How to keep bedding dry when camping

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Backcountry camping

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There’s nothing worse than crawling into your tent at night and realizing that your sleeping bag is damp.

Okay, maybe the only thing worse than that is waking up in the middle of the night to find it soaking wet.

It’s more common than you might think.

Condensation droplets on a red tent.

A few reasons why you might struggle with wet bedding while camping include:

Rain. Even if your tent is waterproof, it can still seep in through the mesh windows/doors, vents, and inner tent if it gets under your shell/rainfly.

Ground moisture. Even if it’s not raining, there could still be ground moisture that seeps into your tent and causes dampness.

Humidity. If the air in your camping area is particularly humid, condensation can form on the inside walls of your tent and eventually dampen your sleeping bag.

Cold air. When the air cools down at night, your breath becomes warmer than the air outside and can cause condensation to form on your tent walls.

Poor airflow. If you decide to close up all the window/door panels and possibly the vents as well, perhaps due to rain or cold air, you won’t have any air circulating in the tent and this can create a damp, stuffy environment.

You can’t control the weather or the conditions, but you can control the environment within your tent.

Here’s what we recommend.

Get a good 3-season tent

A corgi sitting beside two 3-season tents on a campsite.

First things first: It all starts with your tent.

If you have a cheap tent, or you have one that was passed down from your parents and is now several decades old, it’s time to upgrade.

Three-season tents are the most popular and versatile type of tents, designed to keep you dry and comfortable in heavy rain and high winds.

One of the most distinct features of a three-season tent is the rainfly, which is a waterproof outer shell that covers the entire tent and helps to keep rain out without restricting airflow too much.

Lucky for you, there are tons of affordable options.

Check out our guide on three-season tents to find out more.

Consider getting a bigger tent

A super thick camping air mattress inside a tent with two sleeping bags.

Small tents are great for solo campers who want to save on weight, but they’re not a great idea if you plan on sleeping multiple people and potentially dogs too.

The first reason for this is that it increases condensation buildup.

All those bodies breathing throughout the night will make it harder to avoid condensation to form on the inside walls of your tent.

The second reason is that if your tent is small, you’re more likely to have your sleep system, clothes, and other gear pushed up against the sides of the tent, which is where they could get wet if condensation develops.

Make sure the seams have been sealed

Sealed seams on a green tent.

Most modern tents already come with sealed seams, which are the areas of the tent where the fabric has been stitched together.

When not sealed, they’re bound to leak.

If your tent’s seams haven’t been sealed, or you’ve had it for a while, we suggest sealing the seams yourself with seam sealer.

It’s easy to do on your own with a good sealant like Gear Aid Fast Cure Seam Sealant.

Think twice about where you’re setting up your tent

A wet tent in the rain.

Ideally, you don’t want to set up your tent in an open area that exposes it to the elements.

You also don’t want to set it up in a low lying area where water could pool underneath or around your tent.

If possible, look for an elevated spot that’s sheltered by trees.

You can also set up your tent at the base of a tree or a rock to provide some natural protection.

Double down on your groundsheet

A tent with two extra groundsheets.

If you have a good three-season tent, chances are the floor comes with extra waterproofing and you may even get a groundsheet to put down first.

But you can never go wrong with two groundsheets—especially if you’re camping in the shoulder seasons or you’re expecting rain.

A simple tarp will do the trick.

It may even help boost the insulation of your tent.

Set up a tarp over your tent

A tarp set up over a tent on a campsite.

Your tent should have a rainfly, but if you want to go the extra mile, consider setting up an extra barrier over your tent for added protection.

This way, even if wind and rain come in from an unexpected direction, you’ll still be covered.

We recommend an A-frame tarp shelter to encourage water to drip off the sides.

Another big benefit of setting up a tarp over your tent is that you’ll be able to stay mostly dry right outside your tent doorway, making it more convenient for you to remove wet clothes before getting in the tent.

Avoid setting up your sleep system too close to the walls of the tent

Two sleeping bags inside a tent.

This goes hand-in-hand with making sure your tent is big enough for the number of bodies that need to sleep in there.

For instance, Ross and I have a tent that fits three people, but it’s just us two who sleep in there.

This gives us plenty of room to set our sleeping pads and bags away from the walls.

This helps keep them dry in case condensation does start to form on the inside walls of the tent, reducing your risk of getting soaked during your sleep.

Put a garbage bag over the foot end of your sleeping bag

A black garbage bag.

If you find that your feet still touch the wall of the tent when you lie down, then you’re almost guaranteed to end up with a wet sleeping bag by morning.

To keep your bedding dry, an easy hack is to bring along a garbage bag and put it over the foot end of your sleeping bag before you go to bed.

The big downside is that it could cause a lot of rustling in the night if you’re a restless sleeper, but you can help that by bringing along some earplugs.

Consider sleeping on a camping cot

A camping cot inside a tent.

A camping cot lifts you off the ground, separating you and your sleep system from the cold ground and any moisture that could be on the floor.

We slept on Helinox Cot Ones during a winter camping expedition this year, which were absolute heaven.

And they were necessary, because our hot tent didn’t have a floor or ground sheet—it was just snow.

The bottom line is that the greater the barrier between your sleep system and the ground, the better chance you have of keeping everything dry.

Make sure your sleeping bag is water-resistant

A man holding a sleeping bag with a closed toe box.

Sleeping bags aren’t waterproof, but they should be water-resistant, which means that water droplets won’t penetrate the outer fabric.

The outer fabric is typically made with durable water repellent (DWR) finish, which helps prevent saturation by beading water off the surface.

If your sleeping bag isn’t DWR-treated or if its treatment has worn off, you can refresh it using a product like Nikwax TX Direct Spray.

It’s possible to get down sleeping bags that come with a hydrophobic treatment to help keep water out, but you don’t necessarily need one.

Hydrophobic down only offers a little extra protection from dampness and doesn’t typically last the lifetime of your sleeping bag, so unless you plan on going on a multi-day trip in damp conditions with limited time for drying out your bag, it’s best to save your money.

Keep wet clothes and gear outside your tent

Clothing hanging on a clothesline at a campsite.

It might be tempting to bring your wet clothes and gear into the tent with you at night, but this is a surefire way to get your sleeping bag and mattress wet and cold.

Remember that once the temperature drops overnight, those damp items won’t just stay damp—they’ll become a source of moisture and condensation inside your tent.

If you need to bring your wet gear into the tent, make sure it’s in a sealed, waterproof container—like a dry bag.

The next day, you can take them out and dry them in the sun.

Keep your rainfly closed at night

A zipper on the rainfly of a tent.

Unless the risk of rain is extremely low for the night, it’s best to keep your rainfly zipped up while you sleep.

Many tent rainflies can be set up/closed partially (such as one-third of the way) so that they provide coverage from light to medium rain without restricting airflow.

You’ll have to refer to your tent manufacturer’s instructions to see if you can do this.

If heavy rain is expected, however, you’ll want to zip it right up.

Use a portable heater or fan to help circulate the air

A person holding a portable fan.

These are optional, but they can certainly help—and they’re a big relief in hot or cold weather.

You can get propane-powered heaters that can be used in a tent, but there are risks involved—and you can’t sleep with it on.

Ideally, you would use it to warm up your tent in cold weather before going to bed, or turn it on in the morning to help dry out any condensation that developed overnight.

Make sure to check out our guide to portable camping heaters to find out how to use one safely and which ones we recommend.

As far as tent fans go, we’re a big fan (no pun intended) of this two-in-one camping fan with LED lantern, which is designed to hang from the top of your tent.

It has three speeds, is rechargeable, and it’s safe enough to leave on overnight.

Dry damp or wet bedding out on a clothesline during the day

Sleeping bags hanging on a clothesline to dry.

Sometimes you can do everything right, and still end up with damp or wet bedding.

Whether it’s from condensation on the walls, an unexpected leak, or having to hurry inside your tent because of a rainstorm, you might end up with damp or wet bedding after all.

And that’s okay, because you can always dry it out during the day.

Sun and warm temperatures are ideal, so if you can set up a clothesline in direct sunlight, that would do the fastest job at drying out your bedding.

If there are too many trees in the way that create shade, your next best option would be to find a clear patch of grass or rock that’s exposed to the sun where you can lay out your bedding and let it dry.

If there’s some wind, you may need to place some heavy items (like rocks) down on it to prevent it from blowing away.

Taking this extra step to keep your sleeping bag, mattress, and other bedding dry will go a long way in ensuring you have a comfortable night’s sleep when camping.

Good luck!

Next up: How to keep your camp chair from sinking into the ground

How to keep bedding dry FAQ

Why does everything feel damp when camping?

When camping, the combination of cold/humid air and warm breath in a confined space—such as a tent —can cause moisture to form over walls and bedding.

This can make everything feel damp and if you have a down sleeping bag, you may even notice a slight mildewy smell.

This suggests that the down feathers are damp as well and must be dried to retain its insulation value (plus get rid of the smell).

Will a wet sleeping bag go mouldy?

Yes, if a sleeping bag gets wet and is not dried out properly, it can develop mould and mildew.

This can compromise the insulation value of your sleeping bag and make it uncomfortable to sleep in.

It will also shorten the lifespan of your sleeping bag.

To prevent this from happening, always dry out your tent and bedding after each camping trip.

Additionally, try to store your sleeping bag in a cool, dry place.

This will help to keep it protected from moisture and maintain its performance.

What’s the best way to dry bedding when camping?

The best way to dry bedding when camping is to hang it or lay it out in direct sunlight.

Make sure to turn your bedding items over at least once to ensure it dries out evenly.

What sheets are best for camping in damp or wet conditions?

When camping in damp or wet conditions, it’s best to use synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon.

Avoid cotton sheets, which can take longer to dry and may not provide enough insulation when wet.

Instead of sheets you can also use a sleeping bag liner, which is a thin piece of material that fits inside your sleeping bag to keep it clean and boost the warmth or coolness factor.

What absorbs moisture in a tent?

The best way to absorb moisture in a tent is to set up a portable dehumidifier.

This will help keep the air in your tent dry and reduce condensation on the walls and bedding.

You can also try using a few silica gel packets, which may help absorb moisture from the air.

Place a few of these in the corners of your tent and replace them when they become saturated.

How do you dry out a tent without taking it down?

If you find that the inside and/or outside of your tent is very damp or wet, but you still plan to stay another night or two, you can dry it out by:

  • Using a towel to wipe moisture off the inside and outside of the walls
  • Removing all bedding and gear items to minimize dampness and maximize space for airflow
  • Open up all the window/doorway panels and vents all the way
  • Set up a portable fan to help circulate air throughout the tent and remove moisture
  • Hang a light weight portable dehumidifier at the top of your tent

Do this first thing in the morning to help maximize drying time.

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About Us

Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

Read more about our story.