Ever plan a fun camping trip only to look at the forecast a few days before and see rain…Lots of it? The good news is, you don’t have to cancel or let the wet weather put a damper on your plans. You can still have a great time camping in the rain, even without ample amounts of sunshine.
Pro Tip: Remember to pay attention to the weather amidst all the fun you’re having. Storms can be dangerous and roll in quickly, especially in the mountains. Be aware of any sudden changes, and have a plan in case you need to pack up and leave quickly.
Where to Pitch Your Tent, Set Up Your Hammock, or Park Your RV
It’s important to set up your shelter of choice in a good location because the last thing you want is to wake up soaked in the middle of a giant puddle. Higher ground is best for tents or RVs so that the water won’t pool around you.
You should also avoid being next to a body of water (like a river or lake) that could rise, just in case.
If it’s supposed to rain overnight but calls for sunshine the next day, you may even want to set up facing the morning sun so it’ll dry off your tent, RV, or hammock.
Setting up under trees can help keep you dry while it’s raining and give you a place to hang your tarp or hammock, but if it stops raining, you may hear dripping all night.
Packing for Camping in the Rain
Clothes for Camping in the Rain
Layers are going to be your best friend in rainy weather. You’ll want the clothing closest to your skin to have moisture-wicking abilities that’ll help keep you dry, especially if you’ll be hiking or doing any other sweat-inducing activities. Wool or synthetic fabrics work better than cotton (when cotton gets wet, it stays wet and has trouble drying). I wear this Under Armour top, but I know many hikers that love the tops from Smartwool (women’s, men’s) and Patagonia (women’s, men’s).
The number of layers you wear will depend on how cold it is, but definitely make sure that your outer layer is waterproof. I typically wear a waterproof rain jacket and either water resistant pants or waterproof rain pants, depending on how rainy it is and how much time I’ll be spending outside. Thin waterproof pants that I can easily slip on over anything else that I’m wearing are also very convenient. I love my REI rain jacket (women’s, men’s) and my waterproof rain pants (women’s, men’s).
The golden rule is to bring extras (and extras…and probably extra-extra-extras) of everything because you will probably (read: definitely) get wet and muddy. And because there’s more humidity in the air from the rain, anything that gets drenched will take much longer to dry completely. Trust me, putting on damp and dirty socks is just as fun as it sounds!
Shoes for Camping in the Rain
Waterproof shoes, like hiking boots or rubber boots, are both must-haves while camping in the rain. Bonus points if you bring both, as I guarantee there’s a possibility that they’ll either get really muddy, or somehow still get wet.
If you want to be extra careful, you can also bring gaiters to wear over your shoes. These are detachable waterproof fabric garments that typically hit just below your knees and prevent mud or water from getting in your calf area. They can be especially useful if you have shorter boots like mine and want to go for a hike. I always end up kicking lots of water and mud on the trails, and gaiters help prevent my pants and socks from getting wet and dirty. You can try these REI gaiters.
Food for Camping in the Rain
Bring snacks and ready-made food items just in case you can’t (or just really don’t want to) cook. If it’s really windy or the rain is coming in sideways, it may be difficult (or just downright uncomfortable) to try and stand around waiting for your egg scramble to be ready. I love bringing Lara bars, fruit, sandwiches, and chips with me when I’m camping.
Pro Tip: Salsa and cream cheese make a great chip dip! And you don’t even need to use a skillet to soften the cream cheese—just mix it with the salsa right in the container.
A backpacking or camping stove will most likely be easier to use instead of a grill or fire pit, so you may want to bring these as back ups. Avoid using them inside your tent, RV, or cabin without proper ventilation.
Essentials for Camping in the Rain
If you’re tent camping in the rain, double-check that you packed the rain fly because your trip will be miserable without it!
You should also bring a footprint or tarp that you can set up beneath your tent to help with insulation and protect your tent from the ground. If you use a tarp instead of a footprint (some tents come with companion footprints that are perfectly sized, or that can be purchased separately), make sure that it folds up directly under your tent. If it extends out past the edges of your tent, water can collect underneath.
If you’re hammock camping, bring a rain cover. I admit that I found hammock camping in the rain to be a little difficult, and this isn’t to deter you, but just so you know what you might be in for. I kept knocking clothing out of my hammock every time I jumped in and out, and I sometimes missed my shoes when I was hopping down. Let’s just say it was a good thing I brought a ton of extra clothes with me! I used this ENO Hammock and ENO Hammock Rain Tarp, and although the items that fell out of my hammock got wet, everything inside (including me) stayed nice and dry! Don’t forget to buy hammock straps too.
Rope and Paracord
A tarp can create a shelter so that you can relax in your camping area without getting soaked. Bring rope and paracord to hang your tarp, which can even act as a clothesline to hang wet clothes on to dry if it stops raining. You can even bring a pre-made canopy to make your life even easier, like this Caddis Rapid Shelter from REI.
Bring backpacks and daypacks with rain covers. Some packs come with a thin rain cover that’s already attached. Check to see if your pack has a zipper at the bottom—there’s a good chance you’ll find one in there. These 25L REI daypacks both come with rain covers (women’s, men’s).
A sleeping bag is non-negotiable, of course. Synthetic bags tend to be the better option in wet climates, just because they provide more water resistance and dry much quicker than a down bag. If you want, you can even bring a breathable bag cover or bivy sack to put over your sleeping bag. If you don’t want to spend the extra money, you can try to DIY it with your rain jacket! Just cover your bag with it. These synthetic bags may be good options (women’s, men’s).
You can bring multiple sleeping pads for more insulation, if you’d like. Insulated sleeping pads are also the way to go—they’re much better at keeping you warmer. This Thermarest sleeping pad will help you stay cozy at night.
Dry Sacks and Plastic Bags
Pack plenty of dry sacks, Ziplocs, and/or trash bags to keep your belongings dry. I love this Sea to Summit dry sack because it also works as a compression sack. Compression sacks squeeze all of the air out of items like sleeping bags and clothing (or whatever else you decide to stuff into them), and help you save so much space. While you don’t necessarily need this for camping, I often use it for backpacking, and love items like this that can do double duty—the less I have to buy, the better!
If you plan to make a fire, bring wood if the campground allows and make sure to keep it from getting wet. Also grab waterproof matches or a lighter to start your fire.
Bring several towels in case you get caught in the rain and need to dry off, or to wipe anything else off that gets damp. I love this REI towel because it’s lightweight and mostly nylon microfiber, so it dries really quickly.
Take some lighting options with you too, like string lights and flashlights. Bring extras since you may even need to use these during the day if it’s cloudy enough. Avoid bringing anything solar powered since the sun might not be out long enough to power those items.
You can also bring a rug to put outside your tent or RV that you can wipe your shoes on, which will help prevent you from tracking mud inside.
Bring fun things to do while camping in the rain in case you have to be inside all day. I love to take board games, books, journals, and drawing materials with me when I know there’s a possibility that I’ll be inside for long periods of time.
Trekking Poles or MICROspikes
If you’ll be doing some hiking, you may also want to pack some trekking poles or MICROspikes to prevent yourself from slipping in the mud.
What to Do if You Get Wet
If you end up getting wet, try to dry yourself off and warm up right away.
You can do this by putting on dry clothes, making a fire or using hand warmers, and getting in your sleeping bag.
Hang wet clothes up right away, although they’re unlikely to dry quickly in humid weather (this is why it’s important to pack extras!). You can also dry them next to the fire, but keep a mindful eye on them (this is coming from the girl who accidentally melted part of her hiking boots by putting them too close to the campfire…).
After You Get Home
Make sure you dry everything off before packing it away to prevent mold from growing.
You can also re-waterproof your tent with Nikwax for your next trip, although I’ve never done this. It is an option, though.
I hope these tips for camping in the rain help you have a fun and (most importantly) dry trip. Who knows, maybe you’ll have such a fun time that you’ll even hope for some rain on your next camping adventure (especially now that you know how to camp in the rain)!
Kelsey Frey is a freelance writer and full-time traveler usually found exploring the mountains somewhere in Europe or the USA. She’s always looking for a trail to hike or lake to jump into. If you’re curious about an honest account of life without a permanent address, you can follow her on Instagram @sightsbetterseen or pop over to her travel blog at Sights Better Seen to read more about her (mis)adventures.
Photo credit in order of appearance: Kelsey Frey, Adobe Stock – Ceebeestock; Chika_milan; Paloma Ayala