Thursday 7 April 2016

Camping In The Rain

Camp on a knoll above boggy ground.

Staying comfortable and dry when camping in the rain isn't actually very difficult but it does require some care and some thought. Site choice, setting up camp and living in camp all need handling differently from when it's dry and sunny.

Site Selection.

A good site should be well-drained and high enough above streams and pools that it won't flood if they rise rapidly. Avoid hollows and gullies. After heavy rain every flat area may be sodden. In that case it's best to camp on a slight slope to avoid water getting into your shelter. The tops of knolls and hillocks are often better drained and drier than surrounding areas.

Camp well above a river.
Setting Up Camp

1: Pitching. The aim here is to keep the inside of your shelter and your gear dry. When taking your shelter out of your pack ensure that other items aren't exposed to the rain and don't fall out onto wet ground. (Ideally your shelter should be packed at the top of the pack where it's easily accessible or else in a pocket or strapped on the outside). With single-skin tents or tarps and double-skin tents that erect as units or flysheet first there isn't a problem in keeping the inside dry. However if the tent pitches inner first you need to do so very quickly and, if possible, throw the flysheet over the top to keep off some of the rain. The last can be ineffective if it’s windy and can make pitching the tent slower and more difficult though.

A wet camp on tussocky ground - the alternative was a bog!
2: Getting under cover. Once the shelter is pitched you need to get inside without dampening the groundsheet or any dry gear. First, though, do any outside chores such as filling your water containers so you don't have to go out again. I then put the pack in the porch and crouch next to it while I strip off my wet waterproofs and any other wet garments - this can involve some contortions in a very small tent but it's worth the brief discomfort. What I never do is get in the inner tent or sit on the groundsheet in wet clothing. Once my waterproofs are off I sit on the groundsheet with my feet in the porch and removed my footwear - and socks if the latter are wet. 

Dry inside, wet gear & kitchen in the porch
3: Sorting gear. Once in the tent and out of wet clothing and footwear it's usually wise to don some warm clothing and get out your sleeping mat to sit on so you don't get cold. I then take other dry items out of the pack and stow them along the sides of the groundsheet. No wet items come inside. They stay in the porch. Wet waterproofs and other damp clothing can be stored on top of the pack with footwear alongside it.

Living In Camp 

Warm & dry inside the tent

1: Condensation. Once inside your shelter condensation is likely to be the main cause of dampness rather than the rain itself. When humidity is high condensation forms on cold surfaces like tent walls. Ventilation helps minimise this. How much ventilation is possible without the rain getting in depends on the design of the shelter. Ideally there should be covered vents high on the canopy that can be left open or flysheet doors with hoods over the top so the zips can be partly undone. Even with good ventilation condensation can still form when it's very damp. To avoid transferring it to your dry clothes and sleeping bag take care not to push against the walls. An absorbent cloth such as a cotton bandanna can be used to wipe away any drips.

2: Cooking. Steam from boiling water quickly condenses on shelter walls. If conditions allow doors should be left undone and stoves positioned so that steam goes outside. Sometimes though it's impossible to have doors open without rain coming in. In that case keeping pans covered and unzipping doors briefly to let steam out can help reduce condensation.

3: Going Outside. If you have to go outside (pee bottles and, for women, Sheewee devices can reduce the need for this) don your wet gear so you don't get anything else wet. If it's a short trip I don't bother with socks, just slipping my feet into my wet footwear. Whilst outside check guylines and pegging points. Nylon stretches and sags when wet (polyester and cuben fibre don't do this) so guylines will probably need tightening. Pegs can start to pull out of soft damp ground too and may need stamping down.

A well-drained forest site.
Packing Up.

If it's still raining in the morning pack everything in your pack inside your shelter so it stays dry. This includes the inner tent if there is one. To avoid a wet shelter dampening the inside of the pack I strap it on the outside or stuff it in an outside pocket. If it has to go inside the pack I ensure that other contents are inside waterproof bags or liners and the shelter is outside them.

This piece first appeared in The Great Outdoors two years ago.


  1. An invaluable, cheap and simple piece of kit to carry is a sponge kitchen pad. I use them to sponge down wet tents and for personal washing. Have I taught you something Chris? ;-)

    1. You've reminded me of something James! Many, many years ago I used to carry a kitchen sponge/scouring pad for cleaning pots and wiping off condensation. For some reason I changed to J-cloths and forgot about the sponges. I'll try one again.

  2. I stumbled on this great blog one way or the other and bookmarked several of your relevant blog posts for later reading, hopefully while I'm out on the trail inside my tent in a butt cold all-night rainstorm.

    Here in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina we get days-long rainstorms especially in January and February---my last one was a 75 hour December deluge which caused the creek I was camping up to get crazy.

    I like seeing your Thermarest Prolite pad in the above picture. Good stuff.

  3. Great post as usual! thanks Chris