How to set up a tent in the rain
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How To Set Your Tent Up In The Rain

This is probably our number #1 question we get when we get ready to guide a trip. As a matter of fact, as I write this now, it’s raining and we are guiding a trip. Usually the conversation goes: “I’ve broken my tent down in the rain, but I was going home anyway so it didn’t matter”. Or, “It was raining when I packed everything, but then it stopped by the evening”. So here is the answer to that question. How to set your tent up in the rain.

First: Before you panic that all your stuff is going to get wet, keep in mind, it raining. Things are going to get wet. The goal is to keep them dry….ish. How you prep for setting up in the rain is everything. Prep is the key. Because if you like backpacking, it’s not a matter of if it will ever happen, but when.

drenching wet on my AT hike in 2003

Look closely at WHERE you are setting up. Your site should be well-drained and high enough above streams and pools that it won’t flood if they rise rapidly. Look for the low divet or bathtub landscape that will literally fill up like a bathtub. Really sucks when water starts coming in your tent, after you managed to keep it all dry on set up.

Now it’s go time. Put your pack near a tree up near the base not to let it soak in a puddle. Near the base of a tree is normally protected by the leaves (in summer) and can give you a few extra minutes. Open your pack and only take the tent out, or compression sack your tent is in. Put your pack cover back over your backpack.

At this point, you are getting rained on. Hopefully you have a good rain jacket. It’ only water at this point.

Getting your tent out and ready: if the tent pitches inner-first you need to do so very quickly and, if possible, throw the rainfly over the top to keep off some of the rain. Unfortunately this can be problematic if it’s windy and can also make pitching the tent slower and more difficult. Swearing and Cursing are probably happening at this point. The aim when pitching is to keep the inside of your shelter and your gear as dry as possible.

Cooking in the rain and fog under a Tarp

Once the tent/shelter is pitched you need to get inside without dampening the groundsheet or any dry gear. First, as it’s still raining like hell, do any outside chores such as filling your water containers so you don’t have to go out again. Put the pack in the vestibule and crouch next to it while you strip off my wet waterproofs and any other wet garments – this can involve some contortions in a very small tent but it’s worth the brief discomfort. This is where you “embrace the suck”. It’s quite possible you will be close to naked hunched over in your tent cold and it’s still raining. Never get in the inner tent or sit on the groundsheet in wet clothing. If you have a bandanna ora small cloth, wipe off any water on the tent floor. Once my rain jacket are off sit on the groundsheet with my feet in the porch and remove footwear – and socks if they’re wet too.

You have just completed the first step: NEXT: Once in the tent and out of wet clothing and footwear put on some warm, dry clothes and get out your sleeping mat to sit on so you don’t get cold. Then take other dry items out of the pack and sort them along the sides of the groundsheet. No wet items come inside. They stay in the vestibule. Wet rain jackets, socks, and clothes and other damp clothing can be stored on top of the pack with footwear alongside it.

After all that, get in your sleeping bag. It could be a long, long night. But you are dry. If you got into a cozy dry bag, and everything went well, and you have to cook. Turn over on your stomach, put your stove out under the vestibule, open it up a little and cook. Otherwise eat a sandwich or granola. Don’t burn down your tent.

There is no such thing as keeping everything completely dry. Remember one important rule. You are doing the best you can to give you better that average odds of going to bed dry.

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In 2003 I completed a Thru-Hike on the Appalachian Trail. Since then I have over 12,000 miles underfoot and 20 years of backpacking, and camping experience. Certifications include WFA, WFR, LNT Trainer, and belong to AORE. Have been guiding backpacking trips for over 10 years. The outdoors has taught me one thing. Trusting the Trail! really does provide everything a person needs.

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