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Staying Dry in the Wild: A Complete Guide on How to Waterproof Your Tent

Camping in the great outdoors can be an incredible adventure. Nevertheless, it comes with challenges, especially when dealing with unpredictable weather. One of the most crucial aspects of a successful camping trip is ensuring that you have a waterproof tent. No one wants to wake up in the middle of the night to find themselves in a soggy sleeping bag or discover water dripping from the tent roof. But does this mean you have to buy an entirely new tent?

Thankfully, no. We’ll walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to waterproof your tent so you can have a dry and stress-free camping experience without spending hundreds of dollars on a new tent. With the correct products and a little elbow grease, you’ll have a watertight shelter ready for your next grand excursion. 

Let’s dive in! 

FIX IT for $12 || How to Waterproof a Tent (even cheap tents!)

Are All Tents Waterproof?

Not all tents are equal regarding waterproofing. While most modern tents have some level of water resistance, not all can withstand heavy rainfall or prolonged exposure to moisture. The level of waterproofing in tents varies based on the materials and the construction techniques that manufacturers employ. Some companies may market tents as “water-resistant,” while others may claim to be fully waterproof. Understanding the difference between waterproof and water-resistant tents is essential before you decide what to use for your camping trip.

Most tents typically have materials like coated nylon or polyester, with taped seams and a waterproof rain fly. The rain fly is an additional protective layer that goes over the tent to provide extra protection against rain and moisture. High-quality waterproof tents should withstand rain showers and light to moderate rainfall without leaking. However, if your tent is labeled “water-resistant” you’ll want to give the material some extra waterproofing before you head on an extended camping trip. 

If you’re looking to purchase a new tent, always check the specifications and features to ensure it meets your waterproofing requirements. If you’re uncertain about a particular tent’s capabilities, we recommend reaching out to the manufacturer or reading reviews from other campers to get a better idea of its performance in wet conditions.

Tents at rainy campsite
Not all tents are as waterproof as others.

Waterproof Versus Water Resistant

Water-resistant tents can repel water to an extent, but may not withstand heavy rain or extended exposure to moisture. On the other hand, waterproof tents can prevent water from entering the tent, even during intense downpours. These tents often have specialized waterproof materials and feature sealed seams to keep water out effectively.

Still, even the best “waterproof” tents can lose their ability to shed moisture over time. This is why it’s necessary to give your favorite outdoor shelter a little refresh occasionally, even if it was waterproof when you bought it.

Pro Tip: Don’t let rain ruin your camping trip! Learn more about The Simple But Mighty Tent Rainfly.

What Is The Most Waterproof Tent Material?

The term “most waterproof” can be a bit subjective when it comes to tent materials, as the level of waterproofing can depend on several factors including the material itself, coatings, and construction techniques. However, here are some materials are generally considered to be more waterproof than others:

Cuben Fiber (Dyneema Composite Fabric): This is one of the most waterproof materials currently available. It is extremely lightweight and resistant to moisture. However, tents made from Cuben Fiber are usually quite expensive.

Silnylon (Silicone-Impregnated Nylon): This is a popular choice for lightweight tents. It offers good waterproofing capabilities, though not quite as much as Cuben Fiber. It’s a nylon fabric that has been impregnated with silicone.

Polyester with Polyurethane Coating: Polyester itself is not very waterproof, but when coated with polyurethane, it becomes much more resistant to water. This is a common material for more affordable tents.

Canvas (Cotton): Though not inherently waterproof, canvas tents are often treated with waterproofing agents. They are heavy but can be quite durable and water-resistant when properly treated. However, they are generally not as waterproof as synthetic materials.

Ripstop Nylon: Similar to polyester, nylon becomes more waterproof when coated with substances like polyurethane or silicone. Ripstop versions are more durable, resisting tears and abrasions.

Gore-Tex: This is a high-end material used in some expedition tents. It’s a membrane that allows vapor to escape but prevents water from entering, making it both waterproof and breathable.

The level of waterproofing is often measured in terms of water column height, expressed in millimeters (e.g., 3000 mm). Higher numbers generally indicate better waterproofing, but it’s essential to also consider the construction of the tent, such as the quality of the seams and zippers, as these can be weak points where water might enter.

Regardless of the starting material and treatment, however, UV rays and use can eventually deteriorate the water-resistant or waterproof treatment. Knowing how to re-waterproof your tent is a valuable skill.

Can I Sleep in a Tent in the Rain?

Sleeping in a tent in the rain is possible as long as you have the correct gear. A sturdy, waterproof tent is crucial to ensure protection from the elements. This means properly sealed seams and an adequate rain fly to prevent water from seeping in. A waterproof groundsheet or tarp underneath the tent will prevent moisture from seeping up from the ground. 

Moreover, we can’t forget that adequate ventilation is crucial to reduce condensation. Condensation can lead to dampness on the inner walls of your tent. You likely don’t want to put the work into waterproofing your tent just to wake up under a canopy of moisture from your breath. With the right preparedness, nothing is stopping you from having a memorable experience that connects you to nature in a unique way. 

Women in tent while it's raining
Don’t let the rain stop you from getting out and camping.

How to Waterproof a Tent

Below, we dive into a step-by-step process for waterproofing your tent. Be sure to follow each recommendation, as skipping a step (like the cleaning prep) may result in an unpleasant camping experience.

1. Clean Your Tent

Before applying any waterproofing agents, it’s essential to clean your tent properly. Use a mild soap and water solution to remove dirt and debris. Remove any flaking or peeling product as well, as it can comprise the new sealant you’ll apply. Additionally, avoid using harsh chemicals or washing machines, as they can damage the tent’s existing waterproof coatings, or what remains of them.

2. Apply Sealant to the Seams 

The seams of your tent are the most vulnerable areas to water penetration. Use a specialized seam sealer to seal all the seams inside and outside the tent. Pay particular attention to the corners and stitching areas, as they are easier to damage. We recommend a thicker, rubberized sealant for extra protection from the elements. Products like Aquaseal FD and Cure Accelerator should do the trick. 

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Waterproof tent
Seam sealant can ensure your tent stays leak-free.

3. Coat the Floor and Rainfly with Polyurethane 

Most tents come with a polyurethane coating on the rainfly and floor to enhance water resistance. Polyurethane provides increased durability for materials that may end up soaked in water for extended periods. Over time, this coating may wear off, leading to reduced waterproofing performance.

To reapply polyurethane coating to a tent, you’ll need a polyurethane sealant, a sponge or foam brush for application, protective gear, and masking tape. Make sure the tent is clean and dry, apply masking tape to areas you don’t want coated, and apply a thin, even layer of the sealant. Allow it to dry as per manufacturer instructions.

4. Apply a Silicone Water Repellent to the Tent Walls 

Next, let’s focus on the tent walls. We recommend using a silicone-based water repellent, as it tends to be much lighter and more flexible. Start by choosing a well-ventilated area and lay out the tent. Shake the silicone spray well and hold the can 6-8 inches away from the fabric. Apply an even, thin coat, starting from the bottom and working your way up. Make sure to let it dry completely before packing the tent.

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Tent in the rain
Waterproofing your tent is an essential step pre-camping trip.

Silicone vs. Polyurethane Coatings

Manufacturers commonly use silicone and polyurethane coatings to waterproof tents. Both materials are organic polymers, but they differ in their chemical stability and reactions to external factors like water. Silicone is generally more chemically stable and less prone to reactions such as hydrolysis. Unlike polyurethane, which adheres to the fabric in layers, silicone forms a bond with the material. This means that the effectiveness of a silicone coating may be linked to the fabric’s thickness. Polyurethane, on the other hand, can be applied in multiple layers to enhance its waterproofing capabilities. Both coatings cause water to bead up and roll off, but for materials that are continuously exposed to water, the efficacy of any water-repellent treatment could decrease over time.

This is why we recommend silicone coatings for the thin material of your tent walls. Silicone forms a durable bond with the material, providing effective water repellency. On the other hand, polyurethane coatings are often less expensive and can provide excellent waterproofing properties. This is why we recommend it for your rain fly and tent floor—areas more likely to be in contact with standing water. You can apply layers to make the rain fly and floor as waterproof as you want while saving on cost and extending the lifetime of your tent.

Pro Tip: Not sold on tent camping? These are 7 Ways Tent Camping Is Better Than RV Camping.

How Long Does Waterproofing Fabrics Last?

The longevity of waterproofing on your tent depends on various factors, including the quality of the original coating, the frequency of use, and the conditions in which you use the tent. With proper care and maintenance, it can last for several camping seasons. However, it’s vital to monitor the performance of your tent and reapply waterproofing treatments as necessary.

How to Choose the Right Tent | Camping and Backpacking Tip

Does Waterproofing Your Tent Really Work?

Waterproofing your tent can significantly improve its ability to keep you dry during wet weather conditions. It can be an effective way to extend its useful lifespan. However, the success of waterproofing depends on various factors such as the method used, the type of tent material, and the conditions you’ll be facing.

Also, even with proper waterproofing, no tent is invincible, and extreme weather conditions can still pose a challenge. Always check the weather forecast before your trip and choose a suitable campsite to minimize exposure to adverse conditions.

By following the steps in this guide and understanding the differences between various coatings, you can make your tent ready to face the elements and enjoy outdoor adventures without worry. 

Do you have any questions about waterproofing your tent that we didn’t cover? Drop them in the comments below!

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Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

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Jeff Conlee

Wednesday 30th of August 2023

Can these waterproofing chemicals be applied to canvas? What kind of polyurethane to use, the kind you can get at big box store?