Camping in bad weather. What would you do?

Camping in bad weather. What would you do?

Caught in a Storm: What to do when camping in bad weather

Posted by Shell Grayston.
First Published Aug 2013; updated May 2023.

We were caught in a few days of a really bad storm when camping, but we were prepared. Read about camping in bad weather and how to protect yourself.

On a recent camp we had extremely bad weather for a few days: gales, torrential rain, thunderstorms, hale, and of course a Met Office severe weather warning. Here's what happened and a few tips so you know what to do when camping in bad weather.

Camping in bad weather. What would you do?

Camping in bad weather. What would you do?

Ok, so the weather forecast was not brilliant, but still manageable for a camp. Campsite booked and off we headed to Bude in Cornwall.

Pitching in the Storm

We arrived late afternoon. The camping area was on quite an exposed spot with beautiful views over the coast. We chose our pitch and proceeded to set up camp.

Dad carried on regardless out in the rain

After getting the basics of the tent up the heavy rain started. While we ( meaning myself and kids ) sheltered inside and continued putting together the inner tent, Dad carried on regardless out in the rain, pegging out and putting up the tent extension.

After a few hours of work, our camp was all set up. It seemed to have taken a lot longer than normal due to doing it all on his own and in the heavy rain [Gav: don't forget the really strong wind and lightening too!]. A little bit of respite from the rain for an hour or two was a welcome relief in the evening.

Little Sleep

That night we headed off to bed with the rain and wind increasing.

torrential rain, guests of gale-force winds and thunder

At 3 o'clock, we were awakened by torrential rain, guests of gale-force winds and thunder. Dad quickly went outside to assess any damage and to re-peg the tent with stronger pegs.  [Gav: I didn't put in proper anchors originally as we were testing the Coleman Da Gama tent. You can read about how the tent performed, plus my side of the story, over here.

Other campers were also out of their tents doing the same, trying to keep hold of their tents in the storm. (We learnt the next day that one group had lost their gazebo in the storm and an inflatable tent that had not been pegged down also took off ).

The storm carried on for the rest of the night with a few bolts of lightning added in. The experience was quite frightening, it felt like our tent was going to take off any moment. At the back of our minds, we did have an emergency plan if we had to evacuate the tent. We have camped in bad weather on many occasions, but this was the worst weather we have ever experienced when camping.

Luckily our tent held up against the storm, though on close inspection, we had incurred some storm damage a small rip on the lower flap, where the wind had pulled the pegs out and some bent tent pegs. This was extreme weather so felt quite lucky that this was the only damage, and the tent and us had survived!

At Last, Some Sun!

We were relieved when morning arrived and some blue sky. It turned out to be a lovely day, which was spent at the beach body boarding followed by campfire cooking.

It was bed early due to a lack of sleep the previous night.

...But Not For Long

We awoke the next morning to a very gloomy day with more rain.

It rained persistently all day so we made use of the swimming pool facility at the campsite and then headed off to Bude for the rest of the day.

As the day went on the wind speed increased and by nighttime, the winds were up to gale force again with torrential rain. It was another sleepless night with the sound of the heavy rain hammering on our tent and the gusts of winds battering it.

A few visits were made outside to readjust guy ropes and hammer pegs back down in the hope to keep the tent upright.

It was a long night, but our tent held out. Now, all we had to do was wish for some nicer weather to try and dry out our soaked tent before packing it away.

This is one camp we will definitely not forget.

Tips on what to do when camping in bad weather

We've done lots of camping in bad weather. Though this storm was bad, we were prepared and came through OK.


Here are a few tips for camping in bad weather.

  • Use your car as a wind break. Your car is also an emergency shelter if you do start to lose your tent.
  • Get some better tent pegs. Most tents are supplied with pegs only suited to milder conditions. Read this guide to tent pegs
  • Take a tarp. You can do a lot with cheap builders tarp. We usually make a rain shelter if the weather is bad, but this time the wind was too strong (see how to build a tarp shelter to stay dry at camp and this post on using a tarp kit). We had a tarp under the tent to help protect the groundsheet, put up a tarp as additional protection when packing away, used it to protect the side of the tent facing the horizontal rain to help keep the rain out, and used as an additional windbreak.
  • Take some gaffa tape. This is great for all sorts of repairs. Where we pitched (essentially on a cliff top overlooking the sea), the wind came up underneath the tent, causing rain to get into places it wouldn't normally. We had a tiny bit of water come in through the electric hookup zip. We weren't on EHU and so this was easily solved with a bit of tape over the zip.
  • Take waterproof bags. Sometimes water will get in. Keeping items in waterproof bags will help reduce damage. We take a roll of bin bags with us when camping, to use in our camp kitchen, but these were also used to keep things dry, and wet things away from the dry when packing away. If you are doing long camps (i.e. more than a night or two), getting some camping furniture is worth considering, as they are usually raised off the floor and have a door that can be zipped up. If water does get in and pool on the groundsheet, the cupboards should help keep things dry.
  • Create a wet/dry zone. If you are camping for a few days or more it is worth considering getting a tent extension. The Coleman Da Gama extension we had faired really well. We kept the groundsheet out of the extension as the extension is where we hung wet clothes to dry, kept muddy boots, and lived in during the wet weather. This meant that wet things were kept out of the main tent.  You can see how the extension worked and watch a video here.  This extension was so big, that we were able to wheel the trailer inside and reverse the car right up into it so that we could pack up in the dry, despite the torrential rain.
  • If you can, dry your tent before packing. The day we were coming home and later that afternoon the forecast was for good weather. Typical! Although it took us 6.5 hours to get to camp, we decided to wait until drier weather and travel back late (good choice as it happens as the roads were clear). If you can wait until a dry spell before packing away your tent. Storing your tent damp doesn't do it any good. Take the inner tents out (which should be dry hopefully), and pack them separately. If the rain has stopped, open the tent up and let it dry. I even used a towel on mine to help it along, then let the wind and the sun (not as good as forecast, but better than none) do the work.

What to do with a wet tent

Getting your wet tent home

If you must pack away the tent wet, it's not a good idea to leave the wet tent in its bag when you get home as the tent will soon get mildew growing on it.

When we are camping with a smaller tent, we don't put the wet tent back in its bag. Instead, we fold it and put it in the roof box.

For our larger tents, we use a trailer. We take an extra tarp that we place over the trailer's contents, and then put the wet tent on top of that.

How to dry out your wet tent once at home

If you have space, pitch your tent in the garden.

Our garden is not quite big enough to fully pitch our larger tents, but we still get them up, even if not pulled out to full length.

We've even done this on the very small patch of grass at the front of our house!

Wet tent and tarp drying in the garden in the rain

Wet tent and tarp drying in the garden in the rain

If it's still raining when you are at home, still try and pitch your tent. It is better outside in the rain than wet inside its tent bag. Hopefully, the weather will improve long enough for your tent to dry out.

I know some people have gone as far as to hang their tents over their bannisters. We've not gone that far (yet), but we have let wet tent and inflatable canoes dry on top of our (covered) trailer, and have rigged hanging points in our little garage to help things drip dry and

Happy camping!