Find out how to waterproof a tent in our full reproofing guide for everybody’s favourite piece of outdoor equipment!
How to waterproof a tent
A tent is your shelter against the storm, a tiny home that protects you from the elements and keeps you warm and dry at night. But, like so many other pieces of outdoor equipment, they often take a battering so you don’t have to.
One of the first things to malfunction in an ageing or well-used tent is its waterproofing layer. Fortunately, similar to waterproof jackets, this isn’t a cause for concern and is actually a natural part of owning a piece of waterproof gear. All you need to do is top up the waterproof layer, following our reproofing guide below, and your tent will be as good as new!
Why does a tent need to be reproofed?
There are countless factors that can affect your tent’s waterproof layer when using it out and about in the British countryside. Dirt is the main culprit that can corrupt the waterproof layer, causing water to soak into the material. But high winds, groundwater, snow, and torrential rain can all negatively impact your tent in different ways.
Tents are given a waterproof rating, a system measured in millimetres, that correlates with how quickly the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) layer wears off the fabric. The cheapest tent with a low waterproof rating will be around 1000-2000 mm. The highest quality tents will show a waterproof rating somewhere closer to 10,000 mm.
A tent with a higher millimetre rating will put you in better stead for battling the wet. But regardless of the initial purchase price, This waterproof layer will diminish over time, requiring the reproofing process. Find out everything you need to know about reproofing your tent in our step-by-step guide.
How to waterproof a tent
Tents are notoriously tricky pieces of equipment to take care of. With poles, pegs, clasps, and straps all vital to holding structure, it can initially seem overwhelming when trying to clean and reproof it.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to waterproof a tent – making it as easy as possible to restore the waterproof layer.
1. Separate the components of your tent
Different tent styles have a variety of shapes and designs. From A-frame and geodesic to pop-up and dome tents.
Loosely speaking, a tent can be split into an inner mesh layer and an outer shell layer, with the poles and pegs used to build the structure. Pop-up tents differ in their construction, but these are low-quality and shouldn’t typically be used for camping/backpacking trips (unless there happens to be a 3-day music festival in walking distance).
The most important layer for reproofing is the shell fly sheet as this is the waterproof section of the tent that has the highest exposure to the elements. The groundsheet is also important to reproof but it generally holds its waterproofing longer than the fly sheet. Only wash the inner mesh and ground sheet if they are particularly dirty or leaking water along the seams.
2. Clean your tent
Before reproofing your tent, you must clean it thoroughly first. Mud is a key disrupter of the waterproof layer and tents often get dirty. To wash your tent, you can hose it down before scrubbing at the dirt patches gently with warm, soapy water.
For this process, it’s best to use a specialist cleaner that works to rid the tent of any grit or grime. Alternatively, you can fill a large bucket (or bathtub) with warm water and clean the tent by hand using a sponge. You can use a low-strength detergent here but it’s still advisable to purchase a proper tent cleaner.
Alternatively, you can fill a large bucket (or bathtub) with warm water and clean the tent by hand using a sponge. You can use a low-strength detergent here but it’s still advisable to purchase a proper tent cleaner.
Using this method may be more trouble than it’s worth unless you want to deep clean your tent with a wash-in detergent. Generally speaking, damp sponging the tent and then hosing it down can work just as effectively.
After you’re done cleaning the tent, make sure you rinse it thoroughly with water to remove any residual soap suds. Keep hosing down the fabric until there’s no lather left and the water runs clean.
3. Apply a waterproofing product
Now that your fabric is nice and clean, it’s time to reproof your tent by applying the waterproofing solution.
Start by hanging your tent up on a washing line or a clothing stand so the fly sheet is fully spread out. For larger tents, spreading the fabric out over dry grass offers easy access. It’s also possible to simply pitch your tent as normal before beginning the reproofing process.
Don’t worry about the tent fabric being dry from the cleaning stage as most reproofing should be completed immediately after washing is complete. This ensures that the reproofing spray can effectively bind to the DWR.
An official product that is designed to waterproof outdoor equipment should be used when reproofing a tent.
Apply the spray liberally but evenly over the whole tent. Ensure every panel at the edges and around the doorway is sprayed evenly. Focus on the seams as this is a common place for water to absorb and leak through the tent. After you have sprayed the tent, use a cloth to wipe any excess coating off.
4. Seal the seams of the tent
Knowing how to waterproof a tent means understanding your tent’s weaknesses and it’s the seams that require the most attention when reproofing.
Seams are a common place for waterproofing to fail due to the gaps opened when two sections of flysheet are overlapped and stitched. The thread used in the stitching is not effective at repelling water, making them a common spot for water to drip through when the rain gets heavy.
To combat this issue, specialised products, such as the Kampa Tent Seam Sealer, can be used to close up any small gaps in the seals. The colourless sealer is resistant to flexing and cracking, offering confidence in the wettest of the Great British weather.
Tent repair tape is an alternative to seam sealer, although is typically reserved for patching up larger tears or holes. This can also be used to seal seams that are leaking water due to their waterproof design. The tape is translucent and extremely durable.
5. Dry the tent
Try to hang out your tent so it is pinned up and can aerate in the wind. Leave it to dry outdoors, rotating it regularly to ensure the tent is dried thoroughly.
This can take up to 24 hours so don’t rush the process. When it’s no longer wet to the touch, roll it tightly and pack it back into your stuff sack ready for your next trip!
FAQ: How to waterproof a tent
Have a question about reproofing a tent that you’re searching for the answer to? Check out our FAQ below where we aim to answer the most popular questions about topping up that all-important waterproof layer.
How often a tent should be reproofed depends on the waterproof rating that your tent has.
A low rating (1000-2000 mm) may require reproofing every few camping trips whereas a tent with a high rating (8000-10,000mm) may only need to be reproofed once every two-three years.
Cleaning your tent is one of the most important steps of reproofing a tent.
Mud and foreign objects are one of the primary reasons a fly sheet loses its waterproof capabilities. By cleaning a tent properly with a dedicated cleaner a good platform can be created to begin the reproofing process.
If you’re searching for a standalone tent reproofing spray, it’s the Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarproof Spray that has our vote.
The waterproofing spray not only adds that vital waterproof layer but protects against the sun’s powerful UV rays.
Not yet managed to find the answer? We’re not happy until you are – reach out to us over on our socials and we’ll be sure to get back to you with tailored solutions to reproofing your tent.