How to set up a tent in the rain

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Backcountry camping

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There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors, the smell of fresh air, the thrill of adventure, and the unexpected…rain.

If you’ve ever found yourself staring at a heap of tent poles and canvas with rain pouring down, you know the struggle.

Tent poles with rain droplets

It’s a scenario that would dampen even the most enthusiastic camper’s spirit.

But don’t let the rain clouds steal your thunder!

We’re going to tackle this common camping conundrum together, offering practical tips and solutions to turn what could be a soggy disaster into a triumph against the elements.

By the end of this guide, setting up a tent in the rain will be just another part of the adventure.

So, grab your waterproof jacket, and let’s dive in!

Choose an elevated, sheltered site for setup

campsite marker sign in the mountains

When it’s raining, you’ll want to set up your tent in an elevated and sheltered area to prevent water from pooling under your tent.

First, look for a site that’s higher than the surrounding terrain.

Water flows downhill, so avoid lower spots where water may collect.

A slightly elevated spot allows water to run off and away from your tent.

Don’t forget to check for signs of water flow on the ground, like small channels or washed-out areas.

Next, search for a sheltered area protected from wind and rain.

Natural windbreaks like a stand of trees or a hill can provide valuable protection from harsh weather conditions.

A sheltered area with a lightweight tarp can also help you stay dry when setting up your tent.

But be cautious of trees with damaged branches or signs of instability, as they can be hazardous in strong winds or storms.

When choosing your site, pay attention to the direction of the wind.

Face the narrowest part of your tent into the wind, as this increases its stability and minimizes wind exposure.

As a tip, wind direction can change during the night, so ensure your tent is well secured with stakes and guylines.

Lastly, remember to give yourself ample space between your tent and any nearby bodies of water.

This distance will prevent your campsite from getting flooded in case of heavy rain or rising water levels.

Prepare your tent materials

Preparing to set up a tent

Start by gathering your tent, rainfly, stakes, and guylines.

Double-check that your tent has waterproof seams and a bathtub-style floor to prevent water from getting in.

Don’t forget to pack a lightweight tarp to create a dry workspace for setting up your tent.

When it’s time to set up camp, lay out your tent materials in a dry area and make sure they’re well-organized.

This helps speed up the setup process, so your tent is up quicker, reducing the chance of getting wet.

Also, ensure you have a waterproof bag to store your tent materials in when you break camp.

This will keep your gear dry for future trips.

If you’re carrying a tent with a separate inner tent and rainfly, it’s best to practice setting up at home to become familiar with the process.

This way, you’ll be more efficient when setting up in the rain.

If you have a one-piece tent that combines the inner tent and rainfly, set them up simultaneously to minimize exposure to the rain.

Keep in mind that wearing rain gear like a raincoat or poncho while setting up your tent will keep you dry and make the process less uncomfortable.

When working with guylines, consider using cord tensioners to simplify the process and keep the tension stable during wet conditions.

When you find the perfect spot for your tent, remember to select a slightly elevated ground, which will allow water to flow away from your tent during heavy rainfalls.

If possible plan to set up your tent under natural cover like trees to provide additional shelter from raindrops.

Set up an A-frame tarp shelter

A-fram tarp shelter

When setting up a tent in the rain, an A-frame tarp shelter can be a lifesaver.

This simple and effective structure protects your tent from rain and wind, significantly reducing the chances of getting soaked.

So, let’s get right into how you can set it up.

First, find two sturdy trees about 10 feet apart to serve as anchor points for your tarp shelter.

The distance depends on the size of your tarp and tent, but this is a good starting point.

Once you’ve selected your trees, you’ll need to create a ridgeline.

For this, take a piece of rope, preferably paracord, tie it to one tree as high as you want (around five feet works well), then stretch it tight and tie it off at the other tree at the same height.

How you tie the ridgeline is essential for the overall stability of the shelter, so make sure it’s secure.

Next, throw the tarp over the ridgeline so that the center of the tarp sits on the cord.

This should create an even A-frame shape with equal parts of the tarp hanging down on each side.

It’s important to have the tarp properly positioned to ensure maximum protection from rain and wind.

Now that your tarp is in place, you’ll need to secure the corners and edges.

Stake down the corners of the tarp using tent pegs, making sure there’s enough tension to prevent the tarp from sagging.

It’s important to note that if you’re using trekking poles, you can place them midway along the front and back edges of your shelter, angle them slightly, and then stake down and lightly tension their guylines to hold the poles in place.

Finally, attach guylines to all remaining tarp loops and stake them outwards at a 45-degree angle.

This will help maintain tension, keep the tarp in place, and prevent it from flapping around in the wind.

Make sure all guylines are secure and properly adjusted for the best protection.

And that’s it!

Your A-frame tarp shelter is now set up, ready to keep you and your tent dry during rainy camping adventures.

Remember, having a basic understanding of knots and tarp shelters can greatly enhance your camping experience, especially in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

Spread a waterproof groundsheet

A tarp groundsheet for a tent

When setting up your tent in the rain, spreading a waterproof groundsheet is a crucial step.

This will not only protect the tent’s floor but also keep you dry and comfortable.

The size and shape of the groundsheet should match your tent’s floor, so it doesn’t extend beyond the tent edges.

If it does extend, it may collect rainwater and channel it under your tent.

In case the sheet is larger, fold the edges so they’re inside the tent’s boundary.

Now, with the groundsheet in place, you can start setting up your tent.

If your tent has a “fast pitch” option, it’s a good time to use it.

You might need a special groundsheet with grommets for the tent poles.

This will help you speed up the process and minimize the exposure of your tent’s interior to the rain.

Once your tent is pitched, don’t forget to double-check the groundsheet placement.

Make sure there are no wrinkles or folds that could trip you up or cause water to pool inside the tent.

Assemble your tent

Two people setting up a tent.

Now, it’s time to assemble the tent poles.

Depending on your specific tent, this could involve connecting the poles and threading them through the corresponding sleeves, or attaching them to the tent body using clips.

Always consult your tent’s user manual for proper assembly instructions.

As you assemble your tent, try to work quickly to minimize the amount of rain that gets inside.

If possible, keep the tent doors zipped closed to prevent water from entering.

When attaching the rainfly, orient it so that the rain will run off and not pool on the fabric.

After your tent is fully assembled, it’s important to stake it down securely.

If the ground is soft due to the rain, use longer stakes or reinforced guylines.

Tighten the rainfly and guylines, ensuring they’re angled away from the tent to promote water runoff.

Finally, before entering your tent, take a moment to dry off and remove any wet clothing or gear.

This will help keep the inside of your tent dry and comfortable throughout your stay.

Secure your tent to the ground

A man setting up a camping tent with tent stakes.

Rain or shine, it’s always important to properly secure it to the ground.

Begin by staking the tent corners first.

Use durable tent stakes that can withstand the wet ground and windy conditions.

Angle them away from the tent to create a stronger hold on the ground.

Firmly attach guylines to the tent’s guy out loops, typically found on the corners and along the edges of the rain fly – these loops help reinforce your tent in strong winds.

Next, attach the rain fly to the tent’s poles and stake it down securely.

Remember to keep the rain fly taut to avoid pooling water on the surface.

After securing the fly, adjust and tighten the guylines for additional support and stability.

The guylines should be pulled tightly, but make sure not to apply too much tension to avoid damaging the tent or rain fly.

If you can’t use stakes or the ground is too saturated, you have a few alternative options.

You can weigh the tent down with rocks or logs, tie the tent to a tree or a heavy object, or even make your own tent stakes using sticks.

Ensure the edges of the groundsheet are tucked under the tent, so water doesn’t pool on top of the tarp and underneath your tent.

We also want to remind you that ventilation is crucial, even in rainy weather.

So, ensure the rainfly’s vents are open and facing away from the direction of the rain.

This will help prevent condensation build-up inside your tent, while still providing some fresh airflow.

Remember to keep a towel handy for wiping off any moisture that may have gotten inside while you were setting up.

Finally, don’t forget to check your tent throughout your rainy campout.

Keep an eye on the guylines and stakes, and adjust them as needed to maintain stability and ensure your tent stays secure during your rainy adventure.

Unpack gear under the tarp or in the tent

The inside of a tent with the windows rolled open.

When you’re setting up a tent in the rain, it’s important to act quickly to keep your gear dry.

With the tent and tarp in place, you can start unpacking your gear.

Open your bags under the tarp, and after making sure all your gear is dry, transfer everything into the tent.

As you move items into the tent, organize them so that you can easily find and use them later.

Don’t forget your sleeping gear.

It’s vital to keep your sleeping bag, air mattress or sleeping pad, and other sleeping gear dry.

Unpack these items last, so they spend minimal time exposed to the rain.

Change into dry clothing under the tarp

A tarp set up over a tent on a campsite.

Setting up a tent in the rain can leave you soaked even if you’ve picked the right camping spot and used a tarp over your tent.

When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s essential to prioritize staying dry and warm.

Here’s how you can change into dry clothing under the tarp while camping in wet conditions.

Before starting your camping trip, it’s a smart move to pack a set of dry clothes in a waterproof bag.

To avoid discomfort and potential health issues, always keep a designated pair of camp clothes stored away from your hiking gear.

Once you’ve set up your tarp and tent, it’s time to seek shelter and change into dry clothes.

Find a spot under the tarp where the ground is dry and free from possible water intrusion.

Unpack your dry clothes from the waterproof bag and, if necessary, spread out a towel or groundsheet to stand on while changing.

Now, quickly and carefully remove your wet garments.

When possible, try to wring out water from your wet clothing before continuing.

This will help speed up the drying process later on.

Remember to put on your dry socks and shoes as well, since having cold, wet feet can affect your overall comfort and mood throughout the trip.

Hang your wet clothes on a makeshift clothesline or branches, away from your campsite but still under the protection of the tarp.

This way, your damp gear can get some air circulation and dry out more efficiently while you stay cozy in your fresh attire.

Finally, ensure that your sleeping area remains dry.

Do a thorough check of your tent for any leaks or pooled water to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.

Remember, staying dry and warm is key to having a great time outdoors.

Make changing into dry clothes under the tarp a priority to ensure a cozy and enjoyable camping trip in the rain.

Next up: 21 things to do while camping in the rain

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What steps can be taken to prevent a wet sleeping area?

To prevent a wet sleeping area, start by choosing a campsite with elevation that’s not next to a river or lake.

This way, you won’t wake up in water during a downpour.

It’s also important to use a waterproof tent with a reliable rainfly that extends to the ground.

Additionally, place a tarp or footprint under your tent to prevent moisture from seeping through the tent bottom.

Lastly, avoid tracking in water by keeping wet gear outside or in the tent’s vestibule.

What are some essentials for rainy tent camping?

Some essentials for rainy tent camping include a high-quality waterproof tent, extra guylines and stakes for added stability, a tarp or footprint under the tent, a rainfly to protect you from direct rainfall, and a large tarp for use as a cover over your eating or relaxing area.

You’ll also want to pack waterproof rain gear, such as a rain jacket and pants, as well as quick-drying clothing and extra socks.

Don’t forget a waterproof bag to store your electronics and other valuables.

What are some tent camping hacks for heavy rain?

For heavy rain, try these hacks:

  • Use an additional tarp on top of your rainfly for extra protection.
  • Create a makeshift rain gutter by placing a small stick or rope under the rainfly’s edge, directing water away from your tent.
  • Angle your tent door away from the wind to avoid rain blowing in when you enter or exit.
  • Place a small, absorbent towel or sponge inside the tent to clean up any water that may sneak in.
  • Hang a clothesline under your tarp or rainfly to dry wet clothes and gear.

How do you dry out a tent after a rainfall?

If it’s still raining, you can start by wiping down the exterior of the tent with a large towel.

If possible, set up the tent under a tarp or other shelter to protect it from further rain.

You can also hang it up to air dry, either by attaching guylines to trees or using a portable clothesline.

Make sure the zippers and doors are open for proper airflow.

If the rain stops and you have access to direct sunlight, it’s an excellent opportunity to use the sun’s rays to dry your tent thoroughly.

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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!

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