How to Waterproof a Tent

How to Waterproof a Tent

One of the most important items to bring with you when camping is some kind of tent. This serves as a shelter and blocks the wind, rain, and sun. It also keeps out bugs and animals, and it can retain some amount of heat inside. Having your tent to protect you from getting wet is probably the biggest advantage of bringing it with you.

You would think tents would come already waterproof, and many of them do.  However, they all have seams and thin material that will degrade over the years. Everything will stretch out over time from being set up and broken down.  As these seams and this material stretch, they allow water to get through. You need to be prepared to waterproof your tent to keep it fully functional.

Fact of the matter is that tent manufacturers can claim that their tent is water-resistant and have no repercussions if your tent leaks right out of the package.  Normally, higher end products will not have this problem. Last spring, I purchased a new tent for a steal and took my son out camping. There was a small chance of rain that night, but I was confident we would be okay since the tent was brand new. We woke up to a pond in our tent at about 2am and had to sleep in the car. 

Do be aware that even applying waterproofing products to a tent like this may not completely fix the problem. However, waterproofing any tent will improve its water resistance.  In this article, we will cover why you need to waterproof your tent and how to do it yourself.

Tents Wear Out

Any material that endures what a tent endures is going to wear out over time.  Just think about everything your tent goes through. It is regularly hit by the wind and rain, coated in dirt and dust, and often it is crumpled up and shoved in a bag still wet from the night before. Over the years, the fabric will become more porous and will start to let in moisture. When you waterproof your tent, you extend its life. Essentially, you are filling in those pores so that water cannot build up and then seep inside.

UV Damage

We all know that we need to wear sunblock when we are out in the sun to protect our skin from UV rays. This is one of the same reasons to waterproof your tent.  Sunlight will do damage to fabrics used for tents. Even using your tent a few times a year can destroy it quickly without protection. This is evidenced by the fact that the color of your tent will fade over time. Be sure to waterproof to protect from sun damage.

Poor Seams

Just like regular wear and tear can destroy the seams of your clothing, it can also ruin the seams on your tent. When you first buy a tent, the seams are typically sealed. However, regular use will break down that seal and it will need to be replaced. Seals are the most likely spot where water will get into your tent. A seam sealant as part of your waterproofing will fix the damage and keep you dry.

How to Waterproof your Tent

The more often you waterproof your tent, the more water resistant it will be.  However, there is such a thing as overkill on this. You should determine how often you waterproof based on how often you camp, how well you care for the tent, and the weather conditions it faces. You can waterproof every two to three uses, but it always should be done once a year in the spring before your first trip.

Your first step in waterproofing a tent is to determine where the biggest issues are. You may find that there are just one or two minor leaks that need to be repaired, or you may find the whole thing needs work. Set up your tent in the back yard and either douse it with the garden hose or wait for it to rain. Once it has been soaked, open it up and see where water has built up. Check the seams to see if there are leaks. You should also see if there are damp areas in the floor of the tent or along the walls. Keep an eye out for holes that may need to be patched. 

Your next step will be to thoroughly clean the tent. The best way to do this is with a sponge and some warm soapy water. Gently rub the wet sponge all over the fabric while focusing specifically on the seams. Once you have been over everything with soapy water, it is best to rinse it all off to remove any residue from the soap. Don’t ever put your tent in the washing machine or dryer as it will ruin the tent.

Once the tent is clean but still wet from the rinse, it is time to apply the waterproofing treatment. Apply the product all over the tent inside and outside with a spray, brush, or sponge. If you apply too much to any particular area, use a damp cloth to wipe it off. You will need to let it fully dry before moving on to the seams.

Once the tent is completely dry, you will need to remove the poles and break it down to work on the seams. Lay out the dry tent on a flat area with the inside of the seams facing up. Use a dry cloth to wipe the seams with rubbing alcohol to clean it up a bit.  If there are any parts of the seal peeling off, go ahead and remove them. Apply your sealant with a small brush and follow the instructions. Then let it fully dry before packing it up.

Best Tent Waterproofing Products

When picking which products you use to waterproof your tent, be sure you do some research. Some manufacturers offer bundles with a cleaner and waterproofing treatment. Some add additional protection specifically for sun protection. Just read the reviews before you make a purchase. 

If you can find preventative treatments such as Nikwax Tent Solar proof, this is often your best option. These products must be applied before the very first use and can significantly extend the life of your tent. The Nikwax product is applied when the tent is wet, while Star Brite offers a spray that does the same thing for a dry tent. Kiwi has a water repellant that must be applied twice for effectiveness, but it can also be used to waterproof other items. Scotchgard can work the same way, but many of their products have been discontinued due to environmental concerns.

Canvas Tents

Some of the nicest, toughest, and warmest tents I have ever used were canvas tents. While they are typically not ideal for hiking trips, they are great when you plan to stay put. Many homesteaders will actually live year-round in their canvas tent with a wood stove while building a new cabin or house. I had the pleasure of camping in canvas tents at Boy Scout camp and on a hiking trip to Colorado. They are pretty nice compared to a tent made of paper-thin material.  They just tend to be heavy and bulky.

The crazy part about cotton canvas is that the weatherproofing applied actually gets better with use. The first few times you use a canvas tent, you may notice some small leaks. This typically goes away after the first few uses. The cotton fibers will constrict when wet and seal up seams and pores. Instead of spending money on waterproofing for a canvass tent, just set it up in the back yard and soak it a few times. Then let it dry and you should be good to go on your first trip.

I absolutely love spending time in nature. It helps me relax and unwind from the stress of normal life. However, waking up to a leaky tent is never fun and just adds more stress to the process. Proper tent care will ensure that a good tent lasts a lifetime. This includes periodically cleaning your tent, drying it off before rolling it, repairing any damage, and waterproofing the tent regularly. This one extra step will ensure that you have a wonderful and dry camping experience.

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