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

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Sept 2014; updated May 2023.

Some tents are more waterproof than others. But how do you tell? We describe eight things to check when buying a tent so you stay nice and dry while camping.

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.

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 went to Denmark, 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.

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Seeing that much water on a tent stresses what you should look for when buying a tent to ensure your choice will be waterproof.

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

1. Check the seams of the tent

Check that the seams have been sealed when the tent material has been stitched together.

From the inside of the tent, the stitching has a waterproof coating.

Tent seams

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 away from the zip.

Cable entry protection

Cable entry zips must be protected from the rain too

If the tent has a cable entry, ensure 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 see a normal zip on the side of the tent, that's likely to be a source of leaks.


If you 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 them off the floor), place the power sockets on a table.

3. Check the Hydrostatic Head

The Hydrostatic Head is how waterproof the tent fabric is.

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 not essential but saves time when pitching.

The important thing is that it is a 'bathtub' groundsheet.

This means that the sides of the groundsheet turn upwards at the side, minimising the risk of water entering your tent.

Most groundsheets are made of PU waterproof material.

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 is uniform. Check that it doesn't have a lot of stray material stitched. Many loose ends could indicate poor quality.

6. Is there a rainproof 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 you can open the door in the rain without water pouring off the tent's roof 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 and 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 it.

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 away 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 😉

Special considerations for Polycotton Tents

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 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 getting wet a few times, the weave tightens and becomes waterproof.

This is a natural property of the material and is why many campers highly regard it.

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.