Camping means different things to different people. To some, it’s packing the car up to the ceiling with monstrous dome-shaped mansions, air beds, duvets and carpet. (Yes carpet. Really.) If you’re one of these people you may just want to switch straight over to the ‘How to Pretend You’re at Home When Camping’ blog. Now.
Still reading? Great – you’re the other type of camper. The type who go camping to have an adventure. Who deliberately chooses the pitch furthest away from the communal toilet and shower block, so they can pretend they’re not even on a campsite. Who abandons the campsite altogether for the joys of wild camping. Your tent is small enough to carry on your back and your favourite possession is your trusty sleeping bag.
There is only one problem with this type of camping: rain. Not that rain itself is an issue, but rain also equals mud. And quite often comes alongside its companion, wind. Together these three elements can turn a nice clean, cosy camping trip into a Glastonbury-like mud bath experience from which nothing and no one emerges unscathed. I have been there. I know how miserable it feels.
But never fear, there are ways you can avoid this fate. You can be that smug person, tucked up in a nice dry sleeping bag listening to the curses of your soggy companions outside. Whether you’re leaving the tent up for the weekend, or arrive at your campsite for the night soaked through from walking all day, here’s how you can not only stay dry when camping in the rain but learn to love it.
Select your equipment
First up, tent. A tent with a decent porch space or two entrances / porches is pretty helpful when it’s wet. If you’re a car-camper then you may just give in and go for the big tent with a nice large porch area you can stand up in. (Though let me remind you that a) these tents are generally the first to get whisked over your head when the high winds hit, and b) they can take a lot longer to put up which means more time getting wet.)
However, the really important thing about pitching your tent in the rain is that you know how to put it up, and can do so damn quickly. In lashing wind and rain. Possibly in the dark. And definitely without referring to the instruction manual. Because the quicker you get the tent up, the more likely it is to stay dry inside.
I currently have two tents I use: a summer, super lightweight 1-2 person tent, and a slightly larger, hardier 2-person job. I can pitch either of them on my own, in the dark, in about three minutes (four if its windy and I have to find something to weigh the bag down with). With two people, working together it’s a two-minute job. Practice pitching your tent when it’s dry, folks. You won’t regret it come rain-day.
If you’re camping and think it may rain, I also suggest you pack the following items: bin bags (multiple), two smaller plastic bags (large sandwich bags or carrier bags WITHOUT HOLES IN) and a tarpaulin (with string and / or spare tent pegs). The reasons for this will shortly become abundantly clear.
Keep sleeping kit dry
Sounds obvious, right? And if you’re setting up your tent beside your car it’s pretty hard to get this wrong. But if you’ve been hiking all day in the rain, likelihood is that some rain will make it into your pack.
Bearing that in mind, here’s how to pack your bag to guarantee you will have dry clothes and a bag to snuggle in, whatever the weather:
- Keep a pair of dry, warm clothes to change into in your sleeping bag. I tend to go for a pair of thermal or fleece leggings, a long-sleeved thermal top and socks. Roll ‘em up in the bottom of your sleeping along with a liner (if you use one).
- Stuff your sleeping bag into a fully waterproof stuff sack such as this Exped one.
- Place this in either another waterproof stuff-sack, or just a plastic bag.
- Place double-wrapped bag inside the waterproof liner of your rucksack. (Again, this doesn’t have to be a fancy expensive job. A strong black bin bag works just fine.)
- If you use a blow-up Thermarest-style sleeping mat, pop this in a waterpoof bag and then inside your ruckside liner. If you’re old-skool and use a closed cell sleeping mat that you carry on the outside of your rucksack, then double wrap it in bin bags. If your mat gets wet, you get wet. Simple.
- Ideally have a waterproof rucksack cover for your pack.
Pick your spot
Don’t pitch your tent in a bog. Or in a nice hollow in the ground that may (after a night of rain) turn into a bog. Or a stream. Simple.
Oh, and if it’s windy make sure you pitch with your tail end to the wind. So you don’t get a nice lashing of rain in every time you open the tent door.
Have a process
This is perhaps the most important part of staying dry. It’s all too easy once you have the tent up to want to rush inside out of the rain. Particularly if there are two of you and you’re both desperate to get in and dry. But if you rush in like a herd of elephants, you will end up getting the inside of the tent wet. And then you’re be in for a grumpy, damp evening.
Having done various expeditions and overnight adventures sharing a very small tent with someone else, this is my process for getting everyone, and everything, in whilst keeping the water out.
- Unzip the inner door of the tent, but keep the outer flap closed. Person 1 unpacks their sleeping kit and any other dry items they want inside the tent. Person 2 helpfully opens and closes the outer tent flap to allow Person 1 to chuck in their prized possessions.
- Repeat step 1 for Person 2’s kit.
- Stack your wet rucksacks in one side of the porch. If you have two porches, shout “hurrah!” and pile up all the wet stuff in one of them (use the other for access). If you don’t have space in the porches for the rucksacks, and particularly if they are still vaguely dry, dig out those trusty black bin bags you packed, place a rucksack in each, wrap tightly and leave in an accessible place outside the tent.
- Fight about who gets to go in the tent first. For the purposes of continuity, let’s assume Person 1 wins.
- Person 1 strips off their wet outer clothing OUTSIDE the tent. This is very important folks. The inner sanctum of the tent is for dry people only. There is a bit of a knack to this. If you just have wet waterproofs, then take jacket off and fold on top of your rucksack in the porch. Get Person 2 to open the tent flap and pull down wet waterproof trousers whilst turning and placing dry bum inside the tent. Person 2 zips you in out of the rain and stands there grumpily whilst you peel off wet trousers and boots and place them to one side.
- Person 2 stands in the rain moaning whilst Person 1 gets both mats out (and blown up), gets their sleeping bag out and gets changed into dry clothes as quickly as possible.
- Person 1 makes themselves as small as possible, giving Person 2 the maximum amount of room to wiggle in. Person 2 then repeats step 5 (except they zip themselves into the tent).
- Inner tent gets zipped up and Person 2 dries themselves off, gets changed and into their sleeping bag, all the while moaning about how much wetter they are than Person 1.
Ta-da! Both people inside, cosy and warm. If you are completely soaked to the skin, then chuck your towel into the tent first, strip everything off outside (ok maybe keep your underwear on if anyone’s watching), then dive into the tent to dry off. If you haven’t brought a towel, more fool you.
Cooking, eating and toileting in the rain
Perhaps even worse than getting soaked to the skin, is the realisation that, having got nice and warm and dry, you have to go back out into the rain. However, unless you are equipped and expert in the use of a pee-bottle (or shewee for ladies), you’re likely to have to venture out at least once or twice in the night.
Even in the UK (home of rainy weather gods) it is rare for it to rain solidly all the time. So if possible, wait for a break in the rain and be prepared to make a run for it. If you’re unlucky, then remember the golden rule. Wet clothing stays outside the inner sanctum. Basically just reverse step 5 above to get out, and repeat it to get back in. Oh, and those smaller plastic bags you brought along? Put your feet inside them before you put them in your wet boots. That way you’ll keep dry feet. (And look a bit silly, but hey, who’s going to be watching you in the rain?)
You have four options for cooking in the rain:
- Be very grateful that you’ve chosen a campsite with a sheltered cooking area.
- Cook in the porch of your tent VERY CAREFULLY (and not at all if it’s full of your damp clothing/boots and other potentially flammable objects). Really only do this if you are very well practiced, have an emergency escape route (a second porch) and you must open the tent outer to vent it. Safety first, boys and girls.
- Set up your trusty tarpaulin between the tent and a nearby tree/wall/fence to make a makeshift shelter. Again, take care if you’re cooking near the tent.
- Abandon cooking and go to the pub. (Remember to take along your wet clothes to drape over the chairs to dry.)
Generally, if I’m resorting to options 2 or 3, I go back inside the dry tent to eat and save the washing up until the morning. Minimising the number of times you have to get in and out of the tent in the rain will increase the likelihood of it staying dry inside.
Packing up in the rain
Sadly packing up in the rain is somewhat harder than pitching in the rain. For one thing, there’s no real way to avoid your tent getting wet, which is a bugger if you’re camping in the rain again that night.
You can keep it as dry as possible though. First, pack up everything dry in the tent. So your ‘night-time’ clothing goes back in your sleeping bag, which goes into its multiple layers of dry bags. Roll and pack up your mat. Then take it in turns to pull on your wet over trousers (urgh) and boots, ninja maneuver out of the tent and zip it up whilst you struggle into your waterpoof jacket. Get the other person to pass out the dry bags and get them packed up into the rucksacks.
Then you’re just left with a wet tent. Get it down quick and packed up quick. Whatever you do, don’t take off the fly sheet and spend ten minutes neatly rolling it up whilst leaving the inner sanctum of the tent soaking up the rain.
Take the fly sheet off, stuff it under a rucksack so it doesn’t blow away, then get that inner tent down toot sweet m’dears. Fold it to keep the inside as dry as possible then roll it all up into one wet, heavy, miserable bundle.
So, there you have it. Camping in the rain doesn’t have to be a pain. And there’s nothing like being curled up warm and dry, listening to the patter of raindrops above your head.