How to Waterproof a Tent to Keep You Dry At All Seasons

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How to Waterproof a Tent

Whether you have been camping for years or have just got started, you’ll know that some gear is absolutely essential to have when you go camping.

Essential camping gear includes hammocks, sleeping bags, stoves, generators, the best lunch cooler, the world’s best rechargeable flashlight, among others. A portable backpacking tent is also among the essential gear that you need to bring with you if your camping trip is to be successful. 

Rather than buying a new tent every time you want to go camping, taking care of the one that you have will not only help you save money but will ensure that you always have a tent when you need it.

One of the major nuisances that you can encounter, however, is a leaking tent if it happens to rain when you are camping. If your camping tent is not waterproof, there are steps that you can take to ensure that water doesn’t make its way through. Waterproofing a tent is one of the skills that you need as a camper if you are to have unforgettable camping experiences every time you go camping. 

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What Is Tent Waterproofing

One of the main reasons why anyone would use a tent when camping is to keep the rain out. As such, tent waterproofing makes no sense to a lot of people, but it’s something that you need to learn to do. 

Just like a coyote call will make your hunting easier, waterproofing a tent ensures that it lasts longer and that you don’t get wet in case the weather conditions change all of a sudden.  

You may have invested in the highest quality camping tent, but even such tents tend to degrade over time and, in the process, will lose their effectiveness to protect you against the elements. 

Such a tent will, therefore, lose its waterproofing properties and will not be effective when you are out in the wild. Tent waterproofing involves applying a waterproof coating to your tent to ensure that rain does not get in. The waterproof coating that the camping tent comes with should last a while.

As such, if you have a brand new tent, then you don’t need to apply any more coating. The only time you reapply coating is if the tent has degraded and you are getting wet when inside the tent.  

You may notice that the coating on your tent is flaking off, but the best way to check is to do a simple water spray tent. If the water does not bend on the outside or you notice that it is soaking through some places, then that’s enough proof that your tent needs reproofing. 

Benefits of Waterproofing a Tent

Benefits of Waterproofing a Tent

Just like a kayak compass shows where to go with great accuracy, there are a few benefits of waterproofing your tent that you need to be aware of. 

Protects Against the Elements

The main reason why tent waterproofing is important is to protect against the elements. Over time even the best tents degrade and become less effective. When that happens, rather than buying a new tent, you would rather waterproof the one you have. 

Increases Longevity

You can camp with up to 8 people in a tent and as such, the tent is the only shelter you have and if it doesn’t hold up to its basic requirement, then there is no point having one.

Nobody wants to get rained on when they are camping. Additionally, when water gets inside a tent, it affects its longevity. Increasing longevity is tied to keeping the tent dry, which is why waterproofing is important.  

Protects Against UV Rays

A waterproofed tent ensures that rain doesn’t get inside, but another factor that affects the durability of the tent is the sun. Waterproofing your tent helps prolong its life so that you can enjoy your camping trips. While tents are meant for the wild, they are rather fragile and need to be well maintained.

Waterproofing a tent ensures that it is always protected from the harmful rays of the sun. Additionally, if the tent is exposed to water for a long time, mildew and mold start developing and could ruin your tent in the long run. 

Reasons to Waterproof a Tent

Reasons to Waterproof a Tent

Over time your camping tent may degrade and when that happens, it doesn’t do a good job of protecting you from the elements. 

To prolong the life of your tent and enhance your camping experience, you need to waterproof your tent. Here are a few reasons to waterproof your tent. 

Sun Damage

Just as UV rays can damage your skin if you don’t wear sunscreen, these harmful rays can also cause irreversible damage to fabrics that are exposed to the sun for long periods. 

Even a few weeks of camping in the sun can cause damage to the tent, hence reducing its effectiveness of protecting you from the elements. One of the ways you can prolong the life of your tent is to ensure that it is protected from sun damage and the best way to do that is to waterproof it with a good coating when you go camping. 

Use and Age

A tent that is normally exposed to elements, covered in dust and dirt, left in the sun for long periods and then crumpled up in a bag and left there for months is likely to deteriorate over time. The elements and dirt cause water to be absorbed into the fabric, which makes it less effective against wind and rain.

Applying waterproofing treatments helps prolong the life of the fabric by adding DWR coating to the fabric surface. This makes the water bead and runs off the fabric, which prevents it from building up in one space and seeping through the fabric.  

Damaged Seams

Time and exposure to elements will compromise the strength of the seams of your tent. A majority of tents come with fully sealed seams when they are new. The seals tend to break down over time, which causes leakages at the seams and the only way you can solve this issue is by waterproofing the tent. 

How to Tell When It’s Time to Waterproof a Tent

One of the habits that you should develop if you are an avid camper is inspecting your tent now and then not only to make sure that it is waterproof but in general to ensure that everything is working in order.  There are a few things that you can check for to determine if your tent needs to be waterproofed.

Check the Entire Tent, Seals and Rain Fly

If you happen to forget to check the entire tent before you go camping and there is some leakage, your camping experience is likely to be ruined by that. As such, you are required to inspect the entire tent to avoid such situations. 

For a new tent, the fabric holds its waterproofing for a long time. However, if you have used that tent for a while, you might want to check that everything is working in order before you head out. 

You can also extend the life of your tent through regular waterproofing. When inspecting, check for leaks through the fabric, seams and rain fly. 

Check Your Tent When Camping

Check Your Tent When Camping

It is always recommended that you check your tent before any camping trip, especially if the tent hasn’t been used in a while or if it happened to leak last time you went camping. 

Every tent is different depending on the amount of use, resulting in exposure to weather conditions and harsh sun. To check for leaks, on a sunny day, set up the tent, get a garden hose and ensure that you turn the nozzle to a fine mist spray and then spray the tent. You can then check if there is any water that has seeped through.

If there is, then it means that you need to waterproof your tent. Doing this before you go camping takes the stress off and also ensures that condensation doesn’t trick you into thinking that the tent is leaking.

At times condensation tends to build up inside the tent when you are camping, which comes from the moisture that is produced when you breathe and by your body heat. 

When it is raining, you may see condensation on the inside, which you can take to mean that the tent is leaking. Checking your tent on a sunny day means that condensation won’t be an issue. Check the fabric also in the process. If there is a lot of water beading and rolling off the tent, you don’t need to waterproof the tent. 

Check Your Fly Separately

If the tent you have comes with a separate fly and is not made of mesh, check for leaks without the fly. You can set the fly up once you have checked it.

This way, in case of a storm when you are camping, you know that you are safe inside the tent because you know that the tent is waterproof with or without the fly. If the tent you have is made of mesh, then you will need to set up the fly over it before you check for any leaks. 

Choose the Right Waterproofing

As mentioned earlier, a camping tent is likely to leak in three areas – the fabric, seams and the rain fly. There is a different sealant made specifically for each of these areas. As such, you need to know which one is right for your tent. 

Wash All Gear Before Waterproofing

If you have an old tent, ensure that you wash it before you apply any waterproofing products. Normally water and a sponge will get the job done, but if there is flaking, then you need to wash such areas with rubbing alcohol first. 

One thing you need to remember is to check the product instructions before you begin cleaning and application. 

Think About Waterproofing Your New Tent

The common assumption among campers is that new tents have waterproofing applied to only a few key areas like the floor and rain fly. As such, if you are in doubt, you are better off applying a waterproofing product like Nikwax to the tent as well as the rain fly before you use the new tent. 

5 Ways to Waterproof a Tent

Just like you would use a compass to navigate, if you want to be an all-round camper, then you need to know how you can enhance your survival as well as comfort in a campsite and one of those skills is knowing how to waterproof your tent when you need to. 

Waterproofing Spray

The best way of enhancing the waterproofing properties of your tent is by adding a waterproof coating using a waterproof spray. This helps to reinstate the waterproof nature of the tent. 

You can trust a waterproof spray to work even on the cheapest of tents. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions if you want your tent to remain waterproof even in a territorial downpour. 

Rain Cover

Some tents come with rain cover while others do not. If yours does make use of the rain cover even if your tent is already waterproof. 

If your tent doesn’t come with a rain cover, take its measurements so that you can get a rain cover that will cover a tent for six people, for instance. 

Ensure that you put the rain cover over the tent every night in case a storm breaks when you are sleeping. The last thing you want is to be fumbling for a rain cover when it’s pouring outside as you rest in a camping cot.

Tarp

A tarp comes in handy when you don’t want any water seeping into the tent. The tarp should be positioned beneath the tent to ensure that water doesn’t seep from the ground into your tent. 

A tarp helps protect your tent from wear and tear since it offers protection from the ground, which can be rough when you are camping. 

Refreshing The Waterproof Coating

Refreshing The Waterproof Coating

Due to exposure to rain, sun, wind, sand, and dust, the waterproof coating tends to wear out, which leaves your tent vulnerable in some areas. 

For this reason, you need to reapply a waterproof coating on the tent. The new coating smell is unpleasant, which is why it is recommended that you make that application in an open area or a garage and give it a few days to dry. 

Patch Up the Holes

Camping tents, while they may seem tough, are prone to damage from stones, sticks or even pocket knives when you are camping. This can lead to holes developing in the fabric, which can be an issue if you happen to camp in the rain. 

As such, before you head out on your camping trip, patch up these holes the same way shooting gear should be in a range bag when you are heading out. 

This requires expert handling if you want the tent to be durable, especially if the holes are large. Small holes, on the other hand, can easily be fixed with a sleeping pad repair kit using the Hot Pot Method. 

How to Waterproof Your Tent’s Seams

Tent seams are areas where the fabric is stitched together along the floor and the wall. These seams are susceptible to leaks during heavy rains, water runoff or dew.

Water can seep into the tent through stitching that has worn out over time or was never sealed in the first place. A majority of companies will waterproof the seams during manufacture, but with cottage industry gear companies, the seam sealing is not usually a standard procedure, so they don’t do it. 

To seal the seams, you need a tent seam sealer, which is either glue or tape that has been designed to cover the leaky seams of the tent. 

Step 1 – Set up the tent

Set up your tent in a dry and sunny spot or even a brightly lit room where you can see all the seam. Put the fly on inside out to expose the seams. 

Step 2 – Remove damaged sealant tape

Check for any sealant tape that may be damaged or loose and gently remove these sections, ensuring that you leave the undamaged parts intact. 

Step 3 – Clean the seams

Clean all the seams to remove dirt, dust, and grime that may have accumulated over time. Wipe down with a cloth and rubbing alcohol and leave to dry. 

Step 4 – Apply the sealant to the interior seams

Dip your brush in the sealant mix and then apply the sealer to the interior seams. Apply it approximately a ¼ inch past the seams on either side and wipe off the excess. 

In whatever you do, ensure that you don’t get any seam sealer on the zippers and mesh. You can use painter’s tape to cover the zippers and any other sensitive areas. 

Step 5 – Apply the sealant to the exterior seams

Repeat the process when it comes to the exterior sides of the seams. 

Step 6 – Allow to dry

Once you are done, let the tent dry for 12 to 24 hours. If, after 24 hours, the sealant is still sticky, sprinkle talcum powder to the seams. 

Step 7 – Spray with water

This is optional, but it is recommended that you check if there are any leaks when you are done. Get a garden hose and spray the tent while examining it for leaks. 

 

How to Waterproof Your Tent Floor

The floor of the tent is usually referred to as the tub floor or the bathtub since it is the portion that runs up the walls several inches. 

It keeps the tent seams off the ground and provides added protection against running or pooling water on the ground. Keeping the floor waterproof helps protect your gear, sleeping bag, backpacks, pillows and anything else that may be on the floor.  

Step 1 – Set up the tent

Start by setting up your tent in a clean and dry area. 

Step 2 – Clean the seams and the floor

If the seams and the floor are dirty, clean them following the manufacturer’s instructions and then leave to dry for a few minutes. 

Step 3 – Seal the seams

After cleaning, seal the seams of the tent floor. 

Step 4 – Seal the rest of the floor

Once you have sealed all the seams, you can proceed to seal the remaining area of the floor and then allow it to dry according to the instructions of the manufacturer. 

 

How to Waterproof Tent Fabric

The fabric of the tent makes up the largest portion of the tent. Depending on the fabric, it can either keep water out or not. As such, it is very important that you know the fabric you are dealing with before you use any sealant. Some fabrics are tougher and resistant to harsh weather and others aren’t. Mesh is a good example of a fabric that doesn’t keep water out of the tent.

Step 1 – Set up the tent

Start by setting up the tent in a dry and sunny spot. It is recommended that you waterproof your tent fabric on a sunny day to allow for quick drying. 

Step 2 – Clean the tent

Remove any dirt, dust, and grime that may have accumulated over time with a sponge and water. If the tent is clean, then all you need is to wipe it with a damp cloth and allow it to dry.

Step 3 – Apply the sealant

Apply the sealant in a thin layer, ensuring that you don’t rub the product onto the mesh parts. 

Step 4 – Remove any excess sealant

Remove any excess sealant with a sponge and then leave the tent to dry. 

 

How to Waterproof Rain Fly

The rain fly, just like the fabric, also makes up a large portion of a tent. The only difference is that a rain fly is designed to cover the tent and is usually in direct contact with harsh weather when you are camping. 

As a result, the rain fly is susceptible to deterioration over time, which is why regular waterproofing is necessary. 

Step 1 – Turn the fly inside out

Start by turning the fly inside out so that you can access the seams. 

Step 2 – Clean the rain fly

Using a damp sponge, clean the rain fly removing any dirt and debris that may have accumulated and then allow it to dry. 

Step 3 – Wet the rain fly

Using a garden hose, wet the rain fly.

Step 4 – Spray the sealant

Spray the sealant evenly onto the rain fly and then wipe off the excess product using a cloth or a sponge. 

Step 5 – Leave to dry

Once you are done, leave the tent to dry for a few hours. 

How to Waterproof a Tent with a Tarp

If you are not interested in using a chemical-based sealant on your tent or have left waterproofing too late for your next trip, you can always add a waterproof tarp to the tent.

Step 1 – Pitch the tent

Just as you would normally do, pitch the tent outside.  

Step 2 – Rig up a tarp

Rig up the tarp over the tent-making sure that you have covered the whole tent. 

Step 3 – Consider where water will be running down to

When you are adding the waterproofing tarp, consider where the water from the tarp will be running down to and ensure that this area is always free of shoes and gear. 

Most Popular Sprays for Tent Waterproofing

Just like with fishing rain gear, different waterproofing products are available on the market. Some of them combine tent to wash with waterproof treatment, while others have added UV protection.  

Nikwax

This is one of the best waterproofing methods that are usually protective. This solar proof treatment adds water repellency to your tent while at the same time, strengthening the fabric and protecting it from UV rays deterioration. This kind of sealant is recommended to be applied before you use your tent. 

Kiwi Camp

Compared to Nikwax, Kiwi Camp is fairly chemical-based. For the best results, you need to apply two coats and the best thing is that it can also be used to seal other items other than tents. 

Nikwax Tech Wash

Nikwax Tech Wash is usually a washing treatment for technical fabrics, but it can also be used to revitalize water repellency and breathability. It is recommended that you add some waterproofing as a preventative.  

Star Brite

Star Brite works the same as Nikwax Solarwash to add protection to your tent before you use it. It should, however, be applied when the tent is dry. Like Kiwi Camp, it can also be used on other items around the house. 

Scotchgard

This is a simple one application tent spray that can be used to add water repellency to the tent as well as other items. 

Do’s and Don’ts When Waterproofing a Tent

Do’s and Don’ts When Waterproofing a Tent

  • Do use a sealant that has UV protection to ensure that your tent is waterproof and, at the same time, doesn’t degrade over time due to exposure to the harsh sun. 
  • Do set up your tent in a dry and sunny spot to ensure that the tent dries fast after application. 
  • Do conduct a water test after you have applied any sealant to see if there are still any leaks in your tent.
  • Don’t rub any sealant on the mesh products when you are applying it on the tent’s fabric. 
  • Don’t apply a waterproof sealant without cleaning the area and allowing it to dry. 

Quick Tips to Enhance the Success of Tent Waterproofing

It’s not a guarantee that your tent will stop leaking after applying a sealant, so here are ways you can enhance the success of tent waterproofing. 

Use More Than One Coating

If you are going camping in an area that experiences heavy and frequent rain, it is advisable to seal the tent with more than one coating of the waterproof product. 

This is especially important if the tent had already started leaking. When applying the coating, complete one side first to ensure that the consistency is right.

Clean the Tent First

The best way to ensure that your tent doesn’t leak is to apply waterproof when it is clean. This is because waterproofing a dirty tent can make the waterproof material peel off with the dirt. 

Consider the Weather

Waterproofing needs to be done outside and at times, you need to leave the tent outside to dry. Because of this, you need to consider the weather outside on the day you intend to waterproof the tent to ensure that the process is successful and that the weather doesn’t interfere. 

Check the Seams

Before you pack up your tent for a camping trip, you need to set it up outside and check the seam.

Check for any damage along the seams and repair any areas that may be damaged using a seam sealer. 

Quick Tips on What to Avoid When Waterproofing a Tent

Campsite in a sunny forest after rain

At times you may be desperate to find solutions, especially if you have planned a camping trip only to find out that your tent is leaking and you have no time to buy another one. Here are things to avoid when you are waterproofing your tent, no matter how desperate you are. 

Using Duct Tape

If the tent you have is made of sophisticated material, the last thing you want to do is use duct tape to do any repairs. This is because duct tape ends up causing more intensive damage to the tent wall such that you are forced to buy a new tent sooner than you had intended. Additionally, duct tape is harder to remove once it has been applied to a tent.

Using Candle Wax

Candlewax solidifies when it gets dry and using it to seal holes is a big no. This is because as the hot wax drops on the fabric, it ends up burning the material even further and since tent fabric is not heat resistant, you end up with even more issues to deal with. 

Using Lard or Grease

You have probably heard that applying grease or lard to the rainfly will waterproof the tent. It works when it comes to enhancing the waterproofing properties of the tent at that moment. 

However, in the long run, both grease and lard tend to deplete the waterproof coating that comes with the tent, which leaves it vulnerable to damage. Lard also attracts insects and if you are to use it, be prepared to wake up with ants and bugs in the tent. 

FAQ About Tent Waterproofing

Do you need to waterproof a tent?

Yes, you should waterproof your tent regularly. This is because, just like new paint on a house, adding a waterproof sealant to your tent increases its durability and not to mention, prevents water from seeping through when you are camping, especially when it’s raining. 

Does waterproof tent spray work?

Yes, waterproof tent spray works by adding a coating that ensures that the tent does not leak. The spray works even with cheap tents, so that’s something you don’t need to worry about.  

Will Scotchgard waterproof a tent?

Scotchgard waterproof may work or not. There are mixed reviews online about whether the product works. It is ideal to use on thin polyester and nylon fabrics where a spray can renew the waterproof protection in one coat. 

How often do tents need waterproofing?

Generally, sealant can last for a long time after it has been applied correctly. How long the coating lasts, however, depends on how often you use the tent.  

Conclusion

Tent waterproofing may seem like a tiresome chore, but in the end, it will prolong the life of your tent, ensuring that you don’t buy another one sooner than you intended. It is something worth regularly doing if you don’t want to throw away your tent soon. As you have seen, there are several products that you can use to waterproof your tent. How often you do it, however, will depend on how often you use the tent.

Photos from: Rawpixel / depositphotos.com, GennadyGrechishkin / depositphotos.com, AlexLipa / depositphotos.com, photography33 / depositphotos.com, frantic00 / depositphotos.com and dnaumoid / depositphotos.com.

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