Last updated February 2, 2020
The Pacific Northwest is pretty much known for its rain. How else do we get such lust forests? Even though Jacob and I live in the Okanagan which is more desert-like than the rest of the PNW, we still get our fair share of rain — especially in the fall or during May Long. I won’t lie that I prefer fair-weather camping, but I’m too stubborn to let a little rain ruin our trips. When I decide we’re doing something, nothing is getting in our way. Just ask Jacob.
Tips for camping in the rain
The first few times we went camping in the rain, we were miserable. We didn’t plan at all and ended up huddling under our tarp, cold and damp. I don’t think I need to say it, but that wasn’t a lot of fun. We figured there had to be a better way.
And unsurprisingly, there was! After coming home and doing a little research, we learned a lot and our next rainy camping trips were much more enjoyable. We’re sharing both our practical and totally frivolous tips so that you can have a more enjoyable experience in the rain, too!
1. Monitor the Weather
First and foremost, check if rain is in your future. An important part of being a prepared outdoors person is to watch the weather and we’re lucky enough to live in a world where it’s literally at our fingertips. Some of Jacob and my most miserable experiences came because we didn’t bother to check. Don’t be like us!
If you don’t know when the rain’s supposed to appear, you might end up trying to set up your campsite in a downpour. That’s a sure-fire way to get everything soaked. If you’re lucky, you’ll just have to wait a few minutes for the rain to pass, but it might not always turn out that way.
2. Pack Smart
Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, it’s always a good idea to pack as if it is. Especially if it’s the time of year when rain is quite likely. By proactively protecting your clothing and gear, you’re setting yourself up for success.
Instead of throwing your things into any old bag you have lying around — which is tempting, I know — try to use one made of some sort of water-resistant material. There are plenty of water resistance bags out there, so take your pick! If your bag isn’t entirely waterproof, line it with a large plastic garbage bag. Put your clothing and gear into Ziploc bags or dry sacks inside the water-resistant bag for some extra protection. The more protection you have, the better.
It might seem like overkill, but water has a sneaky way of finding its way into everything you own. So unless you’re into wearing soggy socks, take lots of precautions!
3. Layer Up + Bring Rain Gear
Unlike some activities, the right gear makes all the difference when you’re camping in the rain. Have you ever tried staying dry in a pullover hoodie or flip flops? I’ll bet that didn’t go well. There’s a reason those outdoor companies make special rain gear — and it’s not just to make a bunch of money off you.
After some terrible experiences, we pack our clothing very carefully now. We quickly learned about moisture-wicking clothing, which is gear made of a special fabric that pulls moisture away from your skin to keep you dry. It’s usually made of polyester, nylon, or merino wool. Brands love to advertise their high wicking clothing, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding it. It’s important to note that wicking clothing isn’t water-resistant — you’ll still get wet if you only wear it out in the rain — but it helps keep sweat and light dampness off your skin.
If you want a miserable time, pack cotton. It absorbs water like a sponge and takes forever to dry. We learned the hard way that it’s the worst anti-wicking clothing out there. But now we know better and hope you learn from our mistakes!
Waterproof outer layer
If you’re planning on doing anything other than staying under your tarp all day — which would probably get a little boring — it’s always a good idea to bring waterproof outer layers. Lightweight waterproof jackets and ponchos go a long way. Hell, even a cheap poncho is better than nothing!
Remember that you can always layer up underneath, so your outer layer doesn’t need to be super heavy duty. It just needs to keep out the rain.
If you’re not planning on doing any hiking, a solid pair of rubber boots or gaiters will keep your feet dry around camp. Dry feet equal happy feet!
When you are hiking, though, rubber boots won’t work and you’ll want to wear waterproof hiking boots. They won’t keep your feet as dry as full-on rain boots, but at least your feet won’t be as wet as if you wore runners. You’ll also want to wear moisture-wicking socks.
4. Hang it out to dry
Let’s face it, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to get a little wet. It’s just how it goes when you’re camping in the rain.
As tempting as it is to change into dry clothes and throw your wet ones into a forgotten corner, it’s important to hang them up to dry. Not only will this help keep your clothes mildew free, but it’ll also hopefully let you wear them again. In fact, if you bring quick-dry clothes you should be able to pack less and re-wear more. Of course, it depends on the level of rain, moisture, and how royally wet your clothes are, to begin with.
Bring a clothesline and string it up under your tarp, then hang up all of your wet clothes. If you can, place it near-ish your fire to help speed up drying time — sure, you’ll end up smelling like the campfire, but let’s be honest, you were going to smell like it anyways. You’ll have a much better camping trip if you’re not forced to wear your damp clothes the next day.
5. Toasty warm clothes
I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite things to do on a rainy day is curl up with a nice book by the fire and stay warm. But when you’re camping in the rain, you have to get out of your warm bed to start that fire. But who really wants to brave the rainy outdoors while shivering miserably? Yuck, not me. But you know you have to… to eat… to not be a hermit…
Am I painting a nice picture or what?
To help with getting out of your tent, try putting your clothes in your sleeping bag the night before. You’ll wake up with toasty warm clothes! It’s a little easier to drag yourself out of bed when you have nice warm clothes to change into. I’m not saying it won’t still suck to venture outside, but it might suck a little less.
6. Artificial heat
My hands get cold really easily — and quite often. Jacob loves it when I try to steal his heat. If you’re anything like me, your hands and feet probably get pretty chilly when you’re out camping in the rain. Next time, fellow cold person, instead of suffering it’s time to break out the hand warmers!
After I learned this trick, it seemed so obvious. For some reason, though, I used to only think of hands warmers for skiing or snowy days. But they’re absolute lifesavers on rainy days. Tuck them in your clothes and you’re golden! You can thank us later.
7. Tarp, bungee cord + rope
Oh, tarps. They’re a rainy camper’s best friend and are by far the easiest and cheapest way to waterproof your campsite. Seriously, they’re the best. With a proper tarp set up, you can almost forget it’s raining (minus the drop, drop, drop sound). What are you waiting for? Grab your tarp, bungee cords, and rope and learn how to set it all up!
REI has a great article on how to create your tarp haven. When you’re setting up, it’s important to angle your tarp away from where you’re eating, sleeping, and generally hanging out. I’m sure you don’t want to step in a huge puddle or have water drip down your back. Plus, by angling the run off away, it’s less likely a huge muddy mess will develop on a commonly used route.
If you’re using a tarp under your tent, make sure it’s not sticking out along the edges or else you’ll end up sleeping in a pool of water. No thanks.
8. Create an outdoor living room
One of our favourite things about camping is enjoying the outdoors. But before we learned a few things about camping in the rain, we usually ended up wrapped in blankets under the tarp or in our tent on rainy days. After a few boring / terrible experiences, I looked up some better ways to spend the day. And the internet didn’t disappoint.
Now, instead of retreating to our tent when it’s raining, we build ourselves a beautiful outdoor living room and keep the fun going! It’s actually pretty damn awesome.
A little ambiance turns our rainy campsite into a fun getaway. We simply string a few tarps overhead, break out our camp chairs, and set up some nice lighting. We string cute LED lights around our campsite and light candles in little mason jars — we like to bring mosquito repellent candles. Then we set up our cooking gear, crack a few beers and coolers, and pull out our games — you might like to play some of our adult road trip games! A fun outdoor living room makes camping in the rain a lot more bearable.
We also set up our tent under the tarps so it’s easy to make it back to bed at the end of the night. It’s almost like being at home!
Now, this set up won’t really work if you’re camping in the back country or on the ocean, but it’s a lot of fun when you can use it.
9. Pick the right campsite
Picking the right campsite when it’s raining is oh-so-important! You don’t want to suddenly find your tent flooded with water in the middle of the night.
Try to choose campsites that are on level, flat ground that aren’t in any sort of dip or depression. If possible, keep your campsite at least 200 ft from any sort of flowing water. A small stream can quickly turn into a fast river if there’s enough rainfall.
If you do find yourself in a campsite with some inclines, try to stay on the highest ground you can. Water follows the path of least resistance, which means high ground is your friend!
How do you keep the fun going when you’re camping in the rain? Share your tips below!