One of the biggest let-downs in the world is when you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of pattering rain coming from inside the tent. No time is good for finding out your tent isn’t completely waterproof, especially when it’s dark and damp outside.

New and old tent models alike can sometimes be less water resistant than we think, so preventing leaks from ever happening is pivotal to staying comfortable while camping. For those who have woken up to the dreadful dripping, and for those who never want to experience a sodden sleeping bag, here is a quick guide for waterproofing a tent.

There are 3 ways we’ll be discussing in this guide:

1) Applying high-quality sealant
2) Applying or refreshing the durable water repellent (DWR)
3) Investing in a rainfly and/or tarp

First, before getting into the waterproofing process, there’s a couple of things to consider: the age of the tent and if there’s any previously discovered leaks. Depending on when you purchased the tent, it may or may not already have a protective coating applied to the material. You can always test this when washing the fabric to see if water beads up or not. Secondly, even if there’s no rain, your tent can still leak if the ground beneath the tent is wet.

Most tents are factory taped, not sealed. Therefore, water can still seep through the places where the tent wall and floor connect. In order to keep these places from soaking in moisture, you can either lay down a tarp/ground cover or add sealant—but the latter is the only way to ensure complete impregnability.

1. Applying Water Sealant

You are going to have to invest some money in a decent brand of seam sealant or spray if you want guaranteed waterproofness. One cost effective solution would be Texsport Waterproof Seam Sealer. It’s a colorless, odorless formula that also protects tent material from the sun. A cheaper option is Atsko Silicone Water-Guard, but keep in mind that many tents use polyurethane-coated materials. You don’t want to apply silicone to the polyurethane, so check what’s been applied beforehand.

Once you’ve procured an effective sealant, examine your tent from the inside out. You can coat all the seams, but you need to pay special attention to those that seem to coming loose or that have larger stitching holes that others. If any previous coating is peeling away, gently remove it before applying the fresh coat.

Before applying the sealant, clean them with a damp rag and rubbing alcohol. Once you have sealed the seams, let everything dry completely before packing the tent away.

2. Applying a DWR

Perhaps you have a tent that was once waterproof but is now showing signs of age. In other words, rain isn’t beading up anymore. You don’t have to invest in a new tent just because the durable water repellent (DWR) coating has worn off. Just apply more.

You are going to need to purchase a waterproofing spray, such as Nikwax Tent or Gear SolarProof, to get this job done. Another highly recommended spray is Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On. It does have an odor, but it’s not as potent as other brands and it goes on clean.

Next, set up your tent and wash it down—similar to the process of applying water sealant to the seams. You don’t have to wait for the tent to dry to apply the DWR, though. Once the tent has been cleaned of any dirt or grime, you can then spray down the fabric with the waterproofing spray. Coat everything evenly, including the rainfly, if you have one.

Wait a few minutes for the DWR coating to set before taking a damp cloth and wiping away the excess. Then, you simply wait for the tent to completely dry before packing it away for later use. It’s that easy.

3. Setting Up a Rainfly

As we had mentioned earlier with setting up a tarp beneath the tent to keep away moisture (and bugs), you should also consider purchasing a rainfly if your current tent doesn’t have one. A rainfly, as most know, is a piece of plastic often coated with polyurethane that covers the entire tent in inclement weather. Without a rainfly, you’re going to be drenched when it starts raining.

Sometimes, the polyurethane coating on the rainfly is going to need to be refreshed. In that event, you can simply follow the same outline for applying DWR.

In addition to setting up a rainfly, you might want to also purchase a fitted tent footprint. These pieces of fabric go on the underside of the tent and are often coated with either polyethylene or polyurethane. The tent footprint acts as a base layer to the ground sheet, giving your flooring extra protection. A tarp will work as well (and is okay for those with a limited budget).


To sum up the process of waterproofing a tent, you do the following:

  • Clean the tent of dirt
  • check
    Purchase a rainfly, if you don’t have one already, and reapply the water resistant coating
  • check
    Seal the seams around the ground sheet and tent walls
  • check
    Seal the seams around the door
  • check
    Lay down a footprint or tarp

Waterproofing doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. With a little preparedness, you can prevent leaks on your next camping trip by investing in a tarp or footprint, some waterproofing spray, and a few hours to following the above stated tips. Combine all of these together, and you will stay dry no matter the weather.

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