15 Great Tips for Setting Up a Tent in the Rain

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Few things allow you to connect with nature as deeply as camping. Yet most of us would rather do that when it’s nice and sunny outside, right? Whenever that’s not possible, though, you need to know how to set up a tent in the rain.

So in this post, I’ll give you precious tips to help you stay dry and warm inside your tent even if it’s pouring outside.

Man setting up a tent in the rain

Let’s get down to work!

How to set up a tent in the rain: Getting ready

1. Invest in a great tent

Granted, that’s not so easy for backpackers or people camping on a budget. After all, tents with particular features tend to be more expensive than average (though you can often find deals like this one). Still, if you’re a regular camper, you might want to spend a few extra bucks on a specially designed tent.

While tents with zip-out panels will ensure the mesh parts are covered as you set up (then after your rain fly is all set you can remove them), those with exterior poles are more resistant (including to wind) and let you keep the rain fly attached to them for a faster setup.

There are also single-wall tents where the rain fly and the inner tent remain attached. That’s awesome when you want to set up as fast as you can, but this kind of tent isn’t very versatile in that it’s not ideal for dry and warm locations.

Woman and dog in a tent

2. Don’t pack tent parts together

This is not meant to improve the odds of every single part of the tent getting soaked (or at least not only that). Instead, it’s supposed to give you access to the poles without having to unroll your tent in the rain.

As you do it, you can keep both the inner tent and the rain fly somewhere safe. Now, you can pack these two items separately as well, but take a look at no. 6 for an alternative solution.

3. Carry some sort of rain gear with you

It’s no use sleeping in a spotless tent when you’re shivering after hiking in the rain, right? Yet you don’t need to get a sleek (and pricy) jacket in case that’s not a priority.

Emergency blankets and ponchos can be a cheap and convenient solution. Worst-case scenario, trash bags, though not exactly sightly, can work wonders too.

Campers in their rain gear

4. Protect your backpack with a rain cover

This hack is so basic, but folks often overlook it. A backpack rain cover is cheap and will ensure your tent parts stay dry in case you’re not car camping.

It’s also crucial to use it whenever you go out hiking during your trip, since in places like mountains the weather can be quite unpredictable. You don’t want your belongings soaking wet either!

5. Draw up a plan and try it out

We both know practice makes perfect; that’s true for camping in the rain as well. By your third trip in such conditions, I bet you’ll have become an expert.

Still, efficiency is paramount if you want to prevent your stuff from getting wet. So do make a plan before setting out on your camping journey and you’ll avoid wasting precious time.

A few things that can be useful include

  • Writing down everything you’ll need;
  • Packing in a way that you’ll have easy access to all tent parts;
  • Knowing your campground beforehand (maybe by visiting it in the dry season first);
  • Setting up your tent at home multiple times until you get really good at it;
  • Trying your rain gear and learning to put it on fast;
  • Dividing up tasks and working as a team;
  • Having kids stay in the car until you’re all set.

How to set up a tent in the rain: Getting down to it 

6. Wear the right kind of shoes

I can barely think of a handful of things that feel more annoying than wet socks. Don’t let ruin your mood as soon as you start setting up your tent and make sure you have appropriate footwear on.

That’ll vary on your camping location and season. In the summertime, hiking sandals should be good enough. Otherwise, waterproof hiking boots fit almost any occasion.

In a more severe winter weather, you might want to wear gaiters on top of your boots or even waders. Again, remember this is about staying comfortable, not looking fashionable!

Camping in a thunderstorm

7. Pick the best possible spot 

Backpackers might have a harder time following this tip. Still, if you and your belongings are covered, spending an extra minute in the rain to assess your surroundings won’t hurt.

Basically, you’ll be looking for the highest (while also flat) spot. In case there’s a river or stream nearby, remember there’s always the risk of flooding and stay as far from it as possible.

The perfect location is protected from the wind as well. You’ll need some kind of barrier, though (e.g. a boulder). And if you have no idea how to find out where the wind is blowing from, check out no. 3 on my list of camping hacks to stay cool in summer.

8. Start by setting up a tarp on top

This usually depends on camping in an area surrounded by trees, but you can count on that at most official campgrounds anyway.

If you don’t own a lightweight tarp, start off by setting up your rain fly first thing. That will guarantee the inner tent stays relatively dry underneath.

Tent under green tarp

9. Don’t set up after dark

Setting up during the day is crucial because it gives you a clearer view of the landscape. Even if you’re prepared to set up at night by bringing headlamps along, you won’t get to see too far ahead without the moon and the stars above.

What’s more, you won’t have as much time to walk around looking for a good camping spot when it’s raining. But of course, arriving at your campsite in the daytime depends on good planning and not having any setbacks on the road.

10. Before setting up the rain fly, shake the tent off 

If there are no trees around and you depend on setting up the inner tent to attach the rain fly afterward, shaking it off first might be a good thing to do.

That’s because even mesh parts tend to be water-resistant to some extent. If you place the rain fly right on top of your wet tent, pressure will make raindrops soak into it. Shaking the tent off won’t dry it, obvs, yet it’ll help you get rid of most droplets sitting on top of it.

How to set up a tent in the rain: Extra hacks and tricks

11. Roll the tent with the rain fly inside

This is a different approach than what I’ve suggested on no. 2. It should make the whole process a bit longer, yet it can be a great strategy if you don’t own a backpack rain cover, for example.

When you’re packing at home, just roll your tent open and place the rain fly on the tent floor. While the mesh parts may get wet, the floor won’t. The tent might take a couple hours to dry, but the floor will be ready for all your stuff.

12. Wait it out

Just please don’t do it under a tree; lightning bolts are a thing, believe me! Even if you’re not car camping, though, waiting the rain out might help. Just set up your tarp (and maybe make some coffee?) or when possible, wait by the campground’s main building.

A rain tarp for tent

13. Shut the door!

As you’re packing, remember to close all windows and doors on your tent. You don’t want to waste time doing that when you get to your campsite in the rain (or worse, set up with all the mesh parts exposed and end up with a flooded tent).

Once you do, you might want to take steps to keep the moisture out.

14. Get a waterproof bivvy

Sure, you don’t want to need one, but a waterproof bivvy will save you during a downpour. In case you don’t know, a bivvy is the love child of an individual tent and a sleeping bag.

This is another solution most backpackers will avoid in order to carry more essential stuff, yet do consider carrying one with you if space isn’t an issue. At least you’ll be well-rested to focus on the drama the next day!

15. Bring a large sponge and a small shovel along

Unfortunately, you need to take worst-case scenarios into account too. If you do need to sop the water out of your tent, a shovel for puddles and a sponge for damp surfaces should do the job.

If you have enough storage space (looking at you, car campers), a portable heater is just the tool you’ll need to dry your clothes quickly (or not so slowly).

Conclusion

In case you’re going camping in the wet season, learning how to set up a tent in the rain is simply essential. Hopefully, now you’re an expert at that — at least in theory!

Four boys taking a selfie in the tent

Oh, and before heading off, check out some creative hacks for camping in the rain!

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