How waterproof is your tent? 8 things to check when buying a tent

May 6, 2016

We recently saw where Outwell test their tents to ensure their designs are waterproof, which reminds us of some important points to choosing a tent that doesn’t leak. We run through 8 things to look for when buying a tent.

How waterproof is your tent

When you take the family camping and the weather turns wet, there may be that little nagging voice at the back of your mind saying “I hope the tent doesn’t leak!”.

We popped over to Denmark to where Outwell test their tent designs, blasting them with winds up to 9 or 10 on the Beaufort Scale (a very bad gale), and a deluge of rain. Six months of rain in twenty minutes in fact.

Seeing that much water come down on a tent really stresses what you should look for when buying a tent to make sure your choice is going to be waterproof.

Let’s run through some things that you can check to improve the chances of getting something that shelters you from the rain.

1. Check the seams of the tent

Where the tent material has been stitched together, check that the seams have been sealed.

From the inside of the tent you should see that the stitching has a waterproof coating.

Check the seams of the tent including where there are additional items sewn in
It’s also important to check where toggles and ties have been stitched into the seams of the main tent fabric. These need to be sealed properly too. If not, they could be a source of leaks in a downpour.  

2. Check the zips

Doorways are always a potential place for rain to come in.

Make sure the zips on the tent are protected from the rain. On a well designed tent you should find fabric and sometimes even a plastic cover to keep water way from the zip.

Cable entry zips must be protected from the rain too
If the tent has a cable entry, also make sure this zip is protected too.

The cable entry may have protection similar to the zip on the main door, or may be under the ‘skirt’ of the tent, and so out of the rain.

If you just see a normal zip on the side of the tent, that that’s likely to be a source for leaks.

If you do have an electric cable coming into your tent, depending on the design of your tent, the cable entry could let in a little bit of water where the zip is open for the cable.

Never place your electrics directly on the floor. 

If your electric sockets don’t have a stand to keep them off the floor (some roller cables are designed to keep the sockets off the floor), then place the power sockets on a table.

3. Check the Hydrostatic Head

The Hydrostatic Head is how waterproof the tent fabric is.

Click here if you want to know more about Hydrostatic Head.

Basic tents may only have 2000 mm HH (Hydrostatic Head). This may be perfectly fine for mild conditions, but you may find that with a really heavy downpour, the water will seep through the weave of the fabric – but it would have to be a heavy downpour for it do so.

Some tents will have a much higher HH, giving you extra peace of mind. However, if the seams aren’t taped well, a tent with 8000 HH will still leak.

4.  Check that there is a bathtub sewn-in groundsheet

A sewn-in groundsheet is one that is attached to the tent. A sewn-in groundsheet is not essential, but saves time when pitching.

The important thing is that it is a ‘bathtub’ groundsheet. This means that the sides of the ground sheet turn upwards at the side, minimising the risk of water coming into your tent.

Groudsheets should have a much higher Hydrostatic Head, such as 10000HH, and a thicker stronger material than the main tent fabric.

The points above are the things you should find on all family tents. However, there’s more things you could be looking for.

5. How good is the stitching?

Each stitch in the tent is a hole in the fabric, and so another potential source of leaks.

As mentioned above, these seams should be sealed, however tent designs can go further to minimise leaks, such as overlapping the material and reducing the amount of stitching that goes through the outer tent fabric.

Also check that the stitching uniform; not having a lot of stray material stitched or loose ends, that could be a sign that quality is not the best.

6. Is there a rain proof entrance?

Does the tent’s design allow you to get in and out of the tent without a lot of water pouring in as soon as you open the door?

There should be a shelter, or at the very minimum some form of ridge or gully, so that you can open the door in the rain without water pouring off the roof of the tent directly on you and creating an instant puddle on your tent floor.

7. Is there a waterproof treatment?

Some manufacturers will apply a waterproof treatment to their tents, in addition to a higher Hydrostatic Head in the material and well designed sealed seams.

This additional waterproofing helps water bead and run off the tent. The less time water is on the tent, the less chance it has of entering the tent.

8. Does the tent have a skirt?

OK, not literally a skirt, but some tents have some fabric that extends the side of the tent out and way from the groundsheet, and looks a bit like a skirt.

This material helps direct water away from the tent and away from the stitching with the groundsheet.

So there are a few things to look for when buying a tent so that you can choose one that will keep you dry.

As you would expect, the more design features you find will typically mean a higher price, but that’s not to say that more affordable tents don’t carry good waterproof features too. You just need to know what to look for 😉

Polycotton and Canvas Tents – Wet them first!

If you’ve spent a lot of money on an expensive polycotton or canvas tent, you might get quite upset if you take it to the campsite and the first time you pitch it you find that it leaks in the rain.

This is actually quite likely to happen, and it’s not a manufacturing fault in the tent.

The weave on polycotton or canvas is much courser when new, with lots of tiny holes. Water can come through the stitching and the material.

However, after a few times it gets wet, the weave tightens up and becomes very waterproof. This is a natural property of the material, and why it is highly regarded by a lot of campers.

It is important that after buying a polycotton or canvas tent, you put it up in your garden and spray it with a hose before you go camping.

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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. Thank you for the information. We are actually out in our hybrid camper ATM and we are getting dampness through the canvas. Luckily according to your information we are going to be waterproof soon.

    • Yes, that’s right.  Especially if this is one of your first time out with the canvas material and it hasn’t had a good soaking yet.  It’s a common misconception to think you have leak, when actually the natural canvas material hasn’t weathered yet. 

      Try and keep things away from the sides. Anything touching the wet canvas could direct water inside.

  2. Nice post. We have only experienced light rain so far, but your post has explained a few things I was unaware of.

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