Rain does tend to curtail our camping adventures somewhat but it's not the end of the world.
In fact, if you are well equipped and can stay dry, rainy weather can really bring on an unexpected change of plan to a camping trip that could prove equally enjoyable and/or rewarding. And it's good for our farmers!
Casting my mind back, the turning point for actually starting this website would have to be the time we camped with our then five-month old and a group of friends during a week of non-stop rain, sometimes torrential. Our newly purchased tent (below) came with a lot of promise, and while fortunately it didn't actually leak, on it’s own it really wasn’t suited to wet conditions and, nor we thought, were we.
The tent awning was pretty inadequate for cooking or sitting under, and at the sight of rain and wind, really had to be taken down leaving everything outside exposed to the elements.
Camping can be pretty miserable during inclement weather if you are not prepared with the right rain friendly camping gear.
Here are our tips for camping in the rain.
Clothing for wet weather camping really doesn’t need to be complicated as long as you have the right wet weather gear for the conditions, and you have a good layering system for your clothes to help regulate your body temperature.
1. Equip everyone with appropriate wet weather gear
As wet weather isn’t necessarily going to be cold weather, your rain gear will be dependent on the expected temperature, humidity and your level of physical activity.
Each person should have an appropriate waterproof rain jacket or poncho to keep them dry from the top down, and waterproof shoes, or if the weather is warmer, rubber sandals or thongs for their feet.
Umbrellas also come in very handy while camping, but obviously not when you need to use both hands. They are very easy and quick to pop up and dry out as opposed to the inconvenience of a wet rain coat or poncho. You can read more about clothing for wet weather here.
2. Keep a set of dry clothes
In cold conditions, your body can lose heat very quickly when you are wearing wet clothes for a prolonged period, and so it's a good idea to bring extra clothes to wear.
If you need to quickly venture out into the elements, try to maintain a dry set of clothes, even if that means wearing the damp ones. That could even include removing your last pair of dry socks in favour of shoes without socks or rubber thongs / sandals.
3: Avoid cotton clothing
Unless you are camping in summer, there’s pretty much no practical reason to include cotton clothing in your camping wardrobe. Unlike wool or polyester / nylon, cotton absorbs moisture rather than wicking it away to the outer layers and hence will take longer to dry.
Your camping setup
Believe me, having a rain friendly camping setup really makes a big difference.
4. Buy a good quality waterproof tent
There are plenty of ways to reduce your camping costs, but buying a cheap new tent isn’t one of them. The quality of your tent and shelter is never more important than in wet as well as windy conditions. You don’t want to discover in the middle of a storm or after an all-day downpour that your cheap tent is flooded and everything is wet.
5. Season your tent
Tent manufacturers will often receive complaints from customers that their newly purchased tent leaks when in actual fact the tent hasn’t been seasoned. While not necessary for all tents, the seasoning process will seal the holes stitched into the tent seams during the manufacturing process.
Seasoning is mostly applicable to canvas or poly-cotton canvas tents, but the instructions of some polyester / nylon tents will also recommend this process as well. If in doubt, waterproofing sprays can purchased from camping stores if the leaks continue.
6. Avoid pooling water
A significant amount of pooling water on your tent or shelter could destabilise or even permanently damage it. To avoid water pooling:
- Make sure you have pitched your tent correctly using all of the pegs and guy ropes, and ensure the awnings are correctly and evenly tensioned to facilitate water run-off, even if the weather forecast is fine. The weather might be picture perfect today but tomorrow you might not be so fortunate.
- Avoid leaving the campsite for prolonged periods if rain is expected until you have tested the setup with a good downpour. You might think everything “should” be OK but water can pool in unexpected places.
- During periods of rain, drop down your awning poles to increase the angle for water run-off.
- During prolonged periods of heavy rain, consider dismantling unnecessary shelters not designed to withstand the expected rainfall.
7: Maintain your tent in good order
Maintaining your tent in good order and undertaking repairs as any damage occurs will help keep the water out. Damage to tent walls might be obvious and easy to see, but not so with your tent floor. Check the condition of your floor to ensure water won’t enter your tent via a hole caused by sharp objects on the ground, or in our case, by dragging the tent along the ground!
8: Create a shelter for the kitchen and living areas
Possibly the most important consideration for camping comfortably is the amount of open-air waterproof shelter you have at your campsite. When the rain arrives, cooking over a campfire is problematic, and without such a shelter, so is cooking over gas. Everyone would also either be confined to their tents or seeking alternative shelter.
This shelter should be sufficient to provide cover for your camp kitchen, including the camp stove, as well as a communal living space to accommodate the size of your camping group. Your additional shelter could be provided by one or more of the following shelter options:
- A tent with a large awning.These tents also have side wall accessories for added shelter from the wind and rain, and some also provide awning extension accessories to increase the amount of shelter without the need to erect a separate structure.
- A separate tarp shelter constructed with separate poles. Extra waterproof tarps can really come in handy in wet weather.
- A separate marquee or similar type of shelter, preferably with at least one side wall accessory to provide wind and side-rain protection.
Setting up and packing up camp
Setting up and packing up camp in the rain can be a pretty dismal experience and should be avoided if possible. Being aware of the weather forecast can really help you to plan around the expected rainfall. If you camp long enough though you will inevitably need to pitch and pack up in the rain. If that happens:
9: Erect the main shelter first and pack it up last
Pack your car in such a way as to allow the items needed to pitch your main open-air shelter (ie: your tent and awning, marque or tarp, guy ropes, pegs / stakes, mattock) to be immediately accessible without removing and exposing any other items to the rain. Once erected, your shelter will help provide cover while you unpack your car and set up your campsite. Reversing your car up to the edge of the shelter will also provide cover while you unload the boot / trunk.
Pack up your campsite in reverse order by reversing your car to the edge of the shelter, packing up everything in your campsite except your shelter, loading the car and then finally packing up and loading your shelter.
10: Pitch on the high side of the site
Choose the highest point on your site for the tent and living area and avoid what might look like the natural flow of water, such as areas of ground that appear dry and cracked or damper than the surrounding areas. Even a light trickle of water in your direction can flood your tent and living area over time.
11: Beware of falling tree limbs
Heavy rainfall can destabilise trees roots and limbs and cause a risk. During periods of heavy rain, regularly check the state of the surrounding trees for any signs of instability.
Keep everything dry
No matter how vigilant you are, you can’t fully escape the rain and things will get wet! Here are our tips to minimise the impact of rain:
12: Bring extra towels and other absorbant materials
Absorbent materials, such as dish cloths, extra thin towels and micro-fibre cloths, will mop and soak up some of that extra moisture that collects around camp and in your tent. Use them to dry wet feet, draw moisture out of wet gear and wipe rain and condensation from the internal and external tent walls, especially when packing up.
13: Maintain a supply of water-proof bags and tarps
Bags of varying sizes and extra tarps will come in handy to keep the items in your camping setup dry. Bring along a range of smaller zip lock bags, shopping size bags and garbage bags and/or invest in the more expensive dry sacks / bags. Use them to:
- store wet gear
- protect gear transported on the roof or tow bar of your car
- keep firewood dry
- keep important items dry, like the first aid kit and matches / fire starters
- separate wet clothes and towels
- separate dry clothes
14: Use a plastic container to collect water runoff
Campsites can get pretty soggy in heavy rain, leading to a muddy site and potential flooding around the tent and living area. In high traffic locations or where flooding is likely, place a plastic container under the drip line of your tent or awning and empty out regularly at a distance from the tent. Check out our article for other uses for plastic containers around the campsite.
15: Keep items under cover
Move non-waterproof items under cover, such as chairs, towels and clothing at the first sight of rain, before you go to bed and when you leave camp for any length of time. Even a small down pour can dampen these items and cause an unnecessary inconvenience.
If you don’t have room to store gear under cover around your campsite, pop them in your car. Keep the wood for the fire dry is going to keep the campfire lovers happy, so either keep it under the tent awning if possible, or alternatively place it in or under your car.
16: Hang gear out to dry
You might be tempted to throw your wet gear in the corner and forget about it, but with a concerted effort to dry it out you will be rewarded! There are many ways to dry your gear out:
- Utilise any clothes lines available at your campground
- Rig a spare guy rope or two between two vertical structures, and if raining rig it under an existing tarp or awning
- Peg wet gear to existing guy ropes
- Drape wet gear over chairs and furniture and place in the sun together with wet shoes
- Bring along a compact clothesline
17: Be prepared for rainy day activities
While we might prefer to be at home rather than camping in the rain, there are plenty of entertainment options to keep everyone happy and to help pass the time:
- Go for a drive and explore the surrounding areas
- Check out the local stores
- Go see a movie
- Read a book
- Play games or cards or colour in
- Watch a movie in the tent
- Let the kids play in the puddles
18: Dry your gear before you leave and when you return home
Long term storage of a wet tent and other gear is a recipe for disaster and can ruin it. The easiest place to dry out your gear is at the campsite if it’s not actually raining at the time. Before you pack up:
- shake the water off the tent and accessories as much as possible and wipe down
- wipe down the internal walls of the tent to remove any condensation
- scrape off any dirt from the pegs and under the floor
- move your tent to a sunny area to maximise exposure to air and sun, making sure the tent won't blow away in the wind
To ensure you pack away a dry tent, complete the drying process when you return home to avoid rust, mould and damage. This also includes tent panels, tarps, chairs, tools, pegs and guy ropes. Chairs should be opened for drying, and the other bags and containers should be opened so that each item is exposed to the air.
19: Check the weather - forewarned is forearmed
Especially when you are in remote locations, up to date weather information, including rainfall, will help you to prepare for whatever weather conditions come your way. Weather bureaus, park managers, local visitor centres and local radio stations will all provide regular up to date weather forecasts as well as any other warnings.
Your eyes and ears will also provide the most immediate assessment of the warning signs and signals of approaching rain and other bad weather. Be observant of the weather conditions around you, such as cloud formation, changing wind conditions, lightning and the sound of thunder.
20: Stay positive
A positive frame of mind will help you to embrace the conditions rather than focus on the negatives. It will also help your brain to think broadly about what is going on around you and to get into problem solving mode. This will definitely come in handy when you are dealing with sub-optimal camping weather.
21: Pack up!
At the end of the day, the pragmatic approach might be to simply pack up and go home before the rain commences if you have adequate warning, or at least find alternative accommodation such as a cabin. You may even decide to stay home and not go at all. There’s definitely no shame in that. Miserable camping experiences can really turn people off camping for life, and that’s definitely not what we want.