Get Wet: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Rain

by Arthur McMahon

camping in the rain

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.” — Dave Barry

This might sound kind of crazy, but camping in the rain is more fun than you think.

No, really. When you’re fully prepared for a night under cloudy skies rather than shimmering stars, a little rain is no big deal.

As a resident adventurer of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve experienced countless nights listening to the pitter patter of little raindrops falling onto my tent. It’s a soothing experience.

Whether you’re glamping at a campground or pitching a trailside tent, camping in the rain can be a fun experience.

I’m not going to say it’s better than a sunny picnic on top of rolling meadows abounding with wildflowers and butterflies, but hey, it’s still a night outdoors, presumably with friends and family, or maybe a furry friend. We can make it a good time!

In this article you’ll learn how to pick an appropriate campsite in the rain, what gear to bring, and how to have fun in the wet weather.

Don’t let dark skies dampen your parade. We’re going to camp, damn it, and we’re going to enjoy it!

Choose the High Ground

First and foremost, you’re going to have to establish an optimal campsite. When it rains it pours, or you should at least assume as much. Though the weather forecast may call for little more than a light drizzle it’s best to plan ahead for an unexpected storm.

You’re going to want to pitch your tent away from any stream beds where water may flow and above dips where puddles will form. Dry creek beds can sometimes make for tempting campsites, but, though they may be dry at the moment, any amount of rain can suddenly turn them into rushing streams.

Choose your camping location above the high water mark. If you’re in a well-maintained campground, you’re probably good to choose just about any marked camping spot, but still, beware of locations where water may collect.

Before you pitch your tent, take a moment to look at all of the overhanging tree limbs. Solid canopy cover from tall trees can help protect your tent from the worst of the weather if you can pitch your tent well inside their reach.

Avoid placing your tent under the ends of branches where dripping water will be at its worst. In some cases it may be better to avoid tree cover altogether.

During lightning storms you do not want to be underneath the tallest timber in the vicinity, and if the rain does stop while you’re in your tent you may not know until the morning because those darn trees will drip all throughout the night.

Bring Your Rain Gear

The number one rule for camping in the rain: bring a waterproof tent.

Most contemporary tents are fairly water-resistant straight from the store shelves. Did you know, though, that in most instances you have to waterproof the tents yourself?

It’s true! Though it really shouldn’t be. I’m looking at you, outdoor gear companies — it’s time to step up your game.

To ensure a drip-free night inside of your tent, you need to get ahold of some seam sealant and slather it across all of your tent’s seams. Additionally, especially if your tent is getting on in years, I recommend hitting it with a coat of waterproofing spray to make it the ultimate rainy day tent.

If you’re in the market for a new backpacking tent, you can check out our recommendations for three- and four-person backpacking tents. For the best in rainy-weather camping, keep an eye out for tents that come equipped with a rainfly and bathtub floor.

Make sure you’re prepared to trapse into the rainy outdoors with a complete set of rain gear. I’d recommend getting a rain jacket and pair of rain pants or a rain skirt for each person in your camping party.

Outdoor companies like Marmot and The North Face make excellent rain wear that is both lightweight and breathable. If you’re on a budget, Frogg Toggs rain suits will keep you as dry as those more expensive brands, but you’ll have to be gentle with the fragile fabric.

Ponchos work too, as do umbrellas, backpack covers, and whatever awesome rain equipment you can get your hands on.

Be mindful of the footwear you decide on as well, as waterproof boots, trail runners, and even Crocs each have their own useful benefits, and wear quick-drying clothes made of wool or polyester that don’t mind getting a little wet. Layering is key!

Did you know that wool is a practical rainy day fabric? Its insulation properties will continue to keep you warm even when it’s soaked, unlike cotton which loses all of its insulation abilities the moment it gets wet.

Darn Tough wool socks are my favorite socks for hiking in the rain as they never lose their shape and keep my feet warm even when they’re drenched.

If you’re car camping, I highly recommend a rain shelter like the Caddis Rapid Shelter or a tarp and some ropes to create a cozy living space. Protect your picnic table from the rain so that your group has a place to relax outside of their tents.

A fire may be out of the question, so it would behoove you to pack a few camp lights to keep the night alive. A couple of lanterns will light up your campground social area, and backpackers can make due with individual headlamps.

Make it a fun experience despite the incessant rain! Don’t let the lack of starlight and crackling fire fizzle out your enthusiasm. A traditional pack of playing cards or a more modern variant (like Cards Against Humanity) can make for fantastic evening entertainment under the tarp or in your tent.

LED string lights will add back that nighttime sparkle that was lost in the cloud filled skies. If you have a stove, boil some water for hot chocolate and apple cider for an instant sweet treat that will totally set the mood right.

Prepare for the Worst

Nothing ruins a night of camping more than going to bed wet and waking up cold. You’ve already seam-sealed your tent and chosen a dry spot to pitch it, now all that’s left is making sure you don’t bring in any unnecessary moisture through the front door.

Take off your rain gear and wet clothes before entering your tent whenever possible. It’s much better to hang all of these wet items underneath a tarp rather than ball them up at the foot of your sleeping bag. Use your tent’s vestibule as a last resort for storing wet clothes if you simply cannot undress outside.

Whatever you do, do not get into your sleeping bag while wearing wet clothes! This is your safe place. Your sleeping bag is your sanctum, your nest, and you should keep it pristine by any means possible.

Cover your sleeping bag in a bivy if you’re worried about getting it wet. The added bivy will ensure your sleeping bag stays dry even if your tent leaks, and the extra layer will help to keep you extra warm.

Above all else: have a backup plan. I’ve woken up in a puddle before, and it was no fun. My friends and I spent the night in a campground at a spot we were sure was well protected from the worst of the rain, but come 5 AM and we found our campsite had been overwhelmed by the nearby river which had swelled over its banks.

Car campers should always be prepared to pack up and head home if need be. That’s what we did when we woke up to our sleeping pads trying to float away.

Backpackers will find escaping wet weather a bit more challenging, and it may even be a dangerous option. Sometimes you just have to survive a frigid night. Hand Warmers are a shivering hiker’s best friend — it’s always good to have a few packed away for your wet weather excursions to shove into your shoes or sleeping bag.

Another handy trick is to fill your insulated water bottle with hot water (if you’re carrying a stove) and cuddle up with it in your sleeping bag like a teddy bear.

That about covers it! By following this guide you will be fully prepared for you next wet weather camping trip. Stay dry out there!

Recommended Gear For Camping In The Rain

For expert insights into the best gear for wet weather, check out our favorite lightweight rain jackets, waterproof backpacks, and waterproof duffel bags. 

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