How to Choose the Best Tent for Heavy Rain

Heavy rains call for a sturdy, waterproof tent. It must also be properly ventilated. Here is what to look for when choosing a tent to use in heavy rain.

Look at what materials were used to make the tent. Some waterproof tents are made using nylon, polyester, canvas, or polyethylene. Others, especially when you look at tents designed for winter use or professional campers and athletes, are made with materials such as Vapex and Gore-Tex. Let’s consider the strengths and weaknesses of these materials.

Nylon is strong, light and abrasion-resistant.

It is a great choice for backpacking tents. However, nylon does absorb some water, so you need to check that if a tent is constructed of nylon, that it has also been waterproofed. Polyester doesn’t have this problem, though it is not as light or strong. Nylon does not breathe (allow airflow) so you will have to fight with condensation. Nylon tents dry quickly, do not need much maintenance, and are cheap, but their thinness means they can make a lot of noise in the wind. They also have no insulation – you will be hot inside the tent if it is hot outside, and the same when it is cold. Polyester is not the most breathable fabric, so it too will mean problems with condensation. However, tents made with it run on the cheaper side.

Please note that if your budget means you have to pick a tent made from these materials, that you can waterproof them yourself. Besides sealing the seams (we will cover that later on), you will want to treat the walls, roof and even the floor with a sealant. Check with the manufacturer to make sure you buy the right one, as different materials work best with different sealants. A polyurethane-coated tent will need a different sealant than a silicone-coated one.

Getting back to tent materials: Canvas is durable, but not as light as either nylon or polyester. Tents made from it will be heavier and a bit harder to carry for a long time. Canvas must be coated with a waterproofing agent. Otherwise, the material will absorb water and become very heavy indeed! Canvas tents can be expensive, but the material breathes, provides better insulation, and is more resistant to UV rays. They need to be properly cared for if you want them to last.

Polyethylene is heavy but durable and is commonly used for tent floors. Due to its weight and strength, you don’t need a footprint when your tent’s floor is made of it. To make matters easier, polyethylene does not need to be coated – it is waterproof on its own. However, it does not breathe so keep an eye out for any condensation that may form and get rid of it as soon as possible.

Tents made of Gore-Tex or Vapex will run more expensive (more than a thousand dollars in some cases) due to the specialized materials used. The upside is that the price brings some distinct advantages. These tents are breathable, durable, waterproof, and even windproof. You will keep warm, dry and comfortable when the weather is cold and cool and comfortable when it is hot. These tents are easier to clean and care for, too.

No matter what materials your tent is made of you’ll want a rain-fly to keep water from seeping in through the windows and to protect the roof of your tent from debris. A rain-fly will also keep your tent a little cooler or warmer since there will be a small pocket of air between the roof and the rainfly. If your tent does not have one, rain flies are available to purchase separately. They are made of all sorts of materials, but the most common ones are PVC and polyester, with the latter being the best choice for family camping and such. Hardcore campers will want a rainfly made of PVC as it is tougher and offers more protection from harsh conditions. Make sure there is a vent in the fly to let air pass in and out – this prevents condensation from forming.

Speaking of tent materials and parts, you may have wondered what we mean by the term “footprint.” This is also called a groundsheet or a ground cloth. It’s a sheet of sturdy waterproof material that is laid over the ground to protect the floor of your tent from wear and tear, and from abrasions and punctures caused by stones, sticks, or other debris. It also helps to prevent water from leaking in and to insulate your tent. NOTE: Since the footprint is meant to protect the floor of your tent, it must be laid out before you start pitching your tent.

There are also the seams on the tent to think about. Many seams, those areas where the tent fabric is stitched together to form the walls and floor, are taped to prevent the stitches from coming undone and to provide some measure of protection against water and wind. To create taped seams, a strip of material is placed under the seams to block water, like a dam blocking the flow of a river. Taped seams can only be done when a tent is manufactured as the process requires special equipment and materials.

Sealed seams are so-called because the manufacturing process consists of spreading a special glue over the seams, forming a waterproof and windproof barrier. Sealing the seams is something you can do yourself if your tent has begun to wear out with age or as an extra measure of defense if you are going to take a new tent out into the wild. Make sure to read the instructions which come with your sealant of choice so that you know what to do.

How to Weatherproof a Tent?

First, check that your tent has not already been waterproofed. If the tent is without any weatherproofing at all or it has begun to wear off, you have a little work to do before the tent is ready to be used.

Check to see if your tent is coated with silicone or polyurethane. As mentioned earlier, which coating was used will determine what type of sealant is needed. Do this for your rain-fly too, whether it is part of the tent or if you had to purchase it separately because you will need to put sealant on that.

When you have the right sealant in hand, including one for the tent seams (you did check those for waterproofing, right?), it is time to make your tent weatherproof. You’ll be working with materials that give off noxious fumes, so this is a task best done outside on a dry, sunny day. If it isn’t possible to work outside then find a spot in your house that is well-ventilated. If you have a garage, you can leave the door open, either all the way or partway, to let in some fresh air. Make sure people know they have to stay clear until the work is complete. Keep pets away as well.

Gently remove any flaking or peeling sections on the seams, but leave the intact sections as they are. Then prep the seams by cleaning them with rubbing alcohol and a rag. Carefully apply the new sealant. When all the seams have been treated, leave them to dry. This can take up to 8 -12 hours.

Double-check your tent and fly for spots where the sealant has begun to flake or peel off. Using an abrasive sponge (you can use one of those dual-sided kitchen sponges for this), gently scrub with rubbing alcohol. As you did with the seams, leave any intact spots alone.

Apply a thin layer of sealant to the rain-fly and tent. This can take the form of either a spray or a liquid that is applied with a brush or foam sponge. Remember to follow the directions on the bottle for best results. Leave your tent and rain-fly to dry for at least 24 hours before packing them away.

Now that you have refreshed the sealant on your tent it wouldn’t hurt to refresh the waterproofing. The easiest way to do this is to buy waterproof spray (Nikwax Tent is a popular brand and easily found in stores).

To make sure that every inch of fabric is coated, set up your tent and rain-fly as if you were making camp. Spray down both items with clean water so you have a clean surface to work with. Apply the waterproofing spray in an even layer over the outside of your rain-fly and tent. Wait for a couple of minutes, and then wipe off any excess coating with a damp cloth. Let these items dry completely before packing them away.

A single coat of waterproofing spray is usually enough. If you want to be safe and ensure that you didn’t miss a spot, put a second coat on. However, you must wait for the first layer to fully dry before applying the second layer.

It may not have occurred to you, but your groundsheet should also be inspected for abrasions or chipping and peeling. Any issues found should be dealt with right away, taking similar steps to the ones given for your tent and rain-fly. Remember to let your groundsheet dry completely before packing it away.

How Do You Set Up a Tent in the Rain?

This is not a situation even the most experienced camper enjoys. Setting up a tent in the rain can range from merely annoying to a life-threatening situation. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier.

First and foremost, find a good spot to pitch your tent. This should apply even when you are not enduring inclement weather, but when there is rain, finding the right spot becomes so much more important. Make sure your spot is located on high ground, away from rivers and streams and places where water tends to gather. It should also be located near a natural windbreak such as a boulder, on the side facing away from the incoming wind.

Set up a tarp so you have a relatively dry spot to work in. In the absence of a tarp, you can use your rain-fly. This is where packing extra paracord comes in handy: Sometimes the guy lines are not long enough for you to set up the rain-fly for this purpose. The work will go more quickly if two or more people are present.

We hope you have already considered this, but just in case: Wear the right shoes. Depending on the season and how much rain you are expecting (or are presently dealing with), you may need more than just waterproof hiking boots. If you are fortunate enough to be in a warm climate, or it is summertime, then camping sandals are a good bet. These are made specifically for wearing outdoors. They provide grip on wet surfaces, dry fast, and they are comfortable enough for hiking. Otherwise, boots and gaiters, or waders, are called for. In case of an unexpected change of weather, you can duct tape trash bags over your shoes.

If you packed a sponge or two in your camping supplies you can use one to sop out any rain which gets into your tent as you set it up. You can use microfiber towels for this as well. They might be a better choice because they dry quickly after being wrung out.

Set up your tent when it is light outside. This may sound like common sense, but having sufficient light to see by is all the more necessary when there is rain. Even the stormiest day has some sunlight filtering down through the clouds, so make the most of it. Otherwise, you could miss out on a great camping spot or remain ignorant of any danger nearby since you cannot see very well at night.

Sometimes you can simply wait for the rain to stop before setting up your tent. If daylight is waning, though, you will have to take your chances. Another tip: a waterproof hat, preferably with a brim, can help keep your head dry and the rain out of your eyes while you work.

What Is the Best Tent for Rain?

The best tent for rain is one that is sturdy, waterproof, and has a rain-fly. It should also be made of materials that breathe so that you stay at a comfortable temperature when you are inside it, no matter how hot and wet or how cold and wet it is outside. You should be able to roll the window covers up and down as needed to keep water from seeping in, and the zippers should have some kind of cover on them so that they do not become the source of leaks.

How Do You Secure a Tent in High Winds? 

Which is worse: setting up a tent in heavy rain or setting up a tent in high winds? Some may say they are equally horrible experiences. Whatever your opinion, high winds make pitching a tent and setting up camp, in general, a real pain. Here is a rough guide for setting up your tent under these conditions.

Pick a location to pitch your tent. Look for windbreaks, consider the slope of the ground (if there is any), and figure out which direction the wind is blowing from. The best setup is one where the narrowest part of your tent faces into the wind. DO NOT put your tent sideways to the wind. Also, try to stay in an open space and do not pitch your tent close to any trees. These may have broken branches which can be taken off and hurled by the wind, or they may fall onto your tent.

Get your gear arranged. This is important for three reasons: First, having what you need to work close by will mean less time is spent searching your bags and more time will be spent on actually pitching your tent. Second, having heavy items out means you can grab them and use them to weigh down stuff like your rain-fly. Third, once your tent is up, you can throw your gear into it to protect it from the elements, and the added weight will further anchor your tent against the wind.

Get those tent poles set up. With those assembled and ready it will be easier to focus on managing your tent and your fly. Tent stakes should also be kept close at hand (you can put them in your pocket).

At this stage, you only need to take out the tent itself. NOTE: We said earlier that the ground cloth should be laid down before pitching your tent. Obviously when high winds are buffeting you a loose piece of fabric is not going to stay still. Under these circumstances, it is fine to put the ground cloth inside the tent when it is set up

Keep two tent stakes in each hand. Grab the tent by whichever side will face into the wind. Allow the wind to blow the tent away from your body, but do not let go. Lower the tent to the ground and quickly stake this side down.

Set the tent poles in place. You will need to work quickly to get the poles into the proper spots. Forst takes care of the side you staked down. Then take care of the other sides one by one. Make sure all connection points of the tent are firmly attached to the poles. By now there should be enough space for you to toss your backpack and other gear into the tent to keep it weighed in place.

Attach the fly. The trick here is to minimize how much the wind works against you. Hold the fly from the side that will coincide with whatever side faces the wind. Let the wind blow the fly out so that it billows over the tent. Assuming the wind maintains its direction, this is the part where it can be of some help with setup. On the other hand, this part can be extremely frustrating to do as a solo camper since you will be scurrying back and forth trying to fix the fly in place.

The last step is to guy out the tent and the fly. Use the guylines to cinch and tighten the tent and fly as much as you can. These must be pulled tight to minimize flapping in the wind. Pulling them tight also lowers the risk of damage, like shredded fabric or broken poles, because there is no slack for the wind to grab and pull on.

As you can see, setting up a tent when the wind is howling and roaring is challenging. It can be done, though. You need a lot of patience and a plan, whether you are camping alone or with other people.

Final Thoughts

The tents on this list are among the best ones available, but it is OK if none of them fit your needs. Sometimes a list provides the answer, and sometimes it makes you think about what you want. Whatever tent you end up buying, we hope we’ve been able to provide you some useful advice.