Setting Up a Tent in the Rain? Here’s How to Do It

Camping is a great way to experience the beauty of nature. The sun will always be shining, the birds will always be chirping, and you’ll always have a great time…right?

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way we want them to, especially when it comes to the weather. Sometimes you might find yourself driving to your campsite, only to have it start raining cats and dogs once you’re almost there. Do you turn around? Wait it out?

No need to make tough choices like that anymore. Setting up a tent in the rain isn’t as bad as you might think, once you know the proper techniques to keep your gear dry.

Disclaimer: This article only discusses steps you can take to keep your gear dry while setting up camp, not the actual process for pitching your tent.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use your rainfly or a similar item to create a roof, providing a dry space for tent setup.
  • Choose a campsite wisely, preferably on the leeside of a windbreak, like a large rock.
  • Use waterproof shoes, gaiters, or trash bags to prevent water tracking into the tent.
  • Use a sponge to absorb excess moisture inside the tent during heavy rain.
  • Use a backpack rain cover to keep your gear dry during unexpected rain.
  • Consider waiting out the storm before attempting to pitch your tent.
  • Always check the weather forecast before camping to prepare for rain.

Set up a Tarp

man in black jacket holding up a blue tarp in a forest

I’d go so far as to say this is the best method you can use, if you have the ability to do so. What I mean by “set up a tarp” is that you should make use of your rainfly, or item similar to it, to create a roof. This will act as a sort of makeshift umbrella, giving you a dry space to set up the main body of your tent. When you’re done pitching the tent, you can simply drop the rainfly down on top of it, allowing it to continue sheltering your gear from the rain.

Of course, this method assumes that you have some way to keep the tarp suspended off the ground. Perhaps you’ve enlisted the help of your friends or family members to hold it up. Or maybe you’ve used the guylines to attach it to some nearby trees – if the guylines aren’t long enough, I suggest using paracord. Any of these methods would do the job well, but keep in mind that tying the tarp to nearby trees requires trees to be nearby. If you’re out in an open field, you’ll need the help of others to keep the tarp lifted, or use one of the other methods we’ve listed below.

Pick Your Location Wisely

black and white boulder

Where you decide to set up camp will significantly impact how wet you’ll get if it’s raining. Hanging out in a wide open location is a recipe for getting soaked, since there’s nothing around you to take the brunt of the storm. The best thing you can do is set up on the leeside of a windbreak, like a massive boulder, allowing it to take most of the beating while you stay relatively dry.

Additionally, remember to stay on high ground as much as possible. Flash floods can be dangerous for hikers and campers who aren’t prepared for the sudden surge of water that can come with rainfall. When possible find a good windbreak to shelter you from the rain, while staying out of ravines, and away from rivers that flood their banks.

Roll Out Your Rainfly Inside Your Tent

This one takes some prior planning, but can save you a lot of headache, especially if you know it will be raining when you arrive at your campsite! While you’re still at home, set up your tent and unroll the rainfly inside of it so that it completely covers your tent floor. Then, pack it back up again, leaving the rainfly where it was. When it comes time to pitch the tent out in the rain, water will still come through the mesh roof, but it will land on the rainfly inside instead of on the floor.

You’ll have to remove the rainfly once you’ve finished pitching your tent, which requires a bit of speed and precision. There will likely be puddles on top of the rainfly, so you’ll need to be careful not to spill any of these onto your sleeping area. Slide the tarp out, give it a good shake, and toss it over your tent where it’s supposed to be. The inside of your tent will still get a little wet, but it won’t be nearly as bad as it would have been without using this method! Having a good waterproof tent will also help a lot when doing things this way.

Check Your Feet

person wearing boots in the ocean

The water in your tent doesn’t always come directly from the sky – sometimes it’s tracked in by your shoes, socks, or feet! There’s nothing worse than trying to pitch your tent in the rain, just to have your feet get soaked in the process.

A good pair of gaiters or other waterproof shoes should find their way into your luggage, if you plan on camping when there’s a risk of rain. Duct taping some trash bags over your feet can also do the trick, and saves you money that might have otherwise gone toward a new pair of shoes. And during the summertime, there’s really no replacement for a good pair of sandals. Designed to get wet, this form of footwear doesn’t mind a bit of rain, and they typically dry off quickly.

Bring a Sponge

soapy sponge on a car

Generally speaking, it isn’t possible to keep the inside of your tent completely dry, even if you’re using one of the methods listed above. This is especially true if there’s a heavy downpour, instead of just a light sprinkle or mist. So how do you get the excess moisture off of the floor, so you can enjoy a dry and restful night of sleep?

This is where a sponge comes in really handy. Unlike paper towels, a sponge can constantly be reused until all of the water is taken care of. It’s light and portable too, making it an ideal option to slip in your bag to pull out when you need it. Just run it over the puddles on your tent floor until it’s all been soaked up, and wring it out over the ground outside.

Use a Backpack Rain Cover

man standing in the rain with backpack

Keeping your gear dry starts well before you even think about setting it up. If you’re trekking through the backcountry and get caught up in a rain storm, one of the worst things that can happen is for the water to start pooling up inside your pack.

Most backpacks are water resistant enough to withstand a light shower here and there. But if you find yourself in a heavy deluge, or just a drizzle that doesn’t seem to want to stop, you might notice that the moisture starts to seep through the material.

Backpack rain covers are a really easy (and fairly cheap) solution to this problem. Just pull one over your pack, and everything underneath it will stay completely dry. I’ve used mine in heavy downpours, freezing rain, and other extreme weather, and my rain jacket started to fail me before my backpack rain cover did! It’s well worth the added protection, especially given the unpredictable nature of the weather.

Wait it Out

raindrops falling on a puddle

When it’s raining cats and dogs, and you don’t feel confident about keeping the inside of your tent dry while setting it up, sometimes the best thing to do is wait. Rain doesn’t last forever, and oftentimes all you have to do is hang on 5 minutes for the precipitation to lighten up enough for you to get to work. It may not always be gone completely, but a few drops here and there are a lot more manageable than those times you feel like you’re in a monsoon.

For car campers, this might mean hanging out in your car until the sky lightens up again. If you’re backpacking in the middle of nowhere, finding a good form of natural shelter will do the trick. Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe and dry until you feel comfortable making camp. Just don’t wait too long! Setting up in the dark isn’t very fun either, especially if it’s still raining.

Check the Weather Forecast

lightning flashing in the night sky

Perhaps an obvious piece of advice, weather forecasts are great tools to use if you want to avoid getting wet. They’re usually pretty accurate up to a week after whatever day you check them on, giving you some sense of what you’ll be dealing with. Sometimes it’ll be clear skies, sometimes it’ll be rainy all day. It may even be rainy in the morning, but sunny in the afternoon, or vice versa. Checking the weather beforehand will give you the information you need to prepare accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Getting caught by an unexpected rain shower doesn’t have to mean the end of your camping trip before it’s even begun. Through the use of a few camping hacks, setting up a tent in the rain doesn’t have to be a chore anymore. Just keep in mind that many of these techniques will go much smoother if you practice them beforehand. Attempting to set up your rainfly as a makeshift umbrella for the first time will be a much more pleasant experience if you do it in your yard on a sunny day. But once you’ve got a system down, who knows…maybe you’ll even start to enjoy setting up camp in the rain!

Meet the Author!

By the age of 20, Spencer had already tackled some of the most famed mountain ranges in Europe, Asia, and North America. His mission is to help others accomplish their own outdoor-related goals, even within the time constraints of a 9-5 job and a busy life schedule.

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