Picture of How to Car-Camp in the Rain: 11 Lifehacks

Here are a few simple tricks for car-camping in the rain. Most of these may be well-known to people who camp in the wet... but for those new to it, here are some little lifehacks we've put to use in various state parks here in the northwest.

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Step 1: Tip 1: Raise that tarp

Picture of Tip 1: Raise that tarp

When car-camping in the Pacific northwest, the first order of business is often to get the tarp in place.

To start, tie a rope around a tree near your eating area. A good knot to use is a bowline knot ("the rabbit comes out of the hole..."). You can also use a "no-knot," in which you simply wrap the rope a few times around the tree; friction will keep the rope in place.

Keep the tarp high enough to allow good light in. Use a forked stick, or a "chuck-it" ball-thrower if you have one, to coax that rope higher up the tree.

Step 2: Tip 2: Forget the grommets

Picture of Tip 2: Forget the grommets

Don't bother with those little corner holes in your tarp; they're not strong enough to handle the tension you'll need for a good rain-shedding cover.

Instead, take a tennis ball or a similar-sized rock and wrap it into the corner of the tarp. Tie off with a few wraps of the rope and some half-hitches.

Step 3: Tip 3: Rig a drying line under the tarp

Picture of Tip 3: Rig a drying line under the tarp

If you have a long enough rope, run it diagonally across the tarp and tie it to another tennis ball in the opposite corner. This helps prevent tarp sag, and can also serve as a drying line for light items.

Step 4: Tip 4: Cinch up the tarp tightly using a trucker's hitch

Picture of Tip 4: Cinch up the tarp tightly using a trucker's hitch

You need to stretch the tarp tautly across the diagonal so that it sheds rain. A loose tarp will flap in the wind and collect puddles of water overhead.

To cinch the tarp tightly, wrap the rope around a tree and bring it back through a slip knot tied into the main line of the rope (the part running diagonally from the tennis ball). Pull the rope back from the slip knot. This technique, called a 'trucker's hitch,' almost doubles your leverage for pulling the tarp tight. Tie off the tightened rope with half-hitches.

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thebeatonpath11 months ago

I've been camping for years, but learned several new tricks here! THANKS SO MUCH for sharing this wisdom. Can't wait to try them.

hchute (author)  thebeatonpath11 months ago

You are welcome, and thank you very much for your kind comment! I always learn things from other campers... it's fun to stroll around the campground and see what techniques are being used in the various sites.

hunter99911 months ago

This is so informative, you've covered all the scenarios with pegging down your tent for windy conditions to making sure your shoes are dry. Awesome job! Thank you so much for sharing :D

hchute (author)  hunter99911 months ago

Thank you for your kind words!

Really nice ideas. Hope to use a few soon!

Awesome, a couple of years ago we were camping in the rain and I could have used these hacks.

hchute (author)  rvstealsanddeals6 months ago

Thank you! Hopefully they'll come in handy for next time. :)

Nonreality10 months ago
Great tips, been using the truckers hitch for many years and it does the job. A couple of things, never lay a tarp right ontop of your tent fly and always make the under the tent tarp a few inches smaller than your tent so that water doesn't hit it and channel under the tent. Parachute cord is all you need for tarps and tents, just be sure to melt the ends after cutting it. Thanks again.
hchute (author)  Nonreality10 months ago
Good points!

As you note, a tarp laid right on top of your tent fly will cause water to soak through the fly, and through your tent wall. There must be an air space between your tent fly and your tent (and between your tent and any overhanging tarp above it).

Some people don't bother with under-the-tent tarps, but if you do use one, that's great advice to keep is slightly smaller than your tent... for the reason you point out.

Thanks for the tips!
Lt.Greg11 months ago

Excellent tips! As I've commented before on other's postings, this is what I joined Instructibles for - not silly "Build your own Star wars laser cannon replica" posts, but useful, practical tips for better living and using/reusing materials in unique and clever ways. Well-done!

(One thing which I will respectfully take exception to however, is your suggestion to twist the line around itself to take up slack after the nighttime rain. IMO a Taught-line hitch or similar knot would be an easier and more elegant solution.)

Lt. Greg - Former Boy Scout, old fart and certified cranky old Curmudgeon)

DIY-Guy Lt.Greg10 months ago

Nice camping tips.
But aren't there *some* things that can be learned from "Build your own Star Wars laser cannon replica" posts? I've gained some construction, gluing, and painting techniques from the set-desginers. (/me gives a full three-finger salute to Lt. Greg. Be prepared!)

Lt.Greg DIY-Guy10 months ago


hchute (author)  Lt.Greg11 months ago

Thank you, Lt. Greg! I appreciate your feedback.

I plan to use that taut-line knot more often -- that does indeed seem like the most elegant way to cinch up a line.

western11 months ago

Another use for your tennis balls is to cut a slit in one and stick it on the end of a long pole or branch. Then you can use that to prop up the tarp to direct water runoff where you want it to go. Without the ball you may compromise the waterproofness of your tarp with a nice hole... thank you mister experience.

Another trick is to direct all of the runoff to a single low point in your tarp at a grommet. Tie a rock or heavy tent stake to this grommet so that water drips down it and into a large pot that you can use for camp water or just to wash muddy feet and hands in. Plus it keeps the water from making a mess near the edge of your tarp. For those of us with kids it minimizes the luring mud puddles at least close to camp.

hchute (author)  western11 months ago

Nice ideas -- thank you!

bovine11 months ago

I NEVER go camping w/o my big tarp & nylon rope. My 1st order of business is to set up the tarp over the tent, picnic table & fire ring. By launching the rope up over tree branches I can pull my tarp up high enough to safely have a fire under it and not feel like I'm living under ceiling of celephane wrap.

hchute (author)  bovine11 months ago

That's a big tarp! I'm really lame about throwing the coiled rope over tree branches -- it always takes me 4 or 5 tries -- but that's a great way to get that tarp secured nice and high up the tree.

bovine hchute11 months ago

I had a few big tarps left over from a nightmare roofing job. Trying tying your rope to hammer and then launch that. Makes a rainy camping trip much more comfortable if you have some dry real estate with a fire.

hchute (author)  bovine11 months ago

I will try that hammer trick! Thanks.

and if someone is already using the hammer there are Heaving Line Knots that can be used(best with a good solid rope). Seems like when camping with good sized group(like scouts) the hammers are being used or are on the other side of the campsite and get claimed just before you get there.lol

That is true! It's been a while, but I've made a "monkey fist" at the end of a line to use as a throwing aid.

RedZone13311 months ago

Super tips and helpful comments !

hchute (author)  RedZone13311 months ago

Thanks very much!

ak47freak11 months ago

Also if you hunt you can use the method in step 2 to skin a deer in a few seconds. just cut the hide down the center of the chest and up the inside of each leg. making sure to connect the leg cuts to the center cut. then cut a ring around the bottoms of each leg and around the neck. peel back some hide from the back of the neck, and instead of using a tennis ball you use a golf ball. place a tarp under the deer near a tree and tie the neck to the base of the tree. attach the rope surrounding the golf ball to the front bumper of your truck and SLOWLY back away and the skin will peel off.

Neat, I have to say that and inflating the hide while still on the animal are the more unusually skinning techniques I heard of.

hchute (author)  ak47freak11 months ago

That is certainly an application of the tennis ball (or golf ball) that hadn't occurred to me! I'm not much of a hunter, but I can see how that would keep the hide from tearing.

jakerobinson11 months ago

I am thinking you could take a small ratchet strap and place it between your tree and the line and rachet the crap out of it to draw up a tight line...

hchute (author)  jakerobinson11 months ago
Yes, I believe that would work. I worked as a rafting guide for several years and we made great use of those blue NRS tie-down straps. They're expensive, so I think your thought of just using one at the end of a rope line, as an easy cinch, is a good one.
JimOs11 months ago

what fantastic tips i will keep in mind next time we go camping

hchute (author)  JimOs11 months ago

Thank you very much!

JimOs11 months ago

what fantastic tips i will keep in mind next time we go camping

the norm11 months ago

I always put a tarp under the tent and a tarp over the tent, sometimes only draped over rather than strung from trees. One time I had a foam mattress instead of an air mattress. When it rained, the water came off the top tarp, pooled into the under tarp, and when I got into bed, the foam soaked up the water. Sleeping on a giant wet sponge is not at all a good way to be.

hchute (author)  the norm11 months ago
Oh, that's awful! Hate it went rain gets into the tent... that makes for a long night.
LadyRoz11 months ago

Thank you for the tips!! May I suggest that the tarp extend over the top of the tent to provide rain protection to your tent entrance and as a back up to an iffy tent fly. I learned this the hard way after a 3-hour thunderstorm in a borrowed tent, a mistake I never made again (from them on I always used my own tent and inspected it for holes prior to use). I also keep a small tarp to cover my firewood near the fire (but not too near).

hchute (author)  LadyRoz11 months ago
Thanks -- yes, that can help. One caution, which you're probably aware of, is that under heavy rain conditions there can be some pooling in the tarp -- and that pooling can suddenly drain gallons of water, usually from a corner of the tarp. So be careful that you don't pitch the tarp so that one of those pooling corners is over the tent.

Nice idea, too, about having smaller tarps to keep the firewood dry. I find it easier to string 2 or 3 tarps up than to have one large tarp, but I think that's just personal preference.
LadyRoz hchute11 months ago
Thank you for your reply! I'd actually seen someone use an extra center pole in front of the door to push the tarp up in such a way that the water would drain off the sides of the tent.
hchute (author)  LadyRoz11 months ago

That makes sense! Thanks, LadyRoz.

matthewabel11 months ago

I have camped many, many times and now see the error in my tarp-raising ways. You make it so much simpler!

hchute (author)  matthewabel11 months ago
I'm happy to read that! Thanks, Matthew.
Standing Hawk11 months ago
To tie the line and be able to tighten it anytime without having to untie it, try tieing what they call a Taut Line. http://www.iwillknot.com/taut_line/
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