Do You Really Need to Waterproof Your Tent?

I was raised on camping. My dad loved it, and he wanted us to love it too. He loved sharing all of his tips and tricks, and one of his favorites to talk about was the importance of waterproofing your tent.

The majority of tents come pre-waterproofed, but as tents age, the waterproofing will start to fail and the tent will either need to be re-waterproofed or replaced. Waterproofing can be done by sealing the seams, refreshing the urethane coating, or refreshing the DWR (durable water repellent).

Although you may not need to waterproof your brand new tent, it’s best to know how and when to waterproof your tent in order to avoid being caught unawares with a suddenly leaking tent.

When do You Need to Waterproof Your Tent?

The time that the original waterproofing lasts varies depending on the quality of tent you’ve purchased. If you buy a cheap enough tent it may not even have waterproofing! If this is the case, then I suggest you waterproof it before taking it camping even though it’s brand new.

The average waterproof time for a cheaper, well-used tent is about 3 years. For a pro-level tent, it ought to last about 10 years, especially if you’re taking care of it correctly.

Every time we pulled the tents out to get ready for a camping trip my dad would have us set them up in the backyard first. Then he’d spray over it with the hose and have us sit inside and check for leaks. I’m not saying you have to go to quite these lengths, but as your tent grows older it’s good to do leak checks so that you can find and fix them before you’re out camping in the rain and stuck sleeping in a soggy tent.

What Are The Benefits of Waterproofing Your Tent?

  • Waterproofing your tent protects you and your other gear from getting wet while inside.
  • Waterproofing causes water to slide off your tent, which increases the lifespan of your tent.
  • A longer-lasting tent means you save money by not having to replace camping gear as often.
  • Waterproofing materials are relatively inexpensive. The average seam sealer costs about $10, DWRs cost about $20, and urethane is also going to cost around $20.

What Are The Downsides of Waterproofing Your Tent?

  • You have to do the waterproofing by hand.
  • The waterproofing materials are technically an additional cost after you’ve already paid for your tent.
  • Some waterproofing sprays will wash away after a few rainstorms, which would then require you to do the waterproofing all over again.
  • Waterproofing the whole tent makes it less breathable.

What Are The Best Ways to Waterproof Your Tent?

A good first step is to wash your tent with a ‘clean rinsing’ agent. If you use regular detergent, then the soapy film left on the tent can affect how waterproof your tent is and could then leave you unprotected from the elements.

Using a clean rinsing agent can wash the fabric without decreasing the effectiveness of the waterproofing. Washing it like this can actually rejuvenate the tent’s original waterproofing or whatever waterproofing you have added prior to washing it with the clean rinsing agent.

After you’ve washed your tent, there are various waterproofing solutions that you can apply to the material of your tent.

Many experienced campers claim that the most important part of waterproofing a tent is making sure that the seams are sealed. Spraying the whole tent can provide extra protection, but the seams are what really matters.

How to seal seams:

  • Set up your tent somewhere dry, preferably with the rain fly on inside out for easiest access to the seams.
  • Search for any peeling sections of the fly’s seam tape, and remove the peeling sections but leave the undamaged areas alone for now.
  • Clean all of the seams with a rag and rubbing alcohol.
  • Apply the seam sealer of your choice to all of the seams.
  • Leave the tent out to let the seams dry. Make sure that the tent is somewhere where it isn’t going to get wet at all until the seam sealer is completely dry.

If your rain fly is no longer repelling water the way it used to, that means you need to redo its DWR (durable water repellant). It can be bought pretty much anywhere and is typically sold as a spray.

How to apply DWR:

  • Set up your tent somewhere dry, this time with the fly on right-side out.
  • Wash the fly off with water.
  • You can wait for the fly to dry, but you don’t need to.
  • Spray the DWR onto the rain fly, and be sure to coat the entire surface area.
  • Wait a few minutes and then wipe off any excess DWR with a damp rag.

If your tent looks like it’s got stuff flaking off along with any leaking, it’s time to give it a new coating or urethane. Be careful to read the tent’s instruction manual to know exactly what kind to get because different tent materials use different coatings and using the wrong one can mess stuff up.

How to refresh the urethane coating:

  • Lay the flaking tent material out on a flat surface.
  • Use rubbing alcohol and a rough-faced sponge to wipe off any flaking substance.
  • Follow the instructions on whatever spray you selected.
  • Let the coating dry for at least 24 hours before moving or repacking the tent.

Alternatives to Waterproofing

If you live in an area where the water of any sort is much less of a concern for camping, you may not want to spend the extra time, money, and effort that is required for waterproofing a tent.

However, it is still good to be prepared to have to deal with water. One alternative to waterproofing your tent is using tarps. You can put one under your tent in case the ground gets dew on it to try and protect the bottom of your tent. You can also put a tent on the inside of your tent floor to serve as protection against water entering your tent and causing any sort of flooding.

If you’re worried about your rainfly, you can also put tarps over the top of your tent to serve as additional protection.

John Olsen

John Olsen is a seasoned adventurer with 20 years of writing, public speaking, team leadership, analytics and project management experience.

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