The spring camping season is upon us! Typically, here on the West Coast that means going camping with the chance of some spring rain showers. But, if you are in California this year, you should plan on the unusually wet winter continuing into the spring. In any location or season, camping in the rain does not have to be a miserable, huddled in your tent experience, as long as you plan ahead.
The best way to ruin any camping trip is to wake up in the middle of the night to a leaking tent and a wet sleeping bag, so here are some tips and hard-earned lessons for camping in the rain.
Campsite Location Matters
- Pitch your tent up and away from creeks and streams when rain is possible to avoid getting flooded out by suddenly rising water
- Choose a high, flat spot for your tent. This will help avoid water flowing downhill under your tent.
During a late summer 2009 camping trip along Forest Road 300/General Crook Trail on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, we got hit by a monsoon storm that dumped a ton of rain on us in a short amount of time. Prior to this we had pitched our tent on somewhat of a slope near what turned out to be a gully. When the rain stated, we ended up with what felt like a flowing river under our tent, which was now leaking at the seams from all the water underneath it. We ended up abandoning the tent and sleeping in the back of our Jeep.
Pitch Your Tent Properly
- Put a tarp and tent footprint under your tent – Some people advise against doing these things when camping in the rain, for fear of causing water to pool under your tent. In our experience using a tarp and tent footprint helps keep water and mud from soaking into the tent floor material.
- Stake your tent down to keep the walls from pushing in from wind that usually comes with the rain.
- Keep your rain fly tight and away from the tent walls to keep rain from seeping in from contact and provide adequate ventilation to prevent condensation moisture. Also, a rain fly flapping in the wind is more likely to splash water into the mesh part of your tent.
While on our first backpacking trip across Catalina Island, we camped at Little Harbor Campground and a huge storm swept through in the middle of the night. We had neglected to stake our tent down and the wind began pushing the corners of the tent in on us, which allowed water to leak in from the rain fly.
Bring the Right Tent
- Don’t bring a small tent – Unless you are backpacking, you should bring a tent that you and (at least some of) your camping partners can hang out in as an alternative to sitting around a campfire. We like 3-4 person tents for this, as they usually can comfortably fit 4 people or 2 adults & 2 dogs/children for playing cards or board games, etc.
- Don’t bring a huge tent – Big glamping tents are terrible for camping in heavy rain as they tend to pool water on the roof and collapse in on themselves.
During the same Arizona camping trip mentioned above, our camping partners brought a massive Columbia tent that was gifted to them at their wedding, which we affectionately nicknamed “The Taj”. This was truly massive, it had 2 rooms and came in its own rolling case. Besides taking forever to setup and breakdown, it could not handle the monsoon rain and water started pooling on the roof and leaking through the seams. Remember Goldilocks when picking your tent for camping in the rain – not too big, not too small.
Keep Your Tent Dry Inside
- Bring tent repair tape to patch unexpected leaks and tears in your tent. It is not uncommon for tents to get minor snags and tears when used, but these can lead to water leaking in your tent. Tent repair tape is water proof and easy to apply for plugging these leaks.
- Close the windows and doors on your tent fully when you leave the campsite. Many back country areas have fast moving micro climates, which means storms can develop quickly, open doors and windows can lead to a soggy tent and sleeping bag when rain falls.
During a recent rainy backpacking trip the glue on that held the plastic window on the rain fly of our our trusty 10 year old 2 person tent decided that it no longer wanted to hold together. The result was a 6 inch by 3 inch hole to the sky directly above our heads. We neglected to bring tent repair tape with us so we made due by “taping” the window back in with a fist full of band-aids, and draping an emergency rain poncho over the hole. While this MacGyvering kept most of the rain out, it was not ideal, and had there been high winds, it would have surely failed.
Keep Your Stuff Dry
- Plastic garbage bags are your friend – Use plastic garbage bags to keep your food and clothes dry.
- Store electronics in sealable waterproof bags
Make the Best of Camping in the Rain
Camping in the rain does not have to be a chore and hanging out in a tent while the rain falls is often is a great opportunity for connecting with others without other distractions. Card games like Cards Against Humanity are a fun way to pass the time, or if you are camping with the family, old-school board games (yes they still make those) are a great way to entertain kids. You can also use the opportunity to just kick back enjoy some wine and relax while listening to the rain tap on the tent.
Do you have any tips for camping in the rain? Share them with us in the comments below.