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Guide to Setting Up a Tent in the Rain (15 Tips)

Posted in: Outdoor Tips

I know how it feels. You're just about to leave for a weekend camping trip – and it just started raining. Should you cancel? Not so fast. In this post, you'll learn tips for setting up a tent in the rain.

Setting up a tent in the rain

15 Tips for Setting Up a Tent in the Rain

Does the thought of setting up a tent in the rain stop you from venturing outside on the weekends? If so, you came to the right place to learn how to solve your problem!

Setting up a tent in the rain can be anything from annoying to life-threatening. But it doesn’t have to be. This article will give you 15 strategies to hack campsite set up in wet weather.

How to put a tent up in the rain

More reading: How to put up a dome tent by yourself

Your Guide to Setting up a Tent in the Rain

1. Set up a lightweight tarp first

This is probably the most important tip of all. When camping in an area with trees, you can employ this strategy. After you set up the tarp, you can work to put up the tent in relatively dry conditions.

Without a tarp, there is a good chance you can use your rain fly. All you need is some paracord in case the guy lines aren’t long enough. This tip works best when there are two or more people. However, if you are a solo camper remember that practice makes perfect!

Bonus tip: When in the backcountry, you must still make a bear triad in the rain. Move the food prep area 100 yards away from the tent. Now you have your kitchen area and a shelter under which to make your fire or start your camp stove.

2. Purchase a tent with zip out panels

Consider getting a tent with zip-out panels. They are better when setting up a tent in the rain than tents that are made of all permeable mesh (without the rain fly). The panels keep the inside dry. Once the rain fly is attached, the panels can be removed. Voila! The inside of your tent is as dry as it was in your car!

The only downside to this strategy is that the panels add a bit of weight. That is fine for car campers, but backpackers may want to consider another method for setting up a tent in the rain.

More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Family Camping Tents

3. Pick a good spot

There are a few widely accepted rules when choosing a good spot for setting up a tent in the rain. It is important to select a spot carefully to do as much as possible to keep from getting wet.

The absolute best place to pitch your tent is the lee side of a natural windbreak, like an overhang or a boulder. This means finding shelter in the side away from the wind.

Furthermore, you will want to pick a location on higher ground than the area surrounding it. Avoid low-lying areas, depressions, canyon floors, and washes. Additionally, do not camp at the bottom of a slope or other area where water seems to gather. Rivers and streams can also be a no-go, because of the probability of flooding.

4. Wear appropriate footwear

Setting up a tent in the rain is uncomfortable. Setting up a tent in the rain with inappropriate footwear is downright unbearable! What is considered appropriate depends on the season as well as the situation. Waterproof hiking boots are acceptable in situations where some rain is expected.

If you expect a ton of rain at your desired camping location, you will want gaiters or waders. Or duct taped on trash bags. Even if there is no rain while you are out, the grass has the potential to be wet from previous storms. Rubber boots and waterproof hiking shoes are good for keeping this annoyance at bay.

In the summertime, or in warm climates, nothing but sandals is necessary! The best sandals for camping are specifically made for outdoor wear. They dry fast, grip wet surfaces, and fit comfortable enough for hiking.

Putting up a tent in the rain

More reading: How to stake a tent properly

6. Roll the fly inside of the tent

When expecting rain, this tip can help keep the inside of your tent dry. While still at home, open the tent and stretch out the rain fly inside. Although wetness will come through the mesh portions of the tent, the fly will cover the floor of the tent keeping it dry. Then, set up your tent as usual.

When it comes time to remove and reposition the rain fly, be careful – there could be small puddles of water. If you accidentally spill the water out onto where you sleep, you can clean it out and consider it practice!

7. Buy or make rain gear

Some campers are more concerned with getting wet themselves than getting their gear wet. If this sounds familiar, you will want to buy rain gear and carry it with you at all times. If you car camp, go ahead and leave it in your vehicle. On day hikes, keep your gear in the front pocket.

What about those outdoors people on a budget or interested in a quick fix? When push comes to shove, make your bodily rain protection out of garbage bags! These are great for makeshift waders and ponchos, because they are compact and weigh next to nothing.

8. Purchase a single wall tent

Setting up a tent in the rain is faster and easier with a single wall tent versus a double wall tent.

Do you know which kind of tent you have? If there rain fly and tent are separate, you have a double wall. These are the most difficult to set up in the rain, because you have to set up the most vulnerable part of the tent first. Additionally, they take more time and effort to put up. Single wall tents can be erected in one quick go. Why? There is no separate rain fly flapping in the wind while you try to hold it down!

9. Carry a waterproof bivvy

If worse comes to worse when setting up a tent in the rain, having a waterproof bivvy could save the day! In fact, many backcountry explorers always bring a bivvy. Some consider this item to be one of the essentials, because it can come in handy in a variety of situations.

Hopefully you never find yourself in need of a waterproof emergency bivvy, but what if you did? It is much better to be prepared than to count your regrets cold and wet. No one is infallible, so there are times when the inside of your shelter will get wet. When this happens, you simply set up your sack inside of the tent!

What is a bivvy? Bivvy sack is short for “bivouac sack.” It provides campers and climbers a lightweight emergency weather protection. They are waterproof, durable and reflect up to 90% of your body heat back to you.

10. Bring a sponge

When setting up a tent in the rain doesn’t go as planned, water removal is a necessity. If you bring a large sponge, you can sop the rain out.

A small shovel is always good to carry, and those in the backcountry should have one on hand already for restroom use. A shovel can be used to fill in any puddles or divert any newly formed streams across your campsite. Alternatively, you can use quick dry micro-towels to wipe out any water.

11. Wait out the deluge

Even during a heavy daylong downpour, there are times when the wall of water lessens or stops completely. If you simply wait you might avoid setting up a tent in the rain altogether. Some backcountry campers wait it out under a tree, squatting by their gear. However, others warn against taking shelter under trees in a storm due to lightning and falling limbs.

If you have a lightweight tarp, you can set that up and take refuge underneath. Make some hot chocolate or camping coffee and wait it out in style!

How to set up a tent in the rain

12. Get a rain cover for your backpack

All smart backpackers know once the stuff gets wet you are generally in trouble. If it is cold, there is the chance to freeze. In the mountains, a bluebird day can quickly give way to violent thunderstorms. That is why it is of utmost importance to get a rain cover for your backpack. Dry materials make setting up a tent in the rain easier.

Pro Tip: The absolute most important things to keep dry are clothing and your sleeping bag, so pack around them accordingly.

You might want to bring a small camping heater to dry things out and take the chill off.

13. Try to set up camp in the daylight

Even though this seems like a no-brainer, it can help when setting up a tent in the rain. Darkness is just another factor adding to an already thorny task.

While it is true that headlamps work hands-free wonders, it is also true that your line of vision is extremely reduced. It could be easy to miss the signs of a good camping spot. Even worse, you could end up in a dangerous area if you can’t decipher the landscape at night. Add the precipitation, and seeing even 2 feet in front of you can be next to impossible. Don’t forget, you won’t have the help of the moon or the stars if it’s raining.

14. Make a plan before you go

This will turn out to be one of the most helpful tips on the list. To be prepared, it is important to make a plan before you try setting up a tent in the rain. This includes deciding which of these tips and strategies you will utilize.

It also means deciding how to best pack your backpack or car to have easy access to everything you need, as you need it. Go over this blueprint with your camping partners until everyone feels comfortable executing.

These camping gadgets might come in handy on your wet camping trip.

15. Try out your plan before you go

Practice is required to be truly prepared for setting up a tent in the rain. There are plenty of things to do! Go ahead and try out your rain gear before you go out. Make sure you know how to put it on quickly and correctly.

If you are going the budget route, create your makeshift rain clothing until you can do it right the first time. Whether solo or with a partner, practice hanging the tarp. Make it a game, and see how quickly you can do! Additionally, pitch your tent in the method you decide and aim for speed and accuracy. When you think you are ready, set up some sprinklers and let the real trial runs begin!

If something happens to your tent, you can still setup camp with just your tarp. Here are three possible setups.

Watch on YouTube

Setting up a Tent in the Rain Doesn’t Have to be a Pain

Although setting up camp in the rain gets a bad rap, it doesn’t have to be an experience you dread.

With some strategy and preparation, anyone can learn how to painlessly make camp in wet weather. Whether it's pouring rain or only misting, these 15 tips and hacks will help make any outdoor set up dry and comfortable!


Your Turn

Have you setup your tent in the rain? What worked (or didn't work) for you? Join me in the comments!

Meet the Author

Dena Haines

Dena Haines is co-editor of GudGear - and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

1 comment… add one
  • Ryan Sep 17, 2018, 9:12 am

    I really love to see the detailed article on setting up a tent in the rain. I never thought someone will do that. Thanks Dena for sharing this.

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