Here’s a Quick Way to Fix a Leaking Tent

September 22, 2019

Unfortunately, tents can leak.

There’s nothing quite like a lot of soggy clothes to dampen your spirits.

before you get cross or throw the tent out, it might be a really easy problem to fix

If you’ve bought a budget tent where perhaps quality wasn’t top-notch, you might not be surprised to get odd damp patch. But what if you bought a really expensive tent from a brand with a reputation for high quality? You’d be pretty upset.

But before you get cross or throw the tent out, it might be a really easy problem to fix.

Are you really sure your tent has a leak?

If you’ve woken up with a puddle in your tent, as we did recently, it’s not very nice.

We spent an entire morning taking everything out of the tent and drying things, and I was very concerned when a bag containing camera equipment was sitting in a puddle an inch deep.

just because your tent is full of water it might not be because of a leak

Yes, it can even happen to those of us who have been camping for years.

But just because your tent is full of water, you may be surprised to learn that your tent might not be leaking.

Here are some common reasons for water getting into your tent.

1. Condensation

Condensation can build up on the inside of your tent

Condensation can build up on the inside of your tent

It’s not uncommon to wake up in the morning with condensation on the inside of your tent.

When we sleep, we exhale moisture. When that warm moisture hits the cold walls of the tent, the moisture turns to water.

This is particularly noticeable on polyester tents and can be made worse if you use something like a kettle inside your tent.

If you have wet shoes, leave them outside in the awning or porch. Wet coats and clothes can also cause condensation.

Condensation can sometimes be seen hanging from the ceiling of your tent. This isn’t the roof leaking.

Condensation may also run down the sides of your tent and create pools of water on the floor. This isn’t your tent leaking.

The Solution: Make sure your tent is well ventilated at night.

You may be tempted to close the vents on your tent to keep the cold air out, but actually, that’s a bad idea. (Click here for tips on setting up your sleeping area to keep warm).

2. Bad Weather

Camping in a Storm

Camping in a Storm

Of course, you want your tent to protect you from the weather, but has your tent been designed for the weather you’re experiencing?

One factor is the Hydrostatic Head rating of your tent’s fabric. (Click here for an explanation of Hydrostatic Head)

We’ve experienced really heavy rain in a tent with a low Hydrostatic Head where it appeared the water was forced through the microscopic holes in the weave of the polyester fabric, creating a fine mist in the tent that made everything damp. Whether that was it, or whether it was just condensation on the tent being shaken off the walls by the wind, I can’t say for sure. But even in a tent that doesn’t leak, things can still get wet.

And talking of wind, another thing you typically get with bad weather is stronger winds.

These can lift flaps that keep rainwater way from zips and other openings, such as mesh windows.

Additional Tarp Protection

Additional Tarp Protection for the tent in a storm

In extreme cases, we’ve put a spare tarp over such openings that get a lashing from both wind and rain in a storm.

The Solution: If really bad weather is forecast, weather stronger than what your tent was designed for, change your plans and don’t go camping.

3. Don’t touch the sides

Puddle caused by bags left against the tent walls

Puddle caused by bags left against the tent walls

The sides of the tent can become damp in bad weather. Anything touching the sides of the tent can cause water to seep through. This is most likely to be the case on polycotton tents.

It is easier said than done sometimes. It happened to us recently too: the wind was really strong, and we didn’t realise the sides of the tent was pushed against some of our bags. By morning our tent had an indoor pool!

An easy mistake that can happen to any of us.

The Solution: Make sure you don’t have anything touching the sides of the tent.

4. Insufficient Weathering

Weathering the tent at home

Weathering the tent at home

This may come as a surprise to you, but did you know that you should wet your new tent before you take it camping! Let me explain….

There are likely to be a few areas on the tent where there is stitching that goes through the fabric of your tent. You’ll typically see this where the door zips are attached to the tent.

These small stitching holes could let in water, so manufacturers use a type of thread that expands when wet. The thread will then dry a little thicker than when it was stitched in the factory, sealing the tiny hole in the process.

Your tent may need a few repeat attempts at getting wet before all the thread swells and fills the holes.

This process is known as weathering.

Remember when you tested pitching your tent in the back garden (you did, didn’t you?). Ideally, you sprayed it with water to test for leaks.

On polyester tents, any stitching threads should have sealed immediately.

If you have a polycotton tent, depending on how narrow the weave in the fabric is, you may have noticed some water on the inside of the fabric. Your tent will need to go through several wetting and drying cycles to expand and fill the weave.

The Solution: Get your new tent wet before you take it camping.

4 common ways tent leaks are misidentified

But it’s none of those! My tent still leaks!!!

Unfortunately, in that case, you might have a real leak in the tent.

Just a small amount of water can build over time in bad weather. So let’s get it fixed…

It’s probably the seams!

Water leaking through tent seams

Water leaking through tent seams

The most common cause for leaks I have seen in tents is where water comes in through the seams.

The seam is where one piece of tent material is stitch against another.

the fix could cost you less than a fiver

Sometimes you can see a sewing defect. Sometimes it’s on a joint and the wind has weakened the seam’s stitching. Sometimes the problem’s so small you can’t see what it is.

However, there is usually a cheap solution that could cost you less than a fiver…

How to seal your tent’s seams

When testing a tent for Camping World, we found that the thread in the stitching holes wasn’t sealing up, despite a lot of weathering (and believe me….we had a lot of weathering!).

The tent was really a summer tent, but we had taken it out in bad weather in March…..after all, we wanted to give it a really good test!

Using the Outwell Seam Guard seam sealant

Using the Outwell Seam Guard seam sealant

It wasn’t a lot of water coming in, but it was an issue that needs to be sorted.

Camping World sent us over some Outwell Seam Guard, which can be a quick and simple way to fix a leaking tent.

Here’s a video on how to apply the seam sealant and how we got on with the Outwell Seam Guard.

So as you can see, applying the seam sealant was fairly straightforward, even if I didn’t manage to do a great job the first time around.

Eventually, though I managed to get all the little holes sealed and the leak stopped.

I’m not sure how well my repair will last in really heavy rain, but the seams remained dry after a good old soak with the garden hose, whereas before it let in water immediately.

If it does leak again in future, the fix is really simple to reapply.

4 Steps to Fix a Leaking Tent Seam

4 steps to fix a leaking tent seam

4 steps to fix a leaking tent seam

Want to know more? Click on a link below.


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Gav Grayston
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Gav Grayston Contributor

Father to 3 kids, who loves getting out and about (hiking, running, camping, cycling, canoeing...) Co-founded Get Out With The Kids to help other parents enjoy the outdoors with their family.

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  1. Many thanks. First experience of camping and had never heard of soaking it first. Result: lots of leaks at window seams and panic! Thanks for tips, will try when I get home. Meanwhile, mopping up puddles inside tent!

  2. really helpful. We close the vents at night as we don’t want to get cold or let rain in but think we might leave them open now

    • Hi Katie. Yes, it’s always tempting to close the vents, especially when it is cold. Unfortunately, when it is cold is when condensation is going to be at its worst. So it’s always best to have some ventilation in a polyester tent.

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