Sooner or later, it’s going to rain on your parade out there.
The good news, however, is that there are many ways to reduce the chances of getting soggy socks, a moist sleeping bag and, most importantly, dampened spirits. Tarps and tents are the key ingredients for dealing with a drizzly day.
All tents will eventually leak — no matter how much money you’ve paid. I’ve always kept to moderately priced tents; a three-season with a minimum waterproof rating of 600 mm for the flysheet and 1,000 mm for the floor (my latest purchase was the Eureka Taron; eurekatentscanada.com). The more ventilation the tent has, the better it will be at keeping condensation out (and thereby your sleeping bag dry). Make sure to slab a generous amount of seam sealer ($6; mec.ca) on a new tent, prior to your trip.
A tent’s weakest link is the door’s zipper. Position the door away from the prevailing winds to reduce the chance of water seepage. More importantly, place a plastic tarp (ground sheet) inside, on the tent’s floor — not outside. Having it outside will just collect water. When the water begins to soak through, and it eventually will, having the tarp inside guarantees a protective layer between your sleeping pad and the soggy tent floor.
Also keep in mind that nylon guy-lines stretch when wet; so attach shock-cord loops to each one. This will guarantee they keep taut and absorb any stress placed on the tent fly when those gale-force winds begin to howl. I’d also suggest sewing on extra stake loops to the sides of the tent. Most tents only come with three or four; that’s not enough to stop the fly from flapping in the wind. While you’re at it, tie two, three-foot lengths of parachute cord at the front and back of the tent, attached to the poles (not the fabric). Double-stake each one.
The last tent-tip deals with packing it up. Stuff your tent into two separate storage compression bags. The body of the tent goes in one and the fly goes in another. Why? Not only does it greatly reduce the bulk of your tent in your pack, the fly — which is always wetter than the tent body — stays separate. When you unpack everything at your next campsite, the inside of the tent will be much drier. And, of course, as soon as you get home, pitch the tent in your backyard to properly dry it out. The moment mould and mildew set in, your tent will never hold up against wind and rain again.
Keep in mind, your tent is a doghouse. It’s the place where you sleep. Period. It’s not a place to crawl in and wait for the skies to clear. I did this way too much in the past, and it seems no matter how many good books there are to read, card games to play or tent-mates to cuddle with... you’re going to get bored soon enough.
Under a quality tarp, where a small campfire brews up hot tea (spiked with Irish cream), is a far better place to wait out the weather. Remember, good group dynamics are crucial to a successful camping trip; gathered under a tarp, surrounded by the natural elements, is far more communal than huddled inside a small tent, smelling your partner’s stinky socks.
There’s no specific trick to putting up a tarp. It’s just that some campsites have a better arrangement of trees than others, making it easier. The perfect scenario is a tree for each of the four corners of the tarp. More than likely, however, you’ll have to unpack an extra length of rope and extend one or two corners to a nearby exposed root or a bush.
The most common shape the tarp should be set up in is a “lean-to” style. This consists of having two ends placed up high, preferably attached to a rope strung between two trees, and the other two placed low to the ground, towards the prevailing winds. Make sure it’s snug or the tarp will flap in the wind and irritate you to no end throughout the night. I attach small bungee cords on each corner grommet to help keep the ropes tight. A centre pole also helps keep the tarp taut. However, rather than searching all over for a tree limb to place in the centre of the tarp, purchase a paddle strap — this is a device that allows two paddles to be attached together and used as such. Or better yet, throw a centre-line over a high branch and “pull” the centre up from the top rather than prop it up from the bottom.
I started off with one of those big blue nylon-reinforced plastic tarps. It actually worked quite well, but was a real pain to carry. The material was extremely stiff and bulky and the cheap corner grommets had a tendency to snap in heavy winds. Eventually, I upgraded to a lightweight, polyurethane coated, rip-stop polyester tarp (you can get them in the even lighter nylon material). Models such as the MSR Twing, MEC Guide’s Tarp, Cooke Custom Sewing’s Tarps and Eureka VCS/Bug Mesh are all great.
I love my tarp. As soon as it rains, I erect the three-metre by four-metre unit, build a small fire under it, and sit, relax and watch the storm. There’s nothing like it.
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2013 issue.