How Long Do Tents Stay Waterproof & When They Need Re-Proofing

Do tents lose their waterproofing? How long do they stay waterproof? What affects their waterproofed-ness? This blog post goes through all these questions, and more.

Key Takeaways

  • The general lifespan of a tent’s waterproofing ranges from 6 months to 3 years.

  • Factors affecting how long a tent stays waterproof include the brand, waterproof rating, usage, maintenance and storage of the tent.

  • Tell-tale signs that your tent needs to be re-proofed include flaking coats and peeling seam taping.

  • A general rule of thumb is that regular polyester tents should be re-proofed every 12-24 months.

The REI Wonderland 6 in the author's yard in the heavy rain.
The REI Wonderland 6 in my yard in the heavy rain.

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RELATED: Best Waterproof Tents for Rain

Do Tents Lose their Waterproofing?

Unfortunately so. Tents do not stay waterproof forever, and will eventually lose their waterproofing.

From my tent testing over the past 4-5 years, I’ve noticed a number of factors that affect how long a tent stays waterproof for. These are:

  • The brand of your tent

  • The waterproof rating of your tent

  • Usage of your tent

  • Maintenance of your tent

  • Storage of your tent

I’ll go through each one of these factors in the next section below.

How Long do Tents Stay Waterproof?

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

Now, here’s how much each factor (that I went through above) affects how long a tent stays waterproof.

Tent Brand

I noticed that some brands’ waterproofing just don’t last as long as others.

For example, my Ozark Trail Dark Rest Instant Cabin 6’s seam taping completely fell apart after less than 1 year in storage.

It didn’t just peel off slightly, the entire taping peeled off completely (not an exaggeration).

Seam taping on the Ozark Trail Dark Room Instant Cabin 6
Look at how yellow the seam tape is! And after I took this picture, I tried to put the tent up, and the entire taping came off.

I think that’s because Ozark Trail is an extremely budget-friendly brand, with only budget-quality materials and waterproofing.

On the other hand, I also have The North Face Wawona 6, one of the most popular car camping tents in the market.

I bought it sometime in 2022, and it has lasted me more than a year for now, without losing any bit of its waterproofing. I suspect it could go on for 2-3 years without needing any waterproofing.

Some of the taped seams in The North Face Wawona 6.
Taped seams in The North Face Wawona 6.

And that’s because I made a more premium price for The North Face compared to Ozark Trail. This means better quality materials and higher quality waterproofing.

Waterproof Rating

Generally, I’ve heard that the higher the hydrostatic head rating of your tent, the longer your tent will stay waterproof.

If you’re wondering what this rating is, well, most tents come with a pre-applied waterproof coating (this can be a durable water repellent or DWR coating) on their fabrics. This water-repellent coating increases the hydrostatic head rating and general hydrophobicity of the tent.

This is also what makes water droplets bead off the fabric, instead of soaking into the fabric.

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

Is this actually the case?

Well, I suspect that because higher-end brands tend to have higher quality waterproof coatings and hydrostatic head ratings, that’s actually what keeps the tent waterproof for longer. (So, not necessarily the fact the higher HH ratings on their own.)

Tent Usage

The more you use your tent, naturally, the quicker your tent will lose its waterproofing.

If you break your tent out every other week to go camping, this frequency and usage of your tent will cause it to lose its waterproof quality more quickly, and you may have to re-proof your tent every few months.

On the other hand, if you camp only 2-3 times a year, your tent will not lose its waterproofing as quickly. Your tent’s waterproofing could last anywhere between 1-3 years.

Camping Conditions

Generally, the less direct sunlight as well as rain that your tent is exposed to, the longer your tent will stay waterproof.

Most tents are usually made of polyester, which come with a polyurethane coating, and this coating is susceptible to UV rays.

The more direct sunlight your tent is exposed to, the faster the coating will break down and lose its hydrophobicity.

Even in rainy conditions, because rainwater is naturally slightly acidic, this will also slowly erode the waterproofed-ness of your tent’s coating.

One of the window vents of The North Face Wawona 6 in the heavy rain.
One of the window vents of The North Face Wawona 6 in the heavy rain.

Tent Maintenance

How you maintain and clean your tent will also affect how long it stays waterproof.

When cleaning, use a non-abrasive sponge and non-detergent soap.

The abrasive side of the sponge can scrape off the waterproof coating, and detergent soap can wear it down as well.

Tent Storage

How you store your tent also affects its waterproofing.

If you store your tent without first cleaning it, the dirt/sand particles that you may have picked up while camping can also slowly scrape and wear down the coating.

You also have to let your tent dry completely before storing it away.

Drying the rainfly of a tent
I left the rainfly of my Teton Sports Mountain Ultra out to dry before packing it up.

Also, ideally, you should store your tent in a well-ventilated and dry place.

You should not store it in a non-ventilated or musty closet.

However, thankfully, you can still continue to use your tent even after it has lost its original waterproofing, as long as you re-waterproof your tent.

How to Tell if Your Tent Needs to be Re-Waterproofed

Here are some tell-tale signs that your tent needs to be re-proofed:

  • Flaking coatings

  • No beading of water

  • Peeling seam taping

One of the most obvious signs your tent needs to be re-proofed is when you see the coating visibly flaking off. In which case, a fresh new urethane coating is needed.

Another sign is when your tent’s rainfly no longer has water beading up and then dripping off. Instead, it gets absorbed into the fabric, forming a splotch of water. Here’s what it looks like:

Water absorbed into the rainfly of the Coleman Sundome 6.
My Coleman Sundome 6. Water got absorbed into the rainfly.

To check for this, simply set up your tent in your backyard, and then use a water spray to hose down the tent. Or, you can just wait for a rain shower to pass by.

Do also check that your tent’s seam taping isn’t peeling off.

Sometimes, the entire seam tape will come off (that happened to me with my Ozark Trail tent, pictured somewhere at the beginning of this post).

And sometimes, you just see like white little spots appearing on the seams, which is the start of the tent’s seam tape wearing off.

Seam taping that hasn't been re-proofed in 3 to 4 years
This is a picture of some of the floor seams of my Quechua 2 Seconds Fresh and Black Tent. Notice that it’s quite old, and the factory tape looks like it’s loosening and peeling off.

How Often to Waterproof Your Tent

How often you need to waterproof your tent comes down to personal preference.

Once you see any of the red flags I highlighted in the section above, you can touch up the waterproofing.

And even if you don’t see any of the red flags, a rule of thumb is to waterproof your tent every 12 to 24 months. So, 1 to 2 years.

Alternatively, if you’re not particular about waterproofing, you can just wait until leaks start forming in your tent on one of your camping trips, and then waterproof it after.

How to Stop Your Tent from Losing its Waterproofing

Here are some tips to slow your tent’s fabric waterproofing loss:

  • Pitch your tent is slightly more shaded areas instead of in direct scorching sunlight on a sunny day

  • Clean your tent after every camping trip

  • Store your tent in a well-ventilated place (especially for long-term storage)

  • Buy a new tent from a reputable brand (not Ozark Trail if you want good waterproofing)

Pro-Tip 1: Certain budget tents like Ozark Trail and Coleman tents are not fully waterproof. These tents are only water-resistant. Remember, different tents have different waterproofing levels.

Pro-Tip 2: You can check out my recommendations for the 5 best rainproof tents in the market here.

How to Waterproof a Tent

Here’s a quick rundown of how I normally re-proof my tents:

You will also need other regular household items, like cold water and rubbing alcohol.

For a much more detailed step-by-step guide, I’ll get that done some time in the future, and then post the link to it here.

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