How to Waterproof a Tent

Rain is an unwanted guest at the best of times, but especially when camping. It can really put a damper on the mood, make it harder to cook food, and potentially ruin outdoor activities you were planning. Whilst rain is a nuisance for outdoor activities, it’s even worse if it finds a way into your tent. 

Waterproofing your tent will be sure to keep rain and snow at bay. So even though it could be wreaking havoc outside, inside you’ll be safe and dry within your tent. 

A waterproof tent will also keep your items safe from water damage, along with your tent, so it’s important to also carry out routine checks to see if there is a chance for water to find its way inside. A waterlogged tent can be extremely uncomfortable to sleep in, sit in or get dressed in. No matter how long you spend in your tent whilst camping, nobody wants a wet sleeping bag!

Waterproofing a tent can be more complicated than anticipated, and there are a lot of ways to waterproof a tent depending on the extent of the damage. These include sewing patches, using sealing solution or just being more careful where you camp.

How to Check if you need to Waterproof your Tent

As with any equipment, tents will age varying on how often they’re used, how they’re stored and based on the quality of the material. A new tent that’s been used once in a dry desert isn’t as likely to need to undergo any repairs or waterproofing as a tent that’s seen its fair share of festivals over the years and has been crumpled up and thrown into the garage.  Using your intuition is key at this stage, as you’ll know from experience what the quality of your tent is like and if it needs to be patched up. 

It’s advised, regardless, to practice before going on a trip by putting the tent up on the lawn or in the house to give it a checkover. In storage, moths or other pests could have gotten to it and nibbled holes in it, or damage may have occurred some other way. 

When checking over your tent, there are a couple main areas to be wary of.

  • The rain fly
  • The seams 
  • The fabric

The rain fly is the flap normally located on the top of the tent. Both the rain fly and the seams are usually under a lot of pressure when the tent is assembled, as they are being pulled by the fabric and so are more likely to rip. If no obvious rips or tears are apparent, then it’s time to test how waterproof the tent is in a more practical method. 

Make sure the tent is assembled in the garden on a sunny day. The sunnier, the better, as it can dry out quicker if there are any leaks. Then, with a hose, begin spraying a mist of water all over the tent and around it. Ideally, have someone else sit inside the tent as it’s being sprayed so they can make note of if and where any leaks from inside may be coming from. 

If there are leaks identified from this method, it becomes a case of figuring out how they can be patched or repaired, or whether it’s better to invest in another tent.

Waterproofing a New Tent

It’s a good idea to waterproof a new tent as well. Whilst new tents are usually considered to be the best for camping as they haven’t suffered any wear and tear, they’re still vulnerable to the elements. It’s a good idea to waterproof a new tent as it is a preventative measure which can help it last even longer than expected. 

1. How to Patch a Tent

Once a leak in a tent has been identified, there are a number of options that can be used to patch it. Some of these options are quick and temporary, and some offer a more permanent solution to the problem. 

The first thing to do is consider how much of the tent needs patching. If it’s one small rip, or 20 small rips, then there are different ways of going about patching your tent. There comes a point when it’s no longer worth patching and repatching a tent, and eventually it’s worth just investing in another one. If the cost to repair or re-patch a tent exceeds what you originally paid for the tent, then it might be worth just buying a new one – especially if it’s used fairly frequently. 

2. Duct Tape

Duct tape is the fastest and easiest way to temporarily patch a hole in your tent, and especially if you’re already out camping. Duct tape is a staple of any camping gear kit, and its multiple uses come in handy, even when you least expect it to. One downside of using duct tape is that it is only a temporary solution, and might not even last for the whole camping holiday. As it relies on sticky tape to stay put, the exposure to any liquid runs the risk of making it less effective. Duct tape, when exposed to water over an extended period of time, will eventually begin to fail. 

3. Other Repair Tape

Other brands of repair tape will do the same job, and some will out-perform duct tape depending on what they’re made for. The only issue with this method is that it requires carrying an additional roll of repair tape, just for the off-chance that your tent springs a leak. One of the downsides of this is that it’s another item to carry around, which may not even be deemed necessary to have. Even though it’s only a small roll of material, items begin to stack up when camping, and minimalism is usually sought after when all these materials have to be carried to and from the site. This method is also only temporary and should be used when you’re already out camping or whether you intend on patching the tear correctly or replacing the tent in the future.

4. Seam Sealer

Seam sealers are a solution that are designed to keep the seams of your tent watertight by stopping the water from passing through them. A seam sealer should be applied before the trip, as it needs to dry completely before being considered effective. Whilst a seam sealer probably won’t help with already established tears and wear, it is a useful preventative measure which can clog up any small but pesky holes along your tent’s seams. 

To use a seam sealer you need the seam sealer itself, along with rubbing alcohol and a rag to help with application. Ensure that the seam sealer you are using is the correct kind for the type of tent you have, as different tent materials require different seam sealers in order for them to be as effective as possible. 

Once you have your sealer, begin inspecting the seams of your tent. You’re mainly looking for areas which have started to fall apart or crumble, as these are areas in which water can become trapped or can enter the tent. If an area has been identified, peel off any excess flaking, clean the area with rubbing alcohol and the rag, and then apply the sealer in and around the troublesome area. It’s important to coat both sides of the seams when using a seam sealer for the most effective results. If you’re finding that a lot of areas require the attention of a seam sealer, then begin to seal all seams, as even the ones that look okay will probably soon begin to fail as well. This process can take a while and is best completed before going on your trip. 

5. Sewing

Sewing repairs are best done when at home and there are a wealth of materials available to successfully patch the tear. This method will last longer than the aforementioned techniques, but still isn’t an entirely permanent option. 

Whilst this is the ideal way of patching up a tent, it’s also possible to sew tears without using additional fabric, depending on the size and shape of the tear. A needle and thread are useful to carry within your camping equipment as you’ll never know when you’ll need to use them. They’re a versatile piece of kit and have many applications. 

  • If you’re already outdoors and camping. but you don’t have any additional material you can use to sew onto your tent as a patch, then attempt to fold the tear over itself, making sure one side of the tear is over the other.
  • Begin to sew along the seam you’ve just made, ensuring the fabric isn’t too tight but too loose either. Remember that the fabric is usually stretched a substantial amount when the tent is assembled, and you don’t want to sew something so tightly that the rip will just spring back open again. 
  • To keep the stitching in place, layer some seam sealer over it and wait for it to dry before applying duct tape over as an additional barrier. If you have no seam sealer available, skip that step and just tape over the stitching, being liberal with the amount of tape. 

It’s also possible to use scrap fabric to patch a tear in a tent. This method is a little bit easier than the latter, as you don’t need to be as cautious about your sewing and how much tension will be produced once the tent is reassembled. By using a patch of scrap fabric, you can ensure that you’re not making any changes to the size or shape of the damaged area of the tent. The follow-up is still the same, however, as you should add a sealant around the edges of the patch and allow for those to dry before applying duct tape over it, just for extra protection. 

Storing your Tent Properly

Whilst this is a preventative measure, storing a tent properly will result in less damage to the exterior and interior. A lot of wear and tear can be made up from problematic storage practices. A tent should be stored somewhere dry and should be put away when it’s as dry as possible to avoid the potential for mould or mildew forming.  Always be sure to double or triple check guide ropes or pegs, as they can be deceptive. Especially guide ropes, as their density can mean they take longer to dry. 

To be extra cautious, store your tent with mothballs in case any critters feel like having some as a snack. Mall holes made by moths are especially annoying when trying to identify, and nothing’s worse than having a tiny leak that you can’t find the source of. 

As mentioned before, checking your tent before going away also helps minimise any risks, and letting it air out beforehand can ensure you’re going to be setting up a fresh, safe tent.

Don’t be Fooled by Condensation

Condensation has the capability of forming inside the tent when you’re camping. This moisture builds up with the assistance of body heat and breathing. You’re more likely to see condensation on the inside of your tent in the morning, as you’ve spent all night asleep in the tent. If it’s rainy outside and you’ve retreated into your tent for extended periods of time, you’re more likely to see condensation appear more frequently. Even though finding vaporous water inside your tent during a storm may seem like your tent has sprung a leak, there’s a chance it could just be condensation. Remember that condensation will usually be spread evenly throughout the interior of your tent, whilst a leak will usually be congregated in one area, or will have a higher density in one area than the rest of the tent. 

Best Ways to Waterproof a Tent

Waterproofing a tent can be used as a preventative measure to make your tent last longer and prepare for any potential downpours which may occur whilst you’re camping. 

Waterproofing a tent can help ease your own mind before embarking on a camping trip, as you needn’t worry about the weather as much as you would if your tent wasn’t prepared for whatever the weather might throw at it. 

Think about Location

When setting up your tent, the location can determine a lot of variables. Somewhere with coverage will give your tent that extra bit of shelter from the rain, such as under a (secure) ledge or under trees. 

Dry ground might be a bit of extra effort to get the pegs securely hammered in, but it’s a good sign that your camping area is well covered. Thinking about location is useful in a variety of different ways as it is also an easy way to keep your tent warm without electricity, or vice versa.

Think about the Time of Year and Weather Conditions

Whilst thinking about the time of year and weather conditions you’ll be camping in don’t help waterproof your tent, it will help you decide what precautions can be taken to ensure it remains safe and dry during your trip. If you’re planning on camping at a particularly rainy time of year, it might be worth the extra baggage to carry some extra supplies such as seam sealer and repair tape just in case. On the other hand, if there is no rain forecast, you can remain cautiously optimistic and only pack the essentials, such as duct tape. 

Groundsheet and Tarp

The tarp and groundsheet you use and how you use it can have a big impact on how well your tent resists the rain and its aftermath. 

One thing to remember with the groundsheet is to ensure it is roughly the same size as the base of the tent. The groundsheet being bigger than the tent can cause issues, as it can easily trap rain or snow and pool it in the middle underneath the tent. Whilst not an immediate issue, if there’s a hole in the tent’s flooring, it can begin to leak into the tent. Or, if the tent’s usage is prolonged, the stagnant water can begin to deteriorate the tent’s flooring. 

Tarpaulin is useful when camping for a variety of reasons. It can be used to insulate a tent thus keeping it warm. It can also help keep a tent cool when camping if used as a shelter. It can also be erected at the front of the tent to provide shelter from the rain or sun, or it can be used over the tent to act as another protective layer. 

Water Repellent

Water repellent is a spray-based substance which is used to stop water from staying on a surface. Hydrophobic materials have become much more popular over the past few years, as the availability of them has increased and the effectiveness of them has been proven. Hydrophobic substances cause water that makes contact with them to roll off effortlessly. Shoes are popular for waterproofing with hydrophobic spray, as it prolongs their life and prevents potential water damage. As a result, it makes sense to use hydrophobic spray on a tent to protect it from the weather. 

Ensuring that the tent is clean and dry beforehand, it can be slowly coated in the water repellent either using the spray, or a sponge. To test whether this method has worked, spray the tent with a hose. The water should react by separating into small balls and rolling off effortlessly.

How to Set up a Tent in the Rain

Waterproofing your tent is all well and good, but what happens if you arrive at the campsite and it’s already raining? Luckily there are ways to ensure your tent is as dry as possible, even when setting it up in the rain. 

  1. Use a gazebo to make a covering – Whilst this may not be the most practical idea, some people do take gazebos when camping. Setting a gazebo up first can create a shelter and a dry area where you can unpack and erect your tent without getting rain caught inside. This depends entirely on the size of the gazebo compared to the tent, however. 
  2. Use a Tarp to make a covering – This uses the same logic as the previous point, but rather than setting up a gazebo for shelter, fastening a tarp across trees to create a makeshift shelter can make the conditions a lot drier and easier to put the tent up in.
  3. Use a Sponge or Flannel – This isn’t a preventative measure, but using a sponge or flannel can easily remove any rainwater which may have impeded the insides of your tent whilst it was being assembled in the rain. They are lightweight, effective and can be left outside to dry out when the rain has stopped. Making sure that the interior of the tent is dry before putting your equipment inside is important and keeps the interior free from moisture and any potential damage that can be caused by it. 

Final Thoughts

Waterproofing your tent is a useful way to prepare before setting off on a camping trip. With the unpredictability of weather in mind, you can learn to prepare better for camping trips and ensure that your equipment lasts longer and isn’t weathered as easily. As a result, it can save you money and hassle in the long run. The most effective way to waterproof a tent is to use a combination of hydrophobic spray and using a covering to minimise the amount of rain reaching it. 

Related Articles

How to Clean a Tent

Camping on a Budget

How to Heat a Tent Without Electricity

Similar Posts