A camping tent is only as good as its weatherproofing. If your tent can’t protect you from the elements, you may as well be sleeping under the stars. I’ve had tents rip at the seams under high winds, woken up to find myself sleeping in at least an inch of water a couple of times in my life, so I’ve had to deal with these issues in the field numerous times.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a top-of-the-line camping tent to weatherproof your tent. Whether you’re tailgating in Florida with a pop-up tent and a couple of beers or you’re making your way into the Yukon alone in the dead of winter, you can keep your tent protected from the elements with a few tips.
Image courtesy of Unsplash
First things first, you want to clean out your tent. Make sure all the dead leaves, bugs, dirt, and anything else is out of the interior, and give your tent a good bath inside and out with a bucket of warm water, then leave it out to dry. It’s extremely important that you don’t attempt to apply any weatherproofing treatments without cleaning off the grime from your tent first.
Now… the vast majority of weatherproofing comes down to one simple factor: keeping out moisture. So let’s break down the three ways you can seal up your tent and keep that water out.
Seal Up the Tent Seams
The seams are often the chinks in your tent’s armor, so to speak. Typically, most tent seams are sealed up, but that sealant and lamination can break down over time, so it needs to be replaced periodically. It’s fairly obvious when your tent’s seams are in bad condition because you’ll see the seam tape peeling loose from the inside of the fly and tent body. Flipping the fly inside out can help to get easier access to peeling seams. To reseal tent seams, you’ll need three things:
- Rubbing alcohol
- Tent sealant (make sure to find a sealant that works with your tent material, not all tent fabrics are the same and some are more difficult than ever)1
- A cloth or rag
Now that you’ve gathered your gear, these are the steps you should take:
- Wherever you find seam tape that is peeling off, remove it, but if you see any sections of seam tape that are still intact, leave those alone.
- Scrub the seams gently with your cloth and rub alcohol to clean them off.
- Apply your seam sealer to the seams.
- Allow the seam sealer to dry completely.
Note: If you see one seam failing, others are likely on the road to ruin too, so if you’re taking the time to seal your seams already, it might make sense to give every seam a pass with your sealant.
Reapply the DWR
The DWR (durable water repellent) coating on your tent fly is supposed to be the tent’s first line of defense against the elements. It helps the fly wick off any water, keeping it from reaching the tent body and leaking into the tent. Just make sure you’re being careful when it comes to inhalation.2
Every tent fly should come with some form of DWR pre-applied, but like the lamination on your tent seams, it will wear out over time.
If you’re no longer seeing rain bead up on your tent fly (see image below), then chances are your DWR is worn out. You’ll need:
- A cloth
- Spray-on DWR solution
Image courtesy of Unsplash
Now, let’s get started.
- Set up your tent somewhere dry and sunny, and rinse off your rainfly with water. (Note: You don’t need to wait for it to dry to put on your DWR.)
- Apply your solution evenly across the outside of your rainfly.
- Let the solution set in for a few minutes, then take the cloth, dampen it with some water, and wipe off any excess DWR coating that you see.
- Now, let your tent dry out completely before taking it down.
Reapply the Urethane Coating
The inside of your rainfly, as well as the tent floor, are typically protected with a urethane coating. These coatings serve to keep moisture out, and they’re essentially your final line of defense against the elements, but like your seals and your DWR, they can degrade with time. If you’ve seen little pieces flaking off the inside of your fly or tent floor, you know it’s time for a repair. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to re-up your urethane coating.
- A sponge (find one with a slightly abrasive side)
- Rubbing alcohol
- Tent sealant (mentioned above, make sure you’re getting the right type for your tent.)
Once you have your supplies, it’s time to get started.
- Spread out your rainfly and/or tent floor somewhere dry, put a bit of rubbing alcohol onto your sponge, and use it to gently scrape away any coating that is flaking off.
- Now use the sealant to apply a thin coating to the entire fly interior or tent floor (be sure to follow the bottle’s directions).
- Let your sealant dry for at least 24 hours before you put away your tent.
Tent weatherproofing is something we all have to do sooner or later, whether we have a top-quality expedition tent or a pop-up tent from Walmart.
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to handle. Between the seams, DWR, and urethane interior, you should be able to find your problem and get your tent ready to handle inclement weather in no time.
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- Snyder ME. The Waterproofing of Canvas. Ohio State University, College of Engineering. 1932 Mar; 15 (5): 9.
- Kim JW, Ra M, Jo HH, Kim HS, Kim MK, Kim KC. Chemical Pneumonitis after Inhalation of Waterproofing Spray: A Case Report. Keimyung Med J. 2015 Dec; 34 (2): 165-170. doi:10.0000/kmj.2015.34.2.165.