A backpacking trip getting canceled because of rain is a legitimate excuse but we wonder why it has to be the end of a good adventure? As long as you’ve prepared well, and taken the necessary precautions when setting up your campsite, you could have just as much fun camping in the rain as when it shines. Follow our 16 tips for camping in the rain, and try it for yourself!
1. Choose the right location for your tent and campsite
The most important step to ensuring you have a dry night’s sleep is to pick the right location for your tent, and the right location for your campsite. The perfect location for a rainy night is an area on high ground. It doesn’t have to be the highest spot, just make sure you’re not at the bottom of the hill. It’s also preferable to have a thick tree cover, and a few trees surrounding your site. This means that later on, you will be able to use your tarps to fully protect your campsite from the rain. For the more adventure-seeking camper, you might be considering camping in a valley. But be warned, they are usually the coldest and wettest areas. If you’re willing to take the risk, make sure you’re camping well above the high water mark if you’re by a river, to avoid being soaked by flash floods.
2. Waterproof your tent
For our full masterclass on how to waterproof our tent, check out this article. The main pointers that we would give you are as follows. Make sure you check the floor of your tent, ensuring that it’s still fully waterproof. Although it may have come to you from the manufacturer this way, tent floors can easily lose their waterproof-ness. If this is the case, reapply the waterproofing agent yourself. Set up your tent in your garden on a hot day, if possible, and spray the whole of the exterior with sealant. It’s also worth repeating this process with the rainfly over your waterproof tent, to prevent as much water from touching your tent walls as possible.
3. Waterproof your tent by using a seam sealer
If you think you might be in for a rainy camping trip, it’s a good idea to seal your seams, just for some added peace of mind. Although some tent manufacturers say their tent’s seams are sealed, they may need some touching up over time, so apply again to be thorough.
4. Dig a trench around your tent
This is a good option especially if you’re expecting a heavy downpour. No matter how many precautions you have made, if the rain is heavy enough, it might get in. Digging a small trench catches any runoff from your tent itself, and stops any water from flowing under your site. At the lowest point, dig an outlet for your trench, so that the water runs out of the trench, preferably slightly downhill. This will mean that the water on the ground will head around your tent, not through it.
5. Use tarps and para-cord
Camping tarps are necessary for almost any camping trip, especially when rain is forecast. There are many affordable, lightweight options available on the market, that aren’t too heavy and don’t take up too much space in your backpack but are still heavy duty enough to do the trick.
6. Hang the tarp over the tent, using a para-cord, to force the rain to drop around your tent and not directly on it
This is easiest to do if you’re camping in a forest: tarp can hang from trees with para-cord or rope just fine. But make sure to tie the right knot to stop it from sliding down! Check out our favorite camping knots, for some tricks and tips. Hanging the tarp over your tent like this can go a long way towards fully waterproofing your tent. If your tarp is too small to fully cover your tent, don’t fear, even just covering a portion of your tent like this will help in blocking the rain.
7. Remember to bring extra tarps, if you think this camping adventure might be a soggy one
You never know what you might need it for: adding a bottom layer to your tent, or covering your other supplies, such as wood for the fire, during the day. Leave these covers if you’re leaving camp for the day to go on a hike, you won’t want to have to rush back if you start to hear the rain. Don’t forget to bring some para-cord, or another type of rope, to stop the tape from blowing away in the wind. It’s not going to just be taking up unnecessary space in your bag if the weather is better than expected, you’d be surprised how often ropes can come in handy on a camping trip!
8. Set up a covered area for gathering and cooking
After you’ve pitched your tent as the first port of call, and made sure to follow all necessary steps to waterproof it, the next thing you should think about is covering an area of your campsite. Having a dry area will help you out a lot, by keeping your food and cooking supplies out of the rain, and offering a space where you can keep your kit dry. One approach to supplying cover for your campground in the rain is to purchase one or two pop-up canopies. You can buy these relatively cheaply, and some options are quite portable. However, if you’re hiking for long distances before setting up camp, we definitely wouldn’t recommend this, as you don’t need the extra weight on your back.
For backpackers, it’s a much better bet to bring extra tarps and para-cord. This way, especially in a wooded location, you can easily adapt your coverings for your surroundings, diverting the water and offering you tailored shelter. It’s also not a waste of space in your bag if the weather turns out fine: it’s always nice to have a little sheltered area to read or hang out under.
9. Bring hand warmers
One of the worst parts about wet weather is when the cold and wet feels like it gets under your skin. Hopefully, with our tips, you won’t be soaking wet on your camping trip, but that doesn’t mean your hands won’t get cold. Having cold hands while camping can be a nuisance. It makes it difficult to prepare dinner, work with small items such as tent pegs, or just have some fun and relax with a set of cards in the evening! A great way to give your hands a little burst of warmth, and keep you dextrous, is to bring some hand warmers. These things are super cheap, and hardly take up any space at all, but offer your hands the warm relief they’ll be craving. We never leave for cold camping trips without them.
Related article: The 6 Best Backpacking Trowels Reviewed.
10. Dry out your wet gear and clothes
Sometimes you just can’t help the rain getting in. Maybe you accidentally caught a quick downpour as you were getting changed into your waterproof clothing, or caught a flash shower during a hike. Whatever the reason for your clothes getting wet, it happens to the best of us so don’t worry. But to get your gear back to optimal performance, and prepare yourself for the next day of adventuring outdoors, you’re going to need to dry off your clothes.
Depending on the layout of your site, and what you’ve brought with you, there’s a couple of different ways you can get your clothes dry again. First off, you could hang them up on a line, maybe of para-cord if you’re got any spare, and leave them to dry under the tarp of your covered area. Leaving your clothes like this overnight should get your clothes dry by morning if your tarp is secure enough. If you’re making a campfire nearby, this makes it even more likely that your clothes will dry overnight, as they dry to the warmth of the dying embers. If you don’t have a dry space set up under a tarp, you could potentially try and dry your clothes in your tent.
Some people recommend putting some damp clothes in your sleeping bag to dry from your body heat. We would definitely not recommend this approach. It could cause your sleeping bag to become wet, which is difficult to rectify.
11. Create a campfire in the rain
It might seem like an impossible feat to start a fire after a rainy day. If you have wet firewood too, then it really can be a nightmare. But never fear, we have some tips that will make it easier.
While you’re packing, you should plan for starting a fire in the rain, and pack something to start the fire with. This could be waterproof matches, a magnesium fire starter, or a waterproof lighter. We would recommend the waterproof lighter as the most effective option. The second thing you’ll need is tinder. And not the dating site – but some lightweight wood, that catches fire easily and burns quickly. One place you might find useable tinder when it rains is under a pine tree. The pine tree has this coverage, and often under piles of needles, there is a good section that is dry at the bottom. Check under other thick trees, branches or dry areas too to see what you can find.
If you can’t find any usable dry tinder, then you can cut your own from fallen wood on the wood or forest floor. Take your camping knife and remove the bark, and you should find dry wood underneath, which makes great kindling if cut small enough. Making fuelwood is necessary too, to keep your fire going for a long time. Only use wood from fallen trees, otherwise, it won’t burn and is bad for the environment. Using your camping ax or hatchet, chop the wood into good size chunks – and add to the fire one the kindling is burning. Check out our buying guide for the best camping hatchet here. You could also opt for bringing waterproof tinder, that ignites fast and burn for five minutes in all weather. Keeping a few in your bag is a great solution to making a campfire, even when your campsite is sodden.
Keeping a fire alight under rain shouldn’t be too difficult. Once it gets going, a shower shouldn’t put out your fire. And don’t be tempted to put a tarp directly above your fire! This is potentially dangerous and could burn or melt. Your fire should be fine in light rain, but if it’s also windy, we would recommend putting up a windbreak so your fire isn’t put out. The solution could be as simple as moving to sit on the other side of the fire.
12. Change into dry clothes before bed
You should never go to bed in wet clothes, even if they’re just a bit soggy from above your boots! It could potentially be bad for your health, keeping you too chilly during the night hours, and at best will result in an uncomfortable night’s sleep for you. We think that the most important thing is having a nice thick pair of dry socks. We’d recommend even keeping a separate pair for sleeping, in your bag, safely locked in a zip-lock bag. You also really don’t want to get your sleeping bag wet. Once it’s wet, it feels near impossible to get it dry again, and your trip into the great, rainy outdoors could be ruined. Changing into dry clothes before you sleep ensures your sleeping bag stays dry – especially if you have stored it in your waterproofed tent.
13. Use a bivy bag
Using a bivy bag gives you an extra layer of insulation from the cold, as on top of your sleeping bag. It helps protect your sleeping bag from moisture, and it keeps you a little warmer while you sleep. We would also recommend you using extra sleeping pads or camping mats if you’re going to a really cold climate or winter camping, to help protect you from the cold of the floor.
14. Keep your gear dry with waterproof backpacks, and covers, and by storing your dry clothes in plastic bags
This is necessary for especially important items, such as medicines, electronics, and some foods. A waterproof backpack and cover should ensure that the contents of your bag remain safe, but to be extra careful, and just in case you’re wanting to find a waterproof way to retrieve something from your bag, it’s worth packing using zip lock bags. It’s also a great way to compartmentalize everything in your bag so that your different items are easier to locate.
15. Wear the right base layers and waterproof clothes
When choosing your clothing for a rainy camping trip, we recommend using wool as your base layer. Wool is waterproof and is great at wicking (meaning that once it gets wet it still retains its heat). It’s great insulation when dry too, and even when you have wet clothes on top, it helps to dry them out.
However, wool garments can be expensive, itchy or heavy. We would only recommend them if you’re planning a seriously adventures trip, where you’ll be constantly exposed to the elements. Or, if you can afford it, merino wool has all of the benefits of wool without any of the drawbacks. If your trip is slightly warmer, or you’ll only be expecting showers of rain, we would recommend fleece. They wick well, and are durable: a good fleece will serve you for years. They are also light, meaning that if you have to carry them in your backpack while hiking they won’t add much extra weight.
Make sure to pack the right water-resistant rain gear too, such as a poncho for day trips, a rain jacket or waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers and shoes. Having the right gear will make or break your trip.
16. Keep dry wood under your car
If you’re car camping, why don’t you make use of that extra dry storage by storing all of your dry wood under it? If you don’t have much room under your camp cover to store the wood under a tarp, storing it under your car is the next best bet. If it’s really rainy, dig a trench around your car, to divert the rain away from the wood and keep it dry beneath. This isn’t a great option though if you’re camping with a small car – make sure to check how much dry coverage there is under your car before storing dry wood here.
If you want the best camping experience possible, even if you’re heading out in the middle of a rainstorm, make sure to follow our easy steps to fully make the most of your rainy camping or backpacking experience. When we follow these steps, the disappointing rained-off camping trip becomes just as fun as the rest, and you get to avoid the crowds!