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.
Step 1: 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
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
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
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.
Step 5: Tip 5: No Tree in the Right Spot? No Problem.
Again using rocks or tennis balls, tie off the remaining two tarp corners to nearby trees.
If no trees are in a good position to tie the tarp neatly, run an additional line between two trees and secure the rope to the line.
The tarp should now have two tight, flat planes that lie comfortably above your eating area, and that will readily shed rainwater.
Step 6: Tip 6: Tuning Up a Sagging Tarp
After a night of rain, you might have to cinch up any sags that have developed in the tarp.
You can undo and re-tie the ropes tied with trucker hitches. Or, if only a minor cinch-up is needed, take a strong stick or an extra tent stake and twist it between the two lines coming from your trucker hitch. A few spins of the stick will tighten up the tarp line. When done, use a second light rope to tie off the stick to the tightened rope.
Step 7: Tip 7: Use Outdoor Carpeting Outside Your Tent Door
A small rectangle of outdoor carpeting takes very little room to bring along, and makes for a nice staging area for removing muddy footwear before entering the tent. It really helps to keep the mud and dirt outside where it belongs.
Step 8: Tip 8: the Most Important Tent Peg of All
Almost every time we've gotten lazy and skipped the installing of tent pegs, we've regretted it. It's disheartening to see your tent cartwheel away in a gust of wind.
While you're at it, don't forget the handiest tent peg of all: at the bottom center of your door. With this peg in place, you can work the tent zipper one-handed.
Step 9: Tip 9: Keep Your Footwear Dry at Night
If you bring your shoes into the tent at night, set them on plastic bags to make clean-up of the tent floor easier.
You can also keep them outside, under the tent fly. Just be sure to turn the shoes sideways or upside down so that a night-time shower doesn't soak them.
Step 10: Tip 10: a Clean, Dry Place for Food and Utensils
Most state parks have heavy grills that can hinge over the campfire. We never use these for grilling; the height is not adjustable and the cleanliness of the grates is suspect.
Instead, swing them out of the campfire, and slide some flat kindling in between the grates to make a simple holder for your cooking tools. Works great as a cooling area for corn on the cob, too.
Step 11: Tip 11: Rig Up a Firewood Holder
Add a few more strips of kindling to the campfire grate, to hold (and air out) your kindling pile or larger pieces of firewood.