There is nothing worse than having a camping trip planned months in advance and watching the storm clouds roll in as you pack your truck.
But all is not lost. With the right equipment and a few tricks you can save your trip.
Here is a look at five tips for camping in the rain — as the boy scouts say, be prepared.
1) Get the right tent
It sounds obvious, but quality waterproof tents can mean the difference between staying dry or sleeping soaked.
There are some key things you can look for which will make a difference in keeping the water on the outside and you dry.
Like an R-Value for insulation, most tents will come with a Hydrostatic Head (HH) which will tell you how water tight the walls, ceiling and floor of your tent are. HH is a measure of how deep of a column of water, in millimeters, the fabric of your tent can hold back. The higher the number, the more waterproof your tent. For a tent fly, 1,500 mm is considered waterproof, but if you’re expecting a heavy rain shoot for a higher rating of up to 3,000 mm. A tent floor will be even higher, usually between 3,000 and 10,000 mm.
Before you head out, make sure the seams of your tent are sealed. When buying a tent, look for double stitching which will give them added strength, and that they are taped over, which will prevent moisture from seeping in. You can also purchase a seam sealer to repair a damaged seam or to double-up on protection.
This is the first layer of protection for your tent and whether you are expecting stormy skies or just being prepared for all possibilities, a full fly will give you a better defense against a downpour from above.
There are a number of other features to look for to add layers of protection to your tent.
A double-walled tent will have an outer fly and an inner fly which will allow for better ventilation and prevent condensation within the tent.
Also look for tents with a storm porch area which will provide a little extra break from the weather. This vestibule is also important as a spot to allow your wet clothes to dry or to leave your muddy shoes. Seams around zippers on windows and doors should also have a covering to help prevent water from penetrating between the teeth.
Look for a tent with a seamless tub for a floor that comes up a few inches off the ground which will prevent surface water from flowing up from the floor. Also, when it comes to design, a domed tent is better in the wind and water will not pool as much on the roof as compared to an A-frame tent.
2) Tarp it off
Tarps are a great tool in the quest for a dry campsite. They too will carry an HH value and can add an extra layer of protection under your tent or above it. They can also provide you a dry make-shift outdoor livingroom by tying one or more off between neighbouring trees — no one, afterall just goes to all the trouble of camping to spend the entire time in the tent. This will give you some shelter to hang out or a dry spot while you cook over a fire or grill. Make sure you bring extra pegs if you are using the tarp as an extra ground layer or rope for above.
3) Location, location, location
This will be the first thing you do when you arrive at your desired spot.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Look for high ground and a slight slope. If you are at the bottom of a hill or in a valley, you’re in the splash zone. This is where the water will collect in a storm. If you are in a valley, at least look for an area that is a little higher where the water will not pool. Beware of floodplains and evidence of previous flash flooding.
Be sure to look for areas where water will run away, so if you are on a high ground a slight slope will make sure your tent will not become a collection point for water — just arrange your sleeping bag with your feet heading down slope.
Trees can also provide additional cover and give you something to tie your tarps on to, but inspect them first for rotten branches above.
4) Dress for success
Whenever weather is a factor, think layers.
Your first layer should be moisture-wicking. For the love of god, avoid cotton. It will hold sweat and water against your skin which will ensure a cold, wet and miserable day.
Polyester, polypropylene, spandex, nylon and wool are your best friends here as they will pull that moisture away from your body. Your second layer should be something to keep you warm while out on the trail or at camp. The final layer should repel the elements — Gore-Tex is a go-to but there are other options as well. And make sure to treat your feet right with waterproof boots.
5) Bring bags
Garbage bags and Ziploc bags are cheap, do not take a lot of space and can play a big role in you and your gear staying dry. Bring multiples. Garbage bags are great for everything from lining your backpack, wrapping supplies, bagging wet clothing, can make a poncho on the fly and for, well, garbage collection later. Ziplocs are an easy way to keep things like matches, toiletries, maps and other smaller items that need to stay dry from becoming saturated.
Speaking of bags, if you are looking to double up on keeping your sleeping bag dry, consider a bivy sack or bivouac sack. It is a waterproof layer for outside your sleeping bag and can add up to 10 degrees celsius of heat. If it is already warm out, you can ditch the sleeping bag and just use the bivy sack with a blanket or two inside.