tents in a rainstorm

Why do tents always claim they’re waterproof when they never are?

Tents are supposed to keep you dry when it rains, but then why do you often times wind up damp when you are camping in the rain?

Many tents claim to be waterproof, but in reality, they are only water-resistant to varying degrees. This can lead to frustration and disappointment for campers who find themselves wet and uncomfortable inside their tents during a rainstorm.

Understanding the factors that contribute to a tent’s water resistance is crucial for selecting the right tent for your camping needs. In this blog, we will delve into the world of tent waterproofing, exploring the different materials and technologies used, as well as the key factors that affect a tent’s ability to keep you dry. We will also debunk some common misconceptions about tent waterproofing and provide tips on how to minimize condensation inside your tent.

Are Any Tents Actually Waterproof?

No, most tents are not fully waterproof. They are designed to be water-resistant, meaning they can withstand light to moderate rain for a certain period. This is because seams, zippers, and tent fabrics require special coatings and treatments to achieve maximum water resistance, and to use truly waterproof materials would make them incredibly heavy and bulky

Understanding Waterproof Ratings in Tents

When shopping for a tent, you may come across terms like “waterproof” and “water-resistant.” But what do these terms actually mean? Waterproof rating is a measure of a tent’s ability to withstand water penetration. It is usually indicated by a number followed by “mm,” which represents the amount of water pressure the fabric can withstand before it starts to leak.

As an example, a tent with a waterproof rating of 2000mm means that the fabric can withstand a column of water 2000mm high before it starts to leak. Here are some of the common tent materials and their HH ratings.

  • Nylon – 1200mm-3000mm
  • Polyester – 1500mm-5000mm+
  • Dyneema (DCF) – 10,000mm+

Anything above 1,400mm is considered waterproof but that is the very minimum.

The waterproof capabilities of a tent are largely determined by the materials used and the construction techniques employed, particularly the coatings applied to the fabric. One common method of enhancing a tent’s water resistance is through the application of a polyurethane (PU) coating or silicone coatings. This coating is applied to the tent fabric to create a barrier that repels water droplets, preventing them from penetrating the fabric.

When new, most tents are what would be considered ‘waterproof’, but remember that it is rarely the fabric that leaks, but the seams on a tent.

tent seams are the weak point in your tent's waterproofing.
Tent seams are the weak point in your tent’s waterproofing.

Seam Sealing and Its Importance

Seam sealing is a crucial step in ensuring the water resistance of a tent. Many of the fabrics that good quality tents are made of are 100% waterproof when they are new, like Siliconized Ripstop Nylon (Sil-Nylon). But the stitching creates tiny holes that can allow water to seep through.

Seam sealing involves applying a waterproof sealant or tape to the seams of the tent to create a barrier against water. This process helps to prevent leaks and improve the overall water resistance of the tent.

Proper seam sealing is essential for maintaining the waterproof capabilities of a tent. Over time, the original seam sealing may wear off or degrade, compromising the tent’s ability to keep water out. Regular inspections and resealing of the seams may be necessary to ensure optimal water resistance.

The Problem Of Saturation

Saturation plays a key role in why tent fabrics eventually leak, even when they have a water-resistant treatment.

Under prolonged, heavy rain, the outer layer of the fabric can become completely saturated. This creates a continuous layer of water on the surface, which then exerts pressure on the material.

Even with a good Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, this pressure can eventually force water through the fabric’s microscopic pores. This is why even a “waterproof” tent might ultimately become wet inside after hours in a torrential downpour.

Why do some tents leak even after being marketed as waterproof?

Despite being marketed as waterproof, some tents may still leak due to various factors, such as poor construction, worn-out coatings, or improper setup. It is important to manage your expectations and understand the limitations of a tent’s water resistance. An inexpensive tent is likely best used under ideal conditions.

How do I choose a tent that’s truly waterproof for my camping needs?

This is a big question as the conditions you are camping in, the style of camping you are doing, and the conditions you will face all vary widely. For example, if you are doing family car-camping and need an 8-person tent, you need a wildly different tent than if you are solo through-hiking the Olympics.

Since most tents are considered waterproof when they are new, you will have to decide on what combination of physical size and price you are willing to bear. This will likely be the best determinates of which tent to purchase.

Debunking the Myth of Condensation as Leakage

Condensation inside a tent is often mistaken for leakage, leading to the belief that the tent is not waterproof. However, condensation is a natural occurrence that can happen even in the most waterproof tents.

Condensation forms when warm, moist air inside the tent comes into contact with the cooler tent fabric or rainfly. This can result in the formation of water droplets on the inner surface of the tent, giving the impression of a leak.

To minimize condensation, it is essential to ensure proper ventilation inside the tent. Mesh walls and vents help to promote airflow and reduce moisture buildup. Additionally, using a groundsheet or footprint can prevent moisture from seeping into the tent from the ground.

Condensation on the inside of a tent in the morning
Condensation can often times be mistaken as your tent leaking.

Condensation In Single Wall Vs. Double Wall Tents

The construction style of your tent can make a big impact on the amount of condensation that you get. Single wall and double wall tents (tents with a fly) handle condensation much differently.

Single Wall Tents:

  • The Problem: Single-wall tents have just one layer of fabric separating the interior from the outside. This means the inner wall of the tent acts as the cool surface, prime for condensation to form.
  • Limited Ventilation: Single-wall tents often have less mesh and ventilation options compared to double-wall tents. This makes it harder for moist air to escape, leading to a build-up of condensation.

Double Wall Tents:

  • The Advantage: Double-wall tents consist of an inner tent and a separate rainfly. This creates an air gap between the two layers.
  • Improved Ventilation: Double-wall tents typically have more mesh panels and ventilation options in both the inner tent and the rainfly. This allows for better air circulation, carrying away moist air before it condenses on the inner wall.
  • Warmer Inner Wall: The air gap between the layers in a double-wall tent acts as insulation. This keeps the inner wall warmer, reducing the temperature difference and making it less prone to condensation.

How to Minimize Condensation

While it is impossible to eliminate condensation, there are steps you can take to minimize its impact and keep your tent as dry as possible:

  • Ensure excellent ventilation by using tents with mesh walls and vents that allow for proper airflow
  • Set up your tent in a well-ventilated area, away from stagnant air or areas prone to moisture buildup
  • Use a groundsheet or footprint to create a barrier between the tent floor and the damp ground
  • Avoid bringing wet gear or clothing inside the tent, as this can increase the moisture levels and contribute to condensation

Can I re-waterproof my old tent, and how often should I do it?

Yes, you can re-waterproof your old tent. The frequency of re-waterproofing depends on factors such as the quality of the tent’s materials and coatings, the frequency of use, and the environmental conditions it is exposed to. It is recommended to reapply waterproofing solutions or seam sealing as needed to maintain optimal water resistance.

Beginner’s Guide to Waterproofing Your Tent

To ensure the longevity of your tent’s water resistance, it is important to properly maintain and periodically waterproof your tent. Here is a beginner’s guide to waterproofing your tent:

Equipment and Resources You Will Need

To waterproof your tent, you will need the following equipment and resources:

  • Waterproofing solutions, such as tent seam sealant or spray-on waterproofing products
  • Seam sealing tape or adhesive for reinforcing the seams of your tent
  • A waterproofing brush or sponge for applying the waterproofing solution
  • Clean water and a clean cloth for cleaning the tent fabric before applying the waterproofing solution

Step 1: Assessing Your Tent’s Current Waterproof Status

Before waterproofing your tent, it is important to assess its current waterproof status. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Set up your tent and inspect it for any signs of water leakage or damage
  • Check the seams, zippers, and fabric for any signs of wear or deterioration
  • Look for areas where water may be able to penetrate, such as loose seams or worn-out coatings
  • Take note of any areas that require seam sealing or additional waterproofing

By assessing your tent’s current waterproof status, you can identify any areas that require attention and ensure that your waterproofing efforts are targeted and effective.

Step 2: Applying Waterproofing Solutions

Once you have assessed your tent’s waterproof status, it is time to apply the necessary waterproofing solutions. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Clean the tent fabric using clean water and a cloth, removing any dirt or debris
  • Apply the waterproofing solution to the tent fabric, focusing on areas that require additional protection
  • Use a waterproofing brush or sponge to evenly distribute the solution and ensure full coverage
  • Pay special attention to the seams, zippers, and other areas where water may be able to penetrate
  • Allow the tent to dry completely before packing it away

Step 3: Seam Sealing for Added Protection

Seam sealing is an important step in enhancing the waterproof capabilities of your tent. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Clean the tent seams using clean water and a cloth, removing any dirt or debris
  • Apply seam sealing tape or adhesive to the seams, ensuring that the tape covers the entire seam
  • Use a waterproofing brush or sponge to press the tape firmly onto the seams, ensuring a secure bond
  • Allow the seam sealing to dry completely before packing the tent away

Regular Maintenance to Keep Your Tent Waterproof

Regular maintenance is crucial for keeping your tent waterproof and extending its lifespan. Here are some tips for maintaining your tent’s water resistance:

  • Clean your tent after each use, removing any dirt or debris that could compromise its waterproof capabilities
  • Inspect the seams, zippers, and fabric for any signs of wear or damage, and repair or replace as necessary
  • Store your tent in a cool, dry place to prevent mold growth and damage to the fabric and coatings
  • Periodically check the waterproofing of your tent and reapply waterproofing solutions or seam sealing as needed

By following these maintenance tips, you can ensure that your tent remains waterproof and provides reliable shelter during your camping adventures.


In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of tent waterproofing can significantly enhance your camping experience. While tents are marketed as waterproof, various factors like materials, design, and maintenance play crucial roles in their actual water resistance.

By debunking myths and following proper waterproofing techniques, such as seam sealing and site selection, you can ensure a dry and comfortable camping trip. Remember, regular maintenance and proactive waterproofing measures are key to preserving your tent’s waterproof integrity for many outdoor adventures to come.

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