Tips for Camping in the Rain when you don't have a Waterproof Tent

Sometimes you just don't have access to a waterproof tent. Don't let that keep you indoors.

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When you head out on a camping trip, you have plans to stay comfortable, warm, and dry through the night. But nature has plans of its own. That means that even if you schedule your trip with care, you might get caught in the rain.

If you have the choice, you should always bring the best waterproof tent with you. But, if you don’t have a waterproof tent, that can pose some challenges. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to stay relatively dry. Below are some tips to help you enjoy your trip in as much comfort as possible.

  1. Make sure that you are camping on high ground with good run-off.

    If there is any chance of precipitation at all when you are camping, you would do best to avoid pitching your tent in a low-lying area where run-off can gather. Instead, head to the high ground.

    High Ground on rainy day

    What if you are stuck camping in a valley? You can still check the level of the ground and try and pick a spot where the ground should carry run-off away from your tent. You can also try and avoid spots with overly soft soil which may absorb all the water and turn into mud. Try to identify the high water mark if there is a river or lake nearby, and ensure that your tent is pitched above it.

  2. Bring along a couple of tarps (at least).

    It is smart to bring 2-4 tarps with you when you go camping. Set them up as follows:

    • The first tarp should go underneath your tent. But here’s the thing—you should put it down inside the tent only. A lot of folks put down the tarp, and then erect the tent on top of it with the edges of the tarp protruding beyond the sides of the tent. This seems like a logical move, but it isn’t. The problem with doing it this way is that it wicks moisture right into your sleeping area. Don’t let that happen.
    • You can set up another tarp above your tent as well. You may want to do this before you set up your tent in order to keep the area dry as you are doing so. After you get your tent set up, leave this tarp in place. It not only can continue to protect your tent, but it also gives you a sheltered space where you can change out of wet clothing before going into your tent so that you do not bring water inside with you.
    • A third tarp can be used to create an awning over your camp area where you have stowed additional gear, cooking supplies, etc.
    • If there is a lot of wind blowing in rain from the sides, consider a fourth tarp to place directly over top of any supplies you are keeping outside your tent. You may want to tie this tarp down or secure it somehow (i.e. with some heavy rocks).

    Tarps are lightweight and easy to fold up and carry, and they can make a huge difference in your camping experience in the rain, so don’t neglect them.

  3. Use waterproof bags or trash bags for your camping gear.

    Even if you do not have a waterproof tent, you hopefully have some other waterproof supplies for camping such as waterproof backs and bags. Don’t have these either? There is a simple solution. Just grab some trash bags and stuff those inside whatever packs you do have in order to give them a waterproof internal lining.

  4. Coat your tent and other supplies with waterproof spray.

    Another step that you can take to protect your tent from moisture is to purchase some waterproof spray. Apply this to your tent after you set it up, and use it on any other items that you want to provide with an extra layer of protection.

  5. Don’t forget other essentials for camping in the rain.

    Tarps, trash bags, and waterproof spray can go a long way toward keeping your campsite dry and comfortable. But they are not all that you need to camp effectively in the rain. Here are some additional items to bring with you on your trip:

    • Waterproof clothes and footwear. These supplies are self-explanatory.
    • Warm synthetic attire. Cotton is something you want to avoid in the rain as it soaks quickly and takes ages to dry. Take extra layers with you, and double up on your packing. Assume that your clothes are going to get wet and that you will need something dry to change into.
    • Repair supplies if your tarp gets ripped. Repair tape designed for RV awnings works. A single leak can give you a lot of unnecessary grief, so you’ll be glad you packed this.
    • Zip-lock bags. If you are relying on trash bags to keep the stuff in your pack dry, put electronics and other valuables inside zip-lock bags. That way you can be extra sure that they will stay safe and dry.
    • Fire starters. Getting a fire going in the rain can be very difficult, even if you have shelter. You probably won’t have much in the way of dry kindling to work with. So bring some fire starters with you, like cotton balls with petroleum jelly.
    • Ready-to-Eat Meals. Trying to start a fire in the rain can be a real hassle when you’re hungry and tired. Sometimes it’s also not possible. Make sure you have something to eat that you don’t need to cook.

Even Without a Waterproof Tent, You Can Enjoy Camping in the Rain

If you do not have a waterproof tent, you can still camp through rain or shine so long as you take the right steps when you are packing for your trip and setting up your campsite.

Of course, a waterproof tent can make life easier. So if you do not have one and you frequently camp in a region which gets a lot of precipitation, you might want to think about upgrading to one when you have a chance. Then you can have an even better experience camping in the rain!