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How to Camp in the Rain

Camping in the rain is no picnic. In fact, it can be downright horrid, as the water forms an enormous puddle under your tent, loosens your pegs and starts carrying you downhill. But the reality is that when you go camping, there will be days of rain. And rather than feel miserable and not enjoy yourself, here is some guidance on making the most out of the bleak. Remember, it will pass and what a great story you'll have for future camp-fires!


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    Consider your vacation, journey or expedition location. Is it in the Maritimes of Canada, the West Coast of New Zealand or Tasmania or somewhere that has a regular deluge? If yes, expect rain and be prepared in advance. For other camping destinations, still expect some nights and days of rain and be appropriately prepared. It's always a good idea to look into the forecast for the area in which you'll be staying before you head out.
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    Get the right tent. While there are many considerations that go into choosing a tent, there are a few more specific things to take into account when anticipating rain:
    • The tent should have a full fly sheet with sufficient overhang to prevent upwards splashing of mud from being a big problem.
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    Make sure the tent seams are well sealed. You don't want water seeping through the cracks somehow!
    • The entrance way must form a lip, like a bathtub, and not be as flat as the rest of the floor (this is actually known as a "bathtub floor"). If the floor slopes down or is simply sewn flat into the tent wall, this will let water in.
    • The coating of the tent must be waterproof – read the labels carefully for the product's virtues and drawbacks.
    • If you are camping for a short time, a small tent might be okay if you can stand being in close proximity with your camping buddies. If you're staying for 3 or more days, take the big tent for your own sanity!
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    Pitch the tent properly. If you have to pitch the tent in the rain, put up a tarpaulin over you first to stop the inner part of your tent from turning into a bath before you even start. Put down a groundsheet matching the tent to provide additional protection. The groundsheet should not be visible under the tent, fold under the sides of the groundsheet so water running down the tent will not catch on the groundsheet and be directed between the groundsheet and tent floor. Multi-pitch tents such as Macpac, Montbell and Hilleberg brands can be put up with the fly and inner already attached so the inner won't get wet from the rain. If it is stormy you can try staking out the waterproof fly first and working under it as a crude shelter until the inner tent is setup.
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    It is no longer usually advisable to "ditch" around your tent. The newer bathtub floors don't leak even in a pool of water. It does damage to the camp site and leaves a mess for everyone if you ditch around your tent. However if your campsite is gravel or sand you may want to ditch around the tent. If you don't have a choice as to where to camp ditching around the tent may be necessary. As bathtub floors eventually leak you will want to carry a ground sheet to place inside the tent to keep dry.
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    The placement of your tent is very important. Look for slopes, angles, indentations, soft earth and avoid pitching in these if you possibly can. Look for the highest part of the ground on your camp-site. Be wary of selecting as your site an absolutely flat area of dried sediment which has formed as it becomes a puddle in rain! Avoid any places with signs of old flooding (washouts, debris, narrowly enclosed areas, etc). Water can be channeled to these areas and flood them in minutes during a storm.
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    Use a tarpaulin sheet as additional cover and/or as a doormat. If possible, tie a tarpaulin to trees, poles, anything high around your camp (even onto your car), to create a "roof" over your tent. Make sure the sides are running over the edges of the tent and allow the water to run away from the tent. This will help prevent rain from directly pounding on your tent. This solution is usually easiest for car camping. The tarpaulin can also be placed on the ground at the entrance. Here you stand, deposit wet boots, shoes, sandals and jackets before dragging all that into the tent. (You will want to bring plastic bags so that you don't get the muck from your shoes in the tent.) Use sticks or other spare waterproof camp items that fit in the entrance as something to hang jackets over to dry. As an aside, your jackets should be hydrophobic, quick-drying to ease drying time – invest in one or two good outer layers for the sake of keeping warm.
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    Ensure that there is adequate ventilation. Living in your tent causes moisture from your breath to condense into water droplets, which may then fall down onto you and your possessions. Adequate ventilation is the key to minimizing condensation. Remember, the more ventilation, the less condensation. It helps if your tent has peak vents that you can open.
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    Keep quick-dry towels (pack towels/super absorbent towels) handy for mopping up wetness inside the tent. If the dreaded water flow appears in your tent despite everything else, mop it up with these towels, wring them outside and hang up to dry again. The sooner you mop up, the drier you'll stay. It is also a hint to get out of your cosy bag and investigate the cause of the dripping – perhaps the fly or guy ropes need tightening or more airflow is required.
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    Pack the right gear.
    • Keep a spare change of clothes in a waterproof bag, just in case everything in the tent gets wet by some terrible misfortune.
    • Keep a pair of flip-flops or easy slip-ons at the front door. If you're back country, choose the shoes that seem most likely to be easy to slip on and off and share this pair between you. Rubber boots can be good for just walking around camp, but bring hiking boots for hikes.
    • Raincoats should always be placed in your tent at night. It may be a delightful evening under clear skies but if that storm ambles on in overnight and you left the raincoat under a tree, in a locker or in the car, you'll be cursing. For those car camping, always toss in some spare umbrellas.
    • Have hand warmers and lightweight gloves handy. Even in summer, lightweight, water phobic gloves can prevent your hands from freezing when pitching and un-pitching your tent during the rain.
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    Have interesting things to do when you're stuck in the tent all day. Bring along books, games, drawing materials, diaries – anything that you can manage in your pack or car that interests you. Games that are useful to have on hand include a pack of cards (many, many ideas!). These are small and compact. It is also useful to write down ideas for word games, games that can be made from sticks and stones (e.g. Tic Tac Toe) etc in a small notebook (or memorize them if you're good at that), so that you will have plenty of entertainment. Also a sleeping pad that converts into a camp chair can make a huge difference in comfort when stuck in a tent for hours. Being able to sit upright when reading is far more comfortable.
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    Take down the tent with care. If you can take down the tent under the fly, then do so and put it away before taking it out into the rain. If you are camping again in a dry area, pitch the tent at the first possible opportunity to give it plenty of time to dry in the sun and breezes – this will make your night more comfortable. And if you have the luxury of calling it quits and going to a hotel or going home, pitch the tent at the first possible opportunity to dry it out. Even if that means the hotel car park. Never store a tent when it is wet, it can develop mildew.


  • Consider purchasing a tarp or "footprint" for your tent to lay on the ground underneath it. This will help protect the floor of your tent from rips and punctures, keeping water out. However, be careful that the "footprint" is completely under the tent. Any protruding edges can catch rain running off your tent causing it to collect between the tent floor and the footprint.
  • Large resealable plastic bags, or waterproof ditty bags, are your friend. Shoes, socks, and anything else you can fit into such bags are guaranteed to stay dry, no matter what wet tragedy might befall your tent.
  • A four season tent is one designed for winter and won't necessarily mean better protection from the rain. It is built for snow loading and high winds. Using this type of tent in the summer means you are carrying more tent than you need and it most likely will be much heavier. It will also have less ventilation than a 3 season tent.
  • One should also bring dry kindling in a zip-top plastic bag. If it rains, the local kindling will be too wet to start a fire. Keep your dry kindling in the car if possible. If you have no dry kindling, then use a knife to shave off the first 2-3mm of wood that is damp. The inside wood is dry. Get 3-4 people doing this to quickly make enough kindling. To get dry wood, split logs that are about wrist-sized into quarters and halves. the wood in the middle will be dry. Another place to look is near the base of trees right under the surface of the tuft. It can be remarkably dry in these spots.
  • Put a double tarp inside. It protects the tent floor and keeps you dry. Use extra long strong metal stakes for the 4 corners of tent in case of wind storms.
  • Make sure that your tent is properly staked out. It should be tight enough to bounce a quarter off of the fabric. If the fabric hangs, water will puddle on it and start to seep inside. While your tent and rain fly should be tight, do not make it so tight that the fly touches the walls of the tent. This will cause water to wick from the outside.
  • The more waterproof your gear, the happier you'll be. Make sure your sleeping bags are either waterproof or hydrophobic. Use waterproof sleeping mats. Silk dries much more quickly than cotton, so consider using silk sheets. If you're car camping (oh, the luxury!), make sure your pillows and bedclothes are ones able to dry quickly—leave down pillows and duvets at home.
  • If you are staying in camp-sites with showers, and they are warm, use them to warm up your body. Quite probably you'll have mud splashed on you from pitching the tent or realigning it or simply from dealing with gear in the rain, so a nice, warm shower will help restore your mood and set you back on the right track again. For those back country camping, snuggle deeper into that sleeping bag—back country campers aren't there to worry about keeping clean!
  • Try not going camping alone. If you have at least one person with you than you will have someone to help you with things if you need the help. Also it's often more fun to camp with someone.
  • If you're car camping, park the car so that it shelters you if possible. If you have a hatchback, you can buy special tents that use this feature of your car (just be sure to turn off all your internal lights so as not to drain the car battery). This gives you quite a bit of extra space and cosy places to use as it rains.
  • An umbrella may not seem like camping gear, but it is invaluable for necessary trips from the tent, huddling under to get a fire started, fixing your tent fly or to keep a baby in a backpack carrier dry.
  • A groundsheet under your tent is a necessity. But why stop there? Always carry some plastic garbage bags or a rain poncho in your pack. These can have a million uses such as a pack liner. One great use is to cover the inside of your tent floor with one.


  • You may get unwanted visitors when it rains – bugs, spiders, cold animals may see your tent as a little sheltered haven. As long as they're not a threat, ignore them. If you are phobic of them, get the other person(s) to deal with it.
  • When you leave the camp-site, if the rain is still pouring, you'll have to take down the tent in the rain. Expect mud, cold fingers, irritable co-tenters and wet gear. Your tent and fly will not have a chance to dry and will have to be wet-packed. Pegs and poles will be wet and possibly dirt-coated (pegs can be dipped in nearby puddles or wiped clean with grass). If you have to re-pitch a wet tent the same night in the same conditions, there will be no let up – expect wetness to prevail.
  • Answer the call of nature carefully dressed. Don't go out in your sleeping clothes. You'll only be sorry when you slip back in that bag! Put on a jacket and if it's torrential, put on waterproof pants and rubber boots. If it's warm enough, it is actually better to remove leggings and just pop out in your underwear. Your legs will dry much faster than any clothing on them. Pop on a hat – even a cap is better than nothing and it is a pain having a wet head in bed. Leave socks in the tent. As with legs, feet dry quickly and it is better to have warm socks to pop them back into than wet socks. An alternative is to use a "pee bottle" a large lexan bottle with a tight screw top lid and clearly marked for its intended purpose. The bottle can be emptied and cleaned the next day. If you have no bottle but don't want to go out, another option (may be embarrassing) is to just pee in a container, toss the urine outside and leave the container in the rain to get a good rinse. Alternatively you may be able to pee in the vestibule of your tent, particularly if it is facing downhill.
  • Be more than careful when using your entrance (vestibule) to cook in. Really, it is not a good idea at all but sometimes there's no choice. If you really must, keep the flame away from the flaps. If there is any likelihood whatsoever that your portable stove will shoot out flames, forgo the cooking completely. Find a tree, bush or picnic shelter to cook in instead. Or eat energy bars, chocolate, nuts and jerky to keep up your warmth and energy. Even cold baked beans straight out of the can are better than nothing.
  • Buy quality waterproof gear (That includes rubber boots!) and not cheap. There's nothing worse than wet toes all night.
  • Before you choose a place to put the tent, first have a complete look at the landscape. Are you planning to place the tent near a mountain? Remember that water tends to pour down the hills when it rains, and sometimes it makes big streams. Find a safe place.
  • If you are camping at plains with very little tall things, and there may be electrical storms it might be better to place the tent close to trees but without having contact with them. Lightning chooses tall objects to strike, So if choosing between your tent and a tree, It should prefer a tree...
  • Don't make a drainage moat around your tent unless you are in serious water-logging trouble. Contrary to the thinking of outdoor castle-dwellers, the moat does not help tents with floors as much as floorless tents of old (and if you have a tent without a floor, it's definitely time to upgrade). If back country camping and there really is no alternative, make sure you in-fill any moat creativity as near to good as new as you can make it before leaving the site.

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