A leaky tent can easily ruin an otherwise perfect camping trip.
When camping in the rain or snow, a fully waterproof tent is essential to keep you and your important gear warm and dry at night.
But it’s not all about comfort and enjoyment – a leaky tent can be seriously unsafe as well, especially if you’re camping in colder weather.
Today, I’ll break down how to fix a leaky tent by improving the waterproofing on the seams, DWR coating, and urethane coating.
Here’s exactly how to waterproof a tent for camping.
How to Waterproof a Tent Explained
Even the very best tents experience wear and tear over the years. If you notice your tent is leaking, here are three of the most common culprits (with quick fixes).
Resealing Tent Seams
Leaky tent seams are perhaps the most common culprit for a leaking tent.
Many tents come with sealed seams right out of the box. Others come new with taped seams without sealant.
Either way, the seams can wear out over time, allowing water to leak through. Luckily, resealing tent seams is quick and easy.
All you need to do is remove any peeling seam tape while leaving intact sections there. Then clean the seams you’ll be resealing with a rag and rubbing alcohol. Finally, apply the new seam sealer along the clean seams before allowing the new layer of seam sealer to dry completely.
Personally, I find it much easier to see the seams during the resealing process outside on a sunny day or in a brightly lit room. I also typically like to reseal all the seams on my tent whenever I’m resealing one since it’s likely that the others are close to failing as well if one already needs repairs.
Know that you can reseal seams on both the tent body as well as the underside of the rainfly (in fact resealing tent rainfly seems is most important for keeping water out).
Reapplying DWR to a Tent
Another common problem with a tent’s waterproofing is a failing DWR finish.
Simply put, if water isn’t beading (and running off) your rainfly like it has in the past, it’s probably time to reapply the durable water repellent.
Luckily, reapplying DWR to a tent is even easier than resealing the seams.
DWR for tents comes in an easy-to-use spray bottle. Simply clean the rainfly (you don’t even have to let it completely dry) and spray a layer of the DWR over the entire surface of the fly.
Let the new DWR coating dry for a few moments before wiping off any excess with a clean damp cloth.
Just make sure to let the DWR dry completely before storage though.
Refreshing a Tent’s Urethane Coating
The final way to better waterproof a tent is to refresh your tent’s urethane coating.
You’ll know it’s time to do this if you notice any flaking on the floor of your tent or on the tent rainfly.
First, scrub the flaking coating off of the rainfly and/or tent floor. You can do this with the rough green side of your standard green/yellow sponge plus a little rubbing alcohol.
Once you’ve rugged all of the flaking coating off, apply a thin layer of tent sealant (certain kinds are available for silicone-treated fabrics vs polyurethane-treated fabrics).
Make sure to apply the tent sealant to the entirety of the tent floor and/or rainfly. Each sealant has slightly different manufacturer recommended directions, so make sure to double check before applying.
Let the new urethane coating air dry for at least 24 hours (if not 48 hours) before storing your tent to ensure that it’s fully set.
Consider Replacing the Rainfly or Footprint
It’s often possible to repair a leaky tent with the techniques above.
But tents, and their various components, do wear out over time and need to be replaced.
The most likely culprit for a leaky tent is a leaking rainfly. Often the tent itself is still in perfectly good shape, but the rainfly just needs to be replaced.
Before pulling the trigger on a brand-new tent, make sure to check if the brand offers replacement rainflies for that particular model.
Unfortunately, it’s not super common for brands to offer replacement rainflies, but you certainly can find those that do (Diamond Brand is an example of a brand that does).
Some brands also offer replacement footprints (another common leaky tent culprit).
If you can’t find a replacement rainfly or footprint, but your tent is still leaking, then it’s probably time to bite the bullet and invest in a brand new tent, especially if you frequently go camping in the rain.
In fact, some replacement rainflies are so expensive that it just makes more sense to replace the entire tent from the get-go if it is leaking.
Buy a Good Quality Tent to Begin With
For summer camping, you can probably get away with a budget model tent.
In fact, a tent from Walmart will work perfectly fine for most casual campers who camp just a few times a year and always make sure to avoid the rain.
But, for those who want to camp in the spring and fall or who don’t mind camping in a summertime rain storm, a quality tent is essential.
Not only does spending just a tad more on a camping tent equal greater quality (including superior durability) and waterproofing overall, but these tents also typically come with a more substantial rainfly.
Look for a full coverage rainfly for the best protection while camping in the rain. A rainfly with a vestibule area is a nice touch so you can stash muddy boots outside and keep your tent cleaner inside.
Another benefit of spending a bit more on a higher quality tent is that the waterproofing should last much longer – especially with the right tent care – than a budget model.
How to Prevent Tent Damage in the Future
Proper maintenance and care are the best ways to maintain your tent’s weatherproofing for years to come.
Perhaps most important is proper storage.
We go more into the best practices for storing a tent in our guide to cleaning a tent, but it all boils down to a few key factors.
First and foremost is to always let your tent dry out completely before storage. When you get home from a camping trip, take your tent out of its stuff sack to let it air dry.
Failure to completely dry out a damp tent before storage often leads to a stinky tent on your next trip, but can also cause to premature wear and tear, including reduction of its waterproofing capabilities.
After letting my tent dry out completely, I personally prefer to store mine unpacked on a shelf so that it’s not tightly compressed inside of a stuff sack until my next outing.
Nearly as important as proper storage is keeping your tent clean. I always spend a few minutes shaking debris free from the interior, spot cleaning any stains (especially sticky ones like pine sap), and inspecting for any minor damages.
Fixing any damages – such as small tears – as soon as they occur is super important to lengthening its lifespan and ensuring its waterproofing and weather resistance going forward.
Finally, I always recommend limiting the amount of sun exposure that your tent gets.
Of course, this sometimes just isn’t possible. When camping in summer heat, especially in a wide open area without shade, it’s nearly impossible to limit sun exposure (unless you take down and set up your tent each day).
Just remember that, when possible, it’s best to pitch your tent somewhere with at least some shade, even if it’s just for part of the day.
UV rays can seriously damage your tent’s rainfly, especially its waterproofing abilities.
If you camp in direct sunlight in the summer often, it’s honestly a good idea to invest in a popup canopy to place over your tent for shade (especially if your tent is a high-end, more expensive model).
Additional Tips for Waterproofing a Tent
Keeping water out of a tent is about more than just the quality of the tent itself – it’s also about using the tent correctly.
Most important, of course, is actually using the rainfly. Don’t leave the rainfly at home or you’ll certainly get soaked. Also, make sure your tent has a full coverage rainfly (rather than a partial rainfly) if you expect rain in the forecast.
In addition to the rainfly, you should always use a footprint or ground cloth with your tent. Not only does this add an additional layer to keep water out, but it also improves the overall lifespan of your tent by preventing damages.
If your tent didn’t come with a footprint and you can’t buy a model that matches separately, a good old-fashioned tarp will do the job just fine.
Another great tip to keep rain out of your tent is to find a campsite that’s somewhat shielded from the rain.
Tree cover is your best bet here (unless your campground offers shelters at each campsite), but hanging up a tarp or using a canopy can also help.
Finally, make sure that you pitch your tent on even just a slight incline to prevent water from pooling up or running inside. Ideally, you want excess water to run away from your tent.
Check Out Our Other Gear Care Resources
Maintaining your tent’s waterproofing is only one aspect of caring for your camping gear.
Our super thorough guide to camping in the rain is also a great resource for more rain camping tips and tricks to make your next wet trip more enjoyable.
And, like always, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more questions about how to waterproof a tent.
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Since 2015, Jake has been the technical heart behind our in-depth content. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, he’s the one you’ll find crafting extensive gear reviews and detailed camping guides. With a decade of outdoor writing under his belt, Jake brings the beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains and his beloved Cascade and Olympic ranges right to your screen.