How to Set Up a Tent in the Rain (15 Tips)

How to Set Up a Tent in the Rain (15 Tips)

There’s nothing worse than looking at the forecast for the weekend and seeing rain predicted for when you plan on going camping! Rain completely ruins camping trips, right? Well, if you don’t have the right skills and gear it can!

If you go prepared, you’ll not only get to go camping and stay bone dry, but you’ll also likely have the campsite to yourself since most people are scared off by rainy forecasts! Nice! But what are the key skills and gear needed to thrive in a rainy environment? Well, continue reading and you’ll learn not only how to set up a tent in the rain, but also many other tips and tricks to help you enjoy your camping experience, no matter what the weather does!

Key Gear Purchases

Key Gear Purchases

1. Lightweight tarp

When you are planning to deal with a rainy environment, the first, easiest, and most important step is to set up a lightweight tarp over the area that you plan on working in. This will help you stay dry while you take out your tent, poles, rainfly, and stakes to get your tent constructed.

The best way to set up your tarp is to take notice of which way the wind is blowing the rain and try to set it up at an angle so that you can deflect the rain from your workspace, while also allowing it to run off of your tarp and onto the ground. You want to avoid setting up the tarp in a way that it would cause the rainwater to pool up in the center.

Rainwater can pool up on your tarp, which will make it challenging to continue to stay dry as the weight from the water can potentially cause your tarp to fold in on itself and drench you underneath. If you do notice pooling, be sure to address it quickly by knocking the pooling water off of your tarp as soon as possible!

2. Rain Gear

Hopefully you decided to plan ahead and bring along proper rain gear for your weekend camping trip. At a minimum, you should have a lightweight poncho be a piece of gear that you never leave home without when camping. Ponchos are easy to carry and use, plus they are lightweight and inexpensive, making it hard to argue why they’re an unnecessary piece of gear!

If you want to step up your rain gear game from the poncho, bringing a rain jacket and rain pants is another great idea. When you are shopping for a rain jacket, be sure to find one that comes with ventilation zippers. You’ll usually find them in the arm pits of the jacket. This helps wick away heat that gets built up inside of the jacket, as the materials usually don’t allow heat to escape. You’ll avoid over heating while wearing it, which will keep you comfortable and dry since you won’t get drenched by the rain or by your own sweat!

3. Single Wall Tent vs. Traditional Tent with Rainfly

If you camp in rainy environments often enough, you may want to consider purchasing a single wall tent instead of a traditional double walled tent. The benefits of a single wall tent is that it can be set up with all of the waterproof shelter that you need without having to put up a rainfly. This is because single wall tents don’t have mesh side panels like double wall tents do.

Double wall tents are great for when you plan on camping in a variety of environments regularly. Double wall tents are especially useful when it’s hot outside, as the mesh panels allow for proper ventilation inside of the tent. 

The rain fly protects campers from rain in double wall tents, but not all rain flies are created equally. When shopping for a double wall tent, be sure to find one where the rain fly stretches all the way to the ground and can be guyed out. Stretching the material all the way to the ground will keep rainwater from whipping up underneath your rain fly.

The guy lines on the rain fly will also keep your rain fly nice and tight, which will encourage it to shed water away from it while discouraging water from pooling up. If you notice that there aren’t a lot of spots to attach guylines to a double wall tent rain fly, you probably don’t want to go with that tent!

4. Rain Cover for Backpack

After you have decided what style of tent you’re going to bring, be sure to protect that tent from getting wet, especially if you are backpacking. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by purchasing a rain cover for your backpack.

Rain covers act like rain flies for your pack. You simply attach it to the outside of the pack, and it wicks away rain, just like a tent rain fly!

A pro tip here is to not only use a rain cover for your backpack, but to also use a contractor bag to line the inside of your pack! Contractor bags are made out of strong plastic and are designed to be waterproof and tear resistant. 

Going with the rain cover or the contractor bag inside of the pack is good. Bringing both is best.

5. Footwear

When you’re dealing with rain, you’ll want to be sure to have your feet dry as you’re setting up your tent. One of the most dangerous things that can happen in a rainy environment is getting your feet wet and not being able to dry them.

One of the most glaring examples of why it’s important to keep your feet dry is to look at pictures of World War I soldiers’ feet. Their feet were constantly wet and one of the things that happened to their feet was called trench foot. This would result in severe blisters and then the rotting away of flesh from the foot! Trench foot was one of the leading causes for troops to be taken off of the front line, as if their feet rotted away, they couldn’t effectively fight!

Now, it’s more than likely that you won’t be subjected to the same miseries as experienced by WWI soldiers. But their experience can be used to learn from for those who venture out into wet environments!

Gore-Tex is an amazing material that both waterproofs and breathes. This not only keeps water from soaking your feet, but it also allows heat and moisture inside of your shoe to escape. If you’re backpacking and you plan on spending time in the rain, be smart and bring Gore-Tex hiking boots. 

If you’re car camping, the best material your boots can be made out of is rubber. Rubber boots are practically impervious to water. They are much heavier and less comfortable to wear compared to Gore-Tex boots, which is why it’s not recommended for backpackers to wear them, but car campers can definitely take advantage of being close to their vehicle to wear rubber boots while setting up camp in the rain.

6. Material for Drying Fabric

One of the easiest things that you can bring along with you to help deal with rain is a towel or a sponge. These are great because they are light weight, compressible, and can easily mop up the inside of a tent after it has gotten wet.

Towels and sponges are also great to use for drying off your tent in the morning before you put it away! They won’t get your tent completely dry, but they will help speed up the process so that you can avoid packing away a wet tent. 

To completely dry off your tent after a rainy night, be sure to not only wipe it down with a towel or sponge, but also allow it to dry out in the sun before putting it away. Wet tents can grow mildew on them quickly if stored wet for a short time. This can ruin tents so be sure to store your tent dry!

7. Waterproof Sleeping Bag Cover

As mentioned earlier with rain covers and contractor bags, it’s important to try to keep your stuff as dry as possible when setting up a tent in the rain. Waterproof sleeping bag covers will help you add just one more layer of protection to your camping set up, as it’ll ensure that one of the most important pieces of gear you have stays dry throughout the tent construction process.

8. Waterproof Stuff Sack for Tent

And finally, you’ll want to ditch the bag that your tent came in and purchase a dry bag to stuff your tent into. Think about the bag that your tent came in kind of like a shoe box. Shoe boxes are great for selling shoes in, but once you bought your shoes, you most likely don’t need to keep storing your shoes inside of it!

Waterproof bags are much better for storing your tent in, because of their most obvious benefit: they keep your tent dry! 

Plus, if you get a compression dry bag, you can compress your tent down to a very small size which can save you room inside of your backpack or car!

Strategy for Tent Construction in the Rain

Strategy for Tent Construction in the Rain

1. Make a Plan Prior to Your Trip

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail! When you are making a plan to go camping, it’s important that you spend some time thinking about the logistics of your trip. Look at maps of the area that you plan on going to in order to see if there are any potential hazards. One of the biggest things to consider is how close you are to a creek, stream, or river.

If you are planning to go camping near one of these bodies of water when it’s forecasted to rain, be sure that you have an evacuation plan for if they start to flood. Camp far enough away so that if you did need to escape a flood, you would have plenty of time and space to do so.

If you’re going with other people, be sure that they all know what the plan is and how they can help out in the case of an emergency. An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure!

2. Rehearse Your Plan

Once you and your camping partners are clear on what the plan is, be sure to rehearse key points in your plan. 

Practice setting up your tarp and your tent quickly in the backyard. The faster you can set up, the less chance there is for rain to get your tent wet, and the dryer you will be! Setting up a tent is a skill, and skills need to be practiced to master.

Make sure that everyone is also clear on their gear responsibilities for when you need to evacuate. This will ensure that everyone knows what they need to take care of if you have to leave an area quickly. But, if worse comes to worse, leave the gear behind. No tent or sleeping bag is worth risking your life for!

3. Wait Out the Storm When Possible

One of the best ways to deal with setting up a tent in the rain is to avoid doing it entirely. Find a dry spot nearby or set up your tarp and try to wait until the storm has passed. Be careful about selecting your location to stand under. As mentioned above, flooding can be a real hazard. Waiting under an underpass can be helpful, but it can also present a hazard if the water starts to flow through it. 

4. Try to Avoid Setting Up in the Dark

If you’ve been waiting for a while and it doesn’t seem like the rain is going to stop, be sure to start setting up before it gets dark outside. When the sun goes down, the temperatures usually drop with it. One thing that you want to avoid as much as you can is being wet and cold while camping. Being wet when the temperatures dip below 50°F can cause hypothermia to set in quickly. 

Plus, it’s a lot harder to set your tent up in the dark! You can’t see where you’re actually setting up, which can be a problem if you pick a terrible spot to put your tent.

5. Campsite Location Tips

Finding a suitable campsite is a very important step in setting up your tent in the rain. You want to find a spot that has a slight slope to it rather than a spot that is completely level. Spots with slight slopes to them help shed rainwater away from them, which will prevent water from pooling up. When water pools up, it can soak through your tent floor and get you wet inside!

6. Campsite Preparation Tips

After you have found your ideal spot, you can prepare it even better to help keep your tent dry. An easy tactic for campsite preparation is to dig a very small trench around your tent. Then, dig a drain for your trench that helps the water that gets collected in the trench to flow away from your tent. 

By digging a rain trench, you can keep the bottom of your tent from getting soaked by rainwater. Always be sure to follow leave no trace principles and fill in your trench before you leave your campsite!

7. Safety Considerations

Camping in the rain can present some new challenges compared to camping while it’s dry. As mentioned before, an ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure. Be sure to be on the lookout for the following when camping in the rain:

  • Hypothermia
  • Trench foot
  • Flooding
  • Mudslides

Hypothermia is the most likely issue that you’ll encounter. The best way to deal with it is to stay as dry as possible for as long as possible. When you do get wet, it’s important to change into dry clothes as soon as possible.

Trench foot is a real safety concern, especially for backpackers. The best way to deal with this is to keep your feet dry by bringing waterproof boots and plenty of dry socks to change into. If your feet get wet, don’t hike for too much longer. Take some time to let your feet dry out as much as possible to avoid tearing your feet up.

If you notice that an area is flooded, don’t enter that water! You have no idea how deep that water is from the surface, so don’t risk getting put in a position where you’re struggling to get out of flood waters. This is especially important in fast moving water. People have been swept away in moving water that is more than 12 inches deep. 

Mudslides are the least likely issue you’ll encounter but should be taken into consideration when selecting a campsite. Be aware of your surroundings. If you notice the side of the hill that you’re planning on camping near has evidence of a recent wildfire, you may want to pick a different spot. Wildfires take away the natural vegetation that slows down rainwater, so water that goes down steep burn sites can result in fast moving mudslides to take place.


Camping in the rain can be a pain, only if you don’t go prepared! Now that you have read this guide, you can go out and confidently know that you have the knowledge and skills to get the proper gear and set up your tent masterfully in any environment. Rain no longer should be an issue for you!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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