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How To Waterproof A Tent: Stay Leak Free In Any Weather

how to waterproof a tent, how to waterproof your tent, how to rainproof a tent, how to re waterproof a tent

For new hikers, sleeping out in the rain can be scary. Fears of how to keep gear dry, cook in the rain, and stay warm at night come creeping to mind for those who’ve not spent time slogging through the wet mountains of North Carolina for weeks of the mid-summer rainy season.

Part of being a successful hiker is to become educated because the more you know, the less you need to carry. Today we’re going to be talking about how to waterproof a tent and why this is important even for a brand new out-of-the-box tent.

A Note About Materials

It’s important to understand the more technical side of camping shelters, and tents in general before learning how to rainproof a tent.

For the beginning hiker you can rest reasonably assured that any tent you purchase from a box store (REI, Moosejaw, etc.) will be made of sil-nylon. This means silicone impregnated nylon and it’s critical information to know if you really want to understand how to waterproof your tent.

There are other, more advanced, materials on the market which require specific approaches to waterproof and repair such as cuben fiber, and spinnaker.

Don’t worry though because you won’t find these super advanced-level materials for sale at your typical store.

Silicone Impregnated Nylon

Silnylon, as it’s known, is the most common material you’ll run across while learning how to waterproof a tent. Most often made from rip-stop nylon (nylon woven with larger denier threads in specific repeating patterns to reduce tear spreading), silnylon is inexpensive, lighter than most options, and very waterproof.

Silnylon is not breathable which means neither air nor moisture is able to pass through the fabric.

Ripstop nylon is available in many thicknesses, called deniers, which directly impacts its durability. Varying amounts of silicone can be applied during the waterproofing process at the factory and this will be evident as a “hydrostatic head” number in the tent specifications. Together the ripstop nylon and silicone are known as silnylon.


How to Waterproof Your Tent

Now let’s get into it; we’ve determined that you have a silnylon tent and that it must be taken care of after purchase. Now take that new toy out of the box and set it up.

Get inside and check for seam tape, you’ll see it as a transparent, barely visible “tape” which is heat bonded over all the seams of your tent.

Don’t see seam tape? If you purchased your tent from an odd source (think Walmart) or purchased it for super cheap (think <$200) then your tent might be lacking seam tape. Without seam tape, there’s nothing stopping water from leaking in through all of the sewing needle holes and you WILL get wet inside.

Make sure all the seam tape is adhered properly. If there’s any peeling or missing, then immediately return the tent for a better one.

There are a few cases where you’ll have to do some work here:
Custom Tents

If you bought a custom tent, such as these from LightHeart Gear, and the manufacturer did not seal the seams then you’ll need to do it. In these cases, the tent maker almost always provides specific instructions. Many cottage industry tent makers (whose equipment is almost always superior to name-brand equipment) do not seam seal their tents. It’s on you.

Budget Tents

If you purchased a tent on the super-cheap it may lack seam sealing of any kind. Don’t worry, however, because you can still learn how to rainproof a tent which is older or lacking seam sealing.


DIY Tent Seam Sealing

First thing’s first now: grab yourself a tube of SilNet by McNett. Follow the directions on the tube while sealing all critical seams on your tent. It’s as simple as just brushing the thick, clear gel on to your seams.

Where should you focus your efforts? The seams around the floor of the tent are a big one. Focus there first. After that, work your way up the tent, carefully sealing all seams as you go.

MCNETT Sil-Net Silicone Seam Sealer

7 Steps To Seam Sealing With SilNet

1. Pitch your shelter as well as is possible.

2. Thoroughly clean all seams with rubbing alcohol.

3. Thin McNett SilNet with mineral spirits in a small metal cup.

4. Create a template from cardstock if you want help avoiding spills and messes.

5. Brush the thinned silicone mixture thoroughly into all seams.

6. Check back after an hour to clean up any missed spots.

7. After 24 hours apply a thin coat of baby powder to remove excess tacky texture.

  • Hold on to any SilNet you don't use as it's critical for repairing holes, tears, and abrasions later in your tent's life.
Here's a quick video showing you tips to use Silnet to seal your tent:

How to Re Waterproof a Tent

So you’ve had your tent for a while or you inherited a tent from someone. Tossing it into your pack, you head into the backcountry for a quick overnight and wake up to a soft, slow drip on your face from the tent in a gentle rain.

Your tent is suffering from wear and tear and, in order to learn how to re waterproof a tent, you’re going to need a little more know how.

What has really happened is that the silicone layer on your tent has worn off through years of use. Alternatively, it is possible that you have a seam leak or a hole. Just find the leak and determine which it may be.

Here's how it works: Use Durable Water Repellent (DWR)

Chances are you have seen or heard the word “DWR”. If you went to REI looking for help picking out gear the sales associate probably barfed out the word “DWR” half a hundred times.

DWR is not perfectly waterproof and will never be as good a rain barrier as the factory applied silicone layer. If you have the budget, replace the tent.

Once the silicone layer of your tent has worn off, water may start to sneak in through the fabric its self. DWR application is only necessary if you’ve determined your tent is leaking through the fabric.

Grab some wash-in DWR and fabric cleaner, we recommend Nikwax, and follow the instructions. Pay attention to what type of washing machine you’re using and NEVER use a dryer.

Top Loading Washing Machine DWR Instructions

1. Make sure to zip up all zippers.

2. Load your tent and rainfly into the machine.

3. After machine has filled, add 10 fluid ounces of Nikwax wash-in DWR.

4. Run machine on Heavy cycle with warm water at a low water level setting.

Front Loading Washing Machine DWR Instructions

1. Carefully clean out all leftover detergent residue from the detergent dispenser tray.

2. Load your tent and rainfly into the machine.

3. After machine has filled, add 6 flud ounces of Nikwax wash-in DWR.

4. Run 30oC Synthetic cycle and slow spin. If not available then copy instructions above.

Now that you’ve washed in some DWR we recommend you also spray a coating on the outside of the tent as well. Combining a wash-in product with a spray on product will have the best results. This process will have to be repeated about once a season if you’re using the tent frequently.

Spray-on DWR Application Instructions

1. Clean tent and rainfly with Nikwax Tech Wash.

2. Lay tent and rainfly on a protected work surface (watch for overspray).

3. Zip all zippers.

4. Hold TX Direct Spray On Bottle 6 inches from surface of fabric.

5. Apply spray evenly to all surfaces.

6. Remove any excess with a damp cloth after two minutes.

7. Check for missed areas and reapply if needed.

  • If your tent is leaking through the seam, see the section above about DIY seam sealing.

For rips, tears, and holes you’ll want to check out our article about how to repair your tent.

If you are in the market for a new tent, be sure to also check out our guide to find the best camping tents.

Product Images Sourced From Amazon.com

About the author

Tom Sezerick

Tom is a 37 year old father and husband who loves outdoors and camping. He has traveled and visited most major campgrounds and trails in the US and plans to visit them all. He loves to give advice to people looking to enjoy their camping & backpacking trips with his experience and share his opinion on the best gears outdoors market.

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