Are Tents Waterproof? Is YOUR Tent Waterproof? (REAL Pictures!)

After testing over 30 tents in the rain, I think I know a little bit about the features that make a tent waterproof, and I’ve also given you some action steps below to find out if the tent that you have is waterproof.

And if you don’t have a waterproof tent, you can also check out all my waterproof tent recommendations. Let’s dig in.

The North Face Wawona 6 in the heavy rain in the author's yard.
The North Face Wawona 6 in the heavy rain in my yard.

Quick Answer – Are Tents Waterproof?

Some tents are waterproof, but some tents are merely water-resistant. Higher-end brands (The North Face, REI, etc.) tend to have more waterproof tents than budget-friendly brands (Core, Coleman, etc.)

You can find out if your tent is waterproof by just checking on these few features:

  • Waterproof coating

  • Waterproof rating

  • Seam taping

  • Age of tent

RELATED: Best Waterproof Tents

What is a Waterproof Tent?

A waterproof tent is a tent that has the ability to stay completely dry for at least a few hours of non-stop heavy rain.

The Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 1 in heavy rain
The Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 1 in heavy rain. Not as heavy as the Wawona, but still heavy. I’m not sure why it’s not showing up in the picture.

That’s my personal benchmark for waterproof tents, based on all the tents that I’ve tested over the past few years, and yours may be slightly different.

How to Tell if Your Tent is Waterproof

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A waterproof tent tends to have the following waterproofing features:

  • A relatively high hydrostatic head rating (for not just the tent body but also the tent floor as well)

  • A waterproof coating

  • Sealed tent seams

There are also a few other features apart from those I listed above, and I’ll go through each feature with you, right now.

1. Waterproof Fabrics

A tent’s fabrics are usually made of either polyester or nylon. So far, 95% of the tents I’ve tested are made of polyester, and I think that is the more common tent material.

Action to Take: You can easily look up the materials of your tent from the manufacturer’s official website.

What the tent body of the Wawona 6 looks like.
What the tent body of the Wawona 6 looks like. This is 75D polyester.

Take note that these fabrics, both polyester and nylon, are not naturally waterproof in nature.

As such, to increase the waterproofed-ness of each tent, these fabrics are usually coated with an additional waterproofing layer. This is usually termed as a ‘Durable Water Repellent (DWR)‘ coating, which is a thin waterproof film layer, and it increases the waterproofing of each tent.

This coating is to be applied on the outside of the tent.

Canvas tents, on the other hand, is a more waterproof material, and thus may not have a coating.

2. Waterproof Coatings

How are you able to tell if a tent has a waterproof coating?

Action to Take: Break out your tent, set it up, and spray some water over it. If you see the water droplets bead up on the rainfly, and then roll off the rainfly, this is usually indicative of a coating.

The North Face logo in heavy rain.
Water droplets beading up and rolling off the rainfly of the Wawona.

If a tent doesn’t have a waterproof coating, or the coating has worn off, the water will be absorbed into the tent fabric instead of wicking off.

Water absorbed into the rainfly of the Coleman Sundome 6.
My Coleman Sundome 6 with a worn off coating. Notice that the water is absorbed into the rainfly?

There are 2 types of waterproof coatings that manufacturers use – polyurethane, and silicone.

Polyurethane Coating

If I’m not wrong, I believe that polyurethane coatings are applied to tents made of polyester. So far, I haven’t seen any of my polyester tent coated with anything but polyurethane.

Polyurethane coatings are the less resistant of the 2 different coatings, as it gets broken down more easily by UV rays.

As such, prolonged exposure to direct sunlight would mean that you would need to reapply the coating more regularly.

Silicone Coating

On the other hand, a silicone coating is usually coated on tents that are made of nylon (again, if I’m not wrong about this. Please feel free to reach out to correct me if I’m wrong about this.)

A silicone coating is the more rugged coating of the 2, with a longer lifespan that doesn’t get broken down as easily in direct sunlight and UV rays.

3. Waterproof Ratings

What these coatings also do is to increase the waterproof rating (or more specifically, the hydrostatic head rating) of each tent.

Now, what are these hydrostatic head ratings?

A hydrostatic head test is conducted on each tent fabric to gauge the waterproofed-ness of each tent or fabric.

This rating is usually measured in millimeters, and can range from between 1,000-millimeters to 10,000-millimeters.

The base of the Wawona 6 sitting in water.
The base of the Wawona 6 sitting in water.

Hydrostatic Head Test

What is a hydrostatic head test?

To put it simply, a fabric is placed in contact with a column of water, and the water pressure from the column is gradually increased, until water starts leaking through the fabric. You can read more about this test here if you’re interested.

The maximum amount of water the fabric is able to resist without leaking is the rating of that fabric. And since this is a hydrostatic head test, the rating is therefore known as a ‘hydrostatic head rating’.

The vestibule of the Wawona 6 in heavy rain.
The vestibule of the Wawona 6 in heavy rain.

For example, if a tent fabric has a 500-millimeter hydrostatic head rating, this means that it can withstand a water column of 500-millimeters without leaking. At a 550-millimeters or 600-millimeters waterproof ratings, it will leak.

Generally, a higher rating means that the tent is more waterproof or more water-resistant.

Waterproof Tents V.S. Water-Resistant Tents

A waterproof tent generally has a hydrostatic head rating of at least 1,000-millimeters. On the other hand, a tent with a rating of less than 1,000-millimeters is not considered waterproof, but instead just merely ‘water-resistant‘.

Most waterproof tents will have ratings of between 1,000-millimeters to 2,000-millimeters.

Take note here that sometimes water-repellent tents can be interchanged with either ‘waterproof’ or ‘water-resistant’ tents. I tend not to use this phrase though, and just stick to the latter 2.

Is a Tent with a Higher Hydrostatic Head Rating Always Better?

However, that doesn’t mean that a hydrostatic head rating is always better.

The thicker the waterproof coating of a tent, the higher the hydrostatic head rating tends to be.

But the thing is, thicker coatings also means more weight. So, for an ultralight backpacker, a heavy tent due to thick coatings will not necessarily be the best.

On top of that, even if the hydrostatic head rating is extremely high, but the seams are not properly sealed, the tent will still leak. It won’t leak through the fabric, but it will leak through the seams, and we’ll go through this in just a bit.

What is Your Tent’s Rating?

Action to Take: Some manufacturers would list the hydrostatic head rating of their tents on the tent’s sales page.

However, if your tent doesn’t have explicitly advertised ratings, that doesn’t mean it’s not waterproof. Not all tents have advertised ratings.

4. Waterproof Tent Floors

For this point, for now, just take note that the flooring of tents tend to have slightly higher ratings than the rest of the tent body.

This is because it has to take the weight of the campers inside the tent, so therefore more pressure on the tent floor, and is thus more prone to leakage.

What the flooring of the Wawona 6 looks like.
What the flooring of the Wawona 6 looks like. This is 150D polyester.

For example, The North Face Wawona 6 has a 1,200-millimeter hydrostatic head rating for the rainfly and tent body, but a 1,500-millimeter rating for its flooring.

Action to Take: You can also look up your floor ratings on the brand’s official website.

Pro-Tip: To improve the waterproofing of your tent floor, you can buy a groundsheet specific to the tent, or just get a less expensive generic tarp and fold it in (you can find one here on Amazon). This protects the floor from any sharp objects like rocks on the ground.

The provided footprint of the Hyke and Byke Zion 2 Tent.
The provided footprint (fitted groundsheet) of the Hyke and Byke Zion 2 Tent.

5. Waterproof Tent Seams

To join 2 different pieces of fabric together in a tent, these pieces of fabric need to be sewn together. And unfortunately, every seam in a tent will poke small little holes in the tent fabric, which can allow water to get into the tent.

There are 3 seam-seal methods that manufacturers have come up with to prevent water leakage through these seams:

  1. Seam taping

  2. Inverted seams

  3. Welded seams

Seam Taping

For seam taping, manufacturers will heat and then melt a specific type of tape over the seams. This is usually done on the inside of the tents (from what I’ve observed).

I’ve also noticed that not all seams will be taped. Generally, the seams not covered by rain flies will be completely taped, but the seams covered by rainflies will not be taped.

Checking for seam taping is easy.

Action to Take: You should be able to visibly see the seam taping. It looks like a line of ‘plastic’ covering the seams.

Here’s what the perfectly taped seams of my Wawona 6 looks like:

Some of the taped seams in the Wawona 6.
Some of the taped seams in the Wawona 6. You can easily see the seam tape.

Most tents that are waterproof tend to use this seam taping for all the seams, instead of the next 2.

Inverted Seams

More budget-friendly brands, so like Coleman and Core Equipment, tend to have inverted seams rather than taped seams.

To create these seams, the tent fabric is folded inwards, and then is sewn down. That way, the seams appear only on the inside of the tent, and the holes in the seams are therefore not exposed to the outside.

Here’s what an inverted seam from Coleman looks like:

The bathtub flooring seam inside the Coleman Instant Tent 4.
A close-up shot of the inverted bathtub flooring seam inside the Coleman Instant Tent 4.

However, I’ve found that these inverted seams don’t usually work very well in a heavy downpour.

Although the seams aren’t visible from the outside, there’s a slight crevasse from the outside that water will seep into.

Water running over the bathtub flooring of the Coleman Instant Tent 4.
What the inverted seam of the Coleman Instant 4 looks like from the outside.

This will get into the inverted seams, which will then leak into the tent since it isn’t taped.

Welded Seams

Also, I found that Coleman and Core also use welded seams, especially those at the corners of the bathtub floor.

This involves joining pieces of tent fabric together using heat and pressure, instead of seams.

Theoretically, there are no holes, which leads to less leaking.

However, from my testing, I’ve found that any tent with welded seams is still a leaky tent. I’m not sure why, but perhaps the welding isn’t as thorough as it should be.

The corner of the Sundome Tent
One of the welded corners of my Coleman Sundome leaked. Notice the corner is just ‘welded’ but not taped?

Pro-Tip: Other higher-end brands that I’ve tested, so The North Face and REI Co-Op, tend not to have welded or inverted seams, but only taped seams.

6. Other Waterproofing Features

I’ve gone through the most important waterproofing features to take note of inside modern tents, but here are some others that you might also want to check out:

  • Storm flaps: Most tents have storm flaps over the zipper track to prevent water from leaking into the holes of the zipper track.

Close-up of the door zippers on the Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6
This is my Eureka Copper Canyon LX 6. You can see the blue storm flap that’s supposed to cover the zipper track in the rain.

Pro-Tip: Another pro-tip for you here is to put the zippers high up on the tent rather than down low. Ideally, they should be covered by the rainfly as much as possible to reduce water leakage.

  • Toggles and tie-downs: These are also a point of frustration when it comes to water leakage. These should also be taped or sealed, or there will be dripping water into the tent.

Leakage in the Wonderland 6 after a night of rain.
One of the bottom toggles of my REI Wonderland 6 wasn’t taped or sealed, so it leaked.
  • Bathtub floor: Having a bathtub floor also helps to reduce leaking from back-splashing. However, there’s no need for a bathtub floor is there’s sufficient seam taping.

How Long Can Waterproof Tents Withstand Heavy Rain?

For me, I like my waterproof tent to be able to take at least a few hours of non-stop heavy rain.

If you check out my blog post where I bought and tested some of the best rainproof tents in the market (these are all fully waterproof), you’ll find that all of them can take between a whopping 1-3 days of heavy rain.

On the other hand, my Ozark Trail, Coleman, and Core Equipment tents will usually take less than 1 hour of heavy rain. And these tents are what I call ‘water-resistant’ tents, and not ‘waterproof’ tents.

Check out this table comparing the different ratings of each tent, and how long they’re able to stay dry under heavy rain:

BrandHH RatingHeavy Rain Test
Ozark TrailNone0 minutes
Coleman450mm30-60 minutes
Core Equipment600mm30-60 minutes
The North Face1,200mm2-3 days
How the hydrostatic head rating of each camping tent affects how long it stays dry under heavy rain. All these testing results are my own, and not the brand’s.

Remember what I said about tents not having at least a 1,000-millimeter rating being just ‘water-resistant’ tents? It applies here too.

Do Waterproof Tents Lose Waterproofing Over Time?

I found that my tents generally stay waterproof for between 6 months to 3 years. That’s the general lifespan of my tents’ waterproofing.

How long a tent stays waterproof depends on a few things as well:

  • The brand of the tent

  • Usage of the tent

The more you use the tent, the more direct sunlight it gets, the faster the coating will deteriorate.

Also, some brands’ waterproofing doesn’t last for long. For example, my Ozark Trail Instant Cabin 6’s seam taping completely fell apart after less than 1 year in storage.

Seam taping on the Ozark Trail Dark Room Instant Cabin 6
Look at the terrible yellow condition the seams on my Ozark Trail tent are!

On the other hand, The North Face has lasted me more than a year for now.

How to Waterproof a Tent (Quick Tips)

To increase the waterproofing of your tent, you can do the following:

Are All New Tents Waterproof?

Unfortunately, not all new tents will come completely waterproofed.

As I mentioned earlier, some brands are naturally not waterproofed, but just water-resistant. This includes Core Equipment, Coleman, and especially Ozark Trail.

In contrast, I managed to buy and use some tents out of the box, like The North Face Wawona 6.

The North Face Wawona 6 brand new from Amazon.
The North Face Wawona 6 brand new from Amazon.

Waterproof Tent Recommendations

If you don’t have a waterproof tent yet with camping season coming up, here are some of my best waterproof tents for harsh conditions:

The North Face Wawona 6

My Wawona 6 was able to take a whopping 3 days of rain before water started seeping in through the back wall. At this point, it didn’t even drip into the tent or anything, just that the back wall was slightly damp.

The author in The North Face Wawona 6.
Me in my Wawona.

It also has a humongous vestibule which is great for storing wet camping gear and good hydrostatic head ratings of between 1,200-millimeters to 1,500-millimeters.

Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 1-4

If The North Face Wawona 6 is too expensive, a less expensive option is the Teton Sports Mountain Ultra. I have the 1 and 2-person models, but I prefer the 2P because it has 2 nice vestibules.

The author in the Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 2.
Me in my Mountain Ultra 2.

No hydrostatic head ratings that I found, but it lasted me one entire night of raining, so still very much waterproof.

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