Listening to the sounds of nature is one of the best things about going camping. But you never want to hear the sound of water dripping into your tent, and I think we can all agree that nothing is worse than getting up in the morning and stepping in a wet spot on the floor of your tent.
That’s why I’m going to teach you how to waterproof a tent in just three main steps so you never have to worry about wet weather again. The good thing about waterproofing a tent is that it’s actually pretty easy and quick to do.
The three main steps of waterproofing a tent are sealing the seams, refreshing the urethane coatings, and reapplying the durable water repellent (DWR) on the rainfly. All three of these are easy to do, and I’ll tell you about each one in detail in this article.
At Outdoor Andrew, I strive to make sure that you’re only getting the most accurate and helpful information possible. Every article you read here comes from a combination of my own experiences, input from other experts and enthusiasts, and lots of research. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know everything you need to know about waterproofing a tent.
- Seal your tent’s seams to prevent water from coming in.
- Refreshing the urethane coating is your first line of defense against moisture.
- Reapplying a waterproofing spray deflects water away from your tent.
Waterproofing Your Tent in 3 Simple Steps
When I first got into camping, I had no idea that you needed to regularly waterproof your tent. I figured your tent would last for years and once it started leaking a bit, it was toast. Thankfully I started looking into it and learned how to waterproof a tent on my own so I didn’t have to buy a new one every time there was a tiny leak.
So without further ado, let’s get into the good stuff. Here are the three main things you need to do to waterproof your tent.
How to Seal the Seams
The biggest reason that most tents start to leak is that the sealant on the seams starts to wear out. Most tents come with the seams between the fabric sealed from the factory which can eventually wear out. Some tents, however, don’t come with any sealant on them and just rely on the stitching and fabric to keep water out.
In any case, these tent seams will eventually start to leak and let water in, and if you don’t fix it, the leak will just get worse over time. That’s where tent seam sealer comes in, and I’ve rounded up the best sealants on the market here so you know exactly what to get.
No matter which seam sealant you choose, the process is relatively simple:
- Turn your tent inside out and lay it out in a flat, dry area. You’ll be sealing seams from the inside.
- Next, use some rubbing alcohol and a dry rag to clean the seams and get the surface ready for sealant.
- Then simply apply a bead or thin layer of sealant along the seam. Most seam sealers come with an application brush included to make it as easy as possible.
- After that, simply wait for the sealant to cure and dry completely (the bottle will tell you how long, but usually 2-8 hours), and you’re all set.
I recommend sealing all the seams on your tent and rainfly whenever you do one just to make sure you won’t be surprised by a new leak!
How to Refresh the Urethane Fabric Coating
The next thing you should consider doing is applying a new urethane coating on the inside of your rainfly and the floor of your tent. Many campers don’t know this, but most tents come with a urethane coating (or polyurethane coating) on the inside which acts as your main barrier against water and moisture.
Just like any other coating, this one can wear down over time, and you might eventually see some water buildup on the floor of your tent or the underside of the rainfly. If that’s the case, this likely means the coating is starting to wear off on the outside and it’s time to freshen it up. You might even notice the old coating peeling or flaking off, which is a tell-tale sign it’s due.
No matter how you notice it, this one is even easier to fix than the seams since you won’t have to go searching for leaks.
Instead, just do the following:
- Lay your tent and rainfly out on a flat, dry surface with the bottom of the floor exposed.
- Gently scrub away the old coating with rubbing alcohol and a damp cloth or sponge.
- Rinse away all the old coating and rubbing alcohol to prep the surface.
- Apply the new fabric coating — often just called tent sealer or tent sealant — according to the manufacturer’s specifications, making sure to use a material that’s compatible with your tent.
- Wait for the new coating to dry completely
That’s all there is to it!
While you might be able to spot repair this coating if you’re extra careful and know exactly where it’s worn down, I strongly suggest simply replacing the whole layer of coating on the rainfly and the entire tent floor.
Otherwise, you might be tracking down a new leak every time you camp in the rain.
How to Reapply the DWR on the Rainfly
Once your seams are sealed and freshened up the tent’s fabric coating, there’s really only one thing left to do: reapply the durable water-repellent (DWR) coating on the rainfly. This is actually the number one method you’ll find online if you search around for how to waterproof a tent, largely because it’s so easy to do.
What makes this step so easy is that tent waterproofing solutions are typically sold in spray bottles, meaning all you have to do is point, spray, and apply. To make sure you get exactly what you need, check out our list of the best tent waterproofing sprays, all of which will provide a fresh DWR in no time.
No matter which waterproof spray you go with, this step will take little to no time, especially if you’ve already sealed the seams and replaced the coating on the rain fly. That’s because while you were freshening up the coating, you will have already removed the old DWR in its entirety, meaning it’s ready to be reapplied.
All you have to do is:
- Lay out your rainfly in a flat, dry area and make sure it’s clean.
- Apply the tent waterproofing spray across the entirety of the outside of the rainfly.
- Wait for it to dry, and that’s it!
Waterproofing spray like this is also awesome because it’s so versatile and many of the sprays can be used on some of your other camping gear. Check the spray you get to be safe, but many campers use it to waterproof backpacks, tarps, and more.
You’ll know that you’ve properly applied the DWR when you put water on the rainfly and it starts to bead up and run off. This is because the spray forms a hydrophobic coating on the rainfly that rejects water and stops it from adhering to the surface and soaking in through the tent fabric.
I could go on and on about the hydrophobicity of coatings and how they affect water since that’s the kind of stuff I wrote my Masters thesis on back in the day, but I digress…
How Often Should You Waterproof a Tent?
Let me preface this by saying any time you notice water coming in through your tent where it’s not supposed to, you should work on waterproofing it as soon as you have a dry day. Once a leak starts, it’s only going to continue getting worse until you fix it. But you don’t have to wait until you see a leak before you start!
In most climates, you should waterproof your tents at least once every couple of years. I wouldn’t go a full three camping seasons without getting everything re-waterproofed, but I also wouldn’t recommend doing it every weekend or anything like that.
Personally, I tend to waterproof the tents I use most every year. Right at the start of camping season, I like to take a weekend and dedicate it to gear maintenance and getting everything ready for the year. This is a perfect time to waterproof your tent and it’s an easy habit to get into!
How to Waterproof a Tent to Stay Dry
If you regularly do these three things to waterproof your tent, you might be surprised at how much longer it goes without ever springing a leak. After all, the dripping sound of water coming into your tent is one of those things that you really never want to hear while you’re camping in the middle of the woods.
Not only is tent waterproofing fairly easy, but it’s also relatively affordable. All of the gear you need can be had for less than $50 total, and you’ll almost always get more than one season’s worth of these waterproofing products.
There’s a reason that waterproofing your gear is one of the best camping tips, tricks, and hacks there is. So follow these steps to make your tent waterproof, stay dry out there, and happy camping!