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How to waterproof a tent in 5 easy steps

A tent with water droplets running off it
Learn how to waterproof a tent to save springing leaks (Image credit: Getty)

Whether you’re wild camping on the Pacific Crest Trail, tightening guy ropes on a pitch as perfect as Wimbledon’s Centre Court, or squeezing your tent into a tiny space in a festival field, there’s no escaping the fact that your tent will get dirty. Mud splashes, hamburger hands and sunscreen smears can all compromise your tent’s Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish, which is already doing battle with wind, rain and UV light.

This matters, because it’s the DWR that keeps your best tents waterproof. By fending off rain and dew, which should ideally gather in beads and roll smoothly down the sides of the tent, the DWR (What is DWR?) stops the tent’s flysheet from ‘wetting out’ (soaking up water), thereby allowing condensation from inside to evaporate and escape rather than drip back down onto your best sleeping bags.

Follow this two-stage guide on how to clean a tent and how to waterproof a tent to restore your tent to its rainfall-ready status.

A tent with water droplets running off it

Reproofing your tent’s DWR coating makes water bead up on the surface instead of saturating the fabric (Image credit: Getty)

How to waterproof a tent: step-by-step instructions

  1. Wait for a dry day then pitch the tent outside (need help with how to pitch a tent?). Brush off any obvious mud, then use a clean, non-abrasive sponge, water and a dedicated tent cleaning agent, such as Fabsil Tent + Gear Cleaner, Nikwax Tech Wash or Fenwick’s Cleaner for Awnings and Tents, to wash both the flysheet and tent inner. Rinse well with a watering can or gentle hose after cleaning.
  2. Once the tent is clean, follow the instructions on a specialist waterproofing product – Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof, for example, is best applied to a clean, wet tent, while Fabsil Gold Universal Protector needs a clean, dry tent.
  3. Using a clean paint brush or pump spray, cover the outside of the flysheet with an even coating of the waterproofing agent. Do not waterproof the tent inner, because this will stop it from breathing. Pay special attention to seams, which are a common point of weakness in any tent’s defences against H20. Complete each panel before moving on to the next to avoid tide marks, and wipe away surplus product with a damp cloth.
  4. Leave the re-waterproofed tent to dry completely.
  5. When the tent is completely dry, pack it away ready for your next camping adventure. Don't know the best way to store it? Our guide on how to store a tent has you covered!
Jonathan Manning

After spending a decade as editor of Country Walking, the UK’s biggest-selling walking magazine, Jonathan moved to edit Outdoor Fitness magazine, adding adrenaline to his adventures and expeditions. He has hiked stages or completed all of the UK's national trails, but was once overtaken by three Smurfs, a cross-dressing Little Bo Peep, and a pair of Teletubbies on an ascent of Snowdon. (Turns out they were soldiers on a fundraising mission.)