How to Waterproof a Tent

Whether you are new to camping or a seasoned veteran, sleeping in a wet space is never fun. A tent is one of the most critical pieces of camping gear you will ever own and maintaining it is essential. 

Surprisingly, most camping tents are not waterproof. While nearly every other piece of camping gear imaginable is now waterproof, tents are still, for the most part, only water repellant. Repellant does not mean waterproof, and if it rains hard enough, your water repellant tent will begin to fill with water.

Therefore, it is important for any camper using a tent to understand how to waterproof a tent.  Keeping dry is not just a matter of comfort but also safety. Exposure to moisture can expose campers to hypothermia or frostbite, even in mild temperatures, so it is critical your tent remains dry.

Fill the gaps

 One of the most common entry points for moisture on a tent is the seams. While all seams should come sealed at the time of purchase, time and excessive wear and tear will cause the sealer to diminish or go away altogether. 

While some tents come with a sealer, most do not. It can be found at any camping or outdoor store and is not expensive. It comes in a tube with a small brush. Follow these steps for use:

  1. Clean the faulty seams with dish soap and water. Let dry.
  2. Use tape on either side of the seam if you do not want the sealer to spread too much – optional.
  3. Apply the sealer in an even coat, being sure it extends at least a centimeter beyond the seam itself. Make sure you apply the sealer to both sides of the seam.
  4. Let dry.

When repairing your seams, it is paramount that you reseal the entire tent. That way, you won’t be trying to remember which seals you’ve repaired, and which you have not.

Also, some tents have taped seams. When the tape begins to peel, you can use a sealer in place of the tape or seal the edges of the tape. There is a replacement tape sealer, but this is more useful if the entirety of the tape is gone.

Use tent waterproofing spray

 Tent waterproofing spray is a great option for refurbishing the water repellant finish of your tent. Repelling water is a key feature of any tent, but there is one part that faces moisture the most: the rain fly.

 The rain fly, or the protective cover that completely covers the actual tent, will stop water from getting into the tent. The fabric comes with a factory-applied water repellant. This causes water to bead and drip off the tent onto the ground and not into your sleeping quarters.

 Over time this repellant fails, particularly if you keep your tent exposed to the sun for long periods.  Most tent manufacturers have a specific waterproofing spray. If your tent maker does not, many 3rd party sprays such as  Nikwax are good alternatives.

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Follow these steps to apply waterproofing spray:

  1.  Clean the rain fly with dish soap and water. Let dry completely.
  2. In a well-ventilated area, spray in an even coat over the entire rain fly. Let dry fully.
  3. Wipe away excess.
  4.  Re-apply only after the initial coat dries. Read the directions of your product carefully – some products discourage multiple applications as some products do not adhere to themselves.

Re-seal the insides of the tent

 The main moisture barrier between yourself and the outside of your tent is the silicone or polyurethane coating above and below you. The inside of your rainfly, as well as the floor of your tent, typically come with these coatings.

 Over time these coatings break down. Fortunately, when they do break down, it is usually obvious. The coating will begin to peel off, often hanging down from the rain fly and exposing the thin nylon or other fabric of the outside layer.

There are many sealers on the market that will reseal the surfaces of your rain fly and tent floor. Find out what kind of coating your tent needs: silicone or polyurethane. If it doesn’t say, then consult the manufacturer’s website for details.

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Follow these steps when applying a new polyurethane or silicone tent sealer:

  1. First, remove any of the loose coating hanging off the fly or tent floor. Use a rag and rub vigorously. A sponge is an option, but it can damage the material behind the coating.
  2. Apply the sealant to the entire fly and floor, not just where the coating has peeled off. Make sure you apply the coating evenly, following the directions on the back of the bottle.
  3. These sealants take a long time to dry – at least 24 hours. Just to be sure, give it 48 hours to fully dry. 

See it done

FAQs About Waterproofing a Tent

What materials are needed to waterproof a tent?

Materials needed to waterproof a tent include water repellent, sealer and cleaning supplies such as detergent and scrub brush.

How often should the tent be waterproofed?

Tents should be waterproofed at least once a year, depending on the amount of use they get.

Can any type of sealer be used for waterproofing a tent, or do certain types work better than others?

Different types of sealers are better suited for different fabrics; silicone-based products work well with synthetic fabrics while wax-based products are better for natural material tents like canvas or cotton duck.

Are there any special considerations when applying water repellent to a synthetic fabric versus natural material tents?

When applying water repellent to synthetic materials special care must taken not to overapply as this can cause damage to seams or seals resulting in leaks; natural materials don’t require additional sealant but may benefit from being treated with a UV protectant product prior to application of water repellent spray/sealer.

Are there any safety precautions one should take when working with products used for waterproofing tents?

Safety precautions when working with waterproofing materials include using protective gloves, wearing eye protection, and working in well-ventilated areas away from open flames or sources of sparks due to flammability risks associated with some sealers/waterproofers.

About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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