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Waterproofing your shelter

Waterproofing your tent

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

You’ve waited all year long, put in the training miles, the scouting hours and are finally sitting there in the backcountry with a tag in your pocket. An unbelievable feeling, right? A feeling that all of us look forward to each and every time opportunity presents itself. It’s hard to sleep that night, knowing that opening day is tomorrow. Nonetheless, you lay under the warmth of your sleeping bag, trying to fool yourself into drifting away for the night. While doing so, a storm rolls in and, sooner than later, you’re dodging water drips coming from the roof of your shelter. With intermittent rain as the forecast for the entire week, this isn’t a good feeling. Each one of those water drops makes you wonder if waterproofing your shelter beforehand wasn’t such a crazy idea after all.

Do I really need to waterproof my shelter?

Do I really need to waterproof my tent

I know that there are many folks out there who don’t even think of this. With how much we pay for these ultralight shelters, common thought tells us that there is no way that we’d have to waterproof them. While that might be — and should be — true for the most part, it still leaves chance on the table. I’ve done both. I’ve had shelters right out of the box in rainstorms and not a drop gets in. There have also been situations where the opposite is true. Of course, that is speaking about new shelters, right? What about the ones that you’ve used for years and have baked in the sun for more than a few seasons? These should have an extra amount of attention on them in the case of waterproofing. Waterproofing your shelter before the season is just good practice to avoid playing “dodgedrop” once the season hits. With all of the other preparation we go through, this is something relatively easy to accomplish and provides peace of mind should the rain come.

When to waterproof

Waterproofing your tent

So, if you have decided that this waterproofing your shelter business is for you, you now have to decide “when” to do it. The short answer to the question is “before season, duh.” However, something to keep in mind is that the waterproofing spray that you apply needs time to dry properly in dry conditions. You can’t be throwing that spray on and then having it rain that night. This can compromise the recent application to the shelter. On top of that, this stuff needs to be fully dried before packing the shelter away for your hunt because if it isn’t dry, it can cause the fabric to stick together, which can lead to tiny holes and completely defeats the purpose of what you just did. That, and it adds another chore: patching. So, watch the weather, apply when it’s appropriate and let it fully dry before stowing away. I’ll actually leave my shelters up in the backyard for a day or two, just to be sure. Make sure your sprinklers don’t go off in the process. Been there, too.

How to waterproof

Waterproofing your tent

The “how” behind waterproofing might vary slightly from product to product, but there are a few things that seem to be universal. The first is that you want to apply the spray to a clean and dry surface. If that means you need to spray your tent down with water beforehand and let it dry, then that’s probably what you should do or maybe you should even consider a tent cleaning product. However, there are some products out there that allow application when wet. The bottom line is that you should read the directions on whatever waterproofing product you decide to use.

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Start out by setting the shelter up in the backyard. You could also just lay it flat on the ground for application, but I feel having it fully set up is the easiest way to do this. Next, apply the waterproofing spray to the whole outside of the tent, paying attention so you don’t miss any areas. While doing this, I’ll pay extra attention to seam lines. These will all get a full spray along them. Most shelters have some type of seam protection, but I say better safe than sorry. I’ve seen some seam protection just straight fall off in the past. In those cases, I was glad that the waterproofing application was applied, as I had no issues. Depending on how your shelter was stitched, you might also want to seam seal the stitching on the seam lines. Some tents need to be seam sealed and others do not. Also, pay attention to any slight sumps that might be present in the roof of the tent. These are areas that can collect water and deserve a generous application. Once this whole process is done, it’s time to let it dry.

In some instances, I have also applied a second application just to be on the safe side and make sure that everything got saturated with the waterproofing spray. This isn’t mandatory by any means, but something to think about. Remember, after applying, to let everything dry completely before stowing it away.

Waterproofing other gear

How to waterproof other gear

Aside from shelters, there is other gear that you can waterproof on your own. For instance, boots are a popular one and there is both waterproofing cream and spray to choose from. Heck, I’ve even heard of folks applying some of this stuff to reinvigorate rain gear in the past. I’ve never done that personally, but it’s an interesting thought. As it goes for the shelters, whatever gear you need to try and waterproof, make sure that you read the label and follow the directions to get the best results.

To close it out

Waterproofing your tent

There are a ton of good companies out there that are responsible for making great shelters. I’m not knocking them in the least bit at all. Most of the time these are going to keep you dry right out of the box without any hassles. However, I’m someone that likes to make sure things are tied up and in order. After all of the dedication and anticipation of the season, I don’t want there to be a question about my shelter. I don’t want to say, “Ah, it should be fine.” Saying “should be” and “yes” are two different things. Applying a waterproof spray to your shelter is kind of like using aftermarket insoles in the boots you wear. The boots come with insoles that we can absolutely use. However, putting in the aftermarket ones enhances their performance. So, while applying a waterproof spray is modifying your product, it’s also in the same sense, making it better.

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1 Comment

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ewallis
Eric W. - posted 1 week ago on 05-15-2020 06:59:36 am
Steelville, MO
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Good article Josh, always on my annual checklist. I might add letting the tent soak in the sprinkler for several minutes once the waterproof coating has had its recommended drying time just to be sure you don't have any problem spots.