“How do I choose a waterproof tent?”
“What should I look for in a tent that has the best waterproofing?”
These were the questions that I needed answered when I first started getting back into car camping 4 years ago.
Now, 4 years later, and with over 30 tents tested for my YouTube channel, I think I finally know enough to put together this blog post for you.
Here, you’ll find out everything that’s important when it comes to picking out a waterproof tent for yourself, and also what’s not so important.
When it comes to how to choose a waterproof tent, there are 5 key, essential features to look out for, and these are (1) the brand of the tent, (2) the rainfly length, (3) taped seams, (4) at least 1 or 2 vestibules, (5) user-friendly vents, and (6) a good door design for rain.
There are also good-to-have features, but less essential than those above. These are: (7) a high hydrostatic head rating, (8) a bathtub floor, and (9) storm flaps.
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RELATED: Best Waterproof Tents for Heavy Rain
1. Brand of Tent
When it comes to buying the right waterproof tent for yourself, the most important thing that I can recommend is to buy a higher-end tent from a reputable brand.
Here are some brands that make great waterproof tents:
The North Face
On the other hand, there are certain brands that you must not buy. These tents are not waterproof out of the box, though you can do some waterproofing prep work on your own.
These not-so-waterproof camping tent brands include:
Ozark Trail (especially this!)
Note: You’ll see me referencing ‘higher-end tents’ like The North Face and REI Co-Op, as well as ‘budget-friendly tents’ like Coleman, Core Equipment, and Ozark Trail, all throughout this entire blog post.
You’ll also find out exactly how important buying a good brand of tent is when it comes to waterproof tents.
2. Rainfly Length
The next important feature to take note of is the length of the tent’s rainfly.
If you’re looking for a tent that’s as waterproof as possible, you’d want to get a tent with a full-coverage rainfly, rather than a partial rainfly.
A great example of this is the REI Base Camp 6. It’s currently my only family tent with a full-length rainfly.
During my heavy rain test of the Base Camp, I noticed that the rainfly protected the inner tent body really well.
The water drips off the rainfly and onto the ground directly, without touching the inner tent body too much. This is how a full rainfly works in the rain.
So, even after 1 hour of really heavy rain around the Base Camp, I found that the entire tent was still dry, and there was not a single drop of water inside the tent.
Also take note here that full-length rainflies tend to extend almost all the way down to the ground, but not all the way to the ground. There’s usually a small gap at the bottom of the rainfly for a little ventilation (you can see this above in the Base Camp pictures).
Another fantastic feature to have in wet weather are vestibules, for storing any wet gear you may have.
Personally, I find these vestibules to be essential, because one of my pet peeves is having dirty, wet outdoor gear inside the inner tent where I have to sleep in. I like to leave them outside the tent instead.
The best vestibule I’ve seen so far comes with The North Face Wawona 6. The vestibule is seriously humongous, the biggest I’ve ever seen in a family camping tent.
There’s only a single vestibule in the Wawona, at the front of the tent, but it comes in at a whopping 51 square feet, and could fit not just a couple of huge camping chairs, but also a big camping table at the same time as well.
On top of that, the peak height in the vestibule is 74 inches, the lowest height is still a whopping 65 inches, and I could stand up everywhere inside the entire vestibule (I’m 5’3).
I noticed that my higher-end tents tend to have such vestibules, while my more budget-friendly tents do not. (This again highlights the importance of getting a waterproof tent from a good brand!)
For example, I tested 18 different tents from Coleman, Core Equipment, and Ozark Trail, and not a single one of them had a vestibule.
Instead, they’re usually just simple dome tents or cabin tents, with just the inner tent area and no sheltered outer area.
Another great feature to have in wet weather are user-friendly vents that can be opened and shut from the inside of the tent. Having vents in your tent is important for ventilation and air circulation.
Without these vents, there can be a lot of condensation build-up inside the tent. This also makes for an uncomfortable camping trip, and is almost as bad as having a leaky tent.
Not all my waterproof tents had user-friendly vents though.
I think the best vents I’ve ever seen come with the REI Base Camp (again), because it has a whopping 4 vents, and all of these can be open and shut from inside the tent.
On top of that, 2 of these vents are roof vents, and 2 of them are floor vents, making for a ‘chimney-effect’ type of ventilation. This is where hot air rises and escapes through the roof vents, while you get fresh cool air from the floor/ground vents.
This felt effective to me, and I never had condensation or moisture issues in my Base Camp.
My Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 2 also had 4 vents, but not all of them can be opened and shut from the inside.
It has 2 rainfly vents at the top of the tent, which I couldn’t get access to from inside the tent, and the angle of the vent tends to let in water, so I’d recommend just keeping them closed if you expect any rain. (Essentially, these 2 vents are kinda ‘useless’ in rain.)
Luckily, there are 2 more vestibule vents, 1 in each vestibule, and I could open and shut these from the inside of the tent.
The North Face Wawona 6 also had 4 vents – 2 side window vents and 2 smaller vents near the windows.
I couldn’t get to any of these from inside the tent (something TNF can improve on!), but thankfully, I didn’t experience any leaking from these vents at all, even after 3 days of heavy rain and strong wind.
5. Door Design
Another important (but usually always overlooked) feature I’ve found useful in rainy weather is the door design.
When it starts pouring cats and dogs, and when you rush into your tent, you don’t want the water droplets that have settled at the top of your tent to drip all over your inner tent, while the door is opened.
Again, here is where I see a big difference between higher-end tents and budget tents. (I told you that buying the right tent from the right brand makes a lot of difference!)
For example, my budget-friendly Coleman Skydome has this exact problem. When I opened the door after my heavy rain test, all the water on the roof slid right off and dripped straight into my tent!
However, for my higher-end tents like my Base Camp and Wawona 6, both these tents have vestibules that shelter me completely as I make my way back into the inner sleeping area through the inner tent doors.
Even my REI Wonderland 6, which did not come with vestibules (the vestibules are an added cost that I was too broke to pay for), had these neat little door awnings at the top of each door.
These awnings gave enough coverage over the entrance of the door. So, the water on the roof doesn’t slide right off and into my tent when I try to make my way back inside.
6. Taped Seams
Next, we move on to the seams in your tent, and whether they have been sealed with a specialized heat-treated tape. Again, I see a huge difference here between higher-end tents and the more budget-friendly tents.
When it comes to higher-end tents like The North Face and REI Co-Op, usually, all the seams in my tent (that do not have rainfly protection) will be very thoroughly seam taped.
You can actually see the seam taping yourself; it’s usually a thin layer of plastic-like tape over any seams in the tent. Here’s what it looks like in my Wawona 6:
On the other hand, when it comes to my more budget-friendly tents, these tents tend to have more ‘inverted seams‘ instead of ‘taped seams’.
Inverted seams are created when the tent manufacturer stitches 2 pieces of fabric together, and pulls the fabric that contains the stitching inside the tent. So, these seams appear only inside the tent (they stick out a little bit), and not outside. They say that this increases the waterproofing of their tents.
Sadly, I have not found this to be the case. Inverted seams never last long under heavy rain, and taped seams are usually the way to go.
Also, taped seams from budget-friendly brands (like ahem, Ozark Trail) and their overall waterproofing never last as long as higher quality brands.
Pro-Tip: Thankfully, seam sealing is something that you can do yourself, and I recommend this seam sealant to apply to your tent’s seams if you have a polyester tent.
Here, we come to the end of the necessary features I think any good waterproof tent should have. Now, the rest of the features are ‘good-to-have‘ features, but not exactly essential. Let’s go through each one.
7. Hydrostatic Head Rating
Polyester and nylon tents are not naturally waterproof on their own. As such, they need a waterproof coating to make them waterproof.
Polyurethane coatings are for polyester tents.
Silicone coatings are for nylon tents.
As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the coating, the more waterproof the tent will be. This can also be quantified using hydrostatic head tests, where a column of water is applied to the tent material and its coating to test for its waterproofed-ness.
The result of the hydrostatic head test gives us the hydrostatic head rating, and it’s measured in millimeters, or mm for short.
I wrote an entire blog post on this topic of hydrostatic head ratings for tents, so you can check that link out if you’re interested, cos it’s too much info to go through here without boring you to death.
Not all Waterproof Tents have HH Ratings
However, bear in mind that not all waterproof tents will have hydrostatic head (HH) ratings.
For example, for both my REI Base Camp and Wonderland 6, neither of them had advertised HH ratings, but their tent floors, walls, and overall fabrics were still incredibly waterproof.
Another great example here is a canvas tent. Canvas tents have natural waterproofing properties and durability. So, they do not require coatings, and aren’t generally tested for hydrostatic head ratings.
Tent Body & Rainfly
Most tents that are higher-end do have advertised HH ratings though.
For example, The North Face Wawona 6 has a 1,200mm hydrostatic head rating for its rainfly and tent body.
This is a decent waterproof rating, and I found that my back tent wall was only wet after 3 days of heavy rain.
Pro-Tip: As a point of reference, most waterproof tents have a waterproof rating of at least 1,000mm. Anything less is merely just water-resistant, and not waterproof.
Again, I see a difference here when comparing higher-end tents to more budget-friendly tents.
Here’s a table summarizing the different HH ratings of Ozark Trail, Coleman, and Core, compared to The North Face, and how long each tent was able to keep me dry under heavy rain:
|The North Face
Tent floors tend to have a slightly higher hydrostatic head rating than the tent walls, because it has to take the weight of its campers.
As such, my Wawona 6 has a 1,500mm hydrostatic head rating for its tent floor. Even after 3 days of heavy rain, there was no leaking at all through the floor of my tent.
Even if your tent has a high waterproof rating for its tent floor, I would still recommend using a groundsheet underneath the tent to protect it from sharp rocks and twigs. Even this cheap tarp from Amazon will help to protect your tent.
8. Bathtub Floors
Another good-to-have feature is a bathtub floor in your tent, though not all waterproof tents would have them.
I wrote another entire article on bathtub floors in tents, and you can check it out here.
But as a starting point, a tent has a bathtub floor when the floor material extends up the sides of the tent walls. The height of the bathtub floor usually ranges between 5 to 15 inches for most tents.
This is what a tent’s bathtub floor looks like:
The rationale behind the tub floor is this – If there’s flooding, as long as the water level doesn’t rise up above the tub floor, the tub feature can keep the tent dry.
However, I found that having a bathtub floor in a tent isn’t entirely necessary, as long as the seam taping in the tent is thorough enough.
For example, during my 3-day heavy rain test of my Wawona 6, one of its corners was sitting in 2 inches of water flooding, and no water got into my tent at all.
And that’s because the seam taping around the tent, and especially in the corners, are exceptionally thorough.
9. Storm Flaps
Most waterproof tents also have storm flaps (these can also be called ‘rain flaps’ or ‘rain covers’, etc.) to cover up vulnerable parts of the tent, such as the zipper tracks.
Basically, it’s just an extra lip of fabric that gets sewn onto the tent to cover the zippers.
The reason I’m saying that this isn’t something you need to look out for is because all the tents I’ve tested so far have these flaps, so you needn’t worry about this.
Now, one important feature to take note of, which isn’t just related to waterproof tents (but to all tents in general), is the tent capacity. How many campers will you be camping with?
Family tents typically range from 6-person tents to 12-person tents, and even more sometimes.
Because the general rule of thumb is to decrease the maximum capacity by 2, to get to your optimum capacity, these tents fit only between 4 to 10 people.
For example, in The North Face Wawona 6, I would recommend no more than 4 campers in this tent (2 on each queen bed), even though you can technically fit 6 campers in 6 single sleeping bags.
The North Face Wawona 6 is easily my best overall waterproof tent though, thanks to its huge vestibule, thorough seam taping, and strong waterproof coating, and I would highly recommend it if you have a family of 4 or less.
It also has a whopping 11 guy lines and high quality DAC MX aluminum poles, and it was able to stand up to 40-50mph winds. What a champ in both heavy rain and windy conditions.
When it comes to smaller tents, a really great inexpensive choice I have is the Teton Sports Mountain Ultra. This comes in a capacity of between 1-person to 4-people.
I prefer my 2-person model over my 1-person tent, because it fits 2 campers nicely on 1 queen bed, and has way more room than the 1P.
It also has 2 vestibules with ample room, 2 doors (the 1P has only one door), great vestibule vents, awesome seam taping, and a full-length rainfly for added protection, and I would highly recommend it as an incredible, inexpensive, waterproof tent.
It also has incredible mesh panels for a great stargazing experience if you’re camping on hot days too.
Best Waterproof Camping Tents
These 2 tents are not the only waterproof tents I’ve tested. In fact, I’ve tested over 30 tents in the rain, and here are my best waterproof tent picks:
The North Face Wawona 6
REI Base Camp 6
REI Wonderland 6
Teton Sports Mountain Ultra 1/2/3/4
Quechua 2 Seconds Fresh and Black 2/3
Read my article here to find out exactly which one is the best pick for you.