Last updated: January 16, 2017 at 8:52 am
Camping in the rain is tricky. We’re all privy to the process of hounding the weather forecasts to find a spot of good weekend weather to head out for that camping trip in the wilderness, but in the UK – and especially in winter – it can be rather difficult to stumble upon such luck. Waiting for those golden sunny spells might mean you’ll be postponing your camping trip indefinitely, and miss your chance to enjoy nature altogether. Instead, with proper care and thought, you can approach this challenge differently, and expertly equip yourself to tackle it head on by camping in the rain.
We’ve marshalled all our best pointers into this list of tips for camping in the rain, so you don’t have to wait endlessly for that impossibly lucky weather to go camping, while also making sure you still having a pleasing experience out in the storm-prone British landscapes.
Planning and Preparation are Vital
You’ve heard this from us probably more times than we can count but planning and preparation are key to shifting your chances of success from those of inviting a mess.
Study the Weather Forecasts
The most obvious and straightforward action in this arsenal of advance thought is to check the weather forecast thoroughly in the days leading up to your proposed camping trip. Keep tabs on the local forecast – preferably choose one that is as specialised as possible – because this can change as the day of your trip inches closer.
Note the air temperature expected, for both day and night, as well as how heavy or severe the precipitation is meant to be. This will give you a rough idea of how to prepare, although you should always plan for the worst case scenario to be on the safe side.
If the weatherman issues a warning for extreme or dangerous weather, be sure to heed the met office’s advice and postpone your camping trip for when conditions are less hostile. Flood prospects are not a good way to start your camping trip! This also applies if you have young kids on tow, as a family camping trip in heavy rain is a tough feat to pull off, and the kids are bound to get irritable or anxious in such conditions.
Verify your Tent is Up to Scratch
When camping in the rain, not any other tent will do. If you’re using your regular, multi-purpose tent, check that it can handle a bout of rain like the one forecast. The floor of the tent should be made from a waterproof nylon material, which stands up excellently to the rain and water underneath. Most modern tents are made in a ‘tub’ style, which means that the floor fabric comes up the wall several inches and seams are as scarce as possible, thus making the floor a completely watertight structure.
Double-wall tents are generally the way to go when camping in the rain, as these have a better track record in keeping the rain out due to their rainfly. They are also adept at keeping condensation to a minimum, which is handy when you’re under a pelting shower for long stretches of time. Adequately named, a rainfly is an extra sheet of waterproof fabric that goes over the tent structure as a second skin.
Furthermore, tents with vestibules will fare better in the rain, ensuring you have a dry entryway which increases the distance and separation between the dry interior of the tent and the wet environment outside. Vestibules – especially if spacious – can be used as a space to store bikes, shoes, wet gear and other belongings, as well as to cook in if it’s too wet outside. In the latter case, however, caution must be taken as open fires and stoves used in vestibules are still considered a hazard, and there’s still a significant risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or the tent catching fire.
Remember that lightweight shells repel water more effectively by default, and have the added advantage of maintaining their light weight even if water seeps through them, unlike heavyweight shells.
Sewn-in groundsheets will go a long way in boosting the tent’s waterproof protection, so try to select a tent that has one. This will mean you have a double layer to sleep on at night under the pouring rain without any extra effort whatsoever.
Since your tent will be shut tight most of the time to keep out the rain and resulting moisture, you should make sure your tent has in-built vents. These will keep air flowing into the tent, decreasing the risk of condensation forming inside. Avoid touching the walls of the tent when they’re wet, as water will seep through them.
We appreciate that this not a possibility for many and can present further difficulties, but if the opportunity arises and you can take two tents along instead of one, go for it. For the privileged few who can afford to head out into the rain equipped with two tents, you’ll always have a splendid back-up plan should things get seriously waterlogged.
For the rest of us mere mortal campers, it should suffice to check that the tent does not have any holes or tears – especially at the seams – which would spell disaster in heavy rain. The goal here is to make sure that the tent can withstand prolonged rainfall, so check the waterproof rating and invest in a tent with a solid 1,500mm of hydrostatic head or more if you’re getting a new one.
It’s also wise to reproof your tent immediately before camping in the rain if you’ve owned it for a while and it hasn’t recently been reproofed. Use a spray-on waterproofer to coat the rainfly with reproofing agent and allow to dry completely before use.
Timing is of the Essence
When rain is forecast for your camping, at best try to co-ordinate the time you are likely to pitch your tent prior to the start of the rainfall. This will make a huge difference, so if possible, always arrive enough in advance to set up camp in dry conditions.
If the rain is constant and not letting up, pitch your tent as early as possible to have a dry shelter available immediately and avoid everything becoming soaking wet before your tent is even up. It’s essential that the inside of your tent and gear remain dry in the process, as it will be very difficult to dry these throughout a downpour.
Act swiftly and effectively to erect the different components, and never try to pitch a new tent out of its packaging before having tested it at home. The last thing you need is to figure out pitching a new tent from scratch, reading the manual instructions under the rain – or worse yet, to discover that the tent has a manufacturing fault.
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 exercise common sense. During and after heavy rainfall, water will collect at the bottom of hills and seep into valleys and crevices, forming pools and puddles.
Look for a site that’s way above ground level and well away from rivers, streams and pools that are bound to flood and overflow. If you spot an area that’s gathering water fast or looks like it was flooded in the past, strictly avoid it. Also, steer clear of hollows and gullies as these will also be high water retention areas.
Pitching your tent on a gentle upwards slope is ideal, with the entrance always looking down towards the bottom of the slope. Keep gravity at the centre of your strategic thinking, so as to avoid having water accumulate in your tent’s entryway or beneath the groundsheet.
The top of knolls or hillocks is a smart location to pitch your tent, as rainwater will drain away from these areas. Don’t pitch your tent on steep slopes or completely flat ground – these two extremes should be avoided. Your tent risks getting carried away with the flow of rainwater on steep slopes, and flat ground will still attract masses of water. Aim for a good middle ground – a softly sloped incline with the entrance to the tent facing downhill.
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, paper money, electronic devices, food and other perishables, and wrap them up tightly in impermeable 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, cheap and easy to obtain.
Never place items that have gotten wet, including gear, with dry ones, as the dampness will affect both.
Stuff 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 cohort 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.
Plastic bags are the cheapest, most versatile and compact waterproof tool out there, so take advantage of it. You can get them from any shop that sells anything under the sun for next to nothing and they pack away brilliantly, taking up almost no space at all. Use them to stow away essential items that absolutely must stay dry, such as gear, extra clothing, bedding, books etc.
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.
Newspaper can be used as a drying mechanism for stuff that still manages to get wet despite your best efforts. Fill any damp shoes or socks with newspaper stuffing to speed up the drying process and have your dry items back faster.
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.
Naturally, if it’s raining heavily, you’ll be less inclined to voyage outside for very long during your trip, so it’s a good idea to stock up on alternative entertainment supplies to keep you busy and satisfied if you decide to stick to your camping site. Bring along books, magazines, portable DVD players and chargers, board games, a deck of cards, music players and whatever else you and your comrades will enjoy engaging in throughout the trip.
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 and Remain Dry 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. Another hint is to erect the tarp at an angle that makes the rainwater trickle further away from the tent. Anything from a 15-30˚ tilt should work fine and prevent the tarp from collecting water on the surface and collapsing.
- 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. If it’s just a short trip outside to answer nature’s call, don’t bother wearing your wet socks again; simply slip your feet into your walking boots. While you’re outside, you can make it a point to check that the guy ropes are still taut and the pegs firmly rooted to the ground. Tighten the guy lines and stomp down on pegs to maintain the structure of your tent fully resistant to the pelting rain.
- 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 try and pack the wet side of the tent away from the dry one, preferably in an exterior compartment. The rainfly should go in a separate plastic bag too.