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Anyone have tips and advice for setting up camp in the rain?

We are expecting rain on the first day of upcoming camping trip (but the rest is expected to be nice).  We will be car camping at a state site.  Anyone with any stories of their experience or tips on setting up while it's pouring?

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10 Replies


Unfortunately, I've had a lot of experience setting up in the rain! My experiences have all been on backcountry through hikes, but the principals should remain the same as car camping.

1) Keep your key items DRY (sleeping bag, extra set of clothes, anything needed to make fire with, etc).  For car camping, the obvious way to do this would be simply to leave these items in the car until your tent is set up.

2) Find a high point to make camp.  Last thing you want is to wake up to a flooded area with water entering your tent.  Try to find a spot where water will flow away from you.

3) Ideally, you'll have a tent that has the rain fly attached.  This way the inside of the tent will stay as dry as possible.  IF not, and you have a few extra hands, you can have a few people hold the rain fly over the tent as it is being set up.  Try to wait it out in your car as long as possible to find a break in the rain to do this.  BRING A TARP TO LAY UNDER YOUR TENT.  This will help keep the water from seeping through.  Most likely, the bottom of your tent is only water resistant, not water proof.

4) Bring trash bags to move your dry items from the vehicle to the tent.  Bring anything you need to be inside the tent for a while to wait out the storm (food, water, cards, book, etc).  You don't want to have to keep going in and out, tracking mud and water in with you each time.  Once you're ready to set up the inside of the tent, remove your wet clothes and just throw them outside.  Use the towels to dry up anything you could've tracked in with you.

5) Stay focused on only setting up what is necessary during the rain.  Biggest advantage you have here is your vehicle.  Stay inside as long as possible to see if there is a break in the weather, then be ready to set up your essential items.

6) KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET WET.  Having this mentality will often take the emotional side out of camping in the rain.  Accept the elements and enjoy it rather than being frustrated.


Hope this helps, have fun!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Hi @stinemarie !  Lots of good advice from @tadoerner .  I don't know that I can add much more with the exception of a couple clarifying details.

To expand on the recommendation of having others in your group hold the rainfly over you while setting up the tent, if you can take that a step further and have a tarp that you can string up from the trees over your tent site, or even a pop-up shelter like you see at festivals and farmer's markets.  Neither of those options is really feasible for backcountry camping, but should be doable for car-camping.

One other note, when putting down a tarp, or other tent footprint, make sure the edges are inside the perimeter of the tent body.  Otherwise it will serve to funnel the rain and tent runoff directly under the tent.  You want the tent body, or at least the rainfly, to extend beyond your footprint.

Good luck, and if you can't stay dry, embrace and enjoy the rain!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Was just going to make the same point about the tarp/footprint needing to be under the fly.  Most modern tents do have a waterproof floor so unless yours isn't,  I might even omit the tarp/footprint in order to get the tent up faster.  Footprints while they do provide an addition water barrier are largely to stop abrasion by keeping the dirt and pointy things away from your tent allowing the floor of your tent to slide over the footprint rather than grind on a rock...generally less of an issue when it is wet...but it is a judgement call.  I  have always used a footprint.

Some 2 wall backpacking tents have a "fly first" feature which used the footprint so obviously in that case you might use the footprint to get the fly up before assembling the rest of the tent.  My tent has this feature but I have never had to set up in heavy enough rain to warrant using it.  Doing it in rain gear seems like it might be counter productive...a better use of it is a "fly last" take down if you have to pack up in the rain.

Another aspect of this is that well used campsites tend to compress and hollow creating a potential puddle.  If you don't have a choice of site you might dig a small channel to ensure the water does not accumulate.   Having an emergency shovel along helps.  Obviously there could be problems with this depending on the kind of site so use your judgement and don't dig up the lawn.

no no no! we don't dig trenches anymore, anywhere!  LNT!!

There is a campsite at cottonwood campground in GCNP which is more or less ruined by trenching.


REI Member Since 1979

@Philreedshikes  That is a fair point bu I was talking car camping and organized/maintained campsites which are the antithesis of LNT in any case.  And a small channel is not a "trench".  I should have said to fill it back in before you leave though.

That said,  if the campsite needed enough trenching to ruin it then it probably shouldn't have been a campsite in the first place and it is probably a good thing if it is no longer usable!

@stinemarie Such a great question! I just returned from two backpacking trips, both of which contained 1+ days of torrential rain. You've gotten some great advice so far, especially in regards to tent set-up, tent footprints/tarps, and choosing your tent's location!

Here are a couple of things I would add for car camping in the rain:

  • I like to store all of my items in clear plastic bins in accordance to what I will need them for (inside the tent, cooking/eating, etc.). This is an easy way to stay organized, keep items from being broken/squished, and transport items from the car to the tent/shelter area without getting anything wet.
  • Since I already have the gear, I love to use my hammock and hammock rain cover when it's raining, as this will give me a dry place so sit. Since you are car camping, another way you can do this (if you have trees) is tie a tarp (just the basic one from Walmart or a similar store is fine) to four trees using chord/twine (make sure to leave these pieces long since you won't know how far apart the trees will be!) to create a rain shelter. Be sure to place the tarp at an angle (to encourage the water to slide off) and to buy twine that is built to withstand weight (as it will be holding up the tarp and the rain's weight). Also, if you suspect there might be wind, you can use an extra large tarp, tying the lower end of one half of it to the bottom of two trees to create a sort of wall against the rain being blown in by the wind. Then you can use camp chairs or a hammock to sit in under the shelter. I don't like being stuck in the car/tent, so this is what I tend to do so that I can still enjoy the rain/outdoors.
  • Have your rain gear easily accessible inside the car, so that you can put it on before you get out in the case that it's raining when you get to your site.
  • Bring dry firewood, kindling, and fire starter, and leave this in the car. In the off chance that there is a break in the weather, you can use this to build a fire in the designated fire pit to dry off/warm up.
  • BRING EXTRA CLOTHING! Odds are something is going to get wet, and the last thing you want is to have to wear/sleep in something that is soaked and cold.
  • Wait to set up your tent and place your stuff inside the tent if you still have time once you get to your campsite. This will allow you to wait and see if the rain lets up/stops. You can use this downtime to set up your hammock/chair and shelter. If you notice the rain dying down/stopping, use this time to set up your tent/sleeping bag/etc. Be sure to have these items as prepped as possible in advance, so that you can be super efficient, since the rain might start up again at any moment!
  • Once you are inside your tent for the night, be sure to keep your shoes under the rain fly of your tent so that they don't get rained on during the night.
  • If it's expected to rain, in addition to finding a high point for the tent, I actually like to find ground that is at a slight angle/hump, as this will also encourage the rain water to run past the tent, rather than gathering underneath the tent.
  • Bring towels! This is the luxury of car camping. Bring towels to dry off your cookware, your tent, yourself, etc. This is especially helpful if you will be camping for more than one night. Similarly, if you have trees, bring some string to make a clothes line. This way, if you are camping for more than one day and have a day in which the weather is good, you can hang any of your clothes/towels/tent parts that have gotten soaked.
  • Bring an extra pair of shoes, and be sure to have some sort of flip flop. When it's raining, I tend to just wear flip flops, as they dry easily. Just be aware that this will make your feet muddy, so bring a towel to clean off your feet before entering your tent!
  • Wear a hat with a visor - this helps keep the rain out of your eyes, which is sooooo helpful. Try to use a hat with material that dries quickly.
  • BRING BUY SPRAY! In many places, after the rain stops, bugs (especially mosquitoes) come out in full force looking for bloooood. Make sure to show those buggers their place!

I tried to list some tips that I've picked up from experience and that other people haven't mentioned yet. Hope this helps, and good luck!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

I have had to do this a couple of times on car camping trips.  Even if not raining, the first thing I do, after donning my personal rain gear, is put up the dining fly.  We have a very sturdy First Up fly.  Once that is done, I then unload free-standing tent and ground cloth.  I then set the tent up under the dining fly and attach the tent fly to the tent.  I also attach the ground cloth to the bottom of the tent with large binder clips.  Then, in a coordinated effort, we put the tent up in the proper location and very quickly stake out the fly and tent corners.  We have a 3 season tent that stays very dry even in major storms and has a good sized vestibule for storing wet boots and rain gear.  Finally, if we don't think the rain will end by nightfall, we move our sleeping bags, pads, etc into the tent.  They are all in water repellent stuff sacks or compression bags so they don't get wet.  We keep our food and cooking gear in large plastic totes, so we just move that under the dining fly.

I have a story!

In the 90's a friend and I drove down from a US Army Base in Germany where we were both civilian engineers taking care of the base infrastructure, to the Eiger Campground in Grindelwald, Switzerland and set up our tent, car camping and day hiking.

We also set up a large canopy over a picnic table.

We woke up the next morning to a driving rain storm and noticed an American station wagon a few sites away, which had arrived during the night and the rain storm.

We also noticed a partially collapsed, drenched tent, and saw the windows of the station wagon were all fogged up, indicating the occupants had slept in the car.

We then noticed, a guy get out of the car and trying to make some coffee or breakfast, or something, in the pouring rain, and getting even more drenched.  His situation was pretty hopeless.

Well we were kicked back under our tarp having hot coffee and breakfast, so we invited him over, and later his wife and kids, and we fed them a great breakfast and hot drinks.  This October weekend was pretty nippy.

They were SO HAPPY!  They wound up getting a hotel (and some sleep) in Grindelwald, thanking us profusely as they departed.

Months later, back at the office, it was time for an annual construction contract inspection by the local CID (Army Criminal Investigation Division).

So who walks through my door?.....The drenched guy from the campground!

He was so happy to see me, I couldn't believe it!  All he wanted to talk about is our kindness that day and how we saved his marriage! (Hyperbole, I hope) His wife was not a happy camper that day believe me!

Anyway we passed the inspection/non-inspection.  Talk about Karma!

REI Member Since 1979

I love this story!