How many of you are familiar with the children’s song “Rain, Rain Go Away”? When you’re camping, that’s probably the tune you find yourself singing as you wait for the skies to clear and the rain to stop. Unfortunately, the weather can be fickle.
As much as we’d like all of our camping trips to be sunshine and rainbows (with the rain far away from us, of course), that’s just not how it works. Sooner or later, you’ll get hit with bad weather, and hopefully you know what to do when it comes.
If you don’t, though, we’ve compiled some of our favorite rainy camping hacks that you can use the next time you’re hit with gloomy skies and pouring rain. So without further ado, let’s get this list started:
18 Hacks for Camping in the Rain
1. Choose the High Ground
As you probably know, water follows the path of least resistance. That means that any rainwater that hits the ground at a higher elevation will likely find its way down to a lower elevation, where it will accumulate over time.
Long story short, don’t make camp at these low points, unless you want a flooded tent. I’m not saying you have to find the tallest hill around, but make sure you’ve got at least some elevation on your side.
2. Be Wary of Trees
Strong wind gusts often go hand in hand with rain showers. If there are any trees around, they’ll be taking the brunt of this air movement, and sometimes they just can’t hang on any longer. Branches may break free, or the entire tree itself can topple, if the ground is saturated enough. And I can say with certainty that you don’t want to find yourself in the line of fire!
Likewise, leaves have a way of hanging onto rainwater long after the storm has passed. If you’ve decided to make camp under a tree, you’ll have this excess water dripping on you for the rest of the day. It can make for a miserable camping experience, and it might convince you to find a different location anyway.
3. Bring Layers
Rainy weather means colder weather, so you’ll want to pack plenty of layers to stay cozy and dry. To quickly run you through how the layering system works, here’s a brief overview:
Base layer: This is the layer touching your skin. What you want to have is something that can wick moisture away from your body, keeping you from getting soaked in sweat.
Mid layer: This is where all the insulation happens. As you generate heat, the mid layer will make sure it doesn’t make a quick escape. Something like a fleece would be a good option here.
Outer layer: This is what keeps the rain from passing through. If possible, consider getting something that’s still breathable, so that the moisture you generate has a way to escape. As your base layer wicks your sweat away, that water has to go somewhere. And if it can’t pass through your outer shell, it will accumulate on your mid layer, base layer, and you.
4. Cotton Kills
With all that being said about layering, I do have a caveat that you should keep in mind. Avoid cotton!
Cotton loses its insulation abilities when wet, making it useless once it gets saturated with your sweat. If you get hit with cold air during this time, you’ll continue to lose body heat, possibly leading to disorientation, hypothermia, and even death. Remember, temperatures don’t need to be below freezing in order for hypothermia to strike.
Acceptable replacements for cotton are wool and synthetics. Avoid using materials with cotton in them as well, such as denim, corduroy, and flannel, as well as cotton blends. Even non-cotton materials, like rayon, viscose, tencel, modal, and lyocell, can be dangerous. They’re made from cellulose fiber, and actually absorb water even faster than cotton, all while losing their insulation capabilities in the process.
5. Make Use of a Bivy Bag
Bivys are shelters all on their own, but when it’s raining, they make a nice safety blanket for your sleeping arrangement. Hopefully the water won’t soak through your tent floor or rainfly, but if it does, a bivy will help your sleeping bag stay dry. Just set it up inside the tent and slip your sleeping bag inside. Not only is it an added layer of protection against the rain, but it also keeps you better insulated against the colder temperatures that come with storms.
6. Bring Gaiters
You’ve got a rain jacket to cover your top half, but what about your legs and feet? When you’re splashing through puddles, the last thing you want to be wearing is a pair of mesh tennis shoes.
Some gaiters and waterproof pants can solve this problem, and they’re worth adding to your arsenal, just in case you find yourself in a heavy downpour. Even after the rain has stopped, wet leaves and morning dew can soak your pants through. Gaiters can save the day by keeping your legs and feet dry.
7. Don’t Forget Hand Warmers
Hand warmers can be used on more than just your hands. On those cold, rainy mornings, just pop one in each of your boots to heat them up before you put them on for the day. You could also shove a couple inside your shirt and pants to give them that “fresh out of the dryer” feel. When the air inside your tent is cold, the last thing you’ll want to do is put on cold clothes!
8. Wear Bright Colors
Oftentimes, you don’t have the luxury or desire to stay inside your tent as you wait for the storm to pass. Since rain creates an environment of limited visibility, it’s important to wear bright colors (especially orange) while you’re walking around.
For example, there might be hunters in the area that run the risk of hitting you if they can’t tell what you are. Or perhaps you have energetic children who have a tendency to run off, making it hard to find them if they aren’t wearing something flashy. Either way, wearing bright colors in rainy weather is a helpful way to stay safe by letting everyone else know where you are.
9. Create an Outdoor Living Space
It might be raining, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being outside! Why hole yourself up inside your tent for hours on end when you can create a sheltered, outdoor living space?
String up a tarp or two overhead and lay one underneath you as well. If you’ve got some camping chairs, this would be a great time to pull them out to help you enjoy a nice meal, conversation, and perhaps a few drinks. I’d also suggest making use of our next rainy camping hack, which is to set up some ambient lighting. With all these things put together, you’ll forget about the dreariness surrounding you, and may come to enjoy those days of drizzle.
10. Always Bring Lighting
Combat the gloomy weather with a bit of outdoor lighting. A set of LED string lights is a great way to illuminate the dreary atmosphere, as are candles that you can place inside of mason jars. And of course, there’s nothing like a reliable camping lantern and headlamp to give you some more light.
Always bring a few extra batteries to get you through your trip. Lithium batteries, in particular, tend to work well in colder temperatures. For a more extravagant lighting setup, you may even consider bringing something like a generator to provide power to all of your electronics.
11. Dry Your Wet Gear
When your clothes get soaked, it can be tempting to just ball them up and toss them in the corner before slipping into your sleeping bag. However, you’ll regret it in the morning, when you wake up to find that they’re still wet and smell like mildew!
If you’re planning on wearing that outfit again, you’re in for a damp and chilly day. Even if you brought a change of clothes, the wet mass that you wore yesterday still has to go somewhere. A plastic bag works well to keep it separated from the rest of your gear, but without a barrier like that, everything else in your pack is going to get damp as well. Consider bringing a clothesline that you can set up to dry your clothes on. You can string it between a couple of trees after the rain has stopped, or throw a tarp over it if the waterworks are still coming.
12. Consider a Backpack Rain Cover
Most backpacks resist water pretty well. But as you might have noticed, the key word there is “resist.” Given enough time and rain, even the toughest backpack will eventually begin to leak.
A good backpack rain cover will bump up your coverage from water resistant to waterproof. They’re like a tarp that goes over your pack, with an elastic trim that tightly hugs all of its corners. Fairly cheap and lightweight, they’re a worthy investment to make if you ever expect to find yourself in the middle of a rain shower.
13. Pack Lots of Plastic Bags
Plastic bags will become your new best friend in rainy weather. Both Ziploc and garbage bags are waterproof, which means you can store certain items in them to keep them dry. Or, if you have wet boots and clothes, you can shove them inside a garbage bag to prevent them from soaking your other belongings.
Garbage bags also work well for keeping your backpack dry. You can also shove firewood inside of one, keeping it in good shape for after the storm has passed when you want to make a fire to warm up.
Ziplocs are the perfect size for storing your fire-starting equipment, or any other gear that you don’t want to get wet. This could include food, medications, female products, or other important items that need to stay dry.
And the best part about plastic bags is that they’re cheap and lightweight. I’d suggest stocking up on them before you head out on your trip, so you’ll have more than enough to cover you through several days of rain.
14. Check the Weather Forecast
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s the simple things that are often easiest to overlook. A few days before you head out, check and see what the weather forecast looks like for when you’ll be camping. If it looks like there will be rain a couple of days you’ll be gone, it’s a good indication that you should start preparing for some of the hacks mentioned above. Stock up on plastic bags, get hand warmers, make sure you have a tarp and string to create an outdoor living space and a clothesline to dry your outfits.
At the same time, if it looks like it will be raining the entire time you’ll be gone, you may consider rescheduling the trip. Sometimes the best rainy camping hack is to just avoid the rain altogether!
15. Use a Tent Footprint
For those of you who don’t know, a footprint is a tarp that goes underneath your tent. It’s a multifunctional tool that’s used as a way to minimize abrasions on your tent floor, allowing you to get more life out of your shelter. But it also serves another purpose, acting as a barrier that water would have to pass through before it can seep into your tent from the ground.
If your tent came with a footprint already, you’re good to go. If not, many have the option to purchase them separately. However, you can make your own pretty easily without needing to spend the extra money on one that was tailored specifically for your tent. Just buy a waterproof tarp and cut it to the right size for your particular tent. Make sure the tent extends past the tarp by about an inch all the way around, so you don’t give water the opportunity to pool on top of it.
16. The Value of Newspaper
The New York Times might give you something to do when the rain keeps you from enjoying certain outdoor activities, but that’s not why it made this list. Newspaper is a handy piece of gear to have because it sucks up moisture better than almost anything else, especially if you’re looking for something that’s lightweight and inexpensive. Just shove it inside your damp boots overnight, and when you wake up in the morning, they’ll be good as new.
Additionally, newspaper is a great fire-starter. When tinder is scarce, or you just feel like burning something annoying, there’s nothing better to use than the news section of the paper.
17. Line Your Tent
If you have a rainfly and a footprint for you tent, you’re well prepared for whatever rainstorm comes your way. But why not take it one step further?
The floor of your shelter is a common place for water to seep through, especially if the ground beneath it becomes oversaturated. This is what your footprint protects against, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. To give it a little backup, consider lining the inside of your tent with another waterproof tarp. You can use something like the thick, plastic sheeting that construction workers use – just cut it to fit the size of your tent, leaving an extra 6 inches on all sides. Water may still seep through your tent floor, but it won’t make it through the lining, keeping you and your gear dry.
18. Don’t Forget the Games!
Of course, we can’t talk about rainy camping hacks without mentioning games. When you get trapped inside your tent all day due to bad weather, what else are you supposed to do?
Even though it might not have been what you were hoping for, sitting around a board game inside a tent with your family is still a great opportunity for bonding. Bring a deck of cards, a travel sized game of Apples to Apples, or whatever your family picks as their entertainment of choice. Even if it doesn’t end up raining, at least you were prepared.