Sleeping on the ground is one of the greatest things in the world, but I know it's hard to imagine doing it when the weather isn't great.
Tarp camping in the rain is pretty easy provided you know a few special tips.
We're going to give you a big list to ensure you always stay dry and comfortable when you're in the woods with nothing but a tarp to protect you.
12 Tips For Tarp Camping In The Rain
- Start using a bigger tarp than usual
- Use rocks and sticks to avoid splash-back
- Campsite selection + avoiding flooding
- Use a plastic groundsheet or bivy sack
- Learn how to MacGyver your tarp
- Set up a hammock under your tarp
- Carry a waterproof backpack cover
- Make sure you wear multiple layers
- Packing foods you don't need to cook
- Stay away from steep muddy slopes
- Bring something to keep you occupied
- Always check the weather forecast
1 Start using a bigger tarp than usual
Tarps come in lots of different sizes:
- 10 x 10 ft
- 13 x 10 ft
- 20 x 13 ft
Is easier to realize tarps can come in almost any size you want if you look hard enough. If you want a 16 x 16 ft tarp you're going to find it somewhere.
It's sometimes easier to take a small tarp camping. As long as it protects you from the weather you'll be fine. Saving space is the biggest bonus.
But don't be afraid to take a larger tarp when you know it's going to rain a lot while you're camping even though you'll lose some space in your backpack.
Besides size there is one big choice you'll have to make:
Rectangular vs shaped tarps
I always take a rectangular one when I'm going tarp camping. It's more adaptable to bad weather conditions because it can be pitched in lots of shapes.
Imagine using the reinforced webbing loop in the center of your tarp to hang it from a tree branch above your head.
You'll be able to secure the tarp to the ground in every direction which won't let rain inside. Just make sure you leave a small door to get inside.
2 Use rocks and sticks to avoid splash-back
Splash-back happens when the wind is so heavy it bounces off the ground close to your tarp and lands inside. It can soak everything and ruin your day.
There are a couple of ways to avoid splash-back:
- Set your tarp up as low to the ground as possible
- Place rocks and sticks around the bottom of tarp
If it's already raining just make sure your tarp is as low to the ground as possible when you're setting it up. It's the quickest way to escape the rain.
Hopefully you have time to place objects around the bottom of your tarp because it's a full-proof way to keep rain from getting inside.
It's possible to use anything you find on the forest floor like:
- Large branches
All you need to do is cover the gaps around the bottom of your tarp every time you set it up. It doesn't need to be complicated or fancy.
On days when you know it's going to rain make sure your tarp has a barrier around it just in case. If it doesn't rain you'll only waste a few minutes of your time.
We've already talked about using a larger tarp and it helps with splash-back. Even if rain gets inside it's less likely to reach you or your equipment.
3 Campsite selection + avoiding flooding
Flooding is a lot more serious than splash-back because it can leave you drenched in water. It happens when you set up a tarp in the wrong place.
There are a couple of things you need to look for when choosing the right campsite:
- Elevated ground
- Absorbent soil
Never set up your tarp at the bottom of a slope. I know it's easy to think the slope is going to protect you from bad wind conditions.
But once it rains it's going to pool underneath your tarp. If you're sleeping you might not even realize something is wrong until it's too late.
The best campsite is a small mound that's slightly elevated compared to the ground around it. When it's pouring down with rain the mound doesn't even need to be wide.
As long as it's wide enough for you to lie down on your sleeping pad until the storm is over. Rain will fall down the side of your tarp and come nowhere near you.
On normal days you want to maximize the space under your tarp, so don't bother using such a thin mound. Just ensure it's slightly higher than the ground around it.
The soil around your tarp should be absorbent. If you're surrounded by rich organic matter it's going to swallow the rain upon impact.
No matter how heavy it rains it's going to soak everything up for hours and hours. You'll be able to stay under your tarp an entire day if you have to.
If you don't set up a tarp above porous soil it could reach a point where the ground can't absorb any more. Water can build up until it's pretty deep and you'll get wet.
Be careful if you're tarp camping in winter because the ground might be rock solid, which means water isn't going to drain away as easily.
4 Use a plastic groundsheet or bivy sack
What are you going to do if the ground is already wet by the time you're ready to set up your tarp? You won't be able to escape from the rain when it's on the ground.
This is a problem you might face in a couple of different scenarios:
- You go camping when it's already been raining
- You don't want to stop walking when it's raining
If you leave home when it's pouring with rain you're going to find it hard to find a dry bit of land. But what about when you don't want to stop walking?
You can't just hide under a tarp every time it rains if you want to cover tens of miles every day.
Take a plastic groundsheet in your backpack to protect you from the muddy ground. It's got a few big advantages over other methods:
- Extremely cheap to buy
- Durable enough to last months
- Compact enough to pack away
- Easy to wipe clean and dry
You'll still have to choose a suitable campsite because you don't want to sleep in thick sludge, but lay your plastic groundsheet down and it will protect you.
If there is a water source close by you can wipe it clean once the rain stops and the ground dries up. Hang it up to dry and you'll be ready to use it in no time.
It's also possible to use a bivy sack if staying dry is your most important goal. There are some very lightweight bivy sacks on the market.
Unfortunately, it does come with a few downsides too:
- Takes up more space in backpack
- More difficult to keep clean
- Less room to move around under tarp
- Extra work to pack away
It does have some big benefits too. You don't need anything to attach guylines to which comes in especially handy above the tree line.
5 Learn how to MacGyver your tarp
You'll learn a lot about rain when you're tarp camping. Sometimes it falls on you from above. Other times it feels like the rain is falling horizontally.
It's going to come at you from all directions thanks to the wind. Sometimes it's going to be heavy and other times it's pretty light.
If you know how to pitch a tarp in several different ways you're going to be protected from the rain no matter how it's falling.
Here are some of the ways you'll be able to pitch a tarp:
- Diamond fly
- Bivibag cornet
- Wind shed wedge
- Partial pyramid
- Square arch
There are too many camping tarp configurations to list here, but you'll have a huge selection to choose from. After a while, you'll have favorites you turn to when necessary.
You will also know how to set up your tarp using more than trees. Valuable knowledge when you find yourself sleeping on a beach or up a mountain.
6 Set up a hammock under your tarp
You should consider sleeping in a hammock if it's going to be raining. Hammock camping in the rain is a lot easier than tarp camping.
Sleeping in a hammock has other big benefits too:
- It's easy to escape from bugs
- Hammocks won't get as dirty
- Hiding from prying eyes
It's easy to escape from bugs
You might run into mosquitos if you're camping in humid areas with water lying on the ground. Once it starts raining you know there is going to be trouble.
Once you're lying on a hammock it's going to keep a lot of bugs away from you. Put a bug net around your hammock and it's going to be even better.
If you're sleeping in an open tarp shelter when insects come out it might be a problem. Hammocks are so small you should keep one in your backpack just in case.
Just remember you'll need bottom insulation so when it comes to underquilts vs sleeping pads the latter is the only one you can use for tarp and hammock camping.
Hammocks won't get as dirty
Even if you have a plastic groundsheet it's going to get dirty the moment you step outside your tarp. You might not be able to stay under the tarp until the rain stops.
When you go outside to do a poop in the woods you'll bring the mud back inside with you. And once you lie down you'll have to sleep on top of it.
If you're sleeping in a hammock you'll be able to take your boots off under the tarp. When you get back into the hammock you'll be perfectly clean.
Hiding from prying eyes
I love to wild camp close to civilization because it's sometimes easier. It makes sense if there is a nice beach close to town.
If you camp close to a supermarket you can eat tasty food every day without having to walk for hours each way. It's great when you head off-grid for a lot longer than a weekend.
But when you're close to a town you need to hide away from prying eyes, which could mean sleeping in scrubland with tightly packed trees.
In those kinds of areas, it's hard to sleep on the ground. You might have to sleep above the foliage underneath you to stay comfortable.
7 Carry a waterproof backpack cover
Some backpacks come with a waterproof backpack cover which is great because it's one less thing to add to your packing list when you go tarp camping.
If you don't have one it's something you'll need to pick up. Even when you don't need it you won't take up much space in your backpack.
It's going to come in handy for a couple of reasons:
- You'll be able to cover your backpack while walking
- It will protect your backpack inside your tarp
Once your backpack is covered with a waterproof cover you'll be okay walking in the rain when you don't want to stop till you reach a particular camping spot.
You'll also be able to keep your backpack dry inside the tarp. It's unlikely to get wet but it's better to be safe than sorry.
It will give you extra peace of mind if you're carrying things like a smartphone and tablet. You also need to keep a spare pair of dry clothes in case you get wet.
8 Make sure you wear multiple layers
There are a few important items of clothing you should take when you go rain camping. A waterproof jacket and weather-resistant boots should be at the top of your list.
Swapping cotton for a more effective material is a good idea too. Merino wool is good because it has a few advantages over cotton:
- Keeps you more insulated
- Dries out much quicker
- Repels vs absorbs water
Other synthetic fibers can handle rain a million times better than cotton. You'll just have to invest a bit more money upfront.
The biggest thing you need to remember when it comes to clothing is wearing multiple layers. If you get wet you'll be able to take layers off before bed.
You can dry a set of clothes so you'll have dry ones to get into in the morning. If you don't have multiple layers of clothes you can run into problems like:
- General discomfort
- Skin problems
Extra socks and thermal underwear is a good idea when you're tarp camping in the rain. It's good to keep these somewhere in your backpack just in case.
9 Packing foods you don't need to cook
You can't cook food under a tarp when it's so close to the ground you won't have much space above your head. Cooking on top of a plastic groundsheet isn't smart either.
Are you prepared to go outside to cook even when it's only drizzling? Even if you are you'll change your mind if the rain starts to get heavy.
Sometimes it's best to stay inside your tarp with delicious food you don't need to cook. Here are a few examples you can take with you on weekend trips:
- Sandwich wraps
- Taco bowls
- Cooked meats
And in emergencies, you can eat food like jerky and trail mix. There are thousands of meals you can take with you as I'm sure you've figured out.
Just get creative and cook everything before you go tarp camping. The exact food you take will mostly depend on how many days you're going away.
Some companies like Greenbelly offer tasty ready-to-eat backpacking meals packed full of calories in a small package. If you love camping I'd suggest checking them all out.
10 Stay away from steep muddy slopes
You know you shouldn't pitch your tarp at the bottom of a slope because water is going to pool around you when it's raining.
But it's also good to keep away from muddy slopes when you're walking too. When it's raining in the forest it's far too easy to fall when the ground gets slippy.
Maybe you will fall and hurt yourself. It's more likely you'll suffer a minor bump, but you'll be covered in mud and you'll need to clean up.
It's not only slopes you've got to stay away from when it's raining. Try to avoid anything you might slip on if you don't want to roll around on the ground.
You'll have a hard enough time dealing with wet clothes when you're walking in the rain. You don't want them to be covered in thick mud.
11 Bring something to keep you occupied
When you're walking through the woods when it's dry you have all the freedom in the world. It feels like you're on a great adventure and you can go anywhere.
The moment you get under a tarp because it's raining your world shrinks down to a small space. You might begin to wonder if you have claustrophobia.
I love spending time under my tarp when it's raining because I don't go camping without taking something to keep me occupied on rainy days.
Here are some things you could take with you:
- A good book
- Tablet with movies
- Small instrument
You can take anything that will fit inside your backpack. Just make sure you have batteries or a full charge if you're taking electronic equipment.
If you're taking a mobile and tablet you should always take a spare power bank. ZeroLemon has pretty good ones that will keep you occupied for days.
I like to take a notebook so I can come up with ideas for my website. Do something you enjoy and you won't care it's raining outside.
12 Always check the weather forecast
Check the weather forecast before you go camping because you'll have a rough idea of what to expect. I know it's not always right but it's better than nothing.
If the weather forecast says to expect heavy rain you'll know exactly what equipment to take with you. Camping is much easier when you only need to worry about light showers.
You might even decide to stay at home for the weekend and watch TV. Everyone is going to feel differently about camping when it's miserable.
There is also a couple of extra things you should do:
- Learn how to read the weather
- Download a good weather app
A weather forecast will tell you what's likely to happen, but it's not going to give you a precise time. That isn't very good when you're tarp camping.
Once it starts raining you'll need to pitch your tarp as soon as possible in case you get extremely wet. You can buy yourself some time by learning to read the weather.
When you're sure it's going to rain you'll have time to set your tarp up before it comes. If you get a phone signal download a good weather forecast app too.
Best Tarp For Camping In The Rain
There are lots of great tarps on the market but you need to be careful which one you get. It needs to be good enough to take tarp camping in the rain.
Here are a couple of big things you should look for when buying a tarp:
- Guyout points
12 x 10 ft is a good size tarp for camping in the rain. It's going to be big enough to set the tarp up so close to the ground you'll avoid splash-back.
Depending on the tarp configuration you use it's big enough to close it up so wind and rain don't get inside. It's also still small enough to fit nicely in a backpack.
If you want to sleep in a hammock it's large enough to cover you from head to toe. The correct sized tarp is just one of the many ways you can stay warm in a hammock when you're camping.
There are three things to look for when trying to find the right camping tarp:
- Water resistance
- Wear resistance
- UV resistance
When camping in heavy rain the best tarp is one that will repel water. If it's made from a strong and durable material you also won't end up with holes.
Once your tarp is damaged it's easy for rain to find its way inside. Some tarps aren't strong enough to handle heavy rain and snow.
Try to find a tarp with guyout points along the center of your tarp. There should be a good number of them equally spaced out around the edges too.
If you have more loops you'll be able to set up a bigger variety of tarp configurations, including some that will keep you dry when it's raining.
What to do if it rains while camping
When it starts raining while you're camping you only have a couple of options:
- Do nothing
- Find somewhere to shelter
- Set up your tarp
You don't need to get your tarp out every single time it rains. If the rain is light enough you might be happy to carry on walking.
It's also possible to find somewhere to shelter from the rain without setting anything up. Maybe under a large hanging rock or inside a cave.
If it's raining heavily it might be worth pitching your tarp because it will save you from getting wet and starting to feel uncomfortable.
How To Make A Rain Shelter With A Tarp
Unless you plan on setting up a tarp for the night you don't want to mess around with certain tarp configurations. Keep it simple if you're just looking to escape the rain.
I think the A-frame tarp shelter is enough to escape the rain in most scenarios. You can set it up quickly and take it down just as quickly.
Carry strong paracord in your backpack and you can tie a ridgeline in between 2 trees a suitable distance apart.
Hang your tarp from the ridgeline with paracord by using a couple of Prusik knots to attach it to the loops on your tarp.
Stake down the anchor points on each side of your tarp and by the time you're done, you'll have a great tarp setup for rain when you're camping.
Will a tarp stop rain if it's heavy?
A tarp will stop rain easily as long as you get a couple of things right:
- Use a quality tarp
- Choose the right campsite
- Set the tarp up correctly
You must use a great tarp if you want to guarantee it will protect you from the rain. It needs to be large enough and made from the right materials.
The campsite needs to be on high ground too. If you pitch a tarp on low ground it won't take much for the rain to make its way inside.
Learn how to make lots of knots with your eyes closed. If they're tied correctly they won't come loose when your tarp is being battered by rain.
Camping under a tarp in the rain in winter
It's okay to go tarp camping in winter when it's raining but you have to use common sense. If it's a little cold and the rain isn't too heavy it's okay.
If you're stuck on the top of a ridgeline during a storm and the rain is hitting your tarp so hard it's almost blowing away you're going to be in big trouble.
You need to set up your tarp over absorbent soil, but in winter the ground might so so hard it's not going to drain water away so easily.
I wouldn't go too far off-trail if you're expecting high winds and lots of rain. Watch out for very low temperatures and heavy snow too.
Going Tarp Camping In The Rain
If you follow the tips we've talked about today you should have a good time tarp camping in the rain. But things can go wrong so you need to make sure you don't make any mistakes.