Last time we went camping it rained the entire time. Our clothes were wet, we couldn’t make a fire, and the tent leaked from the top and bottom. We were miserable! Our next trip is planned for a few weeks from now and we are concerned about camping in the rain again. What steps can we take now to help enjoy ourselves even if it is horrible weather? Vicki W.
Hi Vicki! Congratulations on earning your Monsoon Badge. Every camper has a good story to tell of how miserable they were when the rainstorm hit. Click here to purchase your patch (not an affiliate link, we just find them funny)! All joking aside, we are sorry that you had a bad time on your last camping trip and happy that you aren’t letting it prevent you from going again. While we can’t control the weather, here are some ways to stay dry-ish and enjoy camping even in the rain.
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Before you go:
If your tent hasn’t been waterproofed recently, it might be a good idea to take some preventative measures. What does this mean? It means that it is time to reapply the durable water repellent (DWR) coating to the material and sealant to the seams.
Check with the manufacturer of the tent to find out if you need a silicone or a polyurethane treatment before purchasing your DWR. These waterproofing sprays help shed water from the tent which prevents the fabric’s pores from clogging up. This, in turn, allows the fabric to breathe and reduce condensation.
For the seals, you will want to purchase a purpose-made seam-sealing product and follow the instructions on the package. Typically, it is brushed along the seams and allowed to dry for 24 hours before being put away. This creates a moisture barrier where the stitches of poked holes in the material.
If you have a new tent, it might state that it comes waterproofed, but we have found very few don’t need a little extra help. Even if the material is waterproof, those seams are not. We recommend setting up your tent and testing it with your garden hose. This is the perfect opportunity to practice setting up a tarp over your tent.
Knowing any potential weak points helps when it comes time to set up the tent. However, never assume that your tent will be completely waterproof and bring along supplies to help keep things dry. Garbage bags, self-sealing bags, and plastic totes are all examples of things we use to help keep our gear dry.
Things to pack:
Let’s talk about what to take with you. These are the items we find most essential to have with us when we head out for a camping trip that might turn rainy on us. This is not everything we pack of course, but these are the rainy trip must haves. We like to pack as much as possible in these Ziploc WeatherShield Storage Totes. We have them in both the 60 quart and 16 quart sizes. They won’t keep everything dry in a big storm, but they do a great job of being moisture resistant.
- Blankets: if I do get soaked, warming up quickly always makes me feel better
- Clothesline: to hang up wet gear under the canopy
- Dry bags: to store gear that shouldn’t get wet
- Newspaper: will wick moisture out of wet shoes, aids in starting a fire
- Quick dry towels: these don’t take up much space and are so useful
- Rain gear: coats, pants, boots
- Reproofer: even if you did this before leaving, bring along some extra in case you find a leak you missed
- Ropes/Cords: we love our paracord that goes with us every time
- Screenhouse: we like to cover the cooking area
- Tarps: we recommend at least four
- Waterproof shoes: we hate pruny feet at bedtime
Clothing to pack:
The quickest answer here is to state no cotton! Why? Cotton traps moisture and then you are wearing soggy clothes. Even if you change into dry clothes it takes cotton longer to get dry. We recommend synthetic clothing which are designed to wick away moisture. Pack extra clothes as well. If you spend too much time in wet clothes you will start to feel cold and (at least in my case) cranky.
Food to pack:
We love to enjoy a hot meal after a long day being active around the campsite. However, it is not a good idea to depend on being able to cook over a fire if it is a rainy trip. Bringing along a camp stove (we are partial to this butane one from Coleman) is one solution, especially if you have a canopy under which to cook. But what if the storm adds a bunch of wind to the equation? You are going to want to bring along some ready-to-eat meals and snacks for those just in case times.
At the campsite:
Once we get to the campsite our first concern is finding the best location for setting up our tent. We don’t want to be in any sort of depression where water might collect. Up a slight slope would be your best bet if possible. Please do not dig a ditch around your tent to divert rainwater. Not only can this affect other campers’ sites, it does not abide by the Leave No Trace principles we like to promote. We also like to orient the tent so the narrower ends are facing into any potential winds.
Make sure you are setting up your tent following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make use of all the poles they provide. Utilize every one of the peg points on the tent. Speaking of pegs, they should be firmly staked into the ground, at an angle, away from the tent. Use all the guy ropes. And don’t forget to attach the tent fly to the poles using the ties or Velcro provided.
Did you know that most tents that flood from the rain do so from the ground up? Seriously, it is not the rain falling from the sky that makes everything inside the tent wet. It is water leaking in through the floor of the tent from puddling under the tent. The easiest way to prevent this is to place a heavy-duty tarp under the tent. However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, do NOT allow any part of the tarp to extend out from underneath your tent. If any of the tarp sticks out, the rain will strike the tarp and then roll underneath the tent. Then, the tent floor will soak it up and before you know it the tent is wet inside.
In addition to placing a tarp, correctly, underneath your tent we recommend adding another floor lining to the inside of the tent. You can use an additional tarp or even some thick plastic sheeting. In this case we recommend cutting it about six inches wider in each direction than the footprint of your tent. Placing this inside and running it slightly up the walls will keep moisture from seeping through and getting on gear, clothes, and bedding.
Rain and mud:
We like to bring along a third tarp to set up at an angle above our tent as well if we have a way to hang it. Before we knew what we were doing we would attempt to create a porch area with the bottom tarp. We wanted a place to take off dirty shoes and hang up wet stuff outside the tent. Then we had the issue with the rain flooding our tent from the bottom up. Luckily, we learned that hanging an extra-large tarp over the top of our area allowed for that porch area where we can slip off the dirty shoes and set up a clothesline outside for our wet stuff. Some campers even set up their cooking area underneath the tarp, but we use our canopy instead.
Last, we bring along a thick-bristled door mat that we place at the entrance of the tent to wipe off our shoes prior to entering the tent. Once inside we remove our shoes to help keep dirt and debris in a contained place. We use a basket for ours, but anything would work.
Our tent has two rooms, so we keep all our wet gear in the front vestibule to keep it away from our dry clothes and sleeping gear. If you don’t have two rooms, we recommend bringing along a stuff sack or dry bag for isolating anything wet. We also bring along a clothesline to hang up wet stuff if the weather clears up enough for the sun to shine. Here is where the newspaper comes in handy as well. We stuff it in wet shoes to help them dry out faster. And we make sure to have quick dry towels on hand for drying us off as well as our gear. These colorful ones allow you to color coordinate each person if you so choose.
Starting a fire:
We choose to camp in grounds with established sites so the location for our campfires have already been established. If for some reason you need to choose your own location, I will state that you should look for an area which will be protected from wind, rain, and groundwater. Think on the downwind side of a small hill.
Now we need to talk about tinder, kindling, and fuel. Your tinder needs to be something that will ignite quickly. Kindling needs to be small pieces of wood which will light easily from the tinder. Fuel will be the larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going.
We always bring along some tinder with us, just in case. We make our own using dryer lint in egg cartons along with some candle wax using the instructions we found here. Friends of ours make cotton ball fire starters using the this set of instructions. Either way works, and you will always have some tinder available if you bring it yourself.
For the kindling you can either take your hatchet and shave pieces off the wood you brought or bought* or you can look around and pick up small, dead branches in the area. Then, for the fuel itself, you will need larger pieces of wood. It helps for these to be dry but if they are slightly damp the heat from the kindling should remove enough moisture for them to stay burning.
*Please please please do not transport wood from home to campsites out of the area. The only exception to this would be if you purchased certified heat-treated firewood and keep it in the packaging until it is time to burn.
Lighting the fire:
Last you will need something to actually start the fire burning. We bring along a ferro-flint rod, and a lighter, and some matches. And, for the most frustrating of times when we just can’t get the fire going, we have some InstaFire. Because redundancy is a good plan.
What is InstaFire? It is a combination of volcanic rock, wood pellets, and paraffin wax. It can light wet wood and withstand winds up to 30 miles an hour, but it can also be put out quickly by suffocating the fire which makes it safe while camping. Just 1/2 cup of InstaFire can boil two cups of water in roughly 10 minutes which is delightful when you are cold and wet and just want to make something warm to eat or drink.
Keeping the fire going:
Once you have a fire going, you are going to need to keep it going. Dry wood is essential for this. If you don’t plan on leaving the campsite once you get there and your car has enough clearance, you can place your dry wood under the car which should protect it from the rain. Unless it rains so much that rivers form and flow right below your car.
Which is why we prefer the second method which allows us the freedom of driving off as well as avoiding most surprise rivers of rain. We take (yet another) large tarp and fold it in half. Then we place our firewood on the bottom half of the tarp, fold in the sides over the wood, and pull the top half over covering all our wood. We weight it down with some rocks or a few pieces of wood. So far this has worked well to keep our wood dry.
Cooking in the rain can be an experience. If the rainfall isn’t too heavy and you do have a fire going, you might be able to cook as normal. However, we tend to set up our camp stove underneath our canopy and make our meals on it. We also bring along foods that can be eaten without needing to be cooked. While I don’t love to serve breakfast cereals, sandwiches, and other ready to eat foods, they can be a lifesaver. Additionally, we have been known to use this time to investigate local restaurants for a hot meal.
Rainy day activities:
It helps to have specific activities that can be done in the rain. And, if you only pull them out when it is raining, it helps to keep them interesting. We love to read books and play games. We make sure to always have a deck of cards which will allow us to play a variety of games. I keep a copy of The Ultimate Book of Family Card Games in our camping supplies so that we always have the rules available for those games we don’t play so often.
Some families like to bring along board games to play during inclement weather. We find ourselves losing pieces too frequently to find this practical for us. But we are not opposed to bringing along conversational games. Easy ones to start with would be 20 Questions or I Spy. For additional ideas, we suggest checking out the publisher Chronicle Books. They have a series called After Dinner Amusements. These come in cute little tins and include games such as Charades, Conversation Starters, and Riddle Me This. They have some others which we would not play with our child but look like they would be fun for adult only groups.
We also keep practicing our shadow puppet game and found this Dover title on Shadow Puppet Fun to be helpful in our practice. Don’t forget to bring along multiple flashlights for fun as well as practical use. Another option would be a lantern, but we have not been able to get headlamps to work for puppetry.
Don’t forget about pen and paper games. Tic Tac Toe is a good one. Or Dots and Boxes. And if your child is of spelling age, Hangman. Looking for the rules to play Bulls and Cows I stumbled across this website which introduced me to even more games of this sort. We don’t use the website for playing them, but it gives the instructions to more games than I knew about and it has widened our repertoire. We typically also bring along a Mad Libs book and some puzzle books. The adults like sudoku while the child prefers word searches.
While we are not true musicians, we have enjoyed hanging out with others who bring along their guitar and having a good singalong. This is typically done around the campfire but during the rain, if the tent is big enough, you can enjoy music and song inside the tent. Even without the instruments, lots of childhood songs can be sung acapella and these can help us keep a positive attitude.
This can also be a great time to work on your knot tying skills (with some of that paracord you packed), planning out the next camping trip, studying maps for a post-rain adventure, going to the visitor center, or even taking a drive to check out some nearby landmarks (or getting ice cream).
Relax and enjoy:
If you are going camping we hope that means you actually enjoy being out in nature and can appreciate all sorts of weather. Hopefully, by following these tips, you are relatively dry and comfortable even while it is raining. And you can relax while listening to the pitter patter of the rain against the tarp or tent fly. We think that rainstorms can be beautiful, so we try to sit back and watch it as it rolls on through.
Time to go:
With any luck you have enjoyed yourself on this camping trip, even if it was rainier than you hoped. Now that it is time to go there are a few chores you should do. If it is still raining, pack your tarp and canopy last so that you can work under them as possible. Even if it has stopped raining, your tent and some gear will still be wet. Dry everything out as thoroughly as you can before packing up. Garbage bags will come in handy for stowing wet gear, tents, and tarps until you can get home and properly dry them out.
When you get home, take your gear back out and dry it properly before storing it. Pitch the tent in your yard or hang it up somewhere to dry completely. Don’t forget that sleeping bags might be damp and need to be hung to dry as well. Be sure to check your cooking gear and camping stove. Last, put your camping supplies back in order because packing in the rain probably meant stuff got put anywhere there was room. And this will allow you the chance to properly inspect your gear for any missed dampness. You would hate to get ready for your next trip to find mold and mildew have infested your camping supplies!