Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant Tents: Which is Better?

Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant Tents: Which is Better?

We discuss the difference between waterproof and water resistant tents so you can be informed prior to your next purchase.

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When you are shopping for a tent, whether it be a pop-up canopy tent or a waterproof camping tent, one of the many factors you will consider is whether it is waterproof or water-resistant.

You probably have a lot of questions about waterproofing and water-resistance. Are these synonymous, or are they two different things? Which is superior? This post will answer these questions in detail.

Let’s start by explaining what it means for a tent to be “waterproof.” Then we will do the same for water-resistance. After that, we will offer some additional perspective and advice to help you stay dry regardless of which type of tent you purchase.

What Makes a Tent Waterproof?

First of all, if you have a pop-up canopy tent, we are going to come right out and say that your tent is water-resistant, not waterproof.

In most cases, the sides are wide open, and even with sidewalls attached, water may still find a way in.

If you have a camping tent, on the other hand, it might be waterproof. Look for the following key features in its design:

  • A waterproof tent features polyurethane or silicone coating. Polyurethane is more widespread, but silicone coatings last longer.
  • The seams of a waterproof tent are taped, sewn with the seams facing inward, or welded, all of which can prevent water from getting through them.
  • The floor of the tent is critical when it comes to waterproofing. Ideally, the coating for the floor should be extra-thick.

When shopping for a tent, you can look for its waterproof rating. This takes the form of a number, measured in mmH20, and is called the “hydrostatic head.” If you want the most waterproof tent, look for a high rating like 10,000 mmH20. When the number is high, it tells you that water requires more pressure in order to permeate the tent fabric.

What Makes a Tent Water-Resistant?

A tent that is water-resistant is similar to one that is waterproof, but it is just not considered to be as effective at keeping water out.

It may or may not feature waterproof seams, a well-coated floor (or a floor at all), or a high hydrostatic head rating.

But it will at least have a design that is somewhat geared toward keeping water out, and probably will at least have some kind of water-resistant coating.

Technically, “Waterproof” Just Means Very Water-Resistant

One thing that is important for you to understand when shopping for tents is that the word “waterproof” really just refers to the most effective end of the water-resistance spectrum. It is not truly something “different.”

Indeed, nothing is actually 100% “waterproof,” whether we are discussing a tent or some other type of consumer good (like a safe).

You can expose a waterproof tent to water for a long time without water getting in, but not forever. And certain conditions will always result in water getting inside.

For example, a waterproof tent might stand up to a night of a steady downpour if you have it on top of a slope where water can drain away from it without any water getting in.

But the same tent exposed to driving, sideways rain for a week might end up leaking a bit. Or if you place that tent at the base of a hill and water pools up on the ground around it all night, that, too, could end up eventually compromising the waterproof design. Tents are not designed to be submerged in any fashion, even at the base.

Additionally, something else to keep in mind is that waterproof and water-resistant coatings do not last forever. In fact, they usually offer solid protection for 1-2 years, after which they begin to wear down, making your tent less water-resistant.

So, a tent that was waterproof when you bought it might no longer be waterproof a couple of years later. Naturally, if you were not aware of this fact, you could find yourself in for a rude surprise when taking your tent out on a rainy day.

How Important is a Waterproof Tent?

Given everything we discussed above, is it worth it to pay extra for a tent marketed as “waterproof,” or should you just buy one that is “water-resistant?”

Ultimately, that is up to you. If you have some extra money to shell out for a waterproof tent, it might be worth it. But most people will be just fine with a water-resistant tent. It is just a matter of following best practices (see below).

Best Practices for Water-Resistant and Waterproof Tents

Here are a few tips that can help you to keep water out of your tent, whether it is “water-resistant” or “waterproof.”

  • Placement: As we mentioned, it is a bad idea to put your tent where water will pool around the bottom. Instead, position it at the top of a slope so that the water will drain downhill away from it. When placing your tent in the wilderness, be mindful of sharp rocks or branches that could puncture the base.
  • Coating: As the coating of your water-resistant tent starts breaking down, you will need to restore it. Simply purchase some new coating and coat the tent yourself. You will then be able to enjoy renewed protection against water for a period of time. You will have to do this periodically over the lifetime of your tent.
  • Maintenance: Along with the routine above to renew your tent’s coating, you should also inspect it from time to time to search for holes, tears, or compromised seams. If you encounter any issues, repairing them quickly will help prevent them from getting worse.

Now you have a better understanding of the difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistant” tents. In truth, they exist along a spectrum, and not tent is 100% waterproof. But if you invest in a quality tent with water-resistant features and you use and maintain it properly, it can help you stay comfortable and dry.

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