The sound of a soft drizzle of rain beating on the outside of your tent, laughing, joking, and connecting with a good friend or loved one sounds like a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. If that rain persists for days and you’re not prepared it quickly becomes a miserable experience.
When the weather takes a turn for the worst, and it eventually will, being prepared is the first step towards enjoying the wet weather.
Wet gear, wet clothes, no fire, and a general sense of misery will make the most committed camper pack up and go home in frustration. Understanding how to camp in the rain, or at least the best practices to tolerate a rainy day camping gives you a great sense of appreciation and accomplishment when the sun decides to peak its beautiful head through the clouds.
How to Camp in the Rain
Camping in the rain may sound terrible and if you’re not prepared it totally sucks. However, taking a little time beforehand to understand what to avoid and how to avoid it, will make a rainy camping trip much more tolerable.
Location, Location, Location
Setting up your camp in wet conditions is the first obstacle you’re going to face. When you pull up to the campsite and the rain hasn’t let up all day, where you pitch your tent involves careful consideration.
1. Camp at least 200 feet from the water
We all know that staying at least 200 feet away from water is a core principle in the Leave No Trace guidelines. This rule is meant to avoid polluting any natural water sources and conserving the environment. In rainy conditions, staying away from water that could potentially spill over into your campsite will keep you safe from any minor flood water.
2. Camp on high ground
Take a look at the area around and assess the high and low points of your location. Find a spot that is elevated and doesn’t rest on any slopes or hills. Even the best waterproof tents can’t handle a steady flow of rainwater.
3. Look for an area with overhead coverage
Areas that have trees and branches covering you are an ideal spot to set up, as long as it’s not in a low lying area. Tree branches give you added protection from the rain, as well as a way to suspend tarps to cover the common areas.
Photo by Justin S. Campbell CC BY-ND 2.0
Prepare the campsite
Finding the right location is the first step to camping in the rain, the next step is preparing your spot.
4. Avoid digging around the tent
Newer tents that are designed for wet weather typically have reinforced bottoms that don’t let the rain soak through. Digging a trench damages the campsite and goes against the Leave No Trace principles. If you do have a steady stream of water getting the tent wet, dig a small trench just large enough to reroute the water flow.
5. Use a ground cloth inside
You want to place the ground cloth on the inside of your tent in rainy situations. This avoids any build up and puddling of water that happens when you place the groundsheet underneath your tent.
6. Use a doormat
This can be a small piece of AstroTurf or a tarp, whatever you have. It’s a great way to keep your muddy and wet gear outside the tent, so you don’t track any nastiness inside.
7. Use tarps for extra coverage
Learn how to set up a rain tarp over the area that you plan on cooking and kicking it. With some twine, a couple tarps, and a few trees you can have a fairly dry place to cook, eat, drink, and relax.
8. Stake your tent firmly
In rainy conditions, you want the sides of your tent as taught as possible. Droopy sides of the tent will rest on the wet ground and can absorb water, having your tent securely fastened to the ground eliminates groundwater absorption.
9. Use a rainfly
A rainfly is a tarp or plastic sheet that you place over your tent as an extra layer of protection from water. Your rainfly set up should be as tight as possible and should not touch the tent. The rainfly helps to reduce wetness on the outside and prevents the build-up of condensation inside of your tent.
10. Ventilate your tent
Condensation will form inside your tent, be it rain or shine and having decent ventilation is going to prevent some of the build up of condensation. The last thing you need is your sleeping bag and dry clothes getting dripped on when you accidentally bump into the sides of your tent.
Pack water resistant gear
Most, if not all outdoor gear has some level of water resistance, however, it will never be 100% impervious wetness. Knowing what to bring and how to use it will squeeze the most out of each piece of gear.
11. Pack micro fiber towels
Pack micro-fiber towels with you to dry stuff off. They are fast drying, absorbent, and work great for drying gear, cooking equipment, and the inside of your tent.
12. Take advantage of your stove
A hot cup of hot chocolate or tea on a cold dreary day is the best. Pack a small gas-powered stove that you can cook with if you can’t get a fire started.
13. Use a waterproof tent
If there’s any chance of rain be sure to pack a double-walled waterproof tent. Any good waterproof tent will be treated with waterproofing polyurethane or a similar product and will keep you and your gear dry.
14. Use a synthetic sleeping bag
If your sleeping bag does get wet, synthetic materials dry much faster than down. If you are concerned about warmth it’s a better idea to pack a sleeping bag insert or some extra clothes to wear at night, rather than dealing with a wet down sleeping bag.
15. Seal old tent seams
If you are packing an older tent, get your hands on some seam sealer. Apply it to all the seams of the tent, as these are the most likely places that water will seep through. You can even run a test at home by setting it up, spraying it with a hose, and then checking for leaks.
16. Use a sleeping pad
No matter how much you try and keep the bottom of your tent dry, chances are it’s going to get a little damp. Use an insulated sleeping pad on the inside of your tent just in case moisture creeps through the bottom of the tent. You’ll stay dry at night, and the extra layer of insulation will keep you warm.
17. Treat your gear
All wet weather gear is somewhat waterproof unless your wearing rubber nothing is going to keep you completely dry. Give your pants and jacket waterproofing treatment once or twice a year for maximum protection.
Wear the proper clothes
Rainy days will turn into miserable days if you aren’t wearing the right kind of clothing. Knowing what types of clothing to wear and what to avoid has a large impact on your overall experience.
18. Never wear cotton
Cotton is the worst type of material you can wear in wet and cold weather. Cotton absorbs 27 times its weight in water and takes forever to dry out, so cotton should always be avoided in wet and cold weather.
19. Always carry camp shoes
Having a pair of waterproof camp shoes like chacos or tevas is a must. If it’s going to be really cold you’re better off staying in your boots, however, if the temperature allows it having a comfortable pair of shoes to lounge in makes camp life a little more relaxing.
20. Wear the proper pants
Jeans and water don’t mix, sure you can wear jeans underneath a pair of lightweight waterproof pants but you don’t want jeans as the first line of protection. A thin pair of lightweight waterproof rain pants will do the trick.
21. Rainproof jacket
A good rain jacket may very well be the most important piece of gear that you own. Even if you don’t have a good pair of pants, splurge on a nice waterproof jacket to keep you dry.
22. Wool clothing
Wool is one of the best materials to wear when camping or backpacking, more specifically Merlino wool. It will pull moisture away from your skin and keep you warm even when it’s damp.
23. Pack an extra set of rain gear
If you are going to be out and about in the elements all day you’re going to want to have a good pair of rain gear. If you don’t want to spend the money to get a full set, at least invest in a poncho or a cheap set that is 100% water resistant.
24. Wear fleece
Fleece is light, warm, quick drying and comfortable and a good way to keep warm underneath your rain layer.
25. Hang your clothes to dry
Using the tarp that you have set up to keep the lounging area dry, use some twine and hang any wet or damp clothes up overnight. You always want to get your gear as dry as possible, there’s nothing worse than putting on wet clothes.
Eating in the rain
While you may not be able to cook over an open fire in a torrential downpour, you can still enjoy campfire meals. In the backcountry fires are usually illegal anyways, so be prepared to cook without fire.
26. Never cook inside your tent
Cooking inside can lead to negative health effects or the worst case scenario, death. Every year there are cases reported of people falling ill from cooking in a confined area, never cook inside.
27. One pot meals
If you are going on a short trip then pre make one-pot meals, they are quick easy to heat up. You’ll avoid the hassle of putting a meal together in the rain, and it’s a simple and easy meal.
28. Lots of snacks
Foods like beef jerky, protein bars, and healthy trail mix are a quick and easy way to refuel throughout the day. Pack some snacks that don’t require any preparation to make the wet days just a tad easier.
29. Freeze dried meals
Typically freeze dried meals are a thru-hikers best friend, in the rain when cooking can be a general pain in the ass, they are an easy solution.
30. Sandwiches for lunch
This is pretty common on most camping trips, instead of having a hot meal just bring ingredients to make a good old sandwich. You can keep everything in plastic bags in cooler and pull them out when you’re ready.
General rain camping tips and tricks
Now that you have the campsite, gear, and clothing ready for the rain, you’re almost done. The following are good practices to make a wet camping trip a little more comfortable.
31. Watch where you walk
Camping and hiking go together like peanut butter and jelly. Wet rocks, mud, and wet grass are perfect conditions for a sprained ankle or busted up knee. Wherever you go keep an eye on the surface in front of you.
32. Plastic bags
Plastic bags of all sizes are your new best friends. Plastic is 100% water resistant and plastic bags are some of the most useful things you can bring. Use small plastic bags for food and consumables, and larger plastic bags for gear and equipment, just remember to pack them out!
33. Keep everything out of the rain
Anything exposed to the elements is going to get wet, and drying things in the rain is a losing battle. You never want wet clothes, and your gear and kitchen are no different. Set up a covered area to keep all your gear, including the coolers out of the rain.
If it’s raining hard and you’re stuck in camp it’s always good to have some ways to pass the time. A deck of cards, a good book, or even just sitting around camp and telling stories are all great way to pass the time.
35. Dry everything out when you get home
After a long and wet trip, it’s easy to want to just toss everything into the garage as soon as you get home and head inside. Mold and mildew will form if you leave moisture on your tent and other gear. Lay everything out until it is completely dry and then put it away.
36. Use coolers
Usually, coolers are primarily used for food and drinks. In the rain, it’s a great way to keep things dry. If you don’t have extra coolers, large plastic tubs with lids work too.
37. Have fun
Unexpected rainy days can put a damper on your entire weekend if you aren’t ready. The most important thing to remember is to have fun no matter what the conditions end up being! Just remember that you’re camping and keep smiling.
Camping in the rain can be fun, as long as you’re ready for it. Rain is no reason to avoid camping and if you have the right attitude and plan it can be a blast. Hopefully, this list of ideas on how to camp in the rain will give you some good ideas that you can use on your next wet camping trip. Keep calm and camp on.