Step-by-Step Instructions for Pitching a Dry Campsite in the Rain

Step-by-Step Instructions for Pitching a Dry Campsite in the Rain

It’s tempting to just throw in the towel when it’s raining and cancel your next kayaking trip. Who wouldn’t rather have the sun shining and a nice, dry, campsite?

If you’re like me, though, you don’t really have this option unless you want to give up your passion for seven months out of the year. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s always raining. Yet we have some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in America and some of the most gorgeous campgrounds you’ll ever see. I don’t want to miss out on that at any time of the year!

I’ve had to therefore master the art of pitching a dry camp even when it’s raining. Thankfully as a kayaker most of my gear is already packed in dry bags. That helps. But transferring all the stuff to the campsite and setting up is where things get tricky.

I’ve gotten the process down, though, and it’s best to approach it step by step. You don’t have to follow these exact steps—everyone personalizes the process—but this is a good starting point. It works for me, and should work for you!

1. Choose a campsite that will give you good drainage and provides you with the best shelter you can get.

Stay away from tall trees (thunderstorms). Try to find a soft rise or slope where you can pitch your tent. Avoid the temptation to build trenches. In many locations, this is not even legal, and it is a general waste of time and energy. Also stay away from rivers and streams which may be prone to flash flooding. Watch out for a similar effect which can happen with large lakes. Lakes can easily rise feet in minutes (I’ve seen it). Watch out for wind too, especially on beaches.

2. Check a tide table or look for the wrack line.

Make sure your boat is secure and won’t be swept away.

3. Set up a tarp for your gear.

This will be the first of two tarps you will want to set up. Mind that you set up your tarp in such a way that the runoff is not going to end up dripping on your gear or on your tent.

4. If you have a self-standing tent, set up your groundsheet under the tarp and then stand your tend on top of it.

If you have a tarp tent, you can put it anywhere that makes sense, but it’s best to have the tent hanging over the opening so that you have that little dry space just outside. Note that even if your tent has a floor sewn into it, a groundsheet is still a good idea. You can place it under the tent or inside it. Putting it underneath the tent is best in my opinion, because this will keep the bottom of your tent from getting muddy. This saves a lot of time and hassle later when it is time to pack back up. Just make sure the groundsheet doesn’t extent past the edge of the tent floor. Why? It will turn into a lake by morning.

5. Next, move your packs from your kayak to the area under the tarp.

That way you can open them and remove their contents without them getting wet.

6. Now you have your packs in a dry place where you can unload them.

At this point you can extract your sleeping bag, air mattress, clothes, and so on and get them into you tent.

7. Next you want to put up a second tarp about 150 feet away.

This keeps your food and fire away from your sleeping area, but within a short dash so you won’t get too wet going back and forth.

8. The second tarp will be your cooking and eating area.

Bring the food and cooking packs from the first tarp and place them under the second tarp. You can now begin unpacking your cooking gear. If necessary, you can start collecting twigs for a fire. If you want, you can start cooking at this point.

9. Check your kayak and paddles again.

You want to make sure that everything is properly stowed and secure against the weather.

10. You can now hang up your rain gear to dry and change into your dry camp clothes.

Hang the drain gear up under the tarp that’s next to your tent. Keep in mind if it is really deluging, you will probably want to eat first. In bear country, you should also try to eat and get your foodstuffs put away quickly. You may want to do this before changing.

11. Finish cooking.

At this point you can eat, wash your dishes, and stow your food.

12. You can now take a quick wash if you want.

It is easiest to do this in the eating area, especially since you can heat up some water there. Hopefully you packed a nice cotton towel with you. Yes, they’re bulky, but they are so worth it.

13. Now you are finally ready to hole up in your tent and go to sleep.

The sound of the rain drumming on the tent can be very soothing, at least to me—so I actually like this aspect of camping in the rain!

As a quick note, it is well worth it to bring an umbrella with you. A lot of campers skip this because they already have so many waterproof bags and gear and clothes that they don’t see the point. But when you are jogging back and forth from tarp to tarp, you are getting wet. An umbrella will spare you this. There is nothing “wimpy” about bringing an umbrella—it’s just efficient. So bring one! You’ll be secretly relieved you did.

How to Break Camp in the Morning

Let’s assume it’s raining the following morning. What a pain—you cleverly managed to keep all your stuff dry when setting up, but how do you take it all down without getting everything wet? As you might guess, it is as simple as reversing the steps above.

1. Pack your sleeping bag, mattress, and clothing in your dry bags.

Once you have done that, you can then move these outside under the tarp that’s next to your tent.

2. Strike your tent (do this under your tarp if you can).

Shake off as much water as possible. Then you can pack it up.

3. Next, you want to take care of your groundsheet.

This is probably quite muddy and will definitely be wet. You want to stow this in a separate pack so that it doesn’t muddy up your tent or any of your other supplies.

4. Pack your dry camp clothes and change into your paddling clothes.

Anything wet (like towels) should be stowed separately.

5. Go get your food stuffs, cook it and eat, wash up your dishes, pack it all away, and then move your food and cooking gear back under the original tarp. Pack up your cooking tarp. Then take down the remaining tarp and stow it away.

And from there you are all set and ready to get back in your boat and paddle on! Yes, kayaking and camping in the rain is tricky, but it can be very enjoyable and rewarding, and once you get your campsite procedures down to a streamlined checklist, you will hardly notice the inconvenience anymore. So get out there and enjoy your beautiful scenery and your rainy climate!