Rain droplets on a camping tent after the rain

How To Stay Dry While Camping

My first REALLY rainy campout

I thought I had the tent tight, at least it looked like it.  The rain fly wasn’t touching the tent when I set it up.  But after hours of constant rain, the fly was soaked, and it was much heavier than when it was first set up.  It started to sag.

Lying in my sleeping bag that night, I started to hear a slow drip…. drip…. drip….  What was that, did I have a seam leaking, was there a hole in my rainfly?  I aimed my flashlight at the source, and saw that the fly was sagging against the bug netting.  It was touching the bug netting.  I had set the tent up in a small area, where I couldn’t stretch the guy lines out the way they should be.  I settled for good enough instead of tying the lines in a different way, or moving the tent.

Luckily, I had gotten it pretty close to where it needed to be.  The slow drip did not soak much in my tent.  It was not letting in a large volume of water.  In the morning, other campers near me had fared much worse, with air mattresses that had become pool floaties in some tents.  Some were bailing water from their tents.  I had a good quality tent that did its job of keeping the water out, despite shortcomings in how I had set it up.

I learned something on that trip.  Don’t cut corners setting up tents.

I learned not to cut corners setting up tents that weekend, and to keep the rain fly tight.  In this article, I’ll share some of the top lessons I have learned for keeping dry on a campout.

Setting up your tent

We’ve talked about what happened when I didn’t set up the tent right, so how about some tips on making sure you do have it set up correctly.

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  • Get the angle right for the tent stakes.  I don’t know if this is a common problem, but I’ve seen stakes popping out of the ground on some campouts, so it’s worth mentioning.  When you put tent stakes in the ground, angle them so the top leans AWAY from the tent.  If you put them straight in the ground, or lean the top towards your tent, they will easily pull out of the ground when wind, rain, or other pressure is applied to them.
  • Don’t camp in a bowl.  Don’t locate your tent in a low spot on the ground where water will collect.  And don’t locate it in a spot where water will be flowing if there is a lot of rain.
  • Don’t collect water.  If you use a tent footprint, or a tarp under your tent, make sure it isn’t sticking out from under the tent.  It will collect water and send it right under your tent.

Use of Tarps or “EZ Ups”

  • Canopies and Tarps.  
    Pile of tents under a popup canopy
    Pile of tents under a popup canopy

    Pop up canopies are pretty handy, and they set up fast.  They are a little heavy and bulky, but for car camping, or for RV camping, they can be very useful.  $59.99 at Dicks Sporting Goods will get you a nice quick setup canopy to keep in your camper.  If you don’t want to lug one of these around, then an inexpensive tarp, some ropes, and some knot tying skills will give you some extra shelter on a rainy camping trip.

  • Tent coverage.  I’ve seen people that put a tarp over their tent.  If you have a decent quality tent, this is probably not necessary.  However, if you have an inexpensive tent without a full coverage fly, or a tent that you know has some leaks, this may be helpful.  One thing a tarp can be used for no matter what kind of tent you have, however, is to create a “front porch” for your tent.  In many cases, if you have a tent with a built in vestibule for your gear, this may be enough.  But I’ve also found that if it’s raining hard, it’s difficult to get in and out of a tent while keeping your wet rain gear outside in all but the larger, roomier vestibules.  So you may want to think about hanging a tarp over your tent entrance to give yourself a dry spot to remove a raincoat, or even to just sit outside, while the weather is less than perfect.
  • Cooking meals and hanging out.  Keeping yourself and your gear dry in your tent is half the battle.  Well, maybe more than half, sleeping while in a wet sleeping bag is nearly impossible.  But if it rains for long periods of time, you also need to eat.  If you’re at a campground with a picnic table, having a roof over your picnic table is going to make your weekend much better.  You can put a camp stove on the picnic table, and be able to cook under cover.  You can sit and eat.  That is going to make the rain much more tolerable.  Hiking/Backpacking campers can still benefit from a common area, covered by a tarp and ropes, to sit, cook, talk and try to keep dry.

Caring for your gear

  • Don’t store wet gear.  The number one rule for caring for camping gear is not to put it away wet.  So what happens when you are packing up to go home and it’s soaked?  Well, that depends.  If you are short on space, and you won’t be traveling for long, fold/roll it normally and pack it away, and when you get home IMMEDIATELY take it out and either set it up or hang it loosely to let it dry.  Once it’s completely dry, then repack it.
  • Minimize normal wear and tear.  Wear and tear can remove the waterproof coating on tents.  Rubbing on the ground can do it, or creases created by folding tents the same exact way each time can also do it.  Seams can wear over time where they are stitched.  Using a ground cloth and extend the life of the bottom of your tent, keeping it off gravel and brush, which can rip or just wear away the coating from the material.  Coating the seams with sealer periodically, according to the recommendations from you tent manufacturer can prevent leaks there.  And don’t fold the tent in exactly the same way every time.  Folding differently each time will prevent the the sharp creases in the material that damage the waterproof coating.

Outerwear for you

  • Good Outerwear.  Invest in two layer GoreTex outerwear for you, as well as a GOOD set of waterproof hiking boots.  Cheap plastic raincoats tear easily, and if you have to wear them for a long time, they really make you sweat.  Water Resistant outerwear soaks through eventually, just not as fast as a sweatshirt.  
  • Quick Cover.  I like to keep an emergency poncho somewhere that it can be accessed quickly for brief rain showers. They can be thrown on fast when needed, but I wouldn’t rely on them for extended periods of time.
  • Dry Feet.  Make sure you have extra dry socks along on your campout.  Nothing can make you more miserable than wet feet.  Not to mention how quickly you can get blisters hiking in wet socks.
  • Avoid Cotton.  Remember cotton clothing dries slowly, and doesn’t breath.

Staying Dry

We had a brief discussion on this topic the MustGoCamping Facebook page where I received some additional ideas for this post.  Hopefully you found something useful here.  Please share your own tips for keeping dry in the comments section, or on our Facebook Page.  

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