Camping in the rain can be a beautiful, unforgettable experience. The rain brings a rare beauty you can only appreciate in wet conditions. Vibrant colors, fresh, earthy scents, and a double rainbow all the way across the sky. There’s no need to shy away from the rain or—gasp—cancel your plans.
With a bit of preparation and some rainy-day provisions, you can stay comfortably dry and enjoy yourself in any storm. We’ve got everything you need to know about camping in the rain, from start to finish.
Planning and Preparation
Check the weather forecast
Before you do anything else, check the weather forecast a week in advance. The best way to prepare yourself is to anticipate the rain so that you can plan accordingly. Take advantage of weather apps like Dark Sky or RadarScope that predict storms, hurricanes, and dangerous flash floods. You can also keep an eye on impending weather by reading cloud patterns.
Choose the right shelter
Most tents can handle a little moisture, but if you’re anticipating rain, you’ll want to camp in a hardy, waterproof tent with tight seams and zippers. Make sure your tent includes mesh windows with storm flaps, so you can control the ventilation. You can open the storm flaps and let air flow through your tent to reduce moisture (or condensation) inside the tent. But if the wind starts to blow rain into your tent, close the flaps for protection.
If you’re using a lightweight nylon tent, consider waterproofing your tent with a DWR (durable water repellant) coating. Your best bet is to use a heavy-duty canvas tent that repels even the most torrential downpour. You have three excellent tent choices for impenetrable water protection: cotton canvas wall tents, bell tents, and cabin tents. For even more protection, opt for a tent with a vestibule or porch area that keeps your gear out of the rain.
If you’re camping in a trailer, RV, or camper van, you shouldn’t have to worry about rain protection. The rugged exterior of your shelter will keep the weather at bay, day or night.
Practice setting up your tent
Setting up (and taking down) your tent in the rain can be miserable. The longer it takes to set up your tent, the more likely you will face a rain-soaked interior. It’s a good idea to practice setting up (and taking down) your tent at home before your trip, so you can do it quickly and efficiently. It also allows you to check for holes or tears. If your tent has any vulnerable spots, repair them with patches or even duct tape.
Pack the right clothes
Make sure you pack plenty of storm-proof clothing. Plan to wear a moisture-wicking base and middle layer, with a water-resistant outer layer. No cotton. It soaks up moisture like a sponge, keeping you wet and making you vulnerable to hypothermia. Aim for materials like wool, polyester, or nylon. Your outer layer is going to provide the most water protection. Soft shell jackets will repel some water (especially if they’re coated in DWR), but hard shell jackets (or rain jackets) and ponchos are generally more protective.
Invest in a quality outer shell with a low hem, tight cuffs, a large hood. A rainjacket hood is even more effective if you wear a baseball cap underneath. If it’s really coming down, consider wearing a pair of waterproof pants. You can restore the waterproofing exterior of your jackets and clothes with a product like Nikwax or Scotchgard.
Make sure you pack waterproof shoes or boots made with Gore-Tex. They should also have deep lugs on the soles to handle muddy conditions. And consider wearing a pair of waterproof socks. It’s essential to keep your feet dry in the rain so you can avoid blisters and trench foot. For additional protection, put plastic bags over your socks before slipping your feet into your shoes.
Consider bringing a waterproof jacket or booties for your pets so they don’t track rain and mud into the tent. And opt for an outdoor dog bed that dries faster than a traditional bed.
If you wear glasses, you may want to swap them out for contact lenses. Wearing glasses in rainy conditions can be inconvenient or even dangerous. Raindrops and fog blur your vision, making it difficult to see.
It’s a good idea to bring hangers or clotheslines so you can dry your wet clothes overnight. You can make a simple clothesline by stringing up some extra paracord underneath your canopy or inside the tent. No matter what, you always want a set of dry clothes at your disposal. Don’t be afraid to pack extras of everything—especially socks.
Pack the right gear
You should also prepare some of your more critical gear. For example, bring waterproof casings and extra batteries for your electronics. Laminate your maps, or get water-resistant versions. Keep your first-aid and fire-starting supplies in an airtight container. And protect any gear that has down filling (like sleeping bags). Synthetic down retains its insulating properties better when wet, but you can also loosely pack your down-filled gear into dry bags when you’re not using them.
Bring plenty of lights to put up around camp. The dark clouds that come with rain tend to darken everything around you, so it’s helpful to have ample lighting in your tent, around your campsite, and on your person.
You’ll also want to pack a portable stove and fuel to cook with, just in case you can’t get a fire going. If you manage to make a fire in the rain, keep your firewood and kindling protected by placing a tarp over it or using a firewood log carrier.
Setting up Camp
Pick a good campsite
The location of your campsite is critical for staying comfortable in the rain. Even though it might be tempting to camp underneath a tree (for protection), avoid camping directly underneath any trees unless you’re using an extra tarp. Tree branches will continue to drop rain onto your tent long after the storm has passed, and the weight of the rain can break branches, which then fall onto your tent. But it can be helpful to plant yourself between two or three trees, so you have something to tie your tarps to.
Camp at least six feet from any body of water to avoid flooding (and that includes puddles). The last thing you want is to wake up in a pool of water that’s seeped over from a nearby river or lake. Try to camp at a higher elevation than your surroundings, so you don’t suffer the consequences of runoff.
Don’t pitch your tent in the middle of a valley. Your best bet is to pitch on a slight slope, with the door of your tent facing down the slope. If you’re camping in a campground, take advantage of the tent pad, as it’s likely the most level spot in the site.
Prepare your tent for the rain
Most tents come with standard features or extra accessories that make your rainy day camp more comfortable. Take advantage of tent accessories that keep you dry from the rain. Make use of the footprint that protects the exterior floor of your tent and the ground sheet or drop cloth that protects the interior floor of your tent. Make sure you lay the footprint down first, placing your tent on top of it. And place the waterproof fly sheet on top of your tent, staking it down around the edges.
If you’re expecting a lot of rain, you can further reinforce your tent by adding another layer between the tent and the rain. Place a poly tarp, canvas tarp, or awning over your tent, securing the edges to surrounding structures (like tree branches) or the ground using paracord. At this point, you have three separate layers to protect you from moisture: the roof of your tent, the fly sheet, and a waterproof tarp. Your tent will stay bone dry through any rainstorm.
Since you’ve nailed down the process of setting up your tent, you should be able to do it quickly and efficiently. It can be helpful to put up a tarp first, so you’re not pitching your tent in the rain.
Keeping Camp Dry
Protect your campsite
Hang waterproof tarps or canopies over frequently-used areas in your campsite. The kitchen area, the sitting area, and the bathroom area (if you have one) are good places to start. You may also want a tarp to drape over any gear that’s exposed. If you run out of tarps, you can also use large beach umbrellas to protect your chairs from falling rain.
If you have tarps left over, you can lay them on the ground in your common areas, so you’re not tracking mud around everywhere.
To minimize cleaning, keep wet and muddy shoes (and clothes) out of your tent. Take them off before entering the tent and leave them to dry in the vestibule or porch area. If you have to keep them in the tent, lay down a plastic bag to catch the moisture. It’s a good idea to keep extra towels or dry newspapers around in case you need to dry off your gear and supplies. And if you’re camping in an RV or trailer, slap a welcome mat outside the door so you can dry your shoes off before entering.
Waterproof your supplies
The best way to protect your gear, supplies, and food is to create an impenetrable barrier between them and the rain. Store your gear and supplies in watertight dry bags, plastic ziplock bags, or plastic containers and bins. Make sure the bag or container is tightly sealed, without any holes. If your bags do have holes, patch those babies up with a piece of duct tape.
If you’re backpacking to your campsite, make sure you have a waterproof cover for your backpack. You can further protect your gear by lining your backpack with a large trash or compactor bag.
Making Your Exit
When it’s time to leave, try to plan your exit while there’s a break in the rain. If that’s not possible, tear down camp as fast and efficiently as you can. Pack the gear and supplies into your vehicle first, leaving the tarps and tent for the end. You can loosely roll your tarps and tent for now since you’re going to have to unpack them later to dry.
When you get home, unpack your gear and dry everything off with a towel. Storing wet gear increases the risk of rust and mold. Then unroll the tarps and lay them out flat to dry (either inside your garage or outside on a clear day). Finally, unpack and set up your tent so it can dry out. Don’t store your tarps or tent until they’re completely dry. You might also take the time to reapply the waterproofing layer on your tent.
10 Extra Tips and Tricks for Camping in the Rain
- Bring fun camping games that you can play rain or shine.
- Come prepared with the ingredients to make camp cocktails that will warm you from the inside out.
- Don’t let any of your gear or supplies touch the interior walls of your tent. If the rain is particularly heavy, you’ll probably experience condensation in the tent. Anything touching the walls will get wet.
- Set up a four-sided gazebo or canopy for your kitchen area. It’s not safe to cook in your tent or vestibule, and you’ll want a dry place to prepare meals.
- Bring extra tarps. They’re a tremendous multi-functional tool that can help keep you dry and comfortable in all aspects of your camping.
- Prepare some of your food before the trip, so you’re not left cooking in the rain. You can also bring some freeze-dried meals. All you need to do is heat the food and enjoy.
- Getting around in the mud can be tricky, especially if your feet are stuck or you’re walking on uneven surfaces. Using trekking poles can help you navigate muddy landscapes with ease.
- Bring an umbrella. Even if you have plenty of tarps protecting your campsite, you’ll want protection moving from one location to another.
- If you’re camping in an RV or campervan, apply a healthy coating of Rainx to the windshield before you leave.
- Enjoy the rain. It’s one of the most incredible natural elements on earth. Take some time to revel in it and appreciate its unique beauty.