Ah, the great outdoors! There’s nothing quite like falling asleep under the stars, nestled inside your cozy tent. That is until you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of raindrops hitting your tent and the sinking realization that your tent isn’t quite as waterproof as you thought. But fear not, adventurous campers! This article is here to guide you through the process of waterproofing your tent, so you can stay dry even when Mother Nature has other plans.
In a nutshell, the short answer for how to waterproof a tent involves sealing the seams, treating the fabric, and properly maintaining the floor and rain fly. But, there’s more to it than just slapping on some sealant and hoping for the best. Keep reading to discover expert tips, recommended products, and step-by-step instructions that’ll make your tent a fortress against the elements, ensuring you stay comfortable, dry, and ready to face whatever adventure awaits you in the wild.
What does “Waterproof” Really Mean?
Here’s the thing – no fabric is absolutely 100% waterproof. However, under normal conditions, water shouldn’t make it through a waterproof fabric unless it exceeds the fabric’s “waterhead rating.”
You’ll often find this rating measured in millimeters (mm), which refers to the max amount of water pressure that can be exerted on the fabric without seeping through. For instance, a 1,500 mm rating means the material can handle the water pressure exerted by a column of water 1,500 millimeters tall without leaking.
Hydrostatic Head (aka Waterhead)
|Waterproofing Level||Best Use|
|0-1000mm||Not Water Resistant||Ideal weather in summer|
|1000-1200mm||Water Resistant||Can handle light rain|
|1200-1500mm||Waterproof||Most three season weather conditions|
|1500-5000mm||Very Waterproof||Very wet weather and four season camping|
|Canvas||Very Waterproof||Four season, all weather car camping.|
How Does Waterproof Fabric Work?
To make a fabric waterproof, it’s all about the layers of synthetic material that work together to create the fabric for the tent’s body. Each manufacturer might have their own unique blend, but there are usually some main factors that they all share.
The fabric is often nylon or polyester. Now, these aren’t waterproof on their own, but they do a pretty good job resisting water and they feel nice to touch. On that fabric, there’s usually a coated membrane made of polyurethane or DWR.
Durable water repellent (DWR) is a liquid polyurethane that bonds with the fabric, sealing it against water. This layer has teeny-tiny holes that allow water vapors to pass through, but not water droplets, making the fabric both breathable and watertight.
What Causes a Tent to Lose Its Waterproofness?
Even the best tents and waterproof gear can get worn down over time. Dirt, oils, and the sun’s rays can all take a toll on the fabric, which will eventually start to fade and lose its effectiveness after prolonged use. You might notice that your trusty tent doesn’t hold up against rain like it used to, and the same goes for your rain jacket, pants, stuff sacks, and backpacks.
And let’s not forget about tent seams. They’re usually pretty tough, but seam tape= breaks down over time too, causing water to seep through too.
Some folks might just buy new equipment when this happens (and that’s totally cool), but not everyone can afford to splurge on a brand-new tent every few years. But hey, don’t sweat it! You can actually restore your tent’s waterproof qualities affordably and easily.
5 Tips for Waterproofing Your Tent to Keep You Dry
1.Wash & Clean Your Tent
Before you get started on waterproofing your tent, it’s important to give it a good deep clean. Water-repellent products just won’t stick to a dirty surface, so a clean tent is key. Take the time to clean both the inside and outside of the entire tent, including the floor and rainfly.
To wash and repair your tent, gather the following items:
- Gentle soap
- A shady, dry spot outside
When washing your tent, avoid dish soap or strong detergents, as they can damage the waterproof coating. Instead, go for something like Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarwash, which is designed for water-repellent gear. And be gentle! No washing machines or dryers, just a gentle sponge and cloth. If your tent is really dirty, you may consider starting with a quick rinse under the garden hose.
2. Check the Entire Tent, Seams, and Rain Fly & Repair Any Issues
Make sure to thoroughly inspect your entire tent, including seams and rain fly. Look for anything that needs to be patched, mended, or cleaned before waterproofing. Now is the time to repair any issues and take care of your tent as much as possible.
Items you may need to repair your tent:
- Tenacious Tape
- A sewing kit for the mesh (or a kit like this Coghlan’s one)
3. Consider Waterproofing & Seam Sealing Your New Tent
While most camping tents come with waterproof fabrics, some off-brand budget tents will not be as waterproof as you may like. Look in the product description to see if the fabrics are rated at least 1200mm or more for the waterhead rating or hydrostatic head. If you can’t find a rating, or if it’s lower than 1200, we recommend taking the time to add your own waterproofing.
Some of these fabrics may be water resistant or water proof, but their seams may not be up to par. You can upgrade to better sealed seams by following the steps below to create a properly taped tent.
4. How Often Should I Waterproof My Tent?
When it comes to waterproofing your tent, there’s no need for a strict schedule. Instead, just focus on maintaining it as needed. The frequency of re-waterproofing really depends on how often you use your tent. Keep an eye on the coatings, and when you start noticing them wearing down or leaking at all, that’s when it’s time to re-waterproof your trusty shelter.
5. Choose the Right Waterproofing
When you notice a leak in your tent, the type of waterproofing needed depends on where the leak is coming from. If it’s originating from a seam, you’ll want to use a seam sealant or seam sealing tape. However, if the water is seeping through the fabric or tent walls, a waterproofing spray or wash-in DWR coating should do the trick.
As for choosing a seam sealer and DWR spray, it’s really up to you and the tent’s fabric. The sprays all use similar materials across different brands, but there are ones made specifically for natural materials. So if you use a cotton canvas tent, your ideal spray will probably be different than a spray for synthetic materials.
For synthetic materials like nylon and polyester, we tend to lean towards Nikwax-brand items (like this Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof Waterproofing Spray). They’ve established a great reputation for quality and gained the trust of the backpacking community. That being said, no specific brand will make a huge difference, so go ahead and pick one you feel confident in and start waterproofing!
How to Waterproof Every Part of Your Tent: Body, Rain Fly, Floor, and Seams
Here’s the simple steps to waterproof your entire tent piece by piece in order:
- Clean your tent first. Wipe off any dirt or debris and wipe it clean with a wet towel. If it’s really dirty, you could hand wash it in a laundry room sink with a tech soap.
- Make any necessary repairs including patching holes and sewing mesh
- Set up your tent with the rainfly inside-out. Apply seam sealer to all the sewn seams. Make sure to avoid the zipper and apply over, around, and under all seams and connector points. Let dry completely. If you need to seam seal inside your tent, you can do so now.
- Take off the rainfly and waterproof your tent body. Then put on the rainfly right-side-out and apply waterproofing. Let both dry completely according to the spray’s instructions.
- Lay the tent on its side, then clean and waterproof the tent’s floor.
- Waterproof your tent footprint sometime during this process.
- Once it’s all done let everything dry for the appropriate amount of time before storing your tent.
How to Waterproof the Tent Seams Using Seam Sealer
Using tent seam sealers is easy and takes little time and effort. These steps are for Gear Aid’s Seam Grip +Fast Cure Sealant, but the steps will be similar for various other seam sealants.
- Set up your tent in a well ventilated area and put the rainfly on inside-out. Tension the rainfly so it’s as tight as possible.
- Clean the seams with a wet cloth then let dry before continuing.
- Start with the tent interior (if needed), then close up the rainfly and do the exterior.
- Apply the sealant to the all the seams but don’t go along the zippers. When applying the sealant, saturate the seams and make sure you apply over, under, and around any plastic parts, flaps, and connector points from the guylines. For every seam that you follow, apply the sealant both under and on top of the seam fabrics.
- Wait 10-15 minutes then do another layer over key areas like the corner peaks and guyline points.
- Let cure for 2.4 hours depending on instructions. Test for dryness before storage.
- Apply every couple of years depending on use.
Note: if your tent seams are flaking off, use a clean sponge and some rubbing alcohol to clear off the debris. Then you can re-seal the seams.
How to Waterproof Your Tent’s Body
Sometimes, we might forget to waterproof the tent body itself, relying on the fly to keep us dry. But, depending on the wind and how water drips from the fly, it could still cause issues. So, better safe than sorry, right?
Simply follow the manufacturer instructions for your waterproofing spray of choice. They will probably involve something like this:
- Set up your tent on a clear day in the shade.
- Wet your tent.
- Apply a thin layer of sealant, avoiding the mesh parts of the tent. Pay special attention to the seams. Remove excess product with a sponge.
- Let it dry (unless instructions say otherwise) before packing it up again.
For sealing tent fabric, we recommend Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof. It’s great for protecting against harmful UV rays, which can break down your tent’s sealant while also providing extra water repellency. Plus, it keeps the fabric breathable, which helps reduce condensation.
How to Waterproof Your Rain Fly
Waterproofing your rain fly is pretty similar to doing the tent fabric. First, set up your tent body and follow the waterproofing instructions. Then while it’s drying, put the rainfly on and follow the same steps.
Before applying anything, make sure it’s clean and dry. Find a shady spot, and follow the instructions to spray a DWR product all over the rain fly. Focus on spots that get more exposure or look a bit worn.
Let both the tent body and rainfly dry completely before moving on to waterproofing the floor.
How to Waterproof Your Tent Floor
To waterproof your tent’s floor, make sure the floor is clean and dry first, then spread the sealant all over it, getting into all the nooks and crannies. Let it dry according to manufacturers’ instructions and wipe off excess with a clean cloth.
For a product recommendation, we like the Gear Aid Seam Grip Tent Fabric Sealant (see link above) that you used on the tent body and rainfly.
Quick tip: If the tent floor feels sticky or you see flaking from an old product, grab some rubbing alcohol and clean the area first.
Do tents need to be waterproofed?
Newly purchased tents from reputable brands shouldn’t need any additional waterproofing, but off-brand budget tents probably will. Check the product description for a waterhead rating, but if there isn’t one you should probably apply a waterproofing spray and seam sealant. If you’ve had your tent for a few years and it’s starting to leak, chances are that it’s time to reapply.
What can I put on my tent to make it waterproof?
You can apply a waterproofing spray to make your tent waterproof. You should also add on seam sealer to make sure the seams are effective at keeping out water as well. Both of these will help increase the overall performance and longevity of the tent fabric.
Can you spray a tent to make it waterproof?
There are several options for products that allow you to spray your tent to re-apply the waterproof coating. This should be done every few years on used tents and right after purchase for any super budget-friendly tents that don’t have adequate waterproofing. Not only does it make your tent more waterproof so it can better perform in the rain, but it increases the longevity of the fabric to extend its life overall.
And there you have it, my fellow happy campers! You’ve now acquired the wisdom and expertise to turn your tent into an impenetrable fortress against the elements. No longer will you be plagued by the sudden appearance of puddles in your sleeping quarters or dampened spirits as the rain pours down. With your newfound knowledge of waterproofing techniques and products, you’ll confidently weather any storm, all while keeping your gear and camping companions dry.
So, the next time you venture into the great outdoors, take pride in your freshly waterproofed tent and seam-sealed, non-leaking tent. Embrace the pitter-patter of raindrops on your fortified shelter, knowing that you’ve triumphed over the forces of nature. Now go forth, rainproof warrior, and let your camping adventures be filled with dry socks, cozy nights, and memories that will last a lifetime. Happy camping!
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to’s based on all the stuff she’s learned on her journey. If she isn’t writing an article, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.