How to Stay Dry and Comfortable When Camping in the Rain

Published on 01/19/2024 · 14 min readRain in the forecast? No problem! Hiking and Camping Expert Kat Smith gives a few tips and tricks on how to be prepared for and manage rainy weather while camping!
Kat Smith, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Kat Smith

Photo by Thiwagron Yodnakronjong

Camping is all about spending time outside in nature, and nature includes rain! While we all want warm, sunny days for our camping trips, it’s best to do as the old saying suggests: hope for the best, plan for the worst. With the right gear and a few tips, you can be dry and comfortable even when a summer storm rolls in.

Having the right camping gear is a huge part of staying comfortable when camping in a downpour, but it’s actually not all about the gear! While a tent with taped seams, a footprint, and a rainfly will undoubtedly keep you and your belongings drier than one without those features, if you pitch it in the wrong spot, you may still end up soaked. Below are some tips for camping in the rain that require no fancy gear, but will ultimately enhance your experience!

Pitch Your Tent in the Right Spot

Photo by Patrick Hendry

One of the first things you’ll do when you roll up to your campsite is decide where to put your tent. This decision can make or break your trip!

While setting up camp right next to a water source, such as a stream or lake, may be tempting (you won’t have to walk far to get water or wash dishes! You’ll be able to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of the babbling brook!), it is not a good idea. If an afternoon storm rolls in and water levels rise, your tent (and your gear inside) may end up sitting in a puddle of water. Always give yourself a wide berth from any water source to avoid overflowing banks.

For that same reason, always avoid camping in valleys and on low ground. Water will run downhill, so if you’ve set up your campsite at the lowest point, your gear will be floating around in a newly formed pond if heavy rain comes in. Opt for a campsite on higher ground.

Create a Dry Space to Hang Out

Photo by David Castro

Nobody wants to hunker down inside their tent all day while it pours, especially when camping with friends and family. Use a tarp and paracord (more on these items later) to create a protected “living room” so that the whole gang can hang out together and still stay dry! Bring along a deck of cards or even board games to help pass the time in case of rain.

While having a fire in your newfound “living room” may seem like a great idea, you should never make a campfire under a tarp. The tarp can easily catch fire or melt. If you are cooking with a gas camping stove, make sure there is ample space between the heat source and the tarp.

Pro Tip: A tarp awning or canopy will also create shade for a nice, cool space to hang out on a hot, sunny day!

Hang Your Clothing to Dry

Photo by Toby Wong

If you get caught in the rain while hiking to your camp spot or before you can pitch your tent, getting your clothing dry is going to be key for your comfort for the rest of the weekend. Even if you’ve planned ahead and packed a set of clean, dry clothes, don’t just throw your wet gear in a ball and forget about it! If it rains again during your trip, you may be needing those cold, wet clothes as a means to once again get warm and dry.

Use paracord to set up a clothesline and hang your wet clothes to dry. If you forgot the paracord, then tree limbs and branches work just fine, too. If it’s still raining with no signs of stopping, set up your clothesline in the most protected place you can find—under your tarp awning is ideal, but some people will even hang clothing inside their tent—desperate times call for desperate measures, and dry clothing is a must!

Protect Your Firewood

Photo by Niklas Tidbury

If you’ve ever tried to start a fire with wet firewood, then you know it is not easy! And while hopefully, you have a backup plan for cooking food in case you can’t get a fire going (enter: camp stove, more on this later), a camping trip just isn’t the same without a campfire.

If you plan to gather firewood at your campsite (and it is permitted in that area), get started as soon as you get to camp. Collect as much dry wood as you think you will need for your trip, and stash it either under your car, under a tarp, or in garbage bags. This will keep the wood dry even if it rains, and you will still be able to easily make a fire!

Even if you are going to a campsite where you know there is plenty of firewood, it’s a good idea to bring a bushel with you. If you arrive at your campsite during a passing thunderstorm, or you get there and realize that it rained earlier in the day, the downed wood may be wet and unusable. If you have backup firewood in the car, you can still get your fire going! And if you are backpacking and unable to bring firewood to your campsite, then have a backup plan (once again: camp stove…keep reading for more info!).

A note on bringing firewood with you to your campsite: Buy your firewood where you burn it! Try to buy firewood within 50 miles of your campsite, and the closer, the better. Invasive species can hide in firewood and disrupt the ecosystem!

Essential Gear When Camping in the Rain

Now that you know how to prepare your campsite for a rainy camping trip, let’s talk about the gear. When it comes to waterproofing, not all outdoor gear is created equally. However, that doesn’t mean you have to spend an arm and a leg in order to stay dry. Below is a list of gear and supplies that covers a broad range of prices and will help keep you dry, warm, and comfortable no matter what mother nature brings you!

A Tent

Photo by Michaelvbg

Your tent is your shelter—its most basic function is to protect you from the elements, including rain. And unless you are backpacking to a new campsite each day, you will likely leave your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and other gear inside your tent all day long. If your tent doesn’t perform its basic function, you and all of your gear may be soaked.

Many tents come with a rainfly, which is the outermost layer of fabric on your tent and is your barrier between the rain and the inside of your tent. Rainflies are typically 100% waterproof, and this layer is super important to keep the inside of your tent dry, especially if the tent walls are made of mesh to allow for ventilation and airflow. If your tent does not have a rainfly or if you are hammock camping, you can use a tarp or purchase a rainfly such as the Grand Trunk Abrigo Rain Fly and Shelter.

A tent footprint is another feature that will help prevent water from getting inside your tent. While many tents do not include a footprint, they often have a compatible footprint that can be purchased separately. The footprint is an extra layer of fabric, laid directly on the ground, on top of which you pitch your tent. The footprint protects the tent from not only running water underneath the tent, but also from rocks, twigs, dirt, and debris. A footprint will not only be an extra layer to keep you dry, but will also prolong the life of your tent floor! And if you don’t have a tent footprint…use a tarp!

Pro Tip: Use a waterproofing spray on your rainfly (and even your rain jacket!) to enhance the durable water repellent (DWR) finish!

A Tarp

Photo by norinori303

A tarp is a multi-purpose item that will help keep you dry and comfortable in many different ways. It can be hung as an awning, draped over dry firewood and gear, used as a backup rainfly or footprint, or used as a rain cover for your pack, etc. It’s a must-bring item! While there are some camping-specific tarps out there such as the Equinox Nylon Tarp, a basic, inexpensive tarp such as the Texsport Ripstop Blue Poly Tarp will get the job done.

Paracord

Photo by Nor Gal

Paracord, such as the MSR Reflective Utility Cord Kit, is one of those tools that comes in handy in numerous scenarios, from arts and crafts to life and death survival situations. In the “downpour during your camping trip” scenario, paracord has many functions. Use it to make a clothesline to hang wet clothes and gear to dry, to hang a tarp to protect your campsite from raindrops, or to secure a rainfly or tarp on your tent. If it doesn’t end up raining on your trip, the paracord won’t go to waste. Use it to hang your food in a tree out of reach from bears and rodents, to tether your pup up so they don’t wander from camp, especially when the sun goes down, or even as a shoelace if yours breaks.

A Camp Stove

Photo by Nina Lishchuk

I think we can all agree that cooking over the campfire is the superior method of cooking while camping–nothing beats that smokey, campfire flavor! But building a fire is unreliable. I have gotten to my campsite countless times under a sunny sky only to realize that it must have been raining for the past week straight because everything is wet. Even with all the right fire-starting tools, it’s hard to get a fire going with wet wood and kindling. Hopefully, you’ve packed a bushel of firewood! But what if day three of your camping trip rolls around and you’ve used all the wood you brought, and the firewood on site still hasn’t dried? Or what if you are deep in the backcountry? I don’t think anybody is lugging a bushel of firewood with them on a backpacking trip! The bottom line is: don’t rely on a campfire for cooking!

What you can rely on is a camp stove. One like the Jetboil MightMo Stove is the perfect, ultralight stove to keep in your backpack or your car as a backup heat source for cooking. Light enough for backpacking trips, this is the ultimate stove to boil water, or even to cook from scratch if needed. If you are car camping and have the luxury of a little more space, a camp stove such as the Coleman Cascade Classic Camping Stove with two burners will have you cooking like a chef for the whole family!

Anecdote: The first time I summited Kings Peak, the highest peak in Utah, my group and I planned for a 17-mile summit day. We got off to an early start with a beautiful, cloudless sky and mild temperatures. Of course, I had a rain jacket shell packed in my day pack, just in case. Boy did I need it! A storm rolled in just as we were summiting. The sky darkened, the temperature fell about 30 degrees (not an exaggeration), and a mixture of rain and hail started to fall. We hunkered down in a rock cave until the lightning passed, but the rain didn’t let up for the entire 8.5-mile hike back to camp. My rain jacket shell held up pretty well considering how much it rained, but with no insulation, I was freezing.

As I approached camp, I was drenched and cold, and all I could think was “what if my rainfly failed?” or “what if the stream banks rose too high and flooded our camp?” My sleeping bag and warm, dry layers that I left back at camp would be toast. And then what, hypothermia!? Hike 10 more miles out to the car, on top of the 17 I already hiked!?

Luckily, we had checked all the “in case of rain” boxes when we had set up camp. Our tents were about 200 feet away from the nearby stream and were on high ground, each of our tents had a footprint and rainfly, which were properly secured before we had left that morning despite the promise of a beautiful day, and all of our gear was properly stowed inside our protected tents. While the firewood was too wet to make a fire when the rain eventually stopped later that evening, we had a lightweight backpacking stove and a few dehydrated meals to fuel and warm us. Even though, in this case, I didn’t learn my lesson the hard way, I came close enough to disaster that I learned to never trust the weather forecast and always be ready for rain!

Summiting Kings Peak with a darkening sky and flashes of lightning. Photo by Richard Marschner

Rain Gear

My trekking group in Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile was prepared with rain gear and rain covers, as the Patagonia weather is infamously unpredictable! Photo by Kat Smith

I never leave for a hike or camping trip without at least a waterproof jacket and—after my Kings Peak experience—waterproof pants and extra layers. Never trust the forecast, since, in many mountainous and forest areas, storms move in quickly and unexpectedly.

GORE-TEX is the gold standard for waterproof materials, known for its breathability, durability, and high performance in wet conditions. A rain jacket made with GORE-TEX materials like the Marmot Women’s Minimalist Pro GORE-TEX Jacket will keep you dry and comfortable. Add insulated layers underneath, with a base layer like the Smartwool Women’s Merino 150 Baselayer Long Sleeve, or a midweight puffy layer that is lightweight and packs small, like the Black Diamond Women’s Access Down Hoody.

In addition to waterproof jackets and pants, waterproof shoes will make a huge difference in your comfort! Keep your feet dry (and blister-free) with hiking boots like the KEEN Men’s Targhee III Waterproof Mid Hiking Boot made with GORE-TEX or other waterproof materials. Waterproof boots will save your feet not only in the rain, but also in the mud, snow, or shallow stream crossings common on hiking trails.

Pro Tip: Bring newspapers on your camping trip and stuff them into wet shoes overnight to dry them out quickly!

A Waterproof Backpack and Dry Bag

During my 9-day trek in the Himalayas in Nepal, it rained for four days straight! My backpack’s included rain cover saved all my gear inside, and I always had dry clothes to put on when we got to our overnight stop. Photo by Israel Diaz

Whether you are on the trail heading into the backcountry or out for a short day hike, you’ll likely have a backpack with you filled with gear, food, and items such as a camera or cell phone. If you get caught in the rain on your hike, the last thing you want is for all of that gear to get wet! There goes your extra warm layers, your food, and your warm, cozy sleeping bag! Make sure your backpack has a rain cover included like the Deuter Futura Airtrek, or is treated with a DWR finish like the Osprey Aether 65 Backpack. You will probably already be a little bummed that it’s raining on your hike, so don’t add the stress of worrying about all your gear getting wet!

A dry bag is another great way to ensure that your gear stays dry inside your pack. Many compression bags, which are meant to compress your gear down to a smaller packed size, double as dry bags. I like to pack all of the clothes in a compression dry bag, along with some of my non-waterproof small items, such as my cell phone.

Fire Starters, Waterproof Matches or a Lighter

Photo by Brian Goodman

I’ve already mentioned how challenging it is to build a fire when the firewood and kindling is wet, but it will be impossible if you don’t have waterproof matches or a lighter. With one of those two items, you can at least have the chance of getting a fire started. And with fire starters that offer a long, slow burn, like Bees Wrap ReKindle Fire Starters, your chances of getting that wet wood to catch increases.

Pro Tip: Make your own fire starters by balling up dryer lint and vaseline! These are super lightweight and are a great item to add to your emergency kit!

Never let a little (or a lot) of rain ruin your camping or backpacking trip! With the right gear and the tips mentioned throughout this article, you will stay dry and comfortable no matter what Mother Nature throws at you!

Additional items that may come in handy in a rainy situation include:

  • Garbage bags, which can double as a rain cover for your backpack, a poncho, a dry bag, or a firewood cover.
  • Ziploc baggies to add an extra layer of protection for those smaller, non-waterproof items like cell phones!
  • A quick-dry towel, such as the Sea to Summit DryLite Towel
  • A waterproof map of the area you are hiking or camping in is also a great item to have, and can often be found at a local hiking shop or ranger station.

Final Thoughts

My husband Jos is still smiling despite rain during his backpacking trip in Teton National Park! Waterfalls poppin’ in the background. Photo by J’On Smith

Lastly, the most important tip of all: Embrace The Rain! Rain is a part of nature, and the reason we are camping, hiking, backpacking, and doing all the things outside is because we love nature! Check the forecast but be prepared for anything. And if you do get caught in a cold, rainy storm, embrace it! Reach out to me or any Curated Camping and Hiking Expert here on Curated if you have questions or need assistance finding the gear to keep you dry and comfortable on your next camping adventure!

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Coleman Cascade Classic Camping Stove
$99.99
Jetboil Mightymo Stove
$59.95
KEEN Men's Targhee III Waterproof Mid Hiking Boots
$165.00$175.00

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Smartwool Women's Merino 150 Baselayer Long Sleeve
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Deuter Men's Futura Air Trek 60+10L Backpack
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$320.00
Grand Trunk Abrigo Rainfly · Olive
$99.95
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