Camping Rain Shelters – Tips for Making Shelters when Camping in the Rain

Camping Rain Shelters – Tips for Making Shelters when Camping in the Rain

If you don’t camp very often, there is a chance you may never camp in the rain. For those of us that make a frequent practice of it, it’s pretty much inevitable. Sometimes it can be a cozy experience, if you happen to be dry; playing cards in the tent, cooking under a tarp, even sipping hot chocolate in your raincoat under a rock overhang. Note how each of these cozy situations involves being dry. Sure, running out into the rain to, say, make out in a downpour is great if you have a house or car to run into afterward. However, once you’re wet when you’re out in the woods, it can be hard to get un-wet. Best try to stay dry from the get-go. Here is where camping rain shelters come in handy.

camping rain shelters
Staying dry when camping isn’t necessarily that hard, unless you have a tendency to be lazy. For example, put on your rain gear, including the hood. Add some type of waterproof boots. That kind of stuff does help.

We once camped in the Boundary Waters for a week, and it rained basically every day. It was also rather cold for that time of year (July), with temps generally not exceeding 65 and dipping down into the 40’s every night. When we travel to the BWCA, we don’t bring a lot of clothes: a couple pairs of pants, a couple of long-sleeved shirts, etc. Generally just an extra pair of everything, with maybe some extra socks and undies (to help me feel more human and less like a feral forest creature). Anyways, with so few clothes and so many rainy days, we didn’t have much room for error. What it comes down to in that type of situation is stay dry, or risk hypothermia.

Besides putting our rain gear on whenever we were exposed to the rain, we also created camping rain shelters. A tent is great, yes, for an easy-to-set-up and effective shelter, but you can’t cook in a tent. Also, you can’t go to the Boundary Waters and spend a week in a tent, that would be ridiculous.

Tools Needed to Make Camping Rain Shelters

A tarp and some rope or bungee cords are all you need to bring to make great shelters (or FORTS if you want to have fun with it). Other things that come in handy are sticks, canoes, trees, rocks, and some creativity. Your goal is to use the tools you have, and tools you can find to stay dry.

Helpful Tips for Making Camping Rain Shelters

Helpful tip: if you use a stick to prop up the center of the shelter as shown in our photo, put some kind of cloth around it so it doesn’t wear through the tarp. 

Some key things to keep in mind are which direction the wind is blowing (make sure that side is blocked off or you will be sprayed by rain while you sit in your shelter), angle of the ground (set up on a slope the wrong way and you’ll have rivulets of water snaking through your dry patch of ground), and proximity to mosquito sources. Once we set up a shelter not far from our fire, and the wind was blowing just right to fan the smoke through our sheltered area, thereby keeping the mosquitoes at bay. Choosing an area with a level spot for cooking is helpful, assuming you are cooking with a camp stove. Finally, a good view is helpful. You may be sitting there for awhile.

Blue Poly Tarp - 14' x 12'
Blue Poly Tarp – 14′ x 12′

Here’s a basic tarp available at REI. This is the type of tarp that we generally use for making rain shelters. They fold up to be fairly compact and will last for many years if well cared for.

MSR E-Wing Shelter
MSR E-Wing Shelter

This is more of a wish list item for me, we don’t own one. You can even use this shelter as your actual tent! If weight and space are a major concern on your trip, this is the type of item you might choose to bring with you for a rain shelter, a tent, or both. It has reinforced guy points and you can use a walking pole or ski pole to help set it up.

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