How to Waterproof Your Tent

It’s no secret that the weather is unpredictable. What may start off as a warm and sunny camping trip may end up being a cold and miserable affair—but only if you’re not prepared. When going camping you need to be prepared for any sudden changes in weather—rain included. Part of this begins with simply choosing the right spot to pitch your tent.

You don’t have to pack up your tent at the sign of the slightest drizzle. There are ways that you can waterproof your tent to keep water out. After all, the success—or failure—of your camping trip largely depends on your tent, and you want it to be as warm and dry as possible at all times.

Today we’re going to give you a few pointers regarding how to waterproof your tent to avoid any leaks or seeping. You can read this post for other tips on camping in the rain.

Tent Waterproofing Know-How

Before we go any further, we’ll quickly point out that a tent is likely to leak in four places: the seams, rainfly, fabric and tent floors.

Knowing where your tent is leaking from will help you pick the right waterproofing base. How will you know if it’s leaking? A quick experiment is to set the tent up in your backyard, find someone to sit inside and spray the tent using your garden hose. The person will let you know whether or not they feel or see water penetrating the tent.

Another option would be to simply examine the tent after spraying. If you notice any beads of water on the surface, the tent is relatively waterproof. If not, it’s time to start waterproofing because it means the water would have penetrated inside.

So let’s get right into it.

Important tip: Before waterproofing your tent, make sure you wash it before applying any products especially if it’s not brand new. This can be done using a sponge and clean water. 

Note that when waterproofing your tent, you basically have three options:

  • Sealing the tent
  • Refreshing the coating
  • Refreshing the durable water repellent
  • We’ll discuss these methods in detail

Sealing the Tent

As mentioned earlier, water can penetrate your tent via four places. We’ll discuss each section separately.

Waterproofing the Tent Seams

The first place where water usually enters your tent is through the seams. This is basically the point where two pieces of material are stitched together. By sealing the tent seams you’re keeping water from seeping into the tent. Seams are generally found along the tent:

  • Zippers
  • Windows 
  • Doors

Sealing your tent’s seams is generally a quick and easy job that’s likely to take you no more than 20 minutes. Depending on your preference, you can either seal the tent from the inside or outside. The end result is still the same, a dry tent even if the day brings a freak storm off the ocean that hammers your tent on the beach. Just make sure you follow the instructions.

What Do You Need?

To seal your tent seams, you’ll need the following:

  • A high-quality sealant. Note that the sealant you pick must be designed for the fabric of your tent. Is your tent made of polyester or canvas? Choose the correct product to avoid damaging the fabric
  • A small paintbrush (That’s if your sealant doesn’t come with an applicator)
  • Protective gloves
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Damp cloth

The Method

Before you start, make sure you’re working on a clean and dry area where the tent can dry without any disturbances. If you can do the waterproofing process indoors that would be even better, provided you have space. Then follow these five easy steps:

  1. Start by removing any seal sections that might be peeling off.
  2. Gently clean the seams with a damp cloth using rubbing alcohol.
  3. Leave the tent to completely air dry.
  4. Apply a new thin layer of the product along the seams using the paintbrush or applicator.
  5. Leave the tent to dry for 8 to 12 hours.

If you notice any tears along the seams, make sure you apply tape on the reverse side to hold the seams together. Only after applying tape, can you follow the above-mentioned process. But depending on the severity of the tear, it’s advisable to apply a second layer of sealant for added reinforcement.

Waterproofing the Tent Fabric

Rain drops on tent

The tent’s fabric makes up a large portion of a tent. Depending on the fabric used in the tent’s construction, it can either keep water out or not. As a result, it’s important to know the kind of fabric you’re dealing with so you pick the right sealant as highlighted earlier.

Some fabrics are generally tough and resistant to harsh weather elements while others aren’t. Mesh is an example of fabric that’ll definitely not keep water out of your tent. 

Are you not sure what fabric your tent is made off? There’s no need to guess. A quick visit to the manufacturer’s website will reveal the necessary information. This will save you from wasting money on the wrong sealant.

However, most tents are made of synthetic fabric so we’ll list the method you must follow when sealing tents made of the same.

What Do You Need?

Much like the items needed when sealing your tent seams, you’ll need the following to waterproof the fabric:

  • A tent sealant that’s designed for your tent’s fabric
  • A sponge if the tent needs any cleaning
  • Protective gloves
  • A protective mask 

Again, the entire process is relatively simple and should take you about 30 minutes.

The Method

We strongly advise that you perform this procedure on a sunny day to enable quick drying. Look for a clean and dry workspace and follow these steps:

Clean the tent if it’s dirty using a sponge and water.

If it’s clean, wet your tent with a damp cloth.

Apply the product in a thin layer. But be sure to avoid rubbing the product onto the mesh parts. 

Remove any excess sealant with the sponge.

Leave your tent to dry.

Waterproofing Your Rain Fly

The rain fly is a fabric that also makes up a large portion of a tent. The only difference is it’s designed to cover your tent and is in direct contact with harsh weather elements, especially cold weather tents. As a result, it’s subject to premature deterioration which is why regularly waterproofing is crucial.

By sealing the rainfly, water is prohibited from even touching your tent thereby minimizing seeping. 

Be sure to pick the right sealant depending on the fabric used in the manufacturing of the rain fly. Ideally, the one you pick must help protect the rain fly from the harsh sun’s rays. The product must also make the fabric resistant to water without sacrificing breathability. 

What Do You Need?

For this job, you’ll need the following:

  • A damp cloth or sponge 
  • Protective gloves
  • Mask
  • Sealant 

The Method

The process of waterproofing your rain fly is similar to sealing the tent. All you do is:

  1. Turn the fly inside out to easily access the seams
  2. First, clean the rain fly with the damp sponge if it’s dirty
  3. Leave it to dry completely
  4. Wet the rain fly using your garden hose
  5. Spray the sealant evenly onto the rain fly
  6. Wipe away excess product using your sponge or cloth
  7. Leave it to dry for a few hours

Waterproofing Your Tent Floor

When waterproofing your tent, don’t forget to also pay attention to its floor. The tent floor is designed to keep the seams off the ground thereby minimizing the amount of water that enters your tent.

Aside from protecting the tent’s seams, the tent floor will also protect anything you place on the ground. This includes your gear and sleeping bags. By sealing the tent’s floor you’re kept dry as you sleep during the night.

What Do You Need?

For this task you’ll need:

  • Protective gloves
  • A mask if necessary
  • Sponge
  • Sealant 
  • Small paintbrush or applicator
  • Small bowl 

The Method

Before starting the waterproofing process, be sure to inspect the floor for any flaking of the existing product. If you notice any flakes, make sure you first clean the floor with alcohol before sealing. But make sure you check the sealant’s instruction first to avoid damage.

After cleaning the tent floor you can proceed with the following instructions:

  1. Pour the sealant into a small bowl.
  2. Apply sealant on the seams of the tent floor using the applicator.
  3. Apply product onto the remaining portion of the tent floor.
  4. Be sure to apply two thin coats as opposed to one thick coat.
  5. Leave the sealant to dry according to the product’s instructions.

Refreshing the Coating

Your second option is to refresh the coating on your tent. This urethane coating is usually found on the floor of your tent as well as the inside of your rain fly. Its main purpose is to work as a barrier that keeps water from entering your tent

This process is done on a previously coated tent that starts showing signs of flaking. At the first sign of flaking, don’t wait a day longer; it’s time to apply a fresh coat. 

What Do You Need?

To refresh the coating on your tent you’ll need the following:

  • A sponge—preferably one with an abrasive side
  • Rubbing alcohol to clean the tent
  • Tent sealant

The Method

To refresh the coating you’ll need to:

  1. First, lay the tent flat on the floor.
  2. Gently scrub off the flaking pieces with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Leave the coat to dry for at a full day.
  4. Wash your hands to remove any sealant present. This product tends to contain flame retardant chemicals that are potentially harmful.

Refreshing the Durable Water Repellent

Durable water repellent (DWR) is responsible for shedding water from your rain fly. How will you notice if your 2 man tent is no longer effectively shedding water? You spray water onto the tent and check for beading. If you don’t notice any drops of water on your tent’s rainfly it’s time to apply DWR.

What Do You Need?

Here you’ll need:

  • A damp cloth
  • Water repellent spray
  • Water

The Method

The process of applying durable water repellent is simple and won’t take much time. You start by washing the rain fly. You don’t have to wait for it to dry. Immediately follow these steps:

  1. Apply the water repellent spray on the outside of the tent.
  2. Leave it for a couple of minutes.
  3. Wipe off the excess product using the damp clean cloth.
  4. Leave the tent to dry completely before you pack it away.

Handy Tips

From the above, it’s clear how waterproofing your tent is a straightforward process, but all the same, we’re certain you’ll find the following tips quite useful.

Always Be Prepared

If you own a tent, we strongly advise that you be proactive and always waterproof your tent before your camping trip—regardless of the weather. 

Even if you start your camping trip on a sunny day, the weather may change for the worse in the next couple of days. So always be prepared; it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Pay Attention to Your Tent’s Waterproof Rating

When purchasing a tent it’s advisable to always check its waterproof rating. This rating shows exactly how much water the tent can withstand before it starts seeping through. The rating is stated in the hydrostatic head (HH). As a general rule of thumb, the tent with a higher HH is the one you want.

Add More than One Coat of Sealant

When waterproofing your tent, you may want to consider adding more than one layer of sealant. This is especially true if you’re going to venture into wet weather conditions. However, make sure you leave the first layer of sealant to dry completely before adding the second coat.

Consider Adding a Ground Sheet

Opt for a tent that comes with a built-in groundsheet. This accessory will prevent water from seeping into the tent from the bottom. Just make sure the sides of the groundsheet are turned upwards for effective use.

What Not to Do

A casual search on the internet will reveal plenty of theories that claim to optimize the process of waterproofing your tent. While some of the techniques may be useful, they may end up doing more harm than good to your tent. A few myths you might want to stay clear of include:

  • Applying grease to your rain fly. Though this may keep water out, it can, unfortunately, remove the waterproof coating
  • Don’t apply duct tape as it may tear delicate parts on the tent
  • Don’t use a candle near the tent to inspect tears as it may catch fire

Tent Waterproofing FAQs

How often must you waterproof a tent?

Generally, after waterproofing your tent, the sealant must last you a long time if the procedure is done correctly. But of course, how long the coating remains intact is determined by how often you use the tent.

How do you waterproof a polycotton tent?

Most of the methods above are best for waterproofing a regular tent made of synthetic fabric. If however, you own a tent made of polycotton or canvas, the process is a little different because tents made of the canvas have small holes that can allow water to easily enter the tent.

Your best bet is to first weather the tent by slightly hosing it down using your garden hose. This process is meant to expand and tighten the material which in turn makes it a lot more waterproof.

What are the best waterproofing products to use?

As highlighted before, the sealant you use will depend on the fabric of the tent as well as where you intend on using the product.

But whichever product you pick, make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the breathability of the fabric. Nikwax is one of the best products on the market that’s not only effective at repelling water but it also doesn’t have a strong odor. 

Final Words on Waterproofing Your Tent

The general misconception is that brand-new tents need not be waterproofed. This couldn’t be much further from the truth. There really is no harm in reinforcing the tent’s water-resisting capabilities—even if the manufacturer deems it waterproof.

With that said, are you ready to start waterproofing your tent?