Last updated: August 8, 2018 at 15:32 pm
Camping in the rain is tricky. We’re all used to checking the weather forecast like a hawk to find a weekend with good enough weather to head out for that camping trip in the wilderness, but in the UK – especially in the winter months – it can be rare to have such luck.
Waiting for those golden sunny spells might mean you’ll be postponing your camping trip for months ahead, which then means you’re missing out on making fun memories and spending time outdoors all because of some rain. Sure, we wouldn’t recommend camping in a thunderstorm, although don’t let some drizzle stop you.
With preparation and consideration, you can approach this challenge with confidence and set yourself up for a brilliant trip outdoors, regardless of the wetness.
We’ve put together our best tips for camping in the rain so that you don’t have to wait endlessly for that lucky weekend of sunshine. Make the most of every weather!
Study the Weather Forecasts
So while we’re telling you to ditch the Weather app on your iPhone so to not wait for the sun that’ll never come, it’s still best to check that the weather won’t get too chaotic so that you can pack your bags accordingly.
How cold will it be during the night? Will there be hailstones? Is the rain only between 5 and 7pm? It’s best to know in advance so you can make time for your activities the best way possible, like setting up your tent and fishing while it’s dry then tucking into the tent for a few hours to play cards or tell fabricated ghost stories until the rain stops.
Also, be sure that you’re always checking the local weather of your camping spot and not the general forecast for your hometown or the city, as you’d be surprised how different things can be a few miles away.
Check the temperature expected for day and night so you know how many layers to bring, and how heavy the rain will be at its worst so you can choose your finest waterproof of the collection. This way you can prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and enjoy things either way.
Make Sure Your Tent Can Handle It
One thing that will put a real damper on your camping experience is whether or not your tent is built to withstand the rain.
Not all tents are made as strongly as others in terms of their waterproof ratings, so if you’re using a regular pop-up or multi-purpose tent then it may be more likely to soak through than one that was designed for water to bounce right off.
Most modern tents are made in a ‘tub’ style, which means that the floor fabric comes up the wall several inches with taped seams, thus making the floor a completely watertight structure. Double-wall tents are generally the way to go for the rain as they have additional protection, including keeping condensation to a minimum – perfect when up in showers for long stretches at a time. Tents with sewn-in groundsheets will also handle things better, and gives you a double layer to sleep on without any extra effort required whatsoever.
Also, tents with vestibules will also do you better in the rain for several reasons. It’ll keep the actual entrance to the inside of the tent clean, separate and dry, meanwhile you can store belongings in the hallway so they’re not sitting outside getting pelted with rain. However, do not try to make a fire or use a stove in this area as it’s a fire hazard.
Finally – and this may seem too simple – check before you go that your tent doesn’t have any tears or rips that would let water in easily.
Location, Location, Location
This will make or break your camping expedition in the rain. Pick the site where to pitch your tent very carefully, and use your common sense. During and after heavy rainfall, water will collect at the bottom of hills and seep into valleys, forming pools and puddles.
It’s best to look for a spot that’s above ground level and well away from rivers, lakes or streams that could overflow. Avoid areas that look like they could easily be flooded and, if possible, pitch your tent on a gentle upwards slope, with the entrance looking down towards the bottom of the slope.
Don’t pitch your tent on steep slopes or completely flat ground – two extremes that can end in disaster – but instead aim for a good middle ground.
Now’s the time to whip out your impeccable storage skills. Think of the items that are most easily destroyed by water first, such as firestarting materials, books, money, electronic devices, food and other perishables, and wrap them up in plastic bags for protection. Socks and other components of your gear that you aren’t wearing should also be wrapped in plastic bags, which are very effective at keeping water out, while being super cheap and easy to get your hands on.
Essentials To Take With You
This is the single most essential life-saver item to take with you on a camping trip in the rain. Think in multiples! You’ll need at least one large sheet of tarpaulin to place above the tent so you can pitch with ease in a downpour, as well as an extra one to place underneath the tent floor for added waterproof protection.
Tarp can have a variety of useful purposes, including to create a sheltered space for bikes, firewood and camping chairs. You can also use tarp to designate a rain-free area beside your tent for camping activities, which will come in super handy and give you the freedom to enjoy everything you planned despite the rain.
Groundsheets are the ultimate line of protection between you and the soggy ground, so have at least one at the ready. Apart from acting as an extra defence shield against the wetness below you, groundsheets will also insulate the tent floor and provide you with a warmer night’s sleep.
The groundsheet underneath your tent should match the size of the tent floor – be careful not to use a larger groundsheet as this will retain rainwater and have an undesirable funnel effect. Fold away the ends of the groundsheet underneath the tent floor to secure them.
Another advantage to using groundsheets is that you can pitch perfectly on such a smooth foundation, and the tent floor will consequently be more comfortable for you to sleep on.
Gazebos are not on every camper’s list of possessions but will prove a major hit when roughing it in the wet wilderness. These large waterproof structures provide ample space to roam around, set up a table and relax camping style while smugly listening to the sound of the pattering rain nearby, instead of getting soaked in it. Modern versions are also easy to install.
A couple of extra blankets will never go amiss, and even more so when the weather brings torrential rain. Extended periods of rainfall lower the air temperature and raise the humidity levels so you’ll be needing to wrap up warmly in a toasty, dry sheath at night. With blankets you also get that cosy camper feel that makes listening to the rain outside your tent an enjoyable experience.
Waterproof Clothing and Footwear
The waterproof clothing you wear in the first instance should be lightweight and breathable, with fully taped seams, wrist cuffs and adjustable hoods that effectively keep the rain out. Your kit should consist of the basics such as a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers and waterproof boots, as well as a fleece and base layer if the temperatures are low. Bear in mind your kit pieces’ individual waterproof ratings as these will come into play when you find yourself in a shower. Anything upwards of 5,000mm of waterproofness and 5,000mvp of breathability will keep you securely watertight and well-ventilated.
Avoid cotton clothing as this will soak up moisture instead of wicking it. We also recommend taking extra waterproof clothing – wrapped safely in plastic bags – in case you need a change of outfit or your gear accidentally gets wet. Before setting out on your trip, reproof any old waterproof jackets, trousers or boots to power up their coatings using spray-on or wash-in waterproofers.
Emergency Rain Ponchos
You’ll need rain ponchos for yourself and the rest of your gang for getting out in the rain. Throw these on while you set up camp too to stop you from getting drenched and keep your waterproof gear intact.
Dry bags are the pricier, more sophisticated alternative to regular plastic bags. These waterproof sacs can be used to store anything from wallets to laptops to keep them safely away from any moisture. Their prime advantage is that they can be reused endlessly and are therefore kinder on the environment than normal plastic bags. Dry bags also generally feature clips, straps and drawcords to secure the internal items perfectly.
Lighting is always a must-have on any camping trip but particularly if you’re pitching a tent under overcast, gloomy skies that cast little light to show your way. Use a hand-held torch for exploring your outdoor neighbourhood, a headtorch to shine some light while you’re pitching your tent, and lanterns to light up your camping space for reading, eating etc.
Ropes and Cords
Ropes and cords are a necessary multi-purpose tool when out in the wild. You’ll find them useful if one of your tent’s guy rope snaps under the pressure from the weather or you’d like to hang up several sheets of tarp to create separate rainproof shelters. Always carry an extra couple of ropes and cords for contingencies.
Extra Tent Pegs
Before you leave, make sure to pack some extra tent pegs with you. These are inexpensive and will be your guiding saviour if one of your regular ones goes missing in the soft, marshy ground. You’ll also be able to use them to fasten your tent down more strongly if the rain is coupled with strong winds.
Throw in some reproofer for good measure into your camping backpack. You should reproof your tent and gear before you head out camping, but having it handy in case of an emergency never hurts. If you find your waterproof jacket leaking in water, a quick recoating with reproofer can save it from disuse.
How to Pitch a Tent in the Rain
It goes without saying that pitching a tent in the rain requires an extra level of skill and experience to do the job right and as efficiently as possible so that you can nestle into the shelter without further ado. Follow our step-by-step guide for how to pitch a tent in the rain for the best (and driest!) results:
- Select your site carefully, as we’ve outlined above. A gentle slope, away from rain puddles, pools, rivers or other conglomerations of water should do nicely. Avoid flat ground and steep slopes, and always place the entrance to the tent facing downhill.
- Ideally, you’d also choose a pitching spot where tarp can be utilised as an additional “roof” over your tent, in amongst trees or jutting rock formations. Try to locate such a spot on elevated ground with a slight slope, and use ropes and cords inserted into the metal eyelets of the tarp to hang up the sheet.
- Once the tarp is overhead, you now have a sheltered spot from where to pitch more comfortably. If there are no rocks or trees to hang your tarp to, having a good grasp of the following steps beforehand will help you to speed nimbly throughout. When setting up your tent, the major priority is to keep the inside dry, if not the entire structure. The tent package should be stored somewhere within easy reach, and take good care to not drop any accessories or other items onto the wet ground when pulling the tent out. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to join up the poles and slide through the fabric eyelets, quickly forming your tent’s skeletal framework. Before the tent is fully erected, prepare the rainfly so that you can immediately cover the top with it as soon as it’s up.
- Once the tent is pitched, you should get inside without dampening the groundsheet or your dry gear. Work strategically and fill any empty water containers before you get in the first time, so you don’t have to go out again and make a mess. Leave any wet waterproof gear or otherwise at the entrance to the tent, and never mix wet and dry kit. The trick is to take off your wet clothing and accessories and sneak into the tent to put on warm, dry substitutes. Then you can sit inside the tent with your feet out and remove your footwear and any wet socks, leaving them out to dry in the porch.
- Once inside, you’ll have to mind the condensation. To minimise droplets forming on the inside walls of your tent, make use of the vents, if there are any. If not, try to ventilate the tent every now and then by unzipping the entrance and letting in a bout of air to circulate, without inviting the rain in. Even with good ventilation features and practices, condensation can still present a problem when it’s very damp. Use an absorbent cotton cloth to wipe the tent’s interior surface if this happens.
- When exiting shelter in your tent and going out into the rain, put your wet waterproof gear on again so there’s no waste of dry gear.
- Finally, if it’s still raining when you’re set to leave, pack everything into plastic bags in your backpack before starting to dismantle your tent. As before, take care to leave the inside of the tent dry and pack the wet side of the tent away from the dry one. And pop the rainfly in a separate plastic bag too while you’re at it!
Words: Ross McNeilage