Guide to camping in the rain

Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Rain

If camping in the rain sounds like a miserable experience, that’s because it definitely can be. Rare are the things that are as difficult to handle as messing with a completely soaked sleeping bag while water leaks through the tent roof and puddles on the floor. 

However, it is possible to prevent this kind of scenario from taking place. Armed with adequate knowledge and the right gear, anyone can turn a rainy day out in the backcountry into a genuinely comfortable experience. 

In the last couple of decades, I’ve camped in the worst possible weather you can imagine, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that I know a thing or two when it comes to camping in the rain. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your outdoor adventure going when the weather turns against you: 

Planning the Trip 

Choose the Right Tent 

It goes without saying that the most important piece of gear one needs for a comfortable rainy day in the Great Outdoors is the right tent. 

When it comes to the tent floors, I would recommend going with the bathtub-style ones: these are great at preventing rainwater from seeping in down from the dirt. 

For the flysheet, on the other hand, you will want something with a waterproofing value that’s close to 5000mm. Do not go below 3000mm if you don’t want to experience all sorts of troubles with torrential rain. 

If you already have some experience with camping in the rain, you know that these heavy and cold drops of cloud water can’t wait to get inside your tent every time you open its door. To prevent the rain from blowing inside the tent every single time you open the door, consider getting a tent with a porch or vestibule area. 

And to be able to let a bit of air into your shelter even during a downpour, I would suggest getting a tent with angled windows or vents. 

If you’re one of those outdoor enthusiasts that usually drive to their camping spots, make sure to purchase the roomiest tent your budget allows you to buy. Try to get one that is spacious enough for people to be able to stand up in it and move around, and make sure that it can house several camping chairs. 

Obviously, transporting such a tent is pretty much impossible if you’re backpacking. But even if you’re a lightweight backpacker, I would highly recommend purchasing a standard tent rather than a trekking pole tent, as the former ones tend to handle rain and wind much more easily. 

Prepare Your Tent 

Camping tent in rain

Once you purchase the right tent for camping in the rain, you’ll have some work to do. 

The very first thing you’ll have to do is practice pitching your shelter at home. This is because setting up a new tent for the first time always takes longer, and that’s certainly not something you want to go through in the middle of a downpour. 

I would recommend using this opportunity to test how your new tent actually handles water – simply spray it with a hosepipe. This will also assist you in finding out whether your new shelter has any tears or rips that could let the rainwater inside. 

In case you determine that there’s some kind of damage on your brand new tent, have it returned for a replacement. If you’re using an old tent, on the other hand, use simple patches to fix it up. 

The next thing you’ll want to do is apply a waterproof coating to the entire tent. A lot of inexperienced outdoor enthusiasts don’t know how important this is and usually come to regret not doing this later. 

Cover the tent’s exterior with a simple waterproofing spray that you should be able to purchase at most outdoor equipment stores. Once you do that, leave it to dry. This is something you can do after every backcountry adventure during which your shelter has gone through a downpour. 

Pack Your Gear 

Gear in camping

It goes without saying that a wet weather camping trip can go south quite quickly for those who don’t bring adequate camping gear with them. 

You’ll want to pack plenty of layers that will allow you to keep yourself warm and cozy. If your budget allows you to do so, make sure to purchase some premium-quality waterproofs. 

I would highly recommend buying a tent footprint as well. As you can already guess, this is something that goes right below the tent and protects its floor area. 

A very important thing to keep in mind here is that it’s paramount for this footprint to be smaller than the tent itself. If it’s not, you can be sure that some rainwater will end up between the layers and leak into your sleeping area. 

Camping in the Rain Gear Checklist 

As I stated above, bringing the right kind of camping gear to a wet weather camping adventure is essential. In case you’re planning to go to your camping spot by car, make sure to bring more stuff than you think you’ll need. It’s certainly better to have more than to have less! 

Here’s what you’ll need for a comfortable and trouble-free camping-in-the-rain experience: 

  • Waterproof tent – Even though it may feature water-resistant materials, you should still apply a waterproof coating to your tent. 
  • Tent footprint – As mentioned above, it’s vital to ensure that this footprint is smaller than the actual tent. 
  • Clothes – For a wet weather backcountry escapade, you will want to pack a bunch of warm layers. You will also want to bring things like spare hats, gloves, and socks. 
  • Waterproofs – Make sure to pack a pair of high-quality waterproof trousers, as well as a well-made waterproof coat with a hood. Pack as many waterproof coveralls for your kids as you can. 
  • Shoes – It goes without saying that you’re going to need water-resistant gumboots and shoes. Also, make sure to bring an extra pair of boots and some sliders for popping to the showers or restrooms. 
  • Warm sleeping bag – This one is a no-brainer. I would advise getting a synthetic model, as it handles moisture better than the down-filled sleeping bags. Also, make sure to get a water-resistant bivy bag for it. 
  • Sleeping pad – Never leave for a wet-weather outdoor adventure without a sleeping pad. I would advise bringing an additional underpad to insulate you. 
  • Plastic tarps – You will also want to pack at least two plastic tarps – one to protect your gear in the tent’s vestibule, and the other for your vehicle to protect it from the wet equipment. 
  • Waterproof bags – These will help you protect your gear from the rain. Make sure to bring some extra ones for your other belongings. 
  • Old towels – You will use these to dry off your pet’s paws and wipe up any leaks. 
  • Clothes hangers – These will help you dry out your clothes and the rest of the stuff. 
  • Food – Make sure to pack food that’s quick and easy to prepare. Bring some morale-boosting treats as well. 
  • Cooking equipment 
  • Waterproof head torch 
  • Camping lantern 
  • Toiletries & personal items 
  • Books & games 
  • First-aid kit 

Setting Up Camp 

Choosing Your Spot 

Tent pitched in rain

Those planning to stay at a camping spot during the rainy months should pick a location with a living area or a communal kitchen. Doing so will provide you with a place where you can dry off and warm up. 

Camping somewhere close to the restrooms is never a bad idea as well. Whenever nature calls, you won’t need to walk too far away in the rain. 

Regardless of whether you’re deep in the wild or at an established campsite, you will want to pitch your tent a bit further away from the bodies of water. 

As you can already guess, heavy rain can cause rivers and lakes to overflow and put you in major trouble if you’re camping too close to them. Look for places where water can’t gather that easily, i.e. for camping spots situated on higher ground. 

Those planning to engage in wild camping should stay as far away from areas vulnerable to flash floods as possible. 

And while I know that pitching your tent underneath a large tree in a downpour might be tempting, I would definitely advise against doing so. Once the rain stops, the rainwater will keep dripping onto your tent from the wet tree. 

Pitching the Tent

Once you’ve found a suitable camping spot, you’ll be able to pitch your tent. 

In case it rains when you arrive, I would suggest taking out your phone and checking whether the weather is going to get better soon. 

If it won’t, just grab a cup of tea or coffee and wait until it does. There’s no shame in this – doing so is guaranteed to prevent your sleeping bags and luggage from getting wet. 

If you have no other choice but to set up camp in the rain, do your best to work as a team and get it done as quickly as possible. If the members of your family aren’t that good at teamwork, become – or let someone else become – the leader of the operation whose instructions everybody is going to listen to. 

Pitch the rainfly in a tight and supportive manner by pegging it as far away from the tent itself as you can. For additional support, use the guide ropes. As you can already guess, this will prevent the walls of the tent from flapping in the wind, which almost always brings moisture into the tent’s interior. 

Do not transport any of your belongings from the vehicle to the tent until the latter is fully assembled and ready to be used. 

During the Camping Trip 

Housekeeping

Interior of a tent

Whether you’re camping in wet or warm weather, try to avoid wearing shoes inside your tent. This is because using footwear inside these kinds of shelters tends to wear out their floors more quickly. 

This is even more vital in rainy weather – the last things you want to see in your sleeping compartment are moisture and dirt. 

As I mentioned in the checklist part of this article, make sure to pack up a pair of shoes that are easy to slide on and off and which you’ll use whenever you need to use the restroom. 

And when you take off your hiking shoes, don’t forget to bring them inside the tent. After all, leaving them in the not-so-protected vestibule of the tent could cause them to end up completely soaked in case it rains. 

Always have newspaper sheets or a plastic bag ready for your hiking shoes. Obviously, using something like that to place your outdoor shoes on/in will keep the tent cleaner. 

Furthermore, one thing that is bound to contribute to the interior condensation is keeping wet clothes inside the sleeping compartment, so try to avoid doing that. Keep them inside the vehicle, the vestibule, or in a plastic bag. 

Storage 

Even though you’re supposed to apply a waterproof coating to your tent at home, it’s never a bad idea to go one step further and bring as many plastic bags as possible. You can use these to store your shoes and clothes and, in that way, protect them from moisture.  

I also advise getting a lightweight and thin bivy bag for your sleeping bag. Regardless of whether water does or doesn’t make its way into your shelter, the bivy bag will keep the sleeping bag dry. 

Avoid keeping any of your belongings in the tent’s vestibule, as they could easily get soaked there. Even if the porch of your tent is completely waterproof, always keep in mind that water can and probably will seep in from the ground. 

If you have no other choice but to keep some of your belongings outside the tent, bring a heavy and thick tarp that you’ll use to protect those same belongings from the rain. 

Lighting a Fire 

Campers around a fire

Inexpensive, disposable lighters always fail us when we need them the most. The matches, on the other hand, are pretty much useless in wet weather. For that matter, you will need something genuinely reliable in order to be able to start a fire during your wet-weather escapade. 

As far as I’m concerned, the best solution for wet and humid conditions is a magnesium fire starter. You could also bring some stormproof matches as a backup solution. 

Another thing I’d recommend is packing waterproof tinder for your adventure in the wilderness. Pack some cotton balls and vaseline. When soaked in vaseline, these cotton balls become very flammable and will undoubtedly help you start a fire in a trouble-free way. 

Those who forget to pack a pre-made kit for starting a fire should not despair – if this happens to you, keep in mind that you’ve still got some options, even in horrible weather conditions. 

Always check under pine trees when searching for good tinder in rainy weather. This is because pine trees typically have chunky beds of needles lying underneath them. Do a bit of digging and you’re guaranteed to find dry needles there. 

If you manage to find a fallen log that’s not completely soaked, try making your own tinder out of it. To see whether the wood underneath the bark is dry, peel it off with your knife and then take a couple of wood shavings (as thin as possible) and use them to start your fire. 

Does starting a fire with cotton balls soaked in vaseline sound a bit weird? Here’s something even weirder: using Doritos to kindle a camping fire! Yes, it’s a camping hack that totally works – I’m not pulling your leg. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll find plenty of kindling materials at your camping site. Search for twigs, branches, and dry pine cones underneath trees, thick grass, and dense bushes. 

And when it comes to the fuel for your fire, do not bring any firewood with you to the campsite. You don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading a tree disease. 

Instead, search around your camping spot for wood from fallen or dead trees. It goes without saying that this is something you should do before trying to build a fire. And to make the fuel burn easier, peel all the bark and split all pieces of wood into smaller parts. 

Once you’re done with all this and you’ve managed to start a fire, keeping it going shouldn’t be very hard. If there’s only light rain, the fire will still burn nicely – you probably won’t have to start it under a tarp. 

Cooking

Camping cooker

Even if it’s raining cats and dogs, do not cook inside the tent. It is absolutely not worth the risk – after all, tents are typically very flammable. 

Another very important thing to mention here is that a lot of camping enthusiasts use disposable barbeques, and these are notorious for emitting a lot of dangerous carbon monoxide. The last thing you need is to poison yourself by cooking in a small, cramped area.

If there’s a high chance of rain, one of your best options is to simply book a camping spot that features cooking facilities. 

Another option you could consider is packing and bringing one of those convenient open-sided gazebos, under which you can cook while it’s raining. The only other thing you could do is to just put on your waterproofs and do the cooking as quickly as possible. 

Be very cautious if you’re planning to put on a pair of bulky gloves and cook on an open flame. A few years ago, my gloves caught on fire while I was doing the same thing. 

And, as I mentioned above, make sure to bring food that doesn’t take too much skill or time to prepare in order to avoid being stuck out in a downpour for too long. 

Pets 

Camper with dogs

Lots of people like to go camping with their pets, especially dogs. However, nobody likes the smell of a wet dog inside their tent. 

I would recommend equipping your four-legged friend with a waterproof rain jacket. In case your hairy companion likes to run around in the rain – as most of these animals do – the waterproof jacket will prevent him or her from getting wet and dirty and making a horrible mess in your shelter. 

And, as I mentioned in the checklist part of this article, don’t forget to bring an old towel that you’re going to use specifically for your pet. With it, you’ll be able to dry off the dog’s paws before letting it come inside your tent. 

It’s a good idea to try practicing this at home – you don’t want your four-legged buddy to be too freaked about it once you’re at the campsite. 

Packing Away 

Man packing a tent

The Timing

When your backcountry adventure comes to an end, wait for a break in the rain to disassemble your tent. But before doing so, make sure to put all of your other stuff into the vehicle. 

This is why it’s very handy to always have a waterproof tarp in the car’s trunk. As you can already guess, it’s something that will allow you to quickly and easily put all of your dirty and wet items straight into the car without much hassle. 

Drying Out the Tent 

Don’t make things more complicated by trying to pack your tent into its proprietary compression sack. A much more hassle-free solution would be to simply put it inside a large hold-all bag. This won’t take as much time. 

Once you’re home, pull the tent out of this all-hold bag and hang it somewhere to dry off. When it’s completely dry, take the tent down and apply a waterproof solution to it. Pack it away and it will be ready for your next wet-weather outdoor exploit. 

The Takeaway 

If you don’t feel like camping in the rain, don’t hesitate to simply reschedule your outdoor adventure. After all, camping in wet and humid conditions is not for everyone. 

However, despite what most people may think, camping in rainy weather doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds – it can even be fun! You shouldn’t have any trouble with it as long as you follow the tips listed in this article. 

Check out our post on the best dispersed camping near Flagstaff as well.