The late June evening was humid, but there was a good breeze blowing through the family-sized tent. The orange and yellow ripstop nylon was cheerful, and a nearby cedar tree provided shade. “Can we leave the top off so we can see the stars, Grandma?” ten-year-old Sammie Ann asked.
Her grandmother cocked a weather-wise look at cumulus clouds building up in the west and said, “I think we’d best put the rain fly on,” she replied. “And make sure everything is boxed up in the plastic tubs before we go to sleep.”
Sure enough, shortly after midnight, there came the rumble of thunder followed up by rain-driven gusts of wind. The plastic poles bent. The tent leaned hard to the northwest. The extra tent pegs that had been pounded in held and only one corner of the tent came up a little. Something snapped, and the grandmother knew they had lost a tent pole. But the structure managed to hold.
As morning came on, a heavy bulge bowed down over the little girl’s cot. The grandmother kept pushing it up, forcing the water to run off the roof. By morning, the tent floor was ankle-deep in water, but the cots were dry and the plastic storage tubs had kept their spare clothing dry.
This, my friends, is not how to camp in the rain successfully. How could this event have been made better?
How to Camp in the Rain Successfully
Here are the steps you need to follow:
1. Dig a Drainage Ditch
Level the tent site and dig a drainage ditch around the tent to encourage the water to run off. (No, they did not do that.
They were backyard camping, and the owner of the home didn’t want to ruin the lawn.)
2. Get a Quality Tent
Have a good quality igloo or family-sized tent. The orange and yellow tent was a pleasant family-sized tent, intended for clement weather camping.
The fiberglass poles flexed with the wind, and they only lost one pole during the night. It didn’t leak, the water ran in at the seams on the ground.
3. Secure the Tent
Tie the tent down securely. It wasn’t Grandma’s first camping trip, so she had employed extra tent pegs, and added guy lines to the big cedar.
The plastic storage tubs were placed one in each of the four corners of the tent, and each tub had a brick in the bottom of it under the spare clothes and supplies.
4. Remain Vigilant
Remain vigilant when you camp in the rain. You might need to do some nighttime adjustments.
Grandma did that, pushing up on the bulging tent roof where the broken pole allowed it to sag and collect water.
5. Elevate the Beds
Place beds on some sort of support to keep them off the ground. Check. Did that.
The beds were on camp cots and stayed nice and dry.
6. Move to Higher Ground
If things start looking bad, move to higher ground. At six o’clock am, when the homeowner awoke, Grandma sent Sammie Ann into the house.
Overall, this was only a partially successful campout. The tent held (barely). The stuff stayed dry, thanks to the plastic tubs.
By 7:00 AM, Grandmother and Granddaughter were out in the tent, bailing out the water, opening the windows, and generally encouraging it to dry out.
7. Consider Tent Poles
Anything can be made better when you camp in the rain with your poncho for backpacking. The following day, Grandma bought a new tent pole. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was sufficient to replace the one that shattered.
If they had been out in the woods where a new fiberglass pole might not have been available, the campers could have built a new underpinning for the central part of the tent.
It could have then been padded with some spare clothing to keep it from rubbing a hole in the mosquito netting that covered the main part of the roof.
8. Waterproof the Tent
A drainage ditch around the tent would certainly have improved the lake in the bottom of the tent problem.
Adding better waterproofing to the corner seams of the tent (it was getting a little age on it) might also have improved it.
A platform made of wood pallets or poles would have lifted the floor of the tent above the runoff.
9. Make Sure the Tent is Made from Resistant Fabric
As it was, the late June mornings were still plenty chilly, and everyone was glad when the sun came up.
10. Have a Way to Cook
If this had been campground camping and needed a fire to cook breakfast, they would have been well advised to have tinder, kindling, and a small amount of firewood in one of the storage boxes inside the tent.
Preparedness and forethought are excellent when camping in the rain. But so is learning from your mistakes. Before this family goes camping again, there will be a better tent, as well as a more advantageously placed campsite.
This setup was fine for a backyard, practice camping session, and it would have worked fine for car camping. But the plastic tubs would make it non-functional for backpacking or hiking.
For camping, backpacking or hiking in the rain, a tent with a lower profile and a location with better drainage would have been essential.
Better yet, if they could have found a rock outcropping near the top of a hill where they could back the tent up against the face of the hill, it would have blocked a good portion of the wind and allowed the water to drain away from the tent.
In the long run, this was a good practice campout. It built some interesting memories and gave a Junior Girl Scout a taste of camping.
While it was not altogether fun, it was certainly educational. One thing is for sure, they are not likely to forget that night, with the wind, the rain, and the thunder.