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Camping in the Rain (and Why it Doesn't Have to Suck)

January 21, 2016
Camping in the Rain (and Why it Doesn't Have to Suck)

When you are in the process of planning an epic camping trip, do you envisage dark skies and rainy days? Not likely.

Sometimes, like it or not, you end up camping in the rain. That doesn’t mean it has to be a miserable experience. Experienced campers accept the fact that the weather can change in the blink of an eye, and that the eager promises of sun kissed days made by charismatic weather reporters are sometimes broken. Experienced campers are prepared for the weather to turn, so that they can turn what might be a horrible experience, into one that doesn't suck.

This article aims to give you a few tips to help you on your next not-so-sunny camping adventure.

raindrops running down the tent fly wall

1. Setting up your tent in the rain

In order to prevent, or at least minimise the amount of water that might enter your tent when it rains, there are a few things that you need to make sure you are doing every time you set up camp.

Tarps are worth their weight

If you are unlucky enough to arrive at your campsite when it’s raining, setting up your tent is going to be a lot easier if you first build some temporary shelter. If you have arrived by car you can use that as one anchor point for your tarpaulin. Don’t forget to bring rope and a couple of extra poles for anchoring the corners. You can use trees or even your extendable hiking poles to secure the tarp as you lay out your tent keeping it dry. Make sure that the roof of your tarp slopes toward either side of your tent allowing water to run off gently without pooling on top. Putting in the work now will cause you less stress in the future.

Pick your camping spot carefully

If it’s already raining, sometimes all you want to do is start getting pegs in the ground and be done with it. Stop. Take time to first think about where you are going to position your tent. Are you near a water source? How close to other tents are you, and what does their set up look like? Are you uphill or downhill from other campers? Ask yourself questions such as these to determine how likely it is that your tent will end up bearing the brunt of a downpour.

water droplets on the roof of the tent

Discover more: advice on how to care for your wetsuit

Lay a ground sheet underneath and in front of your tent

While modern tent floors are designed to keep the water out, a bit of extra material between your sleeping space and the floor can only help. Just make sure that the edge of the ground sheet is not protruding around the tent as it can funnel water beneath your tent making things worse.

Set up your tent fly

…and make it tight, but not too tight. Keep your guy-ropes evenly spaced so as to keep tension uniform around the tent. Ensure that they are tight enough to create space between your tent fly and the inner tent body. If the two touch, moisture will wick on the tent body and slowly drip, drip onto you and your gear. But be careful not to make your guy-ropes too tight as this can pull the fly down and create same effect. And remember to angle those tent pegs away from the tent so that if the wind picks up, it doesn't take your fly with it.

pegging the tent in the rain

Learn more: the contacts you need during bushfire season


If your tent has vents, open them. Windows won’t work for obvious reasons, but some tents have raised vents that allow water to run away freely while improving ventilation. We all know how humid it can get when it rains here in Australia – condensation can be your worst enemy. Air it out and stay drier for it.

tent window in the rain

2. Keeping your gear dry while camping in the rain

Even if it rains, you shouldn’t have to worry about wet camping gear. Not only is wet gear a damper on the spirits (cough) it could be bad for your health, and end your camping trip early.

Storing your camping gear

The key to a dry tent is making sure that the inner tent body doesn’t touch the walls of your tent fly. In the same way that a tent fly pulled too tight can cause the walls to touch, gear rested against the inside walls of your tent is going to create the same effect.

Consider less clothing

If it’s warm enough, you might even consider removing any clothes that you want to remain dry for later. Throw on a pair of board shorts, thongs and a singlet while setting up and packing down your tent, and get to work knowing that you can always get dry and warm up later in a fresh set of clothes.

Dry bags

There are a number of ways to keep your gear dry while camping in the rain. For the ultimate protection, take a specially designed dry bag with you on your adventures to store valuables and a spare set of dry clothes. A hard plastic protective case is a great choice for keeping your electronic equipment such as cameras, phones, and laptops safe from the rain.

Plastic bags

Invaluable on any trip. Use them to store anything from food and clothes to your entire pack if things get really bad.

hiking pack packed in black rubbish bag

Read more: Cristie's top tips for keeping the kids sun safe this summer

Quick dry towels

Modern synthetic fibres are excellent at absorbing moisture and drying later. Take a few quick dry towels with you so that you can not only dry yourself after washing, but can also mop up any puddles that form inside your tent. If your tent has an awning / storage area at the front door lined with tarpaulin, it’s important to keep this area dry too: another job for the quick dry towel.

3. Cooking on your wet camping trip

Using a portable camping stove indoors is an accident waiting to happen. If it’s raining, those snags might have to wait. Instead, have a backup meal planned that doesn’t require cooking: think cold meats, salads, and cheeses. However, if you have the time and space, you can transform your camping area into a stunning al fresco dining space .

That’s where your tarp and poles come in. To camp and dine in style and comfort, you’re going to need to bring some extra gear. Ideally you will need two tarps: one to create a roof over your tent, and another to create dining space out front. Make sure your tarp is positioned with plenty of head room, ideally enough space to stand upright without slouching. Position your cooking equipment as far from your tent as possible, and if you are careful, you can still enjoy those snags.

removing tent poles in the rain

See also: Kate Leeming plans to ride her bike across Antarctica via the South Pole

4. Packing down your wet tent

Worst case scenario? It’s still raining. In that case you are going to need to carefully disassemble your tent in order prevent it getting wetter than it already is. If your tent clips to the poles (rather than using fabric loops) it’s a good idea to break it down from the inside, out.

  • Once you have stored your gear in plastic bags and you've moved it all to a dry place out of the way, collapse the inner tent body before removing the fly. This way the fly is still held up by the tent poles, doing its job the whole time. Make sure all windows and doors are well sealed at this stage.

  • Roll the inner body up loosely and move to a dry place or strap to your pack to dry out later.

  • Remove your tent poles quickly and store them in your tent's storage bag. Roll up your tent fly gently and store alongside your tent's body.

  • Don’t forget to check your site for tent pegs, mallets, tarps – basically anything that you might have left behind frantically packing down your wet tent.

If your tent uses loops rather than clips, you can collapse the whole thing in one go, and still keep it reasonably dry – but the process is a bit different.

  • Remove your guy-rope pegs and store in your tent's bag.

  • Disconnect the poles at each corner, carefully laying the tent flat before removing them, all the while making sure that the fly is still covering the tent body.

  • Using the fly as protection, you can now either:

a) get underneath the fly and roll up the inner tent body to store them separately;


b) roll the two together, and separate them later to dry out when the rain stops.

5. Drying your tent and your tent fly

At the first opportunity you need to either hang your tent to dry, or pitch it and allow it to air out. If you don’t dry your tent completely, the next time you take it out and set up you’ll suffer for your laziness. Camping in the rain is one thing; camping in a mouldy, smelly tent sucks.

Camping in the Rain Checklist

Before you head off, make sure you've packed the essentials. We've created a handy checklist saving you the hassle.

Camping in the rain gear checklist

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