The most important steps you can take to ensure your experience camping in the rain goes less than disastrously take place at home, long before you’ve uttered your first cuss word or launched your cell phone on its first cross-tent flight after its delivery of further unfavorable tidings on the upcoming weather.
1. Waterproof the works
Gear that isn’t up to task is probably the most common cause of any camper’s misery. While in fair weather the consequences of kit cock-ups can be bad enough, in wet conditions they can lead to an almost endless array of calamities and discomforts.
Before heading on your wet-weather trips, therefore, it’s wise to invest in your future self’s safety, sanity, and general wellbeing by readying your kit. This means: reproofing your tent; reapplying the DWR coating to your inner tent; sealing your tent’s seams; checking for and repairing tears or punctures; reproofing rain pants and jackets; and, reproofing your backpack.
2. Know before you go
Many newbie campers underestimate just how tricky it can be to pitch a tent properly, even more just how much the process can be complicated and slowed down by a little bit of airborne H20.
Even if you’re a seasoned camper, a few months of downtime from the trails can cause you to lose the knack of pitching your tent quickly and without letting too much rainwater enter your sleeping space in the process.
Ideally, you should practice pitching your tent at least four or five times in your garden or a local park before venturing out on your first wet-weather camping trip or give yourself a little refresher course if you haven’t done any camping for a while. It’s a bit of a chore, sure, but it’s better than making a mess of things in a downpour.
3. Expectation management
You’ve seen the weather forecasts, you know what to expect and, like a true trooper, you’ve decided to grit your teeth and get out there regardless.
Kudos. Give yourself a pat on the back and prepare to receive dozens more from impressed colleagues when you casually drop your plans for the weekend into conversation.
At some point in this pre-trip mental prep, however, it’s well worth doing a little bit of peeing on your own parade to ensure disappointment and disillusionment do not await some hours or days hence.
This means carefully visualizing how things will actually go down without any rose-tinted glasses and accepting that this trip will be very unlike any others you’ve taken in fair weather.
Chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time in your tent or under a tarp, doing your hiking to the campsite and day-hikes in low visibility and squelching through mud in your full waterproof armory, and focusing all of your energies on minimizing the extent to which you and your gear look and feel like you’ve been hanging out in an otters pocket.
You may begin talking to yourself. Fantasizing about certain things—malls, the line at the grocery store, lunches with the in-laws—previously considered modes of torture. The welfare of your clothing will assume a previously unthinkable degree of importance and—if you’re anything like the author—you may even consider calling home for some parental support.
There ain’t one…all of the above, sadly, is simply part and parcel of the wet-weather experience and to be taken for what it is.
Camping in the rain, however, does have its merits, most of which we might identify by way of comparison with what we might have been doing if we’d stayed at home. Sure, we won’t be snuggled up under a blanket watching Netflix and munching popcorn fresh from the microwave after a hot bath and hearty home-cooked meal, but nor will we be stuck behind some screen, doing the ironing, farting around on social networks, or any of the other very unexceptional things that might have befallen our days had we stayed home.
4. Bring a good book
If the above doesn’t strike you as a suitable way to while away the hours and if the rain showers are a touch too biblical to consider heading out on even a short hike to stretch your legs, some reading material could well prove to be the savior of your sanity.
Our top recommendations?
Wild by Jay Griffiths, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and Nature Cure by Richard Mabey aren’t bad places to start…
5. Go synthetic
Down sleeping bags are generally regarded as the best options available on account of their excellent warmth-to-weight ratio and plush, cozy feel. Down products, however, have one huge Achilles heel: they don’t insulate when wet.
While it’s wise to make every effort to keep your sleeping sack dry no matter what material it’s made of, if you happen to have a choice between down and synthetic, opt for the latter in wet conditions as synthetic fabrics continue to provide insulation even when well and truly drenched.
6. Pack a few trash can liners
They may not be the most high-tech accessory out there, but trash can liners have dozens of potential uses when camping in wet weather. These include moonlighting as cheap dry bags, doormats, temporary repair patches for ripped tents or clothing, mini-tarps under which you can stash shoes and other gear, food bags, and laundry bags to keep wet and dry clothing separate. They’re also pretty handy for throwing your trash in, too…
7. Pack grub that doesn’t require cooking
Although we offer a bomber hack to get a roaring campfire going and cook dinners in the rain below, if conditions are simply too aquatic or you can’t be bothered with the hassle, then it’s wise to pack a few cold meals to spare yourself the trouble of moisture-rich meal times.
While unlikely to win any culinary prizes, our cold-menu suggestions include tuna pre-mixed in a Ziploc bag with veg and salad, hearty sandwiches, couscous, cold pizza (it’s lovable when heating it up’s an option so should be no less so when it isn’t, right?), beef jerky dipped in guacamole, hot dogs and mustard, and any type of salad you can think of.
As an added bonus, pre-preparing cold meals also means cutting down on mess (and, ergo, cleaning) and pack weight (cooked items usually weigh less than uncooked and you can also leave the cooking utensils at home).
8. Keep your gear dry with drybags and Ziploc bags
To help keep things clean and tidy both in your backpack and inside your tent, it’s well worth packing your gear into multiple drybags and Ziploc bags. This will help to keep clean and dry kit from getting muddied and wet and let you stow away smelly, soaked and dirty gear safe in the knowledge that it won’t be soaking or stinking up the other contents of your pack.
9. Prep for pyrotechnics with cotton balls, petroleum jelly, egg boxes, and charcoal
Rolling up at your campsite to discover that dry wood and kindling are in short supply can land a serious blow to the collective mood among your camping conférés. By prepping ahead of time, however, you can get a decent little blaze going in just about any conditions.
Here’s how it’s done:
First up, douse a few cotton balls in petroleum jelly to use as firelighters and stash them in a Ziplock bag. Secondly, take an empty egg box and stuff a lump of charcoal in each egg berth, wrap in a sheet of newspaper, and pop it in your backpack. When you arrive at camp, find a dryish spot, stuff the cotton balls and paper under the egg box, light, and let the (abbreviated, granted) bonfire begin!
10. Bring a microfiber towel
Packing a sodden tent away in your backpack not only means risking saturating everything else inside it but can also add a good pound or two to the weight of your load.
To get around this problem, pack a small microfiber towel to wipe down the fly and any condensation before packing your tent away, squeezing out any excess water in the towel as you go and hanging it on the exterior of your pack when you’re done.
11. Make mini-maps of your route and camping area
Anyone who has done any hiking in the rain will know the frustrations entailed in trying to use a paper map and prevent it from turning to slush. Even if you are using a waterproof map holder, there will inevitably come that point where your trail veers over the page and you are forced to remove the map, adjust it to the right spot, and then squeeze it back in the holder again without getting it wet—a task that would land you a place in the final of America’s Got Talent if you could accomplish it successfully.
You can get around this problem by printing off route cards at home and then taking them to a store to have them laminated—or, alternatively, buy your own laminator and get down to creating your own pocketable, fully waterproof and fuss-free mini-maps.
Choosing your camping spot
12. Steer well clear of flood areas
To prevent being caught in a flash flood or even simply waking up in a small pond of rainwater, be sure to avoid river banks, depressions in the terrain, narrow canyons or gulches, dry washes and river basins when pitching your tent and choose a spot that’s slightly elevated in the surrounding terrain just in case.
13. Avoid “Widowmakers”
When camping in the rain, the natural temptation is to seek a place to pitch our tent that offers some protection from the brunt of the bad weather—under a tree or two being one of the most obvious.
While this can, of course, give us a little relief from the onslaught of rain in a downpour, it could also prove to be deadly.
First of all, those trees might just prove to be false friends should an electrical storm sweep in and a lightning bolt choose one of them as its preferred route to the earth’s surface. Secondly, the canopy of those trees may be harboring what’s known in camping parlance as a “widowmaker”—that is, a large, usually rotten branch that stormy weather might cause to break off and tumble onto our tent, sending us to the same destination as the aforementioned lightning.
The take-home? Get you glasses on and insect the branches above you thoroughly before parking your tent under them.
You’ve hiked in, you’ve found your camping spot, and now have to go about the business of making a liveable shelter. Sh*t, as they say, just got real. Whether that realness turns out to be real good or real bad, however, is still to be decided, and will ultimately be determined by what you do next (and how well you do it).
14. Substitute “deadmen” for stakes or pegs
If conditions underfoot happen to be especially wet and you are struggling to get your tent pegs or stakes to hold in boggy ground, there’s a simple way to ensure your tent stays upright and stable throughout the night: the deadman.
A “deadman” is a device used in mountaineering as an anchor for abseiling/rappelling in the absence of fixed anchors—i.e. in snow. The same principle can be applied when pitching your tent in the absence of suitably solid ground—simply tie the ends of a guy line around a rock, tension the cord, and then place the rock in the boggy ground, giving it a stamp to “bury” it if necessary and you’re sure you won’t be damaging any fragile plantlife in doing so.
15. Dig a “moat” around your tent
In extremely soggy conditions, rainfall can pool around the bottom of your tent and give your campsite a decidedly swamp-like character. This not only makes it tricky to get in and out of your tent without soaking yourself but can also lead to water seeping into your sleeping area if things get really bad and/or you haven’t proofed your tent floor adequately.
This problem can be mitigated by digging (with your foot) a small moat or trench around your tent. The purpose of the moat is threefold: first, to prevent water draining into your campsite from the surrounding terrain; second, to collect any runoff from your tent and prevent it from soaking through the bottom by drawing water away from the tent base (dig a few centrifugal conductor channels to do the transporting); third, so you can have some fun indulging delusions of grandeur by imagining your tent a castle with its own moat.
16. Create a dry R&R zone with a tarp
One of the biggest frustrations of camping in the rain is the potential for claustrophobia and cabin fever caused by the lack of usable space, the amount of time spend inside your tent, and the increased difficulty of taking a little “me-time” away from your campmates.
You can curb your cabin fever and avoid going nuts by creating an outdoor, covered chill-out area with a tarp, some paracord, and a few trees. This area can then be put to multiple uses—cooking, card-playing, drying clothes and, if the sun comes out, will serve as a handy shaded area if things start getting toasty.
17. Rig a drying line under your tarp
Drying your clothes in wet weather is never easy, but there are a few ways in which you can at least upgrade the status of your threads from “well and truly soaked” to “just a bit damp.” The most effective of these is to create a drying line by stringing a length of cord directly under the tarp used to create your Rest and Recreation Area (see above).
To ensure your laundry isn’t flapping in your face while you’re doing that rest and recreation, tie the rope off at one end with a trucker’s hitch, which allows you to adjust the line after fixing it in place until its suitably taut.
18. Double up on under-tent protection with tarp #2
Placing a tarp under your tent not only reduces wear and tear on your tent floor but also provides an extra slither of insulation and added protection against groundwater that might begin to sneak through your tent floor—just be sure to tuck any excess fabric under the tent body to ensure it doesn’t act as a pooling place for runoff from the tent walls.
19. Bag your damp clothes
Putting any damp clothes in a dry bag at night not only ensures that their funky odors won’t be disturbing you in your sleep and giving you a rude awakening in the morning, but also eliminates the risk of the moisture contained in the clothes contributing to condensation inside your tent.
20. Use your bivvy bag to create a porch area
The emergency bivvy bags (or “space blankets”) carried by most hikers and campers rarely see the light of day and/or have the chance to truly earn their keep in your backpack. To give them the chance to repay you for lugging them around all these years, we recommend hauling them out every time you’re camping in wet conditions and laying them outside your tent door. This will create a nice, dry doormat-cum-porch area where you can leave your wet gear and change in and out of clothes.
If you’re camping with partners, you can also use another bivvy bag to create a simple awning by tying two corners of the bag to the front of your tent with cord and suspending the other two corners with a pair of hiking poles.
21. Stash dry wood under your car
Finding dry firewood when camping in the rain is highly unlikely, but if you are car camping and either bring firewood along with you or manage to get your hands on any semi-dry wood, you can keep it dry or dry it out by stashing it under your car.
22. Change clothes before bed
Drying out a sleeping bag once you’ve gotten it wet is a nigh-on futile task in the absence of sun and dry conditions. Sleeping in wet clothes, moreover, isn’t an experience we’d recommend.
Given the above, we’d highly recommend changing into your dry/driest clothes before hitting the hay and hanging out your wet/wettest under your tarp (see above).
23. Slow-dry your duds in your sleeping bag
In a pinch or when you’re short on dry clothing, you can speed up the overnight drying process by stuffing damp gear at the bottom of your sleeping bag, where the warmth from your body heat should dry out some of the moisture (or, at the very least, make it a little warmer).
24. Go home
At a certain point, camping in the rain progresses from being a valuable experience and making-the-most-of-it-type experience into something a little more masochistic.
While roughing it for a few days in moderate showers is both commendable and potentially highly enjoyable, if things take a turn for the torrential and conditions prevent you from leaving your tent entirely, then it may well be time to call it a day.
25. Clean and air out your gear
To make sure your gear is in passable shape for your next wet-weather outing, it’s vital to treat it to a little TLC before storing it back in the gear cupboard or under the bed when you get home.
This means rinsing any dirt off of your tent, tarps, footprint, backpack, and sleeping bag with a mild, non-detergent soap then hanging each to dry either over a line or indoors at room temperature. Your family or flatmates might not appreciate it, but they’re unlikely to quibble someone who’s just attained the status of card-carrying Backcountry Badass.