How to Waterproof a Tent ( Simple Steps!)

How to Waterproof a Tent

It’s finally here! The weekend that you’ve been looking forward to for so long! You and your family have planned out each day, each hour, each minute to make sure that you have the maximum amount of fun. 

You check the forecast one last time before you start packing up the car and your heart drops. You see that it’s supposed to rain during the weekend that you planned to go out camping…What do you do now? Just not go? No way! You’ve planned this trip for so long and you’re going to go, rain or shine! But how do you make sure that your tent can keep you dry when it starts raining?

The easiest way to check if your tent will keep you dry is to check it for what material it’s made out of. Most tents on the market today are made out of nylon or polyester which are water resistant. But water resistant doesn’t mean waterproof. 

In the following guide, you will learn how you can be sure that when you’re faced with a rainy weekend, you’ll be able to confidently go on that trip you’ve planned for so long!

1. How to Make Nylon and Polyester Tents Waterproof

Most people end up buying a tent from either Amazon or a big box store out of convenience or for trying to get an affordable tent. When you’re looking for a tent, most will say that they are water resistant or even waterproof. At first, these tents will hold up during minor rain, but what if you get into a real downpour? Will a tent that you’ve owned for years hold up to another weekend of camping in the rain?

Don’t leave it up to chance! One of the simplest ways to beef up the waterproofing of your tent is to purchase and apply a waterproofing agent to your tent.

There are several products on the market to help you waterproof your tent. Which ones are best for applying to a nylon or polyester tent?

Kiwi makes a great product that will help you get your tent ready to keep you dry no matter what. Kiwi is a well-established brand and has produced shoe polish that helps make dress shoes shinier and water resistant for years now. So, you know that they know a thing or two about making products that will help extend the waterproofing and life of a variety of fabrics.

What makes Kiwi’s waterproofing product a great option for waterproofing your tent is that it’s very easy to use. When you use this waterproofing, preparing your tent is a big step that most people don’t do right. Here’s how you can make sure that you prep your tent and apply it correctly so that the waterproofing will be able to do its job right:

Make sure that your tent is clean. 

When cleaning your tent, thoroughly wipe it down with a wet cloth and some light detergent. Most dish soaps will work fine for this task. It’s important that you clean your tent until you can wipe a dry rag over the entire tent, and it comes back clean. 

If you have cleaned and cleaned for hours and you still get dirt that comes up on a dry rag, keep cleaning. The dirt that is on the tent will clog up the pores in the fabric, which will stop the waterproofing from getting into the fabric and staying on.

Apply the waterproofing in a well-ventilated space.

Due to the nature of the chemicals in most waterproofing spray, you’ll want to make sure that you’re applying it in a well-ventilated area. Open some windows and get a fan going to circulate air in your application area when you start applying the spray to your tent.

If you don’t have the space inside to apply your spray, consider applying your waterproofing outside. Be careful here though. You’ll want to avoid getting your tent dirty, as getting it dirty will prevent the waterproofing from adhering to the fabric properly. 

A great idea for applying the waterproofing spray to your tent is to place some cardboard or a drop cloth under your tent while you’re applying the spray. This will keep your tent from getting dirt on it through the application process and keep the ground your tent is laying on from getting the waterproofing spray on it.

Take your time while applying the waterproofing.

You’ve prepared your tent and the space that you plan on applying it to, now it’s time to actually apply it. I know that it will be tempting to rush this part but take your time. Spray in slow, even coats to all of the non-mesh material of your tent body and the tent rainfly.

While it’s not terrible if you end up spraying a little waterproofing on the mesh parts of your tent, you want to avoid doing that. The reason is that your mesh is what gives you ventilation inside of your tent and the holes in the mesh are going to be too big for the waterproofing to have very much effect on it. Spraying the mesh will not waterproof your tent.

After you have sprayed the tent and rainfly, let them dry for at least 4 hours. Consider hanging up your tent and rainfly so that they can dry thoroughly. Be sure that there aren’t any parts that are scrunched up so that you can achieve maximum dryness over the entire surface. 

Once your tent body and rainfly are completely dry, go ahead and apply another coat of waterproofing spray just like before. This second layer will reinforce the first one and give your tent a strong coat to keep you and your family dry.

Applying waterproofing spray to the tent body and rainfly is a great way to making sure your tent is ready to deal with most rainstorms. But what if you end up getting caught in a downpour that lasts for hours? How do you make sure your tent will keep you dry no matter how bad the rain gets? 

One more thing you can do to improve your tent to make it bomb proof is to apply a seam sealer to it.

2. How to Make Your Tent “Bombproof”

2. How to Make Your Tent “Bombproof”

The areas on your tent that are most likely to fail and let water in are the seams. The seams are where the manufacturer has sewed together the different parts of the tent together. They are easily identifiable and usually wherever you see an edge in your tent body and rainfly.

Like with waterproofing spray, there are tons of seam sealers on the market to choose from. A great product that will have your seams sealed and ready to hold up against any down pour is this highly rated seam sealer from Amazon. It’s received well over 1000 5-star reviews and will have your seams ready to repel water 2 hours after you have applied it.

By sealing the seams of your tent and applying waterproofing spray to it, you’ll be sure to keep your tent from leaking water into it. But what if you do all of those things and your tent still leaks water? Are there materials that are more waterproof than nylon and polyester? 

3. Tent Fabric Choice Matters

3. Tent Fabric Choice Matters

As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, most tents that are on the market today and the most common tents that people own are made out of nylon or polyester. These tents are great for first time campers as they are inexpensive compared to tents made out of other more waterproof materials. 

But now that you’ve gone camping a couple of times and you’ve experienced a wet sleeping bag because the nylon tent you bought didn’t keep the rain completely out, you might be ready to upgrade your tent. What fabrics are more waterproof than nylon?

The toughest, lightest, most waterproof fabric on the market is called dyneema. This material is 100% hydrophobic, which means that it will not absorb water like nylon or polyester will, no matter how long it’s been used.

The number one thing you’ll want to be sure of when you buy a tent made out of dyneema is to verify with the manufacturer that they are going to seal the tent fabric. When dyneema or any other fabric for that matter is made, the material gets tiny holes in it from the fabric threads being stitched together. The sealing that the manufacture applies is stronger and longer lasting than anything else on the market, so it’s definitely worth having your dyneema tent sealed before you have it shipped to you.

Dyneema is great, but if you don’t set up your tent properly, you’ll likely end up getting wet inside of your tent. How do you set up your tent so that it is optimized to keeping you dry no matter what? 

4. How to Set Up Your Tent Correctly

4. How to Set Up Your Tent Correctly

Setting up tents is relatively easy. Most tents come with poles and stakes that are used to prop up your tent and provide volume inside so that you can crawl inside. But if you don’t set up your tent properly, all of the effort you spent on waterproofing it or all of the money you spent on a fancy dyneema tent will be for nothing!

Location, Location, Location

Before you even break out your tent, you need to find the proper location to set up. If you are in an area that has seen rain recently, read the ground for channels where water has drained through. If you see areas where rainwater has flowed through, you’ll want to avoid setting up there as if it rains again while you’re camping, water will most likely go through that spot again.

If you can’t avoid these channels, dig a small trench around where you plan on setting up your tent so that you can encourage the water to flow away from the tent. Be sure to include a drain for your trench that opens up going downhill so that it will keep water away from your tent no matter how much rain you experience. 

BE SURE TO FILL IN YOUR TRENCH WHEN YOU LEAVE. Follow leave no trace principles and erase any evidence of your trench so as to be considerate of the next user that will use that camp spot.

Tent Setup

Now that you’re in the best spot that is most likely to stay dry, you need to set up your tent. Each tent is different, so follow the directions that your specific tent has for setup. 

Once you have set up the tent body, you’ll want to stake out each part of your tent so that it is nice and taught. Pick a corner of your tent and stake it down. Now go to the corner that is diagonal from it and stake that side down. Be sure to pull on that corner to make the tent nice and tight before staking it down. Now repeat that procedure for the last two corners of the tent.

Following that way of staking down your tent will make sure that your tent will have smooth surfaces for water to run off of. When tents aren’t nice and taught, water can pool up in areas that sag down, leading to leaks that will definitely get you wet!

After you have properly staked out your tent, you need to put on the rainfly. Just like setting up your tent body, you want it to be nice and tight to your tent to make sure that it will keep water out. The best way to do that is to use the guylines on the sides of the rainfly.

What are guylines? Guylines are the small white strings that are found on the sides of the rainfly. Most of the time, people either cut these off or just let them dangle off of the side. If you want to make sure that your tent will keep the water out though, you’ll want to use them to keep the surface of the tent taught. 

To use your guylines, start by pulling it away from the tent at a 45° angle. You want to bring it away from the tent body so that the space between the tent body and where you stake the guyline down is no more than about 24 inches away from your tent. The reason why you don’t want it staked out further away from your tent is that it could produce a tripping hazard for when you are walking around outside your tent. 

Now that you have pulled your guyline away from the tent body, place a stake through the loop at the end of the guyline and drive that stake into the ground at a 45° angle. That angle you create with your stake will make sure that your guyline doesn’t come off of the stake in the event that your tent gets blown around by the wind.

After you have staked out that guyline, go around to each of the guylines and repeat that procedure before tightening the guylines down. By staking out each guyline before tightening them, you’ll be able to tighten each on down individually so that you have equal distribution of force pulling your rainfly out. That way you’ll be sure to avoid any spots on your tent that will be likely to collect pools of water and leak into your tent.

By selecting the best spot and properly setting up your tent, you’ll be sure to keep dry throughout the night!

Beautiful girl in outdoor tent with canoe

Final Thoughts

Camping in the rain can be a challenging task. But you now have the knowledge to be sure to go camping and be confident that you and your family will stay nice and dry no matter what the weather throws at you!

To review, be sure to select a tent that has the most waterproofing that you can afford. If you can’t afford a dyneema tent, you can improve the waterproofing of a nylon or polyester tent by applying waterproofing spray and seam sealer to the tent body and rainfly. 

After preparing your tent, the next step is to carefully select and improve your camp spot for handling potential rainy weather. Select an area that has a slight slope to it in place where there is the least amount of evidence of water running through it. If that can’t be avoided, dig a small rain trench to guide water away from your tent. 

Finally, be sure to set your tent up so that it has the best chance of repelling water. With all of these tips, you’ll be sure to stay dry all weekend long!

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Picture of 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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