What is Hydrostatic Head? We explain

If you’re buying a tent you may have come across the term ‘Hydrostatic Head’. If you are wondering what it means, we explain below…

What is Hydrostatic Head

If you’re looking to buy a tent that uses a polyester-based material, then you’ll likely come across the term Hydrostatic Head. But what does it mean?

View our little video below for an explanation.

So, let’s recap and expand on the video.

Hydrostatic Head

Hydrostatic Head is the measure of how water resistant your tent material is.

It measures how tall a column of water the fabric can hold before water starts to seep through the weave.

A Hydrostatic Head of 5000mm means that a tent fabric could hold a column of water that is 5000mm tall.

5000mm of water exerts more pressure on the fabric than a 3000mm of water, so a more accurate description of Hydrostatic Head is the measure of water pressure equivalent to a column of water that is 5000mm tall.

The higher the Hydrostatic Head value, the more water resistant a fabric is, and the more water pressure it can withstand before it leaks.

What’s a good Hydrostatic Head value for a tent?

Obviously the larger the number the better – but that’s not the whole story when it comes to how dry your tent will be.

A tent made from 3000mm HH (Hydrostatic Head) can keep you perfectly dry for most camping in the UK.  You could buy a tent that has 10,000mm HH though but still get wet.

That’s because Hydrostatic Head is only one factor in a tent’s design.

The seams where the tent fabric has been stitched together need to be good. That means double stitching for strength, and taped over and sealed so that no water can enter via the stitching holes or between the two sheets of fabric.

Zips should also have protection. A good tent will often cover over the zips so that water keeps way from them. Some tents even come with a few zip covers, and you can also get tents where the doors are protected with a small porch or ‘storm entrance’ as it is sometimes called.

Any entry point to the tent is a weak point in the waterproofing, but a good design around the doors can really help with keeping the tent interior dry.

Tents may come with a waterproof and UV coating, in addition to the Hydrostatic Head of the material.

The additional waterproof coating will help water bead off your tent. The UV coating will protect the polyester based fabric from degrading in the sun, reducing both the loss of colour and degradation of the waterproofing.

UV and waterproof coatings can deteriorate over time and get damaged. Oils and even simple washing up liquid (and yes, kids blowing bubbles) could damage the coating.

You can get waterproofing sprays as well as seam sealers to repair patches yourself. You can read more about this here.

What about the groundsheet?

Groundsheets will usually have a Hydrostatic Head rating, and this is typically higher than the main tent fabric.

With groundsheets, it’s the thickness of the material that is important here, in order to avoid wear and tear, and damage from sharp objects on the ground – always check for twigs, sharp stones (and unfortunately, even broken glass on some campsites) before you pitch your tent.

Can I increase the Hydrostatic Head of my tent?

No, but you can improve the water resistance.

Additional waterproofing sprays and seam sealers can improve the water resistance, but the Hydrostatic Head (how much water pressure the fabric can hold), is related to the physical properties of the fabric, such as how small the holes are between the weave.

If you are stuck with a very strong downpour or heavy wind-driven rain, then an additional tarp over the tent may help.  You may only need to cover one area of the tent, such as the side most exposed to the oncoming wind and rain.

Additional Tarp ProtectionIn this picture, you can see the tarp we fitted to the side of the tent to provide some extra protection. We were pitched on a hill top facing the sea during a very bad storm.  Here the rain was more horizontal (and even from below sometimes!), and the wind had shifted to this side of the tent where the side door was.

Unfortunately, some water started to wick through the zip, even though the zip was well protected – the gale force wind was lifting the zip’s rain covers! So a tarp came to the rescue and took the worst of the weather, and solved our problem. So, we did effectively increase the overall Hydrostatic Head of the tent.

We always recommend that you take at least one tarp when camping. You can read more about camping tarps by clicking here.

Conclusion

You should now be a little wiser on what Hydrostatic Head is, and that it’s just a guide when choosing your tent, as there are many other factors that can determine how dry your tent will be.

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6 Comments
  1. A beaker 5000mm tall, but how many ml is that? And how wide is the beaker? Whats the diameter? Because you could have a silo of water 5000mm tall or a tiny test tube 5000mm tall and they would not be the same thing.

    12:06 pm on October 19, 2017
  2. This doesn’t help me with putting the tent on wet ground

    6:25 pm on October 7, 2017
    • Hi Frankie find a suitable site put a footprint ground sheet down first then pitch your tent if you do not own a footprint groundsheet a silver foil space blanket is a light cheap alternative keeps the groundsheet if tent has one clean as well brian

      8:13 am on October 18, 2017
  3. ok, so what is the average rain that falls that would be equal to 5000mm??????

    6:15 pm on September 9, 2017
  4. what is the difference between Hyrostatic Head Test and Water Column Test?? Are they the same ?? and the unit of measurement (for both of them usually if different) ??

    6:04 am on November 8, 2016

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