So you’re wondering how to waterproof a tent. If your tent has seen better days, and you plan to give it the waterproofing overhaul it so rightly deserves instead of taking it out back like Old Yeller, you have three options. You can seal the seams, apply a new urethane coating, or apply durable water repellant (DWR). And you may want to do all three.
Just by doing these three things, you can potentially help your ailing tent stave off the cold embrace of death for another decade. That’s another decade of sleeping under the stars. Well, I guess you don’t need a tent for that, but there will be many more years of sleeping warm and dry while kicking it with mother nature if you know how to waterproof a tent. And if you are reading this, that’s something you are at least vaguely interested in, so I’ll get to it.
How to Waterproof a Tent: Prep Work
First, you should set up your tent and clean it thoroughly with a mild detergent. Soap will work. Most tents start having waterproofing issues because they get dirty from being stepped on or otherwise having dirt ground into the material. But if your tent seems unsalvageable, check out the best camping tents under 100 dollars.
Applying Seam Sealer
Tents come with their seams already sealed—thank goodness—but with the wear and tear of camping, your tent can end up like an old-school cartoon character after getting shot. You know, they drink a glass of water, and it leaks out of all the holes in their body. This happens because the tape put in place to keep the tent watertight starts to fall apart.
On single-walled tents, the seams are on the body of the tent. With double-walled tents, they are on the rainfly. You will need to fix the seams from the interior of the tent, so a good tip is to flip whichever part has the seams inside out.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before we get to applying the sealant, make sure you are using the correct type. Tent material can be silicone or polyurethane-based, and each requires a unique type of sealant. Usually, tents are made from polyurethane-based material. But go to the source if you are in doubt. The company that manufactures the tent can tell you what’s what.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. Set up your tent outside somewhere dry and sunny or inside somewhere well-lit. Look for peeling tape on the seams. If you find some, peel it like it’s hot, but if any is not peeling, just let it be.
Next, you’ll need a rag and some rubbing alcohol to—you guessed it—gently rub the seams to prepare them. After that, you will spread that seam sealer on the seams like butter on a piece of toast. I’m serious; you need to visualize it. Just don’t let your imagination go so wild that you end up eating it because, although I hear it’s not toxic, nobody wants to be the guy who eats seam sealer.
The butter analogy is so that you can understand how much you need to apply. If you are more of an exact measurement type of person, you want a solid coat of about one millimeter on all of your seams. Yes, all of them. Once one seam goes bad, the others are quick to follow suit.
Renewing the Urethane Coating
Next, you’ll want to address the urethane coating, which is all-important for keeping out that pesky rain. You need to clean your tent if you haven’t already. Lay the piece you want to clean and fix—the fly or the floor—flat on the ground inside out. Now, if you see anywhere that the tent is peeling like a bad sunburn, you need to, once again, use that rubbing alcohol for the thing for which it is named. Use it along with a sponge or rag to remove the flakes. I know, gross, especially since I put the sunburn image in your head.
Now, you just need to get some tent sealant and coat the whole surface with it. Then let the whole thing sit for a good 24 hours before putting it away. Remember to wash your hands. I know I sound like a mom, but you don’t want to mess around with those chemicals. They aren’t flammable; they are flame-retardant, but it’s just not a good look if you are planning on cooking, eating, or doing anything with your hands after.
Applying New Durable Water Repellent
DWR is the stuff that makes rain “bead” on your rainfly. If you have ever gotten olive oil or some other oily substance on your hands and then gotten them wet, then you can imagine beading. So, if water isn’t forming tiny independent droplets on your tent anymore, you likely would benefit from a fresh coat of DWR.
As I said in the prep stage at the beginning, make sure you clean out your tent before you start. All you have to do is buy some DWR in a spray container and make sure you have access to water and a wet rag. Then just apply an even coat of DWR to the outside of the rainfly. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe off any residual DWR. After, be sure to let it dry all the way, and then store it away as you usually would.
How to Waterproof a Tent: Conclusion
Well, there you are. Now, you know how to waterproof a tent six ways to Sunday—actually only three, but no one is counting. So what are you doing still reading? Get out there already. I reckon you’re overdue for a camping trip or two. You could even camp out in the best truck bed tent available!
Written by Blake Anderson