How To Camp In The Rain: 9 Easy Tips & Hacks For Staying Dry

by Julie | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
How To Camp In The Rain: 9 Easy Tips & Hacks For Staying Dry

When people think about camping they imagine sunny, crystal clear blue skies and warm weather. A perfect camping trip for relaxing or going on adventures and just having a great time without a worry in the world. However, the reality is, you’ll experience all kinds of weather out camping. Not all of it is good. Weather is unpredictable, as much as the meteorologists try, they are never one hundred percent right.

So, you need to be prepared for the unpredicted and always possible circumstances. Rain showers and storms can come on suddenly and ferociously, and be gone just as fast. A front could move in and then the next few days of your trip get rained out. The temperatures could drop with it too, so even in summer, you might find yourself shivering with cold at night.

The point is: you just never know what kind of weather you’ll experience when planning on a camping trip. But don’t ever let it ruin your planned adventure! In fact, camping in the rain can be just as much fun and relaxing. If you have the right gear and equipment to keep you dry, then it can still be enjoyable!

The key is to be prepared and to still keep an eye on the weather in the place you plan on going camping. We are here to provide you with all you need to know on how to camp in the rain and still find a way to enjoy it!

How To Prepare For Camping In The Rain

There is plenty you can do to prepare for rain if it’s in the forecast for your camping trip or if it comes on suddenly. Fortunately, there are all kinds of rain gear out there for you to get, some of which you may already have as part of your regular front-country life.

Yet, there is more to it than just gear, there’s where you choose to set your campsite, how you dress, how waterproof your tent is, how to stay warm and dry, and things like how to dry clothes and gear if they get wet and much more.

It is quite a lot, so let’s start to break it down:

Bring Waterproof Clothing

First thing first: your clothing. You’ll be packing it anyway so plan accordingly to be able to fit some rain clothing in there. You’ll need layers and this is true for any kind of weather, especially cold weather. Your layer structure can make a huge difference in how well you are able to withstand the elements.

Now, the three-layer rule is what is taught to anyone in the wilderness recreation field. This method is the best possible for staying warm, dry, and comfortable.

  1. Your first layer of clothing should be made from water-wicking fabric like polypro and Under Armour. Never wear cotton clothes! “Cotten kills” is the saying you’ll hear a lot when it comes to camping, backpacking, and hiking. Once cotton gets wet, it is completely compromised and useless, and it will be near impossible to dry
  2. The second layer is your insulation layer which is where you’ll want wool, feather-down, or synthetic-blend coats and sweaters (if it’s swelteringly hot in the middle of summer then you can forgo this layer, or replace it with lighter sweatshirts for mildly cool nights).
  3. The final layer is your outer shell which will provide you with your waterproofing. Material like Gore-Tex and polyester are usually what you’ll see for this layer.

The best thing about the three-layer system is that you can shed and add the layers depending on your activity and the weather. Always remember that you never want to sweat through your clothing and gear, so if you start getting hot then shed a layer or two.

Check out this video on the three-layer clothing system:

Bring Extra Clothes

While packing your waterproof clothing, don’t forget to pack extra clothes just in case. It is important to have an extra dry set of clothes that you can change into after rainy weather. You especially want to do so before bed. Never go to bed wet because you don’t want your sleeping bag to get wet as well, then it won’t keep you as warm as you need.

Stay dry and stay warm, that is the safest thing you can do in such weather. Always be sure to pack extra clothes, pants, shirts, socks, and underwear, you’ll need them all! It should go without saying that you’ll need waterproof boots as well. If your shoes or hiking boots get soaked, it’ll be a real pain to dry them out. Not to mention that having wet feet is one of the worst things ever. So go prepared with some waterproof rain boots to keep your feet nice and dry!

Bring Extra Tarps

The next thing to consider while packing for your camping trip is to pack an extra tarp or two. Tarps are very helpful when it comes to keeping your clothes and gear dry. You can use tarps as an additional shelter or roofing over your tents. You can also use them as a footprint beneath your tent to keep the floor dry and prevent moisture from soaking through the bottom.

Wet weather is least enjoyable when it compromises your shelter so being prepared with extra tarps or footprints to have additional protection overhead, or on the tent floor can make a huge difference. There are specifically camping tarps you can find as well that can compact into a very small sack that will take up hardly any space in your pack, and weigh almost nothing.

Most tents will have a rain fly, but sometimes they aren’t enough to protect the entire tent. This is why we recommend bringing extra tarps because they can provide an even greater covered area that will keep your tent dry. Doing this will also prevent your tent from sitting on the wet ground because you’ll have a large covered area around it from the added tarp.

And by using a ground cloth, footprint, or large trash bags you’ll have extra protection for the tent bottom so it won’t soak up all the moisture from the ground. If you keep your tent dry, then you’ll also be able to get and stay warm and dry yourself.

Bring Hand Warmers

Yes, hand warmers may not be an item you would consider bringing, especially on a summer camping trip but if it calls for rain you’ll find that they can be quite useful. The thing about rain is that no matter what, if you get wet, then you start to get cold. Your hands and fingers are especially susceptible to becoming cold in bad weather. It’s not fun if you’re having to set up or break down your tent in the rain with cold, wet hands.

This is why hand warmers come in handy. They’ll keep your fingers not only warm but dry as well. The heat they provide can help warm up other parts of your body if you stuff them in pockets or between shirts to help keep you warm when you have a chill. Their dual purpose is innate while as they warm, they can also dry. You could even use a couple of hand warmers to wrap some of your wet clothes in to help them dry out.

They may not be the most efficient, but most warmers will stay active for up to 8 hours which can be very convenient when having to dry clothes and gear if you can’t get a fire started.

Bring Games and Plan Indoor Activities

If there is rain in the forecast for your camping trip then it is best to be prepared with ways to keep you, your friends, or your family occupied while stuck inside staying dry. This is the perfect time to play some games and enjoy spending time with others. A board game might be a bit excessive, but if you’re car camping or staying at a campground where weight and bulk aren’t a big deal to you, then go right ahead!

However, smaller games like card games, dice games, word games, and even a puzzle would be great to bring! You want to play something that will keep everyone occupied and having fun, so having a small assortment of games or activities is ideal. The best thing with cards and dice is that they over so much versatility because there is such a large variety of games you can play with them.

Here are some ideas:

Just to name a few, there are so many different dice and card games out there that it shouldn’t be hard to find something that everyone would enjoy!

Being prepared with some rainy day camping activities will ensure that everyone can still have fun even on a wet and unpleasant day camping.

Choose The Right Camp Site

Once you have everything packed, the next thing you’ll need to prepare is your campsite. Once you get to the area you are camping, then it is vital to pick a spot that will protect you from the rain and any runoff water. So, with that in mind, as tempted as you might be to pitch your tent by the lake or stream, you’ll want to look for high ground instead.

This way, when it rains it shouldn’t puddle up all around your tent and should run down the slope of a hill your tent would be on. Never pitch it at the bottom of the hill because the rain will wash out your tent and all your gear by just creating a whole pool underneath it.

When in a forested area, the trees will offer some protection from the rain and even more so will offer you an easy way to suspend another tarp over your tent and cooking site to keep it dry.

Choosing the right campsite can make a huge difference in how well you are able to withstand the rainy weather. Just remember, in the likelihood of a rainstorm, to ensure you aren’t set up by dead trees or dead or suspended tree branches. These are called “widow-makers” for good reason. Inclement weather can be dangerous in more ways than one so is vigilant and be prepared.

For further information on choosing the right campsite for rainy weather check out this video here:

Create A Covered Gathering & Cooking Area

Everyone does their camp cooking a bit differently whether it’s on a little MSR burner stove, a portable camping grill, or over an open fire. Whichever way you choose to prepare and cook your meals they all require the same thing: a dry and covered space for you to do so.

You really don’t want your camping cooking gear and fire-starting equipment or logs getting wet either. So it is best to prepare a protected space for them at your campsite. Once again this is where having extra tarps comes in handy. Just string one between two trees in the spot that will bode best for your cooking and food prep.

You can sweep out or clear up any falling twigs, branches, pinecones, and the like so you have a “clean” area you can easily move around in. This way you’ll have a dry area to work and store gear so you won’t have to worry about it getting wet.

If the cooking tarp is big enough then you and your friends and family can sit beneath it as well to eat and just as a protected area to gather under. Whether trying to get out of the rain, or the persistent sun. If not then, you can always set up another tarp shelter. Really, there is no limit to the usefulness of having multiple tarps, they really offer so much added protection from the elements!

If you aren’t sure how to set up a tarp then watch this video to learn how and what knots to use:

Drying Out Wet Gear

In the instance that you do get wet, then it is important to dry yourself, your clothes, and your gear as quickly as possible. Being wet while in the great outdoors can be detrimental to your health and end your camping trip earlier than expected.

This isn’t something that people think about often, but clothing like jeans and cotton and even down is absolutely horrible if you get them wet. They instantly become compromised and offer you no protection or warmth. Hence the saying, “cotton kills”, because in the wilderness it actually can.

There are no automatic driers in the backcountry, only your own ingenuity, and preparedness. This is why it is so important to wear clothes as described in the three-layer system. A base layer of clothing that can wick moisture, breathable, and quick-drying material, an insulation layer that is NOT cotton but rather wool or synthetic down. And finally an outer layer or outer shell made from waterproof and windproof material.

You may be thinking that if you get wet then you can just start a fire. Well, it’s not always that simple or cut and dry in the moment. It never is. The ground and wood could be too wet to light, or the wind keeps blowing it out, there isn’t enough wood (dry or wet) to keep it going, or you’re in a designated wilderness area where campfires are forbidden. Not every campsite has a nice fireplace set for you. Needless to say, there could be countless things working against you to start a fire.

In this case, that’s when a small stove like an MSR camping stove or similar propane camping stove, can come in great handy. This tiny little thing won’t warm you up or dry your wet gear and clothes, but it will provide you with something that will.

Now, this is something that I learned years ago now in college for my Wilderness Recreation degree, and I have used it many times so I know for a fact that it works. If you have a large water bottle like a Nalgene bottle, and you know that putting boiling water in it won’t cause it to melt or deform, then that is exactly what you’re going to do. You’re going to boil water to pour in at least two of these water bottles for yourself.

Then you’re going to wrap your wet clothes and gear around them. If your sleeping bag or sleeping pad gets wet you can roll the hot water bottles up in them. If it’s your boots or shoes you can set the bottle inside of them, however. Believe it or not, this alone works incredibly quickly and more efficiently than you could imagine.

Just make sure you refill the bottles with boiling hot water each time they cool off. You’ll see they’ll dry your clothes right out better than anything else.

You can also use this method in the winter to stay warm. Especially if you have coozies to put the bottles in so they retain heat for longer. Just put them inside your sleeping bags at bedtime and they’ll give you some added heat all night long.

Once the sun comes back out then you hang wet clothes that you weren’t able to get to yet to dry. Bringing extra rope to use as a clothesline is a great idea in general to dry clothes and bathing suits, and towels on regular sunny days as well.

Staying Dry Without Shelter: Top/Shell Layers

We’ve mentioned the shell layer a few times already, but let’s delve into them a little more. You want to go on a rainy camping trip well prepared and that is what this shell layer of clothing does for you. This is what will keep your clothes dry even when you aren’t in your shelter or tent.

Wearing rain gear like a rain jacket and rain pants made from a fully waterproof material like Gore-Tex, polyester with a waterproofing treatment, or thermoplastic polyurethane. Any kind of rain suit made with these materials and fabrics causes the water to bead up and just roll right off instead of soaking through. This is why you wear them over your other clothing.

The other layers that keep you warm will remain dry and uncompromised thanks to the outer shell layer. Remember having just a rain jacket isn’t enough if you expect rain on your camping trip. You’ll need waterproof pants and waterproof shoes for a complete set. If you can prevent yourself from having wet clothes, then why wouldn’t you?

Making A Campfire in the Rain

Starting a fire in the rain sounds like an impossibility, and yes, sometimes it can be. Yet, if you do it right you just might be able to. Making a fire can be a tedious thing, and even more so in the rain, so you’ll need to make sure you have some key things with you for it to even work. Not to mention, some wilderness areas or state parks require the use of a designated fire pit or leave no trace kind of fire, like a mound fire.

However, places like popular campgrounds will often have a fire pit for you to use. So, what does it take to get this fire started?

  1. A fire-starter: a lighter, waterproof matches, or magnesium striker.
  2. Dry kindling: to get your spark lit, use dry pieces of paper, birch bark, or small twigs from softwood trees like pine trees.
  3. Dry firewood: once you get your spark and start building your fire with kindling, you’ll need to have larger pieces of firewood at the ready to really get a strong fire going. Dry wood is ideal because once it is wet it’ll take extreme heat to even get the wood to burn if it even will at all. You can store dry wood beneath your car or beneath a tarp shelter at the campsite.
  4. Dry space or protected area to start your fire: you can get creative and use the lid of a large plastic bin propped up by two sticks to prevent the rain from smothering your fire, a large tarp shelter would work just as well.

Check out these two videos right here to see how to start a fire in the rain and how to shelter your fire from the rain:

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

When it comes down to it rain camping can be tolerable if not enjoyable, as long as you are prepared for it. There are a lot of things to consider and prepare for if you’ll be staying at a rainy campsite for a day or two. That is why it is really important during your planning and preparing phase to create a rain checklist. This way you can list all of the camping gear you’ll need in order to keep yourself dry, your gear dry, and have a dry tent.

Wet weather isn’t the most enjoyable, but it usually shouldn’t last too long, especially during the dry summer months. Once the rain stops then you can resume your planned adventures and fun. Don’t let a rainy camping trip get you down, you can still have fun and stay dry. Be sure to bring games and activities that everyone can play when you’re stuck at the campsite for a day. Get creative, be prepared, stay dry, and stay safe!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to camp while raining?

Yes, people do it all the time because you can’t always predict a hundred percent whether it is going to rain or not. The key to staying safe while camping in the rain is to be prepared. Have the proper clothing, the proper gear, pitch your tent on the high ground instead of flat, dipped, or below a hill. Extra tarps are your friend, they help so much!

You can use them as an extra layer of rain protection over your tent, to create a covered space for cooking and gathering, and you can use them as a footprint beneath your tent so the moisture doesn’t soak through the floor.

Always, when you’re spending time in the great outdoors, be prepared because that can make the difference of whether or not your trip is enjoyable or a complete disaster.

How do you camp in the rain without being miserable?

Just remember the rain always stops at some point. Yes, it does stink being caught up in it, but you can still find joy in it! If you’re staying at a campground, you could take this day to take the car and drive around to sightsee and explore the area a little. Or if the forecast is predicting rain for the time of your trip, then pack some games.

Dice games, card games, puzzles, board games any kind of activity like that is always great to play on rainy days whether you’re camping or at home. It’s a great way for to everyone be engaged, occupied, and having fun for sometimes hours on end.

Can you sleep in a tent when it’s raining?

Of course! Your tent is your shelter after all, as long as it is waterproof. All tents should come with a rain fly that will protect them from wet weather, but it’s always good to add some extra protection. You can seal the seams with a waterproof coating before you go, and bring extra tarps to also put over your tent for added protection.

Ensure your tent has a footprint, a tarp, plastic sheet, or something of the like to sit on so that it isn’t on the wet ground. Having this layer of protection prevents water from getting beneath the tent and soaking through the floor.

Also, position your tent on high ground, or well away from any body of water, or flat and dipped ground. You don’t want to wake up and find your tent and campsite just one big rain puddle. Do these things and you’ll be just fine sleeping in your tent through the rain.

How to keep your tent dry inside?

You never want to get your tent wet inside, so how do you prevent that? Especially if it is raining and your clothes are all wet? You can bring a rug or mat to keep in front or by your tent door so that you take off and wipe off your mucky shoes. If you have that extra tarp over your tent too that helps because it can provide you with a larger dry area around your tent for you to store your wet gear and shoes.

Always change your clothes before bed too. Be sure to shed your outer shell layer, your rainproof layer, before you enter the tent. Your outer layer should be the only layer that is really wet so you don’t want to bring that inside. If your other layers are a bit damp, that’s okay you can dry them easily enough once you change into drier clothes.

You can hang your damp clothes inside or outside, you can even use your own body heat to dry out smaller items like socks by stuffing them in your armpits. You can dry them by a fire, or use boiled water in water bottles to put inside or wrap around the wet clothes to dry out.

Having covered space around your tent where you can store your wet gear is ideal because you really don’t want to bring that inside your tent. It’s best to take off those soaked layers before entering your shelter.

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I was fishing before I could walk and it's been a family tradition for centuries. Fishing is my life, or at least as long as I can remember. In the Lake Champlain International Fathers Day Fishing Derby, not only have I won first place twice but also third place! Also, in addition to majoring in Wilderness Recreation Leadership, I also happen to be a licensed camping, hiking, and hunting guide for NY.