If you’re not prepared for it, rain can absolutely ruin an otherwise amazing camping trip. Wet gear, water in your tent, fires that won’t light and more will leave you with a cold desire to go home and never come back.
On the flip side though, if you are properly prepared, camping in the rain can range from a mild interruption to actually being enjoyable and even a welcome challenge.
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Choose the Correct Location for your Tent and Campsite
Choosing the correct campsite and tent location is one of more crucial steps to ensuring that you will have a dry, warm and enjoyable experience camping in the rain.
What you want to look for is an area with high ground and ideally trees overhead (that you will later attach tarps to). You want to avoid low areas that could collect run-off and become saturated with a heavy rain. You don’t necessarily need the highest point possible, but make sure to avoid the lowest.
Trees and brush that you can use to suspend your tarps are going to be incredibly convenient as well.
Valleys are usually the wettest and coldest area. If you must set up camp in a river bed or canyon valley, make sure to set up above the high water mark to stay dry and safe in case of a flash flood.
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Creating A Rain Free Outdoor Space With Tarps and Paracord
Camping tarps are incredibly useful for nearly any camping adventure, especially when camping in the rain. A lightweight tarp will allow you to create an overhead shelter for lounging and waiting out the rain.
With a tarp, a roll of paracord and a few trees, you can easily set up a shelter to do your cooking, play a game, take a nap or just hang out with your friends and family.
Even if it’s not raining or rain is in the forecast, I will often set up a tarp shelter to have a shaded lounging area and protect my kitchen set up in case of the unexpected.
Other uses for your Camping Tarp:
If I need to set up camp during a rain, not only will I set up a tarp shelter for lounging, but another one above where I am setting up my tent. This allows me to keep my tent dry and out of the rain while I set it up.
Placing a tarp under your tent will provide a valuable layer of protection between your tent bottom and the ground, helping to prevent rips and keep water from the ground from finding a way into your otherwise dry tent.
If I happen to have enough tarps, I even like to lay one on the ground under my tarp shelter. This keeps campers from having to walk around on the wet and/or muddy ground and making a mess of everything during a rainstorm.
Drying Out Wet Gear
Sometimes the rain sneaks up on you and you can’t help but end up with wet clothes and gear. This is where you are going to need to dry out your gear to get it back to optimal performance.
The problem here is that there are so many variables that getting your gear dry may take some creativity.
If you have a tarp and paracord and have been able to set up a tarp shelter, then your obvious choice is to string a drying line and hang out your clothes and gear to dry overnight. If you are able to get a fire going nearby, the heat from the fire can help to quickly dry your gear (don’t get carried away though!).
But what if you don’t have a tarp or a fire going? Other options are not always as fun.
On a few occasions, I have had to try to hang out clothes inside my small 1 person tent to get them dry while another idea (which I have not done) is to place wet clothes inside your sleeping bag to dry out from your body heat.
If you have good wicking clothes on (which I talk about later), keeping them on will cause them to wick moisture away from your body through the clothing. This will actually dry them out faster than taking them off if you can’t get them on a good drying line near a fire.
Creating A Campfire In The Rain
Efficiently creating a good campfire is an art form by itself, creating a campfire in the rain, with potentially wet fuel, that’s a truly difficult task.
First, you need to make sure that you always have the ability to start a fire. Whether this fire is a small stove, campfire or something else, you need a reliable lighter when camping.
Your serious fire starting options include, from least effective to most effective, a Magnesium Fire Starter, Waterproof Matches and a Waterproof Lighter. Waterproof is the key here. Regular matches that get wet are useless. And just to make sure, don’t think for a second you’re going to start a fire with a couple of sticks like you saw on Youtube, far to difficult.
Next, you need your tinder. Tinder is something lightweight, that catches fire incredibly easily and burns quickly. In a wet and rainy situation, you still have potentially a few options for tinder.
First, check under pine trees for quality tinder. Typically pine trees will have a thick bed of needles laying under the tree and if you dig down you may be able to find dry needles down under the first layer. The same may be true under any other type of tree or thick grass as well.
Another option is to make your own tinder from fallen wood. Find the dryest log you can and start peeling off the bark. Under the bark hopefully, you will find that the wood is dry. Take your survival knife (you always pack a survival knife right?!) and scrape it along the dry wood creating super thin wood shavings. These should light easily and burn quick and hot.
The last option is to pack in waterproof tinder. This is actually a smart thing to always pack in your emergency/survival kit. While there are a ton of options for tinder on Amazon, a good choice is UST WetFire Tinder. These are individually packaged tablets that burn hot for 5 minutes and can burn in any weather, even when wet.
Kindling is the small fuel that lights easily but burns longer than tinder. This usually includes small twigs, branches and pinecones. The dryest kindling is typically found under trees, thick grass and dense bushes. If everything you find is wet again, try scraping off the bark of small twigs to get to the dry wood.
You can also stack extra kindling to start drying out under your tarp.
Fuelwood is the larger fuel that will keep your fire going for an extended period of time. If you have already successfully gotten your tinder and kindling going, you should have no trouble getting your fuelwood to light.
Before you even begin your fire, make sure to gather as much fuelwood as you can. Use only wood from already fallen and dead trees, as live wood will not burn and it is bad form to cut down live trees.
Once you have gathered your fuelwood, peel the bark if necessary (save this for later kindling and fuel once it has dried). Next, split the fuelwood in order to access the dry center. By splitting the wood it will burn much easier and drastically increase your chances of a great fire. A quality camping hatchet is perfect for this job, although your survival knife can be used in an emergency.
Bored in the Rain? Check out these 7 Rainy Day Camping Activities
Staying Dry Without Shelter: Top/Shell Layers
The biggest key to staying warm and comfortable when camping in the rain is to stay dry in the first place. When at your campsite, this may mean staying under your shelter or in your tent. But often, rain hits when we don’t expect it, when we are not near our shelter or we just plain old don’t want to be stuck in our shelter.
This is when having the proper top layers is important.
There are many different options for top layers and they really depend on what type of weather you will be experiencing. Extreme cold and extreme rain call for completely different gear than sprinkling rain or warm weather rain.
Your best bet for a top layer is to purchase a jacket with a breathable waterproof membrane such as Gore-Tex or eVent. REI has a great selection of these jackets that are durable, comfortable, waterproof and breathable.
If you are looking for something simple to have just in case of emergency, a rain suit or poncho that is cheap and packs small is a great idea. Coleman sells a cheap PVC rain suit on Amazon that is easily worth the investment as an emergency rain suit. This jacket is not lightweight and not something that should be used more than just in case of emergency.
Keeping Your Gear Dry
Waterproof Backpacks, Daypacks, and Portage Packs
So you’re out in the wilderness, it’s raining, you’re trying to stay dry and then you realize that everything in your pack has gotten wet because you chose a cheap backpack that was “waterproof” in theory, but reality has proven different.
Investing in a quality backpack for your particular type of trip is crucial. A high-quality pack will carry all of the gear you need, attach comfortably to your body, be durable and not only waterproof but watertight.
Boreas make hiking backpacks that I personally use and absolutely love. They are high quality, durable and priced right. Obviously, REI has a lot of great higher-end options for backpacks to choose from as well. These are perfect if you plan on getting a lot of use out of your pack. If not, I’ve listed a few great packs that are quite cheap below.
This Cloudbreak 30L backpack from FE Active is a great choice for a waterproof daypack. It’s 2.1 pounds, waterproof and can fit almost any budget.
This Outdoor Master 50L waterproof weekend pack includes a rain cover and is a bit bigger than the 30L Cloudproof above. Perfect size for a 2-3 day trip.
If you’ve already got a backpack and just need extra protection from the rain, then a backpack rain cover is perfect. I use these with any backpack for extra protection when out camping in the rain.
This backpack rain cover from Orange Sport is cheap and effective.
I would kick myself if I didn’t mention my absolute favorite packs, the Granite Gear Portage packs Quetico 5000 and the Superior One. These packs are made for portaging and are ideal for camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. I have both and they are incredible. They are huge, waterproof and incredibly comfortable. I actually use them for far more than just portaging.
The Quetico 5000 is a 5,000 cubic inch (82 Liter) pack. It is durable and has plenty of space to store your tent, sleeping bag, food and more.
The Superior One is a 7,400 cubic inch (121 Liter) pack that can hold your tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking gear, tarps and everything else you can imagine.
Waterproof Stuff Sacks
Packing your non-waterproof gear properly is incredibly important when you are camping and could potentially see some rain.
Whenever I go camping where my packs could get wet, such as a trip down the Bois Brule River, I make sure to pack everything into water-proof stuff sacks inside my main pack. This allows my gear to be protected by two different layers and has never let me down yet when I need my gear to be dry when I unpack it.
Staying Warm When Wet – Wearing Proper Base Layers & Clothing
So you’ve managed to get wet and whether or not you have the ability to dry your gear out, you need to stay warm. Being wet and cold can quickly lead to hypothermia which can be life-threatening in the wilderness.
This is where being prepared can make or break your camping trip, not to mention literally saving your life. You need to make sure to pack proper clothing for the type of trip you are going on. If becoming wet is a possibility, if cold weather is in the forecast or even storms, bringing the right gear is essential.
Cotton is good for a lot of things, it is light and comfortable, but it the worst choice for getting wet and cold. Cotton has no wicking capabilities which means that once wet, it will stay wet and heavy and keep you cold. If you find yourself wet and in the cold while wearing cotton, you need to remove the clothing quickly, get it drying out and get yourself warm as quickly as possible. If you find yourself unable to dry out, you may be in big trouble.
Wool is actually almost a perfect choice for clothing when out camping in the elements. It is waterproof, has great insulation and is great at wicking, meaning that once wet, it will continue keeping you warm. With wool, you are able to wear the clothing while it dries out and keep yourself warm.
Wool feels warm due to the crimping of the fiber, this causes it to capture more dead air and thus insulate you better from the elements.
The main problem with wool is that it is heavy and often itchy and uncomfortable.
Fleece base layers are actually great for most all of your camping in the rain needs. They are light, dry and wick well, are smooth and comfortable and last for years. Fleece can actually be quite cheap and any serious campers probably have a drawer full of different fleece layers.
The problems with fleece are that it is not the warmest base layer in that it doesn’t hold heat that great when wet and the wind cuts right through it.
Polypropylene is probably the second best solution when it comes to clothing you’d want to be wearing if you get wet. Polypropylene is thin, lightweight, comfortable and absolutely great at wicking, thus allowing you to dry out quicker than cotton, fleece and even wool.
The Real Solution: Merino Wool
Merino Wool has all of the great properties of wool but also fixes it’s problems as well. Merino wool has the ability to wick moisture away from your body towards the less humid area (the outside of the clothing) and still feels dry while carrying 30% of its weight in water, most other fibers feel wet at 7%. This means that you will dry out while wearing Merino Wool clothing and feel dry, even when the clothing is wet.
Merino wool also is incredibly comfortable to wear. Traditional wool feels rough and itchy due to large rigid fibers, Merino Wool has smaller smoother fibers that feel great (more like cotton) on the body.
An added benefit of Merino Wool is that it naturally has anti-order properties, which keep it smelling fresh even during a long outing.
About 4 years ago I got my first Merino Wool shirts from Ibex Clothing and I absolutely love them. My camping closet is now full of different merino wool brands of clothing.
A few of my favorite Merino Wool Makers:
- Ibex Clothing – Ibex offers everything you could possibly need from base layers, top layers, hats, gloves and much more.
- Minus 33 – Another great company that offers everything you could possibly want in Merino wool.
- SmartWool – SmatWool offers fantastic Merino wool clothing at really good prices.
Personally, I don’t do any serious camping without packing in a base layer of merino wool as well as a few different pieces of merino wool clothing depending on the type of weather expected.
Camping in the Rain Checklist & Essential Gear
2. Waterproof Boots & Leg Gators
6. Extra Tent Stakes (for setting up a shelter)
10. Camping Hatchet