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How to Camp in the Rain Like a Pro

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: December 3, 2017
How to Camp in the Rain Like a Pro

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Spending time in the great outdoors is one of life’s greatest, purest, and most accessible pleasures. Part of the fun is that anything can happen when you’re roughing it in Mother Nature, from dancing birds to magnificent shooting stars. Of course, the other side of that coin is that nature doesn’t always cooperate when it comes to providing the sunny weather that outdoor enthusiasts typically hope for.

But a little rain – or even a torrential downpour –shouldn’t be enough to ruin your good time camping. With a little preparation and a few tricks, you can stay dry and enjoy your time in the woods, be it in rain or in shine. Take stock of these tips and preps, and you’ll be ready for (almost) whatever wild weather nature can throw at you.

Proper Rain Gear: A Camper’s First & Last Defense

If you aren’t already packing rain-friendly clothes and gear for camping trips regardless of the weather report, it’s time to go back to the fundamentals. Here are a few crucial items you should bring even if the experts are saying there’s no chance of showers:

  • Rain Gear: Ideally this is some kind of hooded waterproof shell or a rain jacket, but I’ve seen plastic ponchos do the trick as well. Eventually, however, even casual campers and preppers should invest in a proper rain jacket.
  • Boots: Choose boots with good tread that are rugged and waterproof. If you have a hike of more than a half-mile or so to your campsite, make sure the boots you wear are broken in beforehand or you might end up with a miserable set of blisters.
  • Wool & Synthetic Clothes: Pack wool tops, wool long johns, wool socks, etc. Wool can keep you warm even when wet, whereas when cotton gets wet, it basically starts a countdown to hypothermia. You can also wear technical outdoor clothes made with synthetic fibers. What matters most is that you avoid cotton at all costs. Also note that goose down loses much of its insulation ability after getting wet, so never allow your down jackets to get soaked.
  • Tarps: These are for the ground and to hang above your campsite – one will help keep your tents and campsite drier from the wet earth, and another can be used as additional shelter. Don’t forget bungees or rope to hang the tarp up.
  • Plastic bags: Use high-grade contractor bags or waterproof bags specially designed for camping or boating. Large freezer bags also work well. These can keep your dry stuff dry while also giving you a way to separate anything that has gotten wet. They can also be used to cover or line your packs and other gear.
  • Pack Towels: Super-absorbent camping towels are also extremely light and compact. They’re critical for getting yourself and your gear dry once camp is set up.
  • Clothesline: You should take plenty of cordage with you when you go camping regardless, but a clothesline will give you a better hope of being able to dry out your clothes. Hang it under tarps so you have a “drying area” out of the rain.
  • Rainproof Fire-Starting Material: Make sure to bring rain-resistant ways to start a fire. This includes dry tinder and waterproof matches, lighters, or a flint and steel. If you can’t collect wood because it’s soaked, you may have to bring some in—or forego a campfire until the rain stops.

Starting even a small fire beneath a tarp is ill-advised, as an errant spark or ember could easily burn holes—or worse—through the plastic. Cooking food on a camp stove beneath a tarp is perfectly safe, since the flame is so small and controlled, so expect to be cooking this way rather than over an open fire.

As far as the very temping idea to “quick dry” clothes above the fire, I also strongly advise against it. Technical outdoor clothing is often made of material that shouldn’t be put anywhere near an open flame, and even for textiles such as wool, it’s not very effective and too easy to damage the clothing.

Location, Location, Location: Picking Your Campsite

Whether it’s rainy or dry, choosing a good campsite follows the same rules…it just so happens that some of them are even more important in wet weather. You want to find a flat area that isn’t at the bottom of a slope or dip in the ground, as water is more likely to build up at such sites. Try to set up at a high elevation, and avoid soft ground that will absorb lots of rain. Don’t set up near lakes, rivers, streams, or other water sources that can flood into your site.

You’ll also need enough tree cover to set up your tarp. How dense you need the trees to be just depends on the size and shape of the tarps you bring, so if you don’t have a site pre-planned, keep your eyes peeled. When rain’s pouring down, you want to be able to set up as quickly as possible.

One very important note is that you want to set up your tarp between trees that are either small or extremely healthy, with no dying or weakened branches. In a bad downpour, especially one accompanied by high winds, falling branches or entire trees could put you in extreme danger.

Once you’ve found as rain-friendly a site as possible, try to divide labor to get everything set up fast. Ideally, tents and tarps can be pitched simultaneously. If you have to pick one to do first, pitch your tents, as they play a more critical role in escaping the wet weather.

If you have tarps or ground cloths to go beneath the floor of each tent, don’t forget to lay them down before you pitch your tents on top of them. It seems obvious, and it usually is. But when you’re rushing to get set up in a hard rainstorm, half-blinded by sheets of rain, it’s surprisingly easy to forget the basics!

When you hang your tarp, try to slant it slightly away from your campsite and downhill so that instead of pooling up, water will be whisked off and away from your campsite.

Once your tent is set up, always keep wet shoes, clothes, and gear outside. Use those plastic bags to prevent things from getting soaked, and never enter the tent soaking wet. Once you muck up the inside of your tent, it becomes a huge hassle to get it dry and clean again while it’s still raining. And there are few things more miserable in the great outdoors than a wet, mucky tent.

If you have enough tarps and a way to set them up, pitching one above each tent makes it much easier to dry out soaked gear. Having a drier buffer zone around each tent can make all the difference in getting your things dry again and keeping them that way.

Even when it’s sunny, it’s still not a bad idea to add an extra tarp over each tent if you can. The powerful sun weakens tent fabric and other materials over time, so the less time your tent is exposed to its blazing rays, the better.

Returning to Civilization

Before packing to head home, segregate wet clothes so they don’t get packed in with dry ones. As soon as it stops raining where you live, set up your tent and lay out the fly so they can dry out completely. Never store tents wet, or you’ll guarantee an invasion of mildew and mold growth.

When you’re drying out your tent, also don’t leave it out in the strong sun for longer than it takes to dry—as I mentioned previously, over time, the sun’s rays break down the material.

I’ve had an absolute blast on camping trips where it rained most of the time — the key is being prepared and having the right attitude. Look at rainy camping as a challenge and adventure. With the right gear, you can still enjoy yourselves, and probably have a more interesting story to tell when you’re finally home again.

When it comes to being outdoors and enjoying nature, you make the sacrifice of giving up more control to the elements. But as long as you’re prepared for them, that is a beautiful thing.

Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!

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One Response to “How to Camp in the Rain Like a Pro”

  1. We’ve ‘tent camped’ numerous times when it was raining. I had a 14ft X 14ft tarp that I put up over the table and a 12ft X 12ft tarp that I put up over the tent. You would be surprised how well the fish bite in the rain as long as there is no thunder to drive them deep.

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