When you’re roughing it under the stars, a tent is the ultimate shelter. This means that it has to be waterproof! However, even if you just splurged and bought a brand-new tent, there’s a chance that it might not be as functional as you’d like. This may seem counterintuitive as you might think that a new tent should be ready for use right out of the box. Thus, a common question from new tent-owners is: Do you need to waterproof a new tent?
You may need to waterproof a new tent to ensure that water won’t seep in on a particularly rainy night. Even though tents are generally made with waterproof fabrics, this doesn’t mean that they’re actually waterproof. Generally speaking, unless you purchase a very high-end tent, you’ll want to take the time to waterproof it before the first use.
That being said, even the most expensive and high-tech tents can benefit from some extra waterproofing from time to time and it doesn’t hurt to waterproof a tent before you use it for the first time. To help you decide whether or not you should waterproof your tent and how you should go about doing so, we’ve created this ultimate guide to tent waterproofing. Let’s get to it!
Are All Tents Waterproof
Our answer?: yes, and no. While pretty much every tent that’s specifically designed for camping will be made with waterproof materials, this doesn’t mean that the tent is actually waterproof.
Confused? It’s understandable, for how could something be waterproof and not waterproof all at the same time? Ultimately, there are two reasons why something made from waterproof materials could, in fact, not be waterproof.
The first reason is that, while the materials are waterproof, the seams in the materials are not. This is a common occurrence in tents and other outdoor items that are made with waterproof fabrics. Although the fabrics can withstand plenty of water, the rain and snow will travel until it finds the path of least resistance, which is generally the holes made by the stitches at the fabric’s seams.
Here, rain droplets will slowly seep through the seams. In a tent, this can cause a steady drip of water straight onto your nice down sleeping bag and can make for a rough night of sleep.
If the seams of your tent are what we call “seam sealed” – which means that they have had a waterproof tape or coating applied to them – then your problem may be that your tent fabric isn’t quite doing its job. Assuming that the tent fabric is, in fact, waterproof, then the problem is likely that the durable water repellent (DWR) coating that is applied to the outside of the fabric or the sealant on the inside of the tent has worn off.
This happens naturally over time, but the process is accelerated when a tent is excessively dirty or isn’t cared for properly. When the DWR coating or inside sealant of a tent wears off, the microscopic pores in the tent fabric that allow water vapor out but stop water droplets from coming in, get clogged up.
This means that water vapor from sweat, body heat, humidity, and human respiration builds up on the inside of the tent in the form of condensation. Although the condensation on the inside of the tent isn’t rain, it is caused by a failure in the waterproof fabric of the tent and can still get your clothes and sleeping bag wet and make for an uncomfortable night of sleep.
How Can I Make My Tent More Waterproof
Once you understand how waterproof tents can fail to be waterproof, you can start to take steps to increase your tent’s waterproofness. First things first, you need to determine if the problem is leaky seams or a failing waterproof fabric.
If the problem is a leaky seam, then you can buy seam sealant to coat the stitching and prevent water from seeping in. Most quality tents are sold with seam tape already applied to seal up the seams, but these do wear out over time.
If you do need to re-seal the seams, then you’ll need to buy a purpose-made seam-sealing product and follow the manufacturer’s directions for application. Usually, you brush the seam sealant onto the seams to create a moisture barrier and then lay the tent out to dry for about 24 hours.
Even if your tent is brand new, you should check to see if the seams have come pre-sealed. If not, you may need the apply seam sealant to waterproof your new tent.
If the problem is a failure in the fabric, you should first check to see if there are any holes in the tent. If so, patching these up with fabric patches (like Tenacious Tape) and seam-sealing the edges will help restore your tent’s waterproofness. If there are no visible holes in the fabric, it may be time to reapply the waterproof coating. What kind of coating you apply, however, depends on what the problem is.
When tents get worn out, you usually will start to see peeling and flaking on the inside of the tent fly. If you see this start to happen, you’ll want to purchase some tent sealant. Check with the tent manufacturer to find out if you need a silicone treatment or a polyurethane treatment before you begin.
To re-seal the inside of the tent, lay out the tent fly and use rubbing alcohol and a sponge to scrub off any flakes. Then apply a thin coating of the tent sealant to the affected areas while following the manufacturer’s directions. You’ll probably have to let the tent dry out for 24 hours or more before you can put it away.
If you find that your tent’s problem is that it’s not beading off water, then it’s probably time to apply a DWR waterproofing spray. These chemicals, when applied properly, help shed water from the tent, which prevents the fabric’s pores from clogging up, allowing the tent to breathe more and reduce condensation rates.
What’s The Best Waterproofing Tent Spray
Should your tent need a new coating of DWR, you’ll want to buy some waterproofing tent spray. There are many different tent sprays out there, so check with your tent manufacturer first to see if they have any recommendations or preferences for their tents.
If you can’t find any suggestions from your tent manufacturer, you can try a spray like the Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof spray. Nikwax is known for its line of high-quality waterproofing sprays and treatments for everything from boots to rain jackets, so they’re generally a solid bet.
Once you have a waterproofing spray, it’s pretty simple to apply just by following the directions on the bottle. Usually, you want to set up the tent and spray is with clean water to wash it off. Then, spray the product evenly over the tent fly, let it sit for a few minutes, and use a damp cloth to wipe off any extra DWR. Once the tent dries out completely, you’re all set!
Do Homemade Waterproofing Tent Sprays Work
If you scour the internet for waterproofing products, you’ll probably come across some information about how to make your own waterproofing tent spray. While this is an enticing option, as it can save you money in the short term, it’s not really something we recommend.
Sure, some of these homemade methods might work, but if they don’t you could end up right where you started (with a tent that’s not waterproof) or, worse, you could damage your tent. Many manufacturer’s warranties are voided after a homemade modification is done, so you might ruin your tent and have to buy a new one out of pocket.
Our recommendation? Stick to the tried and true methods of tent waterproofing and follow the manufacturer’s directions for tent care.
How Often Do You Need to Reapply Tent Waterproofing
Tents should be waterproofed whenever they’re showing signs of failure. This could mean that water is seeping in through the seams or that you notice peeling on the inside of the tent. If in doubt, adding some extra waterproofing won’t hurt the tent, so we always recommend playing it conservatively and waterproofing your tent whenever it starts to show signs of failure.
Light, portable, and easy to set-up, a tent can help keep your warm and dry on a camping trip. That being said, all tents need some TLC to perform to the best of their abilities.
If you’re asking yourself, “Do I need to waterproof my new tent?” then you’ll quickly find that there’s no simple answer. While some tents come ready to go right out of the box, others could benefit from some seam seal to help prevent leaks.
Our advice? Set up the tent in your yard before taking out on a trip for the first time. Inspect the seams and the fabric to determine if you should waterproof it before your camping trip and you should be good to go!