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How to Prepare for Camping in the Rain

I love to camp, but I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it is bound to rain, no matter the season. I actually prefer camping in late spring and early fall when campgrounds are less crowded, and there is no fire ban (campfires are the best part of camping, am I right?). So, if you’re camping in the Pacific Northwest, another rainy area, or during a rainy season, you need to be prepared for camping in the rain. 

If you’re not prepared for the rain, it can ruin your camping experience- leaving you with soaking wet clothes, a lake in your tent, or a fire that won’t start. But camping in the rain can be a great experience if you’re prepared. 

There are a few things to consider when preparing to camp in the rain:

  • Choosing the best location
  • Creating a rain-free camping space
  • Choosing the best gear for rain
  • Setting up in the rain
  • Lighting a fire in the rain


Choosing the Best Camping Location  

If you can choose where you camp (ie. you haven’t booked a designated site), it can make all the difference in keeping your camping area dry, so you have a more enjoyable experience camping in the rain. 

Things to look for when choosing a camping location:

  1. Higher ground. Avoid lower areas where run-off may collect. 
  2. Surrounded by trees/have trees overhead (you will need this for your tarps). Trees also provide natural shelter from the rain. 


Creating a Rain-free Camping Space

Create a tarp shelter to keep your rainy campsite dry - having a dry space for activities can improve your camping experience significantly. You may want one large tarp to create a covered space for eating and other activities (ie. over the picnic table) and a second tarp over your tent. 

Hanging your Tarps for Camping in the Rain

Hanging your tarps takes a bit of practice and will depend on the layout of your campsite, but here are some tips to get you started. 

1 Start with your center line.

  • Ideally, you want to find two large trees to which you can secure your center line that allow your tarp to hang over the most important part of your site. Of course, you are at the mercy of the trees’ location. 
  • Try to secure the ropes as high as possible, so the tarp is easy to walk under and secure it tightly (if you expect strong winds having your tarp lower makes sense).
  • You want to use rope that isn’t stretchy, so the rope doesn’t sag.


2 Use smaller pieces of rope to secure the corners of your tarp, either to other trees or poles. Make sure the tarp is at a slight angle down to let the rain drain off. 

Even if it isn’t already raining, I recommend putting up at least one tarp. You really don’t want to be rushing to try and set up a tarp after it’s started raining. And if it doesn’t rain, it’s still nice to have shade. 

If you’re putting a tarp over your tent, ensure it covers your entire tent so you don’t have the tarp repeatedly dripping water on it. 

Bonus tip: Tarps are getting fairly expensive these days, so you want to save the grommets and not have them rip in the wind. When you secure your smaller ropes from the corner of the tent, wrap the corner of the tarp around a toonie-sized smooth rock and tie the rope around the rock. (Consider bringing an extra tarp just in case one gets damaged).

Do you need a tarp under your tent?

Sometimes you’ll see people putting a tarp underneath their tent to prepare for camping in the rain, but is it necessary? The only reason to put a tarp, or ground cloth (sometimes sold with the tent), underneath your tent is to protect the fabric from sharp rocks and maybe to keep it cleaner. 

If you want to use a tarp to protect the bottom of your tent, you can; however, make sure it doesn’t stick out past your tent (ie. you should not be able to see it). If rain falls onto the tarp, it will run underneath and could saturate the fabric and get you wet. 

Choosing the Best Camping Rain Gear

One of the best things you can do to be prepared for camping in the rain is to purchase the right gear. In my opinion, a good tent that will keep you dry is the most important. Waking up in a pool of water is less than ideal, and getting your bedding dry after it’s wet can be a nightmare. It’s always better to stay dry if you can help it.

Here are a few features to consider when purchasing a tent to keep you dry in the rain;

  • Bathtub floor 
  • Durable material
  • Fly that goes all the way to the ground
  • Suitable ventilation 
  • Vestibule to keep shoes and other items dry 


A quick and easy setup can also make a big difference in the rain. 

Other than a tent, there’s a few things to consider when purchasing the best gear for camping in the rain. 

Your outermost layer is critical to stay dry. If you’re regularly camping in the rain like me, you will want to invest in good rain gear (we can agree wet clothes are the worst, right?). A waterproof jacket and rain pants are my suggestion. Gore-Tex is lightweight and breathable, so they can be worn in warmer spring rain, or you can put an extra layer underneath in colder wet weather. 

Another essential thing to consider is shoes. Avoiding wet feet is a crucial part of staying warm and comfortable. For me, Gore-Tex runners are suitable enough for most camping trips, but you may want to consider hiking shoes or rubber boots. 

If you aren’t regularly camping in the rain, you might be able to get away with having a poncho or cheaper rain suit that packs up small in your bag. But investing in good Gore-Tex rain gear is never a bad idea.

What about if you get wet but need to stay warm? The solution is wool.

Wool is waterproof, has excellent insulation and is moisture-wicking which means that once it’s wet, it will continue to keep you warm. You may be thinking that wool is itchy and not comfortable to wear - Merino wool is what you need. It has smaller, smoother fibers that feel much more like cotton than the traditional wool you’re thinking of. 

Regarding gear, it’s also a great idea to bring extra clothes. Having dry clothes can make all the difference in your camping experience. A few pairs of socks can make a big difference if you get wet (note: they make merino wool socks that are great for camping in the rain). 

If you do get wet clothes, set up a clothesline underneath your tarp to help them dry. 

You also want to store gear appropriately to ensure it stays dry. This could be in a waterproof bag, or if you’re car camping, you can store gear in totes. 

Setting Up in the Rain

In an ideal world, you can set up your campsite before the rain starts, but that’s not always possible. (Check the weather forecast before you go). But if it’s raining when you arrive, set up your tarp first, then set up your tent underneath to keep it dry. 

Lighting a Fire in the Rain

As I already mentioned, a campfire is one of the best things about camping. Does it even really feel like camping without it? So, efficiently creating a good campfire in the rain can make all the difference in whether or not you enjoy your trip. 

You’ll need a few things to make sure you’re able to start a fire while camping in the rain; ignition, tinder, kindling, and fuel.

Ignition 

Always having the ability to start a fire is essential. Even if you aren’t trying to start a campfire, you will need to light a stove to cook your food (or make your coffee). Consider having waterproof matches and a waterproof lighter in your camping gear.  

Tinder

Tinder is something lightweight that catches fire easily and burns quickly to help get the fire started. You can pack fire starters (which is what I usually do). But there are some options to find things to use as tinder in wet weather. 

  1. Check under pine trees, they will typically have a fairly thick bed of needles, and if you dig down, you may be able to find some that’s dry. 
  2. Make your tinder from fallen wood. Take the driest log you can find and peel off the bark. Use your camping knife to scrape the wood to create thin wood shavings. 


Kindling & Fuel Wood

Kindling is the smaller fuel that lights easily but burns longer than tinder, and the fuel wood keeps your fire going. Dry firewood can make all the difference when getting a decent fire started in the rain. 

Generally, I bring in pre-purchased kiln-dried wood for starting a fire as the wood you might find to burn in my area is damp all the way through and burning wet wood creates more smoke that can damage your lungs, and it doesn’t produce as much heat.

You can use this dry firewood to make kindling - just ensure you have a sharp axe to safely split it. 

If you need to gather wood to burn, do it at the beginning of your trip, hopefully before it starts raining and stack it under your tarp, so it stays dry or dries off some. The driest wood can typically be found under trees. Even if you need fuel, never cut down trees

Once your fire is going, you will have to monitor it a little more, but if you have enough dry fuel, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

Camping in the Rain Checklist of Essential Gear

  • Tarps and rope
  • Extra tent stakes
  • Waterproof tent
  • Waterproof rain jacket and pants
  • Waterproof shoes
  • Moisture-wicking base layer
  • Waterproof matches
  • Knife and axe 


Also, remember, if you’re packing up in the rain, your gear will be wet when you get home. Make sure to take the time to unpack and let it dry to ensure it doesn’t mold - especially your tent. Having trash bags to put your wet tarps in can be helpful. 

Camping in the rain can be just as fun as camping in any other weather if you’re prepared!