Photo: kornnphoto

Camp Shelter Skills: Make Your Campsite Dry and Comfortable in Any Conditions

Everyone hopes for perfect conditions for their camping trips.

You can imagine those treasured days: sunny, slightly breezy, a high of about 72 degrees, not a biting bug within a mile. But if you wait for that absolutely ideal weather before heading out, you’ll miss out on too many trips. The good news is that with the right gear and a little know-how, you can camp comfortably even when it’s rainy, windy, buggy, cold, or hot. Read on to prepare for any camping conditions—and open up a lot more opportunities to get out there.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Key gear for camping in rainy, windy, hot, cold, and buggy conditions
  • Secrets of choosing the best campsites for challenging weather 
  • Skills for setting up your shelter in all conditions

Rain

It’s true that staying dry in a rainy campsite takes some skill—but then again, there’s nothing quite as soothing as the pitter-patter of raindrops on your tent. Here’s how to deal with the inevitable rainy day.

Key Gear

Any tent worth its salt will keep the rain out, but some shelters are better for wet conditions than others. If you expect rain, pack a double-wall tent, which produces less condensation than a single-wall tent. A model with a large vestibule(s) is helpful, too; it provides a sheltered spot for your boots and pack, as well as a place to crouch to take rain gear off, thereby keeping your inner tent dry.

A tarp is great in wet weather, too. Pitch it to create an extra dry space for cooking, eating, and hanging out.

And a packable, quick-dry camp towel comes in handy for mopping up any drips that make their way into your sleeping space.

Campsite Selection

You always want to pitch your tent on a flat surface, but that’s extra important in the rain because water will pool in any depressions (you don’t want to wake up in a puddle). Look for a campsite in a stand of trees for extra coverage if possible.

Skills

Raining when you’re setting up camp? If you have a freestanding tent, pitch it under the cover of trees, then drape the fly over it and move the whole thing to your campsite. Alternately, rig your tarp first, then set up your tent under it.

There are a couple of ways to set up a tarp. Pitch it like an A-frame (draped over a central line and staked down on both sides) for the most protection from the weather. Or rig it like a lean-to, with two corners tied off to trees or poles, for more room to move. Use the space to dry wet gear, cook, or hang out outside of your tent.

Make sure you get a taut pitch on your tent to prevent the wet fabric from sagging.

Photo: Dan Holz/Tandemstock

Wind

Whipping winds are challenging—they blow sand in your food, chill you, and threaten to rip your tent out of your hands while you’re trying to set up camp. Defy them with these tips. 

Key Gear

A tall tent may offer plenty of headroom, but it’ll also catch the wind like a sail. If you expect breezy weather, pack a lower-profile, aerodynamic tent so wind will be channeled over it, not straight into it.

Site Selection

Scout sites that have a natural windbreak, like trees or boulders, and pitch your tent on their lee side. Make sure there aren’t any widowmakers—dead trees or branches that could fall on your tent—above you first, though. 

Skills

Pitch your tent with the lowest end facing into the prevailing winds. You definitely don’t want your door facing that direction. 

Make sure your tent is pitched nice and taut, or it will flap loudly all night. Add some flexibility (and prevent ripping) by tying the fly’s stakeout loops to small pieces of bungee cord.

Sun

Exposed campsites on hot, sunny days present their own challenges. Stay cool(er) with this guidance.

Key Gear

A tent with lots of mesh is the right choice for hot weather—it won’t get as hot as a tent with more solid fabric, and every cooling breeze will find you. 

No shade at camp? A tarp provides essential cover from the hot sun. Use tarp poles or trekking poles to pitch it if there aren’t any trees. 

Site Selection

Look for as much shade as you can find! Beyond that, seek out lower areas, because cooler air sinks.

Skills

Leave the fly off your tent if you’re confident it won’t rain—a fly traps a surprising amount of heat. 

If you’re in an exposed area, don’t pitch your tent until dusk, and consider taking it down quickly in the morning. UV rays will damage tent fabric.

Snow/Cold

Getting comfortable with the cold opens up a whole new world of camping opportunities. Here’s how to do it. 

Key Gear

You’ll need a sturdy, four-season or mountaineering tent to withstand the snow loads and high winds of winter. 

Site Selection

Staying higher in the terrain is the name of the game—hot air rises, but cold air sinks and collects in low points. Just as in rainy or windy weather, look for the protection of trees or boulders to help keep you warmer. Be careful to stay clear of avalanche danger. And look for eastern exposure to take full advantage of the warming rays of sunrise.

Skills

No natural windbreaks? Build a wall out of snow to shield your tent from prevailing winds.

Stomp out a flat platform for your tent, then stake out the fly close to the edge of the platform to keep wind from sneaking in. 

Pitch your tent facing east, so that your head will catch the first rays of the sun. 

Bugs

Mosquitos, blackflies, and other biting bugs can ruin a trip faster than any rain or wind. Don’t let that happen to you with these tips.

Key Gear

You’ll want a tent for trips where the bugs are notorious—leave the tarp at home this time. Hammock camping? Make sure you have a bug net. 

And it’s not exactly camping gear, but clothing treated with permethrin will keep the bugs at bay, as will a head net. 

Site Selection

Close to still or slow-moving water: no. Higher elevations and/or ridgelines, where breezes tend to blow the bugs away: yes. 

Skills

Sometimes DEET isn’t quite enough. When the bugs are really bad, take shelter in your tent until after the sun goes down, then emerge to cook or hang out when the biters dissipate a bit.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.