how to waterproof a tent

How To Waterproof A Tent For A Comfortable & Dry Camping Trip

If you’ve ever been camping, you’ll probably be all too familiar with unexpected rainfall which has ended up with you waking up to a sleeping bag soaked through with water. There’s nothing more miserable than a leaking tent, so waterproofing your tent is pretty important. After all, a small hole or crack could lead to a large leak! Something to keep in mind is that you may not have a leak if you have a little bit of water and dampness on the inside walls of your tent, which is more likely to be condensation. Not to worry I have a guide on how to stop condensation in a tent.

Steps For How To Waterproofing Your Tent

We’ve brought you five of the best waterproofing tips for ensuring you stay dry on your next camping trip. Follow our expert advice, and you can rest assured that leaks will be a problem of the past.

1. Repair Any Damage

This tip seems to be the most overlooked, yet most important. Tiny little holes or imperfections can lead to lots of water leaking into your tent. Just like when you insulate your tent to stay warm you should always double-check for any repairs, damage, or issues that you can easily fix at home before you are out in the wilderness.

If you have a waterproof tent that has become damaged or broken down, it’s often still possible to fix it. For example, if a seam has sprung a leak, you can simply reseal them. This is one of the first areas of your tent to check for damage before you use it. You can reseal your tent by just pulling off any seam tape which is peeling and then applying some fresh seam sealer.

It’s also possible to reapply a waterproof coating to any old tent. Just clean off all of the old coating flakes then paint polyurethane sealant in a thin layer onto the tent. Bear in mind, however, that you’ll need to leave these sealants for 24 hours to ensure that they are completely dry, so you’ll need to ensure a place is prepared for spreading out the tent until the drying process is over.

2. Keep Your Tent Out Of Direct Sunlight

Of course, when you’re camping it’s only natural that your tent is going to be in the direct sun from time to time. However, when your tent is being stored at your home, it’s important to make sure that you choose a spot that is away from direct sunlight. Also, when you’re setting it up at your camp, you should look for a spot that is shady and out of bright light as much as possible. This is because the sun’s UV rays degrade the canopy and rainfly fabric over time and that results in leaks.

3. Store your tent properly between trips

To make sure your camping trips are as dry as possible, it’s important to store it properly in between uses. While we’ve already mentioned the importance of storing it away from direct sunlight, you should also make sure you select a place that is dry and cool – a finished basement or closet would be ideal. Also, avoid keeping your tent tightly rolled up in its bag for a long period of time. If you do this, any dampness in the tent will cause mold to develop.

A little bonus tip is to pack your tent loosely in a pillowcase or large laundry mesh bag. This will help the fabric to last longer. I hear of many campers that will do some winter camping and then store their tent without properly drying it out and it usually means they have to buy a new one in the summer.

4. Do Not Machine Wash Your Tent!

Whatever you do, don’t put your tent in your washing machine or tumble dryer. These machines will stretch the tent fabric or even cause tears in it, while the heat will cause even more damage. Clear your tent instead with a non-detergent soap, a sponge, and cold water. Any highly soiled areas can be scrubbed gently but you should never use any spot removers, pre-soak laundry products, dishwasher detergent, or bleach on a tent. All of these products impair the water-repellent coating which has been applied to the tent.

You might be surprised how many of my friends have told me they have machine-washed their tents. It does seem to be a fairly common error, especially for the less experienced camper.

5. Spray-On A Waterproofing Treatment

Whether your tent will be exposed to a large amount of sunshine or if you’re just worried about leaks, there are spray-on waterproofing treatments available for purchase. These are very simple to use and will ensure that you don’t experience the wet sleeping bag scenario. If you also use a spray-on solar fabric treatment, UV resistance will be boosted so your tent will repel water for even longer.

How to Waterproof Your Tent With Urethane

Many people that get into camping will have experienced the white flakey “stuff” on a tent that has been used a few times. This is the sign of a tent needing its urethane coating re-applied.

Do not worry about it, it is a cheap task to carry out and doesn’t take too long to complete. It is also a better option than having a leaky tent or buying a brand-new one.

What you will need: Sponge with an abrasive section, rubbing alcohol, and a tent sealant (Most will use a polyurethane coating but double-check your owner’s guide/manual)

Steps for Re-Applying Urethane Coating

  1. If you don’t have room indoors then be sure to pick a day that is dry and will stay dry for a day or so. I always recommend a garage or spare room you don’t need to use for a day.
  2. Lay your tent out flat. Apply some rubbing alcohol to your sponge and start to rub away the old flakey coating.
  3. Once the old coating has been removed you will now apply the new coating. Be sure to follow the instructions on your bottle as some bottles and brands are slightly different.
  4. Let your newly coated tent dry, usually, 12 to 24 hours is enough time.

Be aware, however, that if you use one of these waterproofing products you should use it on both sides of the rainfly and the tub part of your tent. Don’t apply it to mesh areas though – they have to stay breathable and if you spray them, you’ll end up sweating. We’d advise you to apply two waterproofing spray treatments before you use it for the very first time and then again every year.

PU Rating And Hydrostatic Heads

Your tent will have a PU rating and a hydrostatic head rating. Both of these are just ways to measure how effective the materials are at repelling water. The term “PU” means polyurethane coating which makes polyester or nylon waterproof. However, the hydrostatic head isn’t quite the same. This term relates to how tight the weave of the manufactured tent fabric is. After the manufacturing process is complete, it isn’t possible to increase the hydrostatic head rating.

Essentially, if you have a tent with a 1000mm hydrostatic head that means it’s technically capable of holding a column of water that is 1000mm in height and 1” in width for a minute before one water droplet will be able to pass through its fabric. While a higher HH (hydrostatic head) or PU rating means your tent will remain waterproofed for longer, note that this will also make it heavier overall.

It’s easy to make tent materials thicker, however thick materials aren’t just heavier to carry they’re also a lot less breathable and this means that the tent interior becomes very sweaty and hot. You, therefore, need to select a tent that has a hydrostatic head and PU rating which is suited to the environment in which you usually camp.

Tent Waterproofing – Wrapping It Up

As you can see, it really isn’t as difficult as you might think to ensure that your tent is fully waterproofed and stays that way so you can always be dry when you sleep out under the stars. As long as you take some sensible precautions and carry out regular maintenance, your tent is sure to remain dry for many more camping trips in the future. Simply follow our five top tips above, and you’ll enjoy a comfortable vacation under canvas.