A Little Rain Never Hurt! Camping When the Weather is Wet
My parents took my older brother and I camping a lot. It was something we all highly enjoyed. We hiked, swam, fished, explored, cooked over the open fire…all these really cool things kids liked to do before iPads and video games. I remember one summer my parents packed everything up one Friday evening and we headed out. I can’t recall where we went, but they found us a perfect shady spot to pitch the tent close to a pond. We were in an isolated area and couldn’t see any other campers. It was primitive, but my brother and I didn’t care.
My dad set us up with fishing poles. We walked down to the little pond and threw our lines out. It was quiet, peaceful, nice, but no fish were biting. Who knows if that little pond even had fish, but not catching anything made us restless. Mom decided to start an early dinner to keep us entertained and after our campfire S’mores, we climbed in the tent for a story before falling off to sleep.
It began to rain overnight… and rain… and rain. My parents kept saying it would let up, but it didn’t. There was just so much Go Fish, War and Memory we could play inside our four-man tent. I eventually got exasperated and insisted we leave and go to a hotel. It didn’t take much convincing for my parents to agree. We packed everything up, headed back into town and checked into a cheap hotel for the night—watching TV, warm and dry in a lumpy bed. My parents couldn’t disagree when I said, “See how nice this is!”
If you have ever done any bit of camping, at some point, you have had to sit out or sleep through the rain. You can choose to cut your losses and return home, cancel the trip altogether or hightail it to a hotel, or you can make the most of the rhythmic pitter-patter and chose to have a fantastic time despite the wet weather!
The following tips, tricks and hacks will help you make the most of a rainy camping trip.
If lightning, hail, damaging winds or tornados are a risk, it is safer to leave and seek proper shelter, or reschedule your trip if heavy rain or storms are in the forecast.
*Note: Most of these camping tips are for car campers. Hikers and backpackers can’t afford the extra weight most of these ideas suggest.
Before heading out on your first camping trip this season—do a gear check. Set up your tent, roll out your bedroll or sleeping bag, blow-up the air mattress, cook something on the camp stove and check for rips, holes, or anything else in case you need to replace or repair an essential piece of gear. Spray down your tent with the garden hose or sprinkler to check for leaks. Repair patches, re-waterproof it and seal any leaks with seam sealer. If you are purchasing a new tent, look for one that has a tub floor, is made of waterproof material and includes a rainfly.
Where to Pitch Your Tent and Setting Up
As soon as you arrive at camp, find the perfect, driest and safest spot for your tent. This is upstream, on higher ground and on a flat clearing near trees, but not directly under any trees. If you set your tent up directly under a tree, yes, you’ll be shaded, but water from the rain will continue to drip from the leaves onto your tent increasing the likelihood your tent could flood, as well as branches and limps might snap off and hurt you or damage your stuff.
Set a tarp up at a slope above the area where you are going to pitch your tent. A tarp will give you an extra layer or protection from the rain. Once you have the tarp up, quickly put up your tent. It helps if you have practiced setting up your tarp and tent beforehand.
Despite what we’ve all been told for ages, do not put a ground cover under your tent. Instead, put a tent liner inside the tent. A tarp underneath your tent just adds to the probability of rain pooling underneath and seeping through. If you insist on a ground tarp under your tent, it should be smaller than the footprint of the tent floor. Any that sticks out beyond the tent’s bottom can allow water to pool underneath and get inside your tent.
After setting up your tent, secure the rain fly over the tent, avoiding allowing it to touch. Stake it down tightly. Letting the rain fly touch the tent increases condensation inside the tent. This goes for gear you keep inside the tent. Keep backpacks and duffle bags away from the walls to prevent condensation build up.
How to Set Up a Tarp
Secure tarps or pop-up day shelters over common areas like the picnic table or beside the fire—but don’t cover the fire! —giving everyone a dry place to socialize and hang out. Make sure to angle your tarps so they can drain, and water can’t gather in the middle.
What you need:
You need a tarp with multiple tie-down options—loops, grommets or a mix of both. You will need at least six tie-down points for this setup. A diamond shape or traditional rectangle or square both work. When secured properly, a cheap plastic tarp will work just as well as a lightweight expensive camping-specific polyester tarp.
You will need seven pieces of rope. One long one for your ridgeline, four shorter ones to secure the sides of the tarp and two much smaller ropes for loops to attach your tarp to the ridgeline. Paracord is preferred.
Tip: Tying ropes to each corner beforehand makes setting up your tarp shelter much quicker.
Tent Stakes and Mallet
Four tent stakes secure the front and back of your tarp. If you don’t have extra tent stakes, you can secure the ends of the tarp to trees or poles.
Hiking or Tent Poles
Hiking or tent poles will work if there are no trees to attach your ridgeline.
- Tie the longest piece of rope, which is the ridgeline, to two parallel trees. If you aren’t a master of knots, you can just wrap the rope around the trunk of the tree quite a few times. Place your ridgeline high enough so that the tarp will not touch your tent.
- Throw your tarp over the ridgeline.
- Attach the tarp to the ridgeline by taking your two small ropes and tie them in a loop around each side of the ridgeline. Loop the rope through the grommets on the tarp.
- Place one stake facing out, away from the tarp slightly at an angle in the front.
- Take one corner of the tarp and extend it out in front. Stake it down using the attached rope.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 until every side of the tarp is staked down taut.
Set up of the A-frame-style tarp shelter shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Once you have all lines secured, you can adjust or tighten ropes as needed. Your tarp shelter/tarp shade needs to be angled so that water can drain. There should be no flat or center area where rain can gather. Use the same instructions to cover your dining and cooking area. Practicing setting up different tarp shelters at home on a sunny day will help you quickly create a dry haven at camp.
Rainy Day Camping Tips and Hacks
- Keep the next day’s clothes in a plastic bag in your sleeping bag to keep warm.
- Don’t wear cotton. If it is summer, wear synthetics or nylon and during the winter and cooler weather, wear wool.
- Hang a clothing line under one of the tarps to dry out clothes.
- Pack extra pairs of socks.
- Keep a towel handy in the tent and dry off before settling in.
- Don’t leave your camp equipment out exposed. If you must, cover it completely with garbage bags. Lanterns, fuel, camp stoves etc., can be ruined in the rain.
- Make hot chocolate to lift spirits. (Adding a shot of Bailey’s, whiskey or another adult beverage can’t hurt!)
- Do not immediately store your gear when you get home. Set up your tent and make sure everything has a chance to dry completely before storing.
- Pack food you don’t have to cook—sandwiches, jerky, chips, protein bars, nuts.
- Bring your own kindling from home.
- Keep your tent’s ventilation windows open.
- Forego the tent and take a hammock.
- Fire pit filled with water? Put down a layer of rocks and built your fire on top of them.
- If all else fails—hotel it in town for the free HBO and microwave popcorn!
What to Pack
- Paracord or rope
- Garbage bags
- Ziplock bags, dry boxes, or dry bags
- Chemical hand and foot warmers
- Extra socks
- Breathable, lightweight rain jacket
- Emergency poncho
- Waterproof boots
- Waterproof matches or windproof/waterproof lighter
- Games, a deck of cards
- Waterproof flashlight
- Extra towels
- Foods that don’t need to be cooked
The most important part of camping when the weather turns is to stay warm and dry to prevent hypothermia. Other than that, it’s just a little rain. With a good tent and a secure setup, and it’s not a torrential downpour, you’ll be just fine! Keep your spirits up, play a lively game of charades and bask in all that nature provides!