Tips for Camping in the Rain

Photo: Michael DeYoung/TandemStock

How to Stay Dry in Camp

Don’t bail on a camping trip just because there’s rain in the forecast. Get prepared and you can stay (mostly) dry. Here’s how.

Pick the Right Campsite: 

This is key to avoiding a river of water flowing underneath your tent. First, choose a site that’s away from a stream or any water feature—or terrain depression—that could overflow in a rainstorm. Second, think high and dry. Don’t camp at the bottom of a slope (no matter how gentle it is) where water could pool. Look for a flat spot on higher ground. Third, find a forested spot if possible. Thick trees provide natural shelter and allow you to set up a tarp for added protection. Big boulders and cliffs can also provide shelter from the prevailing wind, just stay clear of any potential rockfall.  

Pick the Right Tent: 

A roomy, well-ventilated tent with a large vestibule will help keep you and your gear dry.  

Orient Your Tent: 

Set up your tent with the door facing away from the wind to help prevent water from blowing inside when you enter and exit. 

Set up a Tarp: 

Nothing beats having an extra tarp or two while camping in the rain. Here’s how to use them: 

  1. Rig a tarp to create a dry space for cooking and hanging out (camping in the rain is a lot more fun when you’re not confined to your tent). 
  2. Hang a tarp above your tent to keep things extra dry; this is especially welcome if you’re getting in and out a lot. 

Tip: In hard rain, set up your tent under a tarp before moving it to its final position, in order to keep it dry before the rainfly is set up. 

Bring a Footprint: 

A footprint/groundsheet underneath your tent adds an extra layer of protection below. While tent floors are waterproof (or should be), a footprint adds insurance against small rips or tears that could lead to big leaks. Make sure the footprint doesn’t extend past the perimeter of your tent, otherwise it will actually collect water.

Wear the Right Clothes: 

You know to pack rainwear and synthetic and wool layers. For extended wet, bring extras. Inevitably, some things will get wet, so it’s critical to have a few dry things (keep them in a waterproof stuff sack). Add gaiters to help keep your feet dry, and a brimmed hat

Pack an Umbrella: 

Don’t laugh. Think of an umbrella like a portable tarp; it lets you sit outside or walk around without being huddled under a hooded rain jacket.  

Dry Your Clothes: 

If it’s raining nonstop, things will get wet, and they’ll be hard to dry. You have a few options.

  1. Wear them dry. Put on damp layers and hike to generate body heat, which will dry them out.
  2. Bring damp (not soaked) clothes into your sleeping bag at night and let body heat go to work.
  3. String a line in your tent or vestibule to hang wet clothes (expect slow drying).
  4. If you can make a fire, that’s a great way to dry things out, just be careful of melting things.  

Protect Essential Gear: 

Backpacking? You don’t want to arrive in camp with wet gear. Use dry bags or trash bags (or thicker, more durable trash compactor bags) to keep critical gear dry. Line your backpack with a pack liner or trash bag, or use a rain cover, and put your sleeping bag in one, too. Pack clothes and electronics in dry bags or gallon-size zip-top bags (you really can’t have enough of these). 

Bring a Towel: 

Water will inevitably get inside your tent. Microfiber towels (or a sponge) are handy for soaking up excess moisture. 

Prep Your Gear: 

Most waterproof gear needs retreating occasionally to remain waterproof. Check your boots and rainwear for the manufacturer’s recommendations, and treat with conditioner or a DWR (durable water repellent) finish as needed. Dirt and grime can damage waterproof/breathable performance, so wash gear that’s soiled. A heat cycle in the dryer also works to reactivate DWR effectiveness (check manufacturer guidelines for your specific item first).

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.