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!
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Do I Need To Waterproof My New Tent?
If you are buying a new tent that is in a mid-price to the high-price range, you don’t need to waterproof your new tent (although many people choose to do so). Less-expensive tents will have less trustworthy waterproofing and should receive additional waterproofing treatments.
What’s considered a mid-price / high-price tent? Check out our article, here, where we dive into the details.
Although most medium to high-end tents will have waterproof treatment, many people choose to apply their own waterproofing treatment, whether that’s because they’ve had issues with new tents leaking in the past or just going through general extra preparations.
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.
For Leaky Seams
1. Use Seam Sealant on the Seams
If this is a new tent and the seams are taped, there should be no need to reseal the seams. If you are having leaky seam problems, then you can buy seam sealant to coat the stitching and prevent water from seeping in. Here’s an example of Seam Sealant you can buy off of Amazon. Gear Aid dominates this arena.
If there is seam tape on the seams, then you should remove the old seam tape before putting the sealant on.
This sealant is meant to be applied directly to all the seams of the tent. 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.
2. Tape the Seams
To be honest, you might be able to get away with not taping the seams if the seam sealant holds up okay for you, but one thing that will extend the longevity of your seam sealant is to tape the sames.
Again, Gear Aid comes to the rescue with Tenacious Tape…(see it here on Amazon). This tape is meant to go over the seams. In fact, some skip the seam sealant and just tape directly over the seams. I’m sharing what will give you the most longevity and waterproofness.
Most quality tents are sold with seam tape already applied to seal up the seams, but these do wear out over time.
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.
3. Allow the sealant to cure
Don’t get hasty and pack your tent away. Or worse, go take it out in a rainstorm. (P.S. ever wonder about the safety of camping in a thunderstorm and what the best thing to do is? Make sure and check out our article, here)
Give the sealant plenty of time to cure before stowing your tent.
For Leaky Fabric
If your fabric is leaking, then you should look at two things. 1. Are there holes in the fabric, or 2. is the tent not beading off the water on the fabric?
1. Patch Any Holes In the Fabric
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, these need to be patched up. You can use the Tenacious Tape I mentioned earlier (here on Amazon). Just apply the tape on both sides of the tent with the sticky sides facing each other.
2. Apply a DWR to the Tent
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 a durable water repellant (DWR). Check with the tent manufacturer to find out if you need a silicone treatment or a polyurethane treatment before you begin.
Clean up existing waterproofing coating. Lay out the tent fly and use rubbing alcohol and a sponge to scrub off any flakes.
Apply a thin coating of the DWR to the affected areas or to the tent generally while following the manufacturer’s directions.
One DWR I’ve used for my Kelty is this Kiwi spray I got from Amazon:
It’s a good finishing step to help the water bead off the tent.
3. Let Dry
You’ll probably have to let the tent dry out (wanna know how to dry a tent? Check out our article here) for 24 hours or more before you can put it away.
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.
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. I’ve personally gone with the Kiwi Camp spray with good results.
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 it 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 (even using an aftermarket waterproofing agent), 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!