Introduction: How to Car-Camp in the Rain: 11 Lifehacks

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.

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.

Step 5: Tip 5: No Tree in the Right Spot? No Problem.

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


thebeatonpath (author)2014-08-19

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)thebeatonpath2014-08-19

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.

hunter999 (author)2014-08-17

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)hunter9992014-08-17

Thank you for your kind words!

Bajamo (author)2016-08-26

Good ideas! What's your take on strapping on a tarp, like you have here (I always get rain puddles on mine) or buying one of those pop up tarps with 4 legs? My daughter said I need to be careful of the winds not blowing it away.

laresekae (author)Bajamo2017-06-03

Did you mean strapping one side to your tent, like a front porch? I've thought about doing that but (surprisingly) haven't needed to yet. I have seen posts where people have done that. Did you see further down about the variable-tension lines on the sloping corners? I think that might be safest and require least maintenance, not to mention that in a high wind, having the tarp attached to your tent just makes it more likely that it might pull the tent away too! This thread is making me think!

I've rigged a large tarp over my tent (Coleman said it didn't need a tent-fly and they didn't have one for it) because the sun was very hot that week and I desperately needed to shade my tent. There were trees to the west of my site (but buggy), so I set the tarp over the tent and slanted down on the east side, over/along the tent tie-down lines with a slight gap between the tarp and tent provided by the frame (I only had the pegs that came with the tent). I wished the gap was bigger to allow for more breeze/better dissipation of the heat. I learned from this experience that there's no such thing as too much rope! Or too many pegs, which also would've helped to enlarge the gap. Live and learn!

Also, a decent pop-up canopy should come with pegs and tie-down lines, my Ozark Trail one did, it even has a little wind vent in the peak. But if you're solo camping, it's a pain to put up on your own, the tarp might be easier.

DennisL88 (author)Bajamo2016-10-14

The diagonal corners of the tarp should be highest on the tree, with the other two corners lower. Make sure your lines are tight by using knots that can be cinched to tighten them up.

JeffreyS63 (author)2016-08-27

Great stuff.... but one more thing for tarping: Use webbing around the trees with a biner for the cord to avoid damaging the bark when cinching. Be kind to the trees at campsites or they will die leaving you an ugly campsite. Thanks for the great tips!

redrooster (author)2016-08-24

I like the tennis ball or rock trick. Now why didnt I think of that? LOL

Bajamo (author)redrooster2016-08-26

I used a rock this year camping, it worked wonderfully!

Okok (author)2016-08-26

We kept adding more and more "shade-inducing-artifacts" to our eating area last week, and even applied some of the tricks seen here, but I think the next time it will be better... See the sagging of the covered area after a light summer storm in Spain!

andrea.frank.925 (author)2016-08-24

I got some small door matts cheap at Grocery outlet for this purpose. The size makes it easy to fold over once and store under feet in the backseat of our sedan. Also, I found some rag rugs to put inside the tent. We drew lines of silicone glue along the back of them to reduce slipping.

sharpstick (author)2016-08-24

(burning man survivor)

- I like the tennis ball idea(rocks will work, too. Plastic tarp clips are handy for attaching to a tarp at any point on the edge.

- Housewrap makes a good cheap tent ground cloth(cut smaller than the tent, of course.) Just cut it a few inches smaller and lay it down before pitching the tent. It doesn't need to be tied.

- Some say you should tie your tarps and tents with heavy rope. I prefer to use small string. Storm blows up, breaks string. Tent falls down. Tie on new string and put it all back up. When a big windstorm or thunderstorm blows in, SOMETHING will break!

trgz (author)2016-08-24

that tennis ball trick is brilliant - it almost needs an instructable to itself

cavalier19 (author)2016-08-23

nice tips,makes caping much easier.

ampersand2006 (author)2016-08-23

Great tips for the tarp! I've been camping in rain for years, and always curse at my sagging tarp. This should take my cursing down a few notches. :)

lovethebackwoods (author)2016-08-23

We don't have a dog and usually only have a tennis ball around if I find one in the woods or a park when I'm out geocaching. However, I usually have on sneakers or hiking boots. I put a clean grocery bag on the end of my 28-year-old hiking stick (to protect the inside of my sneaker), stick my hiking stick into the sneaker, and use that to push up my tarp for drainage.

As an Alaskan Scouter (adult volunteer Boy Scout leader), this is my 43rd consecutive year of Scouting, and I grew up in the NY Catskills camping all the time as a kid. Our youngest son made Eagle in a very active troop that camped every month year-round (the coldest I've camped with my Scouts is 39 below). I love camping with them, and the adult camaraderie around a bedtime campfire is awesome! (We don't carry alcohol on Scout trips; campfire coffee is the only coffee I usually drink.) If a troop is not going out when I want to, I camp alone (which always unsettles my non-camping husband).

Dressing for the weather, using layers of clothing, and avoiding cotton ("Cotton kills") are all helpful tips. I remind my Scouts to change ALL clothing at bedtime - socks, underwear, the works. There are many youtube videos with all kinds of camping and sleeping safe and warm tips, and more recipes than you could ever use.

Thank you for this well-organized camping 'ible. The pictures and camping tips combine for great instruction. Good job!

prain1 (author)2016-08-23

Very informative, like the tennis ball trick.

ooohlaa (author)2016-08-23

My bf in Hawaii and I earned the title Campers in the Rain, and we did many of the suggestions and camped under tarps with no tents and lots of mosquitoes even. What were we thinking? Wonderful presentation and wonderful comments all. Thanx so much for the trip I took down memory lane. Now I live a similar rustic lifestyle in rural FL farmland so no longer have to camp to get in Nature!

Russ2016 (author)2016-08-23

Another good idea is to face your tent towards the Dining fly so you can leave and enter without getting wet

carl5blum (author)2016-08-23

Hi Gang:

For my tent I cut a blue tarp to size for a ground cloth. I put grommets and innertube rubber band to latch them to the corner stakes. The advantage is it is just the right size and doesn't stick out to gather water from the roof.

Then I cut a second tarp over sized for the inside. I have had an inch of water in the tent and my sleeping bag was still dry in this tarp boat.

Thanks, Carl.

HappyToBeAlive (author)2016-08-23

Fire sterilises ALL! just wire brush the grille... I need to take ya camping...that said...nice instructible

AndrewS339 (author)2016-06-30

I like your tip #10 but I find a log or rock that is big enough to put under the grate that will make it open up flat. Then I can use it for pots & pans that have just come off the fire and a prep table if I don't have a picnic table in the campsite. You just need a cutting board or small sheet of plywood if you are worried about cleanliness. If it is sturdy enough for it, you can bring a 2'x2' concrete paver along with your dutch oven (heavy I know but not a big deal if car camping) and you can use that spot for your dutch oven & leave the ring for your campfire.

bextia (author)2015-09-15

The tennis ball/rock trick has lighten my day. Thanks for sharing such a great tip!

SWSL (author)2015-09-13

OK, here's a big one I've learned from long term camping in festivals and gatherings where storms would come in and take out 90% of the tarps in a few minutes. If you are going to see much wind at all, with a tarp, you want some decent tension as well as slope to avoid the dreaded pooling, yet also need to be ready for wind to blow that guy around like a sail. If you can be sure of wind direction in advance, you can probably set it up to deflect. But storms can be variable and gusty. So what do you do? Set up something that will give you just as much tension as the tarp can handle and then let the tarp move when the wind gets strong enough to rip it out. Bungee cords, which I used to hold in disdain, can do allow this needed flexibility in select places. Not everywhere, but in one or two key spots. Even better sometimes is using a weighted tie. For your rain spilling points, instead of tying down to ground, you can use a weight, a rock branch or whatever to pull the tarp down but be lifted up in high winds so you still have a tarp when the gust dies down. Another way to do it is run the tie line for your spill side loose and then hang your weight in the middle of the tie line to give it tension. That way, it has whatever the slack is to flex and move with high winds.

Another way to get flex is to use thinnish branches as your shock absorbers. But be careful just using connected, leafed tree branches as tie-offs as they can work to a degree but then in higher winds the branch itself is taking your tarp for a ride! Better to use a cut branch fixed to something on one end. But I like the weights best for adjustable flexible tension.

Many think that they can simply outpower the windy storms with good ties, but it usually takes a commercial weight tarp on a full framed structure to pull that off. Better to allow for movement if flying free-form.

Of course in some places, it rains without wind and practically anything works in those regions/conditions. Happy camping!

Standing Hawk (author)2014-08-17

To tie the line and be able to tighten it anytime without having to untie it, try tieing what they call a Taut Line.

(this entire thread is good) but your linkage to the Taut Line is pretty awesome. It's exactly the knot I'm looking to utilize for setting and maintaining tarps. My thanks for sharing it.

From one squid to another - Thanks for bringing up this knot!

This is a great article - I have many missing grommets on my tarps! Never thought of securing it with a tennis ball or rock! Thanks!

hchute (author)cv66seabear2014-08-20

Thank you! I've been learning a few things from these comments, so I'm really glad I posted the Instructable..!

That is my absolute FAVORITE knot! What the site doesn't show well is that it works like a ratchet. It's really quite remarkable. I've been using it for almost 20 years since I learned it in the Klutz Book of Knots and it still amazes me today how it works.

hchute (author)Standing Hawk2014-08-17

I hadn't seen that before -- that's a great tip. Thanks!

brianchadorourke (author)2015-03-01

Really nice ideas. Hope to use a few soon!

rvstealsanddeals (author)2015-02-02

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

hchute (author)rvstealsanddeals2015-02-02

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

Nonreality (author)2014-09-13

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)Nonreality2014-09-14

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.Greg (author)2014-08-20

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 (author)Lt.Greg2014-09-08

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 (author)DIY-Guy2014-09-08


hchute (author)Lt.Greg2014-08-20

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.

western (author)2014-08-24

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)western2014-08-31

Nice ideas -- thank you!

bovine (author)2014-08-20

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)bovine2014-08-20

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 (author)hchute2014-08-20

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)bovine2014-08-20

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

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.

RedZone133 (author)2014-08-29

Super tips and helpful comments !

hchute (author)RedZone1332014-08-31

Thanks very much!

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