Waterproofing Your Tent: Everything You Need To Know  

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Waterproofing Your Tent: Everything You Need To Know

Are tents waterproof?

Not every tent is waterproof. There are varying degrees to your tent’s ability to repel or withstand water:

Water-resistant

Water-resistant tents have the lowest form of protection against water. To some degree, they can prevent water from seeping through the fabric, but this ability disappears after the fabric has gotten saturated with water.

Water-repellant

Water-repellant tents are labeled DWR (Durable Water Repellant). These are coated with a water-repellent material that causes the water to bead on the surface of the fabric and slide right off. 

Waterproof

Waterproof tents are made for extreme weather conditions and are coated with a solid layer of DWR and made of water-resistant fabrics.  Although tents like these lose their ability to stay completely dry and block all water, you can reproof them every so often for maintenance.

What do I look for in a waterproof tent?

In searching for the perfect waterproof tent that fits your needs, consider these things:

Fabric

Waterproof tents are made of fabrics like a canvas that are naturally breathable and water-resistant as opposed to non-waterproof tents that are typically polyurethane-treated polyester. Waterproof tents have also treated seals and zipper covers to ensure that no water gets inside.

HH rating

Hydrostatic Head or HH rating is a measurement system that determines the volume of water tent fabric can withstand before water starts to penetrate. However, other factors such as waterproof coatings, UV coatings, and properly manufactured seams can affect how waterproof a tent is.

  • 1000 mm HH is the minimum rating for a tent to be considered water-resistant, this cannot withstand heavy showers
  • 1500 mm HH can protect you from light showers but not from heavy rainfall
  • 2000 mm HH rating can commonly be found in most seasonal tents which can withstand heavy rain and wind.
  • 3000 mm HH rating tents are made for the most extreme of conditions. These are usually used by natural scientists who have to get closeup to natural disasters or mountain climbers in high-altitude climbs.

Polyurethane rating

Often when looking for waterproof tents, you will see a PU rating beside the HH rating. This simply means that the tent fabric has been coated with polyurethane which is a waterproof coating. Look for the PU sign if you’re looking for tents that can withstand heavy rains and other harsh conditions.

Seams

Check the stitching of tent seams. Most of the water leaks occur because of poorly stitched and sealed seams. Your waterproof tent should have double-stitched seams and be properly covered with a waterproof sealant.

“Bathtub” tent floors

Waterproof tents also have waterproof material for their floors. This floor comes up a little on the sides of the tent, creating a bathtub-like shape before it is attached to the tent fabric. This prevents water seepage from below. 

Double walls

Waterproof tents have double walls: usually water-resistant fabric inside and a waterproof rainfly on the outside. 

Why do I need to waterproof my tent? 

Just buying a waterproof tent is not enough, remember, they may be called “waterproof” but this does not mean that it offers complete protection. You can take extra steps to waterproof your tent by targeting its weak areas. Waterproofing your tent means that you can be secure in the knowledge that your tent can protect you from nature’s elements, especially when it rains. 

A waterproofed tent will:

  • Prevent water seepage
  • Protect your tent from UV ray damage
  • Keep your tent well-conditioned
  • Keep warmth inside
  • Prevent the chill from seeping inside

What can I use to waterproof my tent?

Here are some things that you can use to waterproof your tent and how to use them:

Waterproofing spray

The most reliable ones are the Nikwax Tent and the Gear SolarProof spray. You can also check with your tent manufacturer if they have their recommendations for your tent’s fabric. 

How to use:

  1. Wash and clean your tent with a sponge, warm water, and mild detergent.
  2. While your tent is wet, set it up.
  3. Apply the waterproofing spray all over the fabric with a brush or sponge.
  4. Wipe excess spray with a damp cloth
  5. Leave to cure in the sun until it has dried completely.
  6. Properly fold and store your tent.

Seam sealant

These sealants coat your tent seams so that water cannot leak inside. In newer tents, you can find that the seams are tape-sealed. With time and frequent use in the rain those tape seals, will deteriorate and offer no protection at all. Repair damaged seams with seam sealants by following these steps:

How to use:

  1. Your tent must be clean and dry.
  2. Lay the tent inside out. You will be applying the seam sealant on the inside of the tent.
  3. With a rag and rubbing alcohol, clean the seams. Take care to brush peeling bits off.
  4. Apply the sealant on the seams and follow the product instructions.
  5. Let seams fully dry before storing the tent.

Fabric patches

Fabric patches like Tenacious Tape can be used to repair tears or holes that can be found in your tent. 

How to use:

  1. Make sure your tent is clean and dry.
  2. Identify the holes in the tent fabric.
  3. Patch the holes with fabric patches and apply sealant on the edges.
  4. Let dry completely before storing.

Groundsheet or Footprint

Groundsheets or footprints are protective materials for the bottom of your tent, usually made of tarp, polycryo, or Tyvek. If used properly groundsheets increase your tent’s waterproofing ability. It prevents tent condensation and protects your tent from water seepage.

How to use:

  1. Make sure that the groundsheet is slightly smaller than your tent.
  2. Clear your campground of sharp objects
  3. Lay down your groundsheet.
  4. Pitch your tent over it.
  5. If camping for a long time, make sure to pitch your ten in another place to expose the grass underneath to air and sunlight, which prevents it from drying out or dying.

Tarp

A tarp simply offers added protection from the elements. You can purchase an industrial-grade tarp and construct a canopy over your tent with some rope and a few sturdy poles. A tarp also helps cool air circulate on the surface of the tent fabric, resulting in a cooler tent. 

How Often Do I Need to Waterproof My Tent

You need to waterproof your tent during these instances:

  • You bought a tent with low water-proofing ability. You can reinforce your tent by applying waterproofing sprays yourself.
  • When you notice that your tent’s performance is failing. This can mean water seepage, seam leaks, or peeling inside the tent. 

Always check your tent before and after every camping trip. Look for holes, tears, damaged seams, or peeling and take the required action.