of fabric that covers a tent, is staked to the ground, and allows rain to flow away from the tent itself. As far as staying dry is concerned, it’s the most important piece of equipment a tent camper can have. Unfortunately, the cheapest tents usually come with the flimsiest—and smallest—rain covers. If a rain-fly looks like a small hat for your tent, it’s not going to keep things dry.

Or, make your existing tent more weather-resistant.

Tents—especially waterproof ones—can be expensive and sometimes buying a new one just isn’t an option. With that in mind, there are a few things that can make your tent more weather-resistant:

  • Make a tent liner. There’s an ongoing debate about whether a tarp should be placed underneath a tent or inside of it but we’re going to side with the Boy Scouts on this one and say inside. Use a tarp or piece of builder’s plastic to create a liner for the bottom of your tent. Make sure that the liner extends up the sides of the tent by a few inches on all sides.
  • Add a better rain-fly. Purchase a separate rain-fly that fits your tent. If you don’t like how it restricts light and airflow, use it only when the weather forecast predicts rain.
  • Use waterproofing spray. Even waterproof tents don’t stay that way forever. Eventually the waterproof coating on the outside of the fabric breaks down. If your tent’s waterproof coating wears off, or if it didn’t have it in the first place, you can apply this coating yourself.
  • Seal the seams. Another DIY method for waterproofing is to seal the seams of your tent with silicone seam sealer. This can be a labor-intensive process but it’s also a more budget-friendly (and earth-friendly) alternative to buying a new tent.

Choose your campsite wisely.

If the forecast calls for wet weather, try to choose a campsite that’s least likely to flood or have water running through it. If you’ve already booked the site, you can still use these tips to find the best place to set up a tent within your campsite:

  • Keep your distance from water. Don’t set up your tent near the edge of a lake, river, stream, or dry stream bed that might fill with water during a flash flood. According to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, tents should always be set up at least 200 feet from water anyway.
  • Pay attention to elevation. Pitch your tent on the highest part of the campsite (but not so high that you’re a prime target for lightning) in a place where there’s level ground. That way, water won’t collect near your tent.
  • Avoid trees and vegetation. Don’t set up your tent in a place where branches and leaves will touch or brush against it. When it rains, these will funnel water to the tent.

camping in the rain with coffee

Now that we’ve covered strategy, here’s our round-up of gear and supplies that will help you be a happy camper, no matter the weather. First up is our list of the top weather-resistant tents.

Weather-Resistant Tents

This family-sized tent is made from 100% waterproof material, includes a full rain-fly, and accommodates up to 9 people.

Kelty’s streamlined Salida model comes with a full rain-fly and is available in 1, 2, and 4 person sizes.

If you’re looking for a compact tent that’s still spacious, you might want to try this 3-person model from Marmot. It comes with a full rain-fly and ground cover.

This 4-person tent has factory-sealed seams and a ventilated full rain-fly.

Waterproofing Accessories

If buying a new tent isn’t in your future, here are the products you’ll need to make do with what you already have. With a little time and effort, you can transform your tent into a sleeping space that stands up to wet weather.

If you can’t find a rain-fly that fits your specific tent, you can rig up a waterproof tarp above your tent for extra protection. This extra-large version from Kalinco is waterproof and comes with stakes and ropes.

There are a number of waterproofing sprays on the market but this version is easy-to-use and recommended for tents.

This seam sealant comes with an applicator brush and will remain flexible after it dries.