How to Waterproof a Tent with a Tarp: Best DIY Guide

As an avid camper, you know that one of the keys to a great camping trip is having quality gear that will keep you comfortable no matter the weather. A waterproof tent is essential for staying dry, but over time even the best tents can start to leak. Applying a tarp is an easy and affordable way to add an extra layer of waterproof protection to your tent and prolong its lifespan. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to waterproof a tent with a tarp to ensure you stay dry and comfortable on all your future camping trips.

Why Waterproofing Your Tent Matters?

Why Waterproofing Your Tent Matters

Before jumping into the step-by-step instructions, let’s review why it’s so important to waterproof your tent in the first place. Here are three key benefits:

Protection from the Elements

The main reason to waterproof a tent is obviously for protection from the elements. When you’re camping, there’s always a chance you’ll encounter rain, dew, or damp ground. A waterproof tent acts as a barrier to keep you and your belongings nice and dry inside. Adding a tarp provides an extra shield against precipitation and moisture seeping up from the ground.

In addition to rain, a waterproofed tent also protects against morning dew settling on the fly or floor overnight. Nothing puts a damper on a camping trip like waking up to find your tent soaked through from condensation. Proper waterproofing prevents those unpleasant wet surprises.

And don’t forget about mud and ground moisture. Over time, dampness from the soil can seep into the floor fabric. By laying a tarp first, you create a waterproof barrier between the wet earth and your tent. This prevents moisture from being wicked up through the floor overnight.

Extended Tent Lifespan

Over time, even the most rugged tent fabrics can start to break down when exposed to the elements. The floor is especially prone to wear and tear over repeated use. Dampness, ultraviolet rays, and abrasion from the ground take their toll on the waterproof coatings.

Regularly applying waterproofing treatments helps maintain the integrity of the fabrics. Spray-on formulas penetrate the outermost layers to restore water repellency. And seam sealants prevent leaks at the most vulnerable places where fabrics join.

Adding a tarp as extra insulation from rain and moisture will further extend the life of your tent. The tarp takes the brunt of the wear, not your tent floor. This saves unnecessary abrasion and sun damage. With proper care using tarps and sealants, a quality tent should last for many seasons.

Peace of Mind

Finally, having a fully waterproofed tent gives you peace of mind on your camping adventures. You can sleep soundly knowing your tent will hold up in a surprise rainstorm. And you won’t have to worry about waking up in a puddle if morning dew seeps through the floor overnight.

Taking the time to properly seal the seams and layer on a tarp means one less thing to stress over in the great outdoors. Just set up your tent, stake down the tarp, then relax and enjoy your camping trip without fretting over leaks. A waterproof tent lets you focus on fun times outdoors rather than worrying about wet gear.

Materials You’ll Need to Waterproof a tent with a tarp

Waterproofing your tent only requires a few simple materials:

  • Tent
  • Tarp (size should match tent footprint or be slightly larger)
  • Tent stakes or weights
  • Seam sealer
  • Sealant applicator or sponge
  • Waterproofing spray (optional)

The key is choosing the right protective tarp for your specific tent. Read on for tips on selecting the perfect tarp.

How to Waterproof a Tent with a Tarp – A Step by Step Guide

Waterproof a Tent using a Tarp

Ready to get started? Follow these simple steps to properly waterproof a tent using a protective tarp.

1. Choosing the Right Tarp

The first step is selecting an appropriately sized tarp to place beneath your tent. Consider these factors when shopping for the perfect tarp:

  • Tarp should be slightly larger than tent size. You want the edges to extend several inches beyond the perimeter of the tent. This provides full coverage underneath.
  • Select a heavy duty or reinforced material. Thick vinyl, canvas, or polyethylene tarps withstand abrasion and hold up to weather best. Avoid flimsy plastic sheeting.
  • Look for waterproof vinyl or canvas fabric. Coated nylon also works well. The material should repel moisture and not absorb water.
  • Choose a tarp with grommets for staking. Grommets allow you to securely peg down the edges of the tarp so it doesn’t flap around.
  • Darker colored tarps are best as they absorb and retain heat well. This prevents condensation underneath the tent.
  • Try a purpose-made tent footprint tarp for an exact match to your tent size. Otherwise go slightly larger.

2. Setting Up Your Tent

Once you’ve selected the perfect tarp, it’s time to set up your tent! Follow these steps:

  • Find a level campsite free of rocks, sticks and other debris
  • Unroll the tarp and smooth it out flat in the planned tent spot. Make sure it lays completely flat with no bumps or wrinkles.
  • Place the tent centered precisely on top of the tarp, with all sides aligned evenly.
  • Stake down the tent corners as usual through the tarp into the ground.
  • Pitch the tent as normal, anchoring all guy lines and vestibules.

Be sure no edges of the tent extend beyond the tarp perimeter. The tarp should completely cover the entire ground surface beneath your tent for reliable waterproofing.

3. Attaching the Tarp

With the tent pitched, it’s time to secure the protective tarp into place:

  • Pull the tarp edges flush with the base of the tent walls. Align evenly all around.
  • Stake down the tarp grommets around the perimeter. Drive stakes through the grommets angled away from the tent.
  • Weigh down loose tarp edges between grommets. Place rocks, sandbags or logs around the sides.
  • Check for tightness and re-adjust. No area should be loose or sagging.

Keep the tarp pulled taut underneath the tent. Stake all grommets securely. Prevent flapping by securing the sides tightly with heavy weights.

4. Securing the Tarp

To fully secure the tarp for optimal waterproofing, complete these additional steps:

  • Seal tarp seams and edges with a waterproof sealant. This prevents moisture ingress.
  • Spray the tarp surface with a waterproofing spray. Apply a saturating coat per the product directions.
  • Seal around tarp edges again where they meet the tent walls. This creates a waterproof barrier.

Sealing the seams and edges prevents moisture from sneaking and seeping underneath. And a waterproofing spray provides an extra layer of protection.

5. Sealing the Seams

Now it’s time to turn your attention to the tent itself. Go around the tent and apply seam sealer to any stitched seams along the floor, rainfly, vestibules, and anywhere fabrics join. Work the sealer into the threads with an applicator. Pay special attention to:

  • Floor seams
  • Fly attachment points
  • Doorways and vents
  • Anywhere a pole passes through fabric
  • Zippers

This seals off the microscopic holes where water molecules could sneak through. Let the sealer cure fully before using your tent. It may require several coats.

6. Testing for Leaks

Before heading out camping, it’s smart to test your handiwork. Set up the tent and tarp in the backyard and spray liberally with water. Allow it to soak in, then check inside and around the perimeter for any dripping or moisture penetration. Mark any problem spots and reapply sealer.

You may need to reseal a few times and test again until everything appears dry inside when sprayed down. Now you can be confident your tent is ready for wet weather camping!

Tips and Tricks to Enhance Waterproofing Using Tarp

Here are some additional pro tips for getting the most protection from your tarp:

  • For really wet conditions, use an additional tarp inside underneath the tent floor for added waterproofing.
  • Look for heavy duty tarps made specifically as tent footprint ground covers. They are perfectly sized and extremely durable.
  • Periodically reapply a dedicated waterproofing spray to both the tent and tarp to refresh water repellency. Don’t let it wear off.
  • Let tent and tarp fully dry before packing to prevent mildew growth. Stuffing when damp encourages mold.
  • Store the tarp loosely when not camping to prevent creases from becoming permanent cracks.
  • Carry duct tape for emergency tarp repairs like small tears or grommet detachment.

And be sure to frequently re-treat the tent itself with a high quality waterproofing spray. This restores the factory water repellent coatings over time. With proper maintenance, your tent and tarp will resist water for many seasons.

Positioning the Tarp

Pay close attention to properly positioning the tarp under the tent for optimal performance:

  • Place tarp edges slightly beyond tent perimeter with extra overlap.
  • Pull tarp very taut with no loose areas before staking down.
  • Angle stakes through grommets away from tent walls to create tension.
  • Weigh down sides between grommets to prevent wind billowing.
  • Check for sagging areas and re-tighten periodically while set up.
  • Make sure no tent fabric extends beyond the tarp edges.

With the right techniques, you can easily waterproof a tent with a tarp to keep dry in any conditions. Your tent will last longer thanks to reduced wear and abrasion too.

How to Waterproof Tent Seams?

How to Waterproof Tent Seams

One of the most important parts of waterproofing a tent is sealing the vulnerable seams. Here are some tips for getting it done right:

  • Use a dedicated polyurethane seam sealer product, not just any old glue.
  • Apply a thin, even coat into the seams and let fully cure overnight per directions.
  • For factory sealed seams, refresh sealer regularly as it wears off over time.
  • Don’t forget spots where poles feed through, vents, zippers, rainfly, and vestibules too.
  • Check for missed spots by spraying seams with water to reveal leaks.
  • Reapply seam sealer once or twice per season for best results.

Properly sealing all seams is vital for a completely waterproof tent. Follow these tips to prevent leaks all camping season long.

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Conclusion

Adding a tarp underneath is an easy, affordable DIY way to waterproof a tent for superior weather protection. Just be sure to seal all the seams, apply a waterproofing spray, and stake the tarp edges securely. Your tent will last longer, and most importantly, you’ll stay nice and dry on your camping adventures.

Now you know exactly how to waterproof a tent using a tarp to keep rain, dew and moisture at bay. Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about wet weather surprises!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How big of a tarp do I need for my tent?

    The tarp should be roughly 12-18 inches wider and longer than your tent size to allow sufficient overlap around the walls. Too large can create flapping in the wind. If unsure, go larger rather than smaller.

  • What is the best material for a tent tarp?

    Look for heavy duty vinyl, canvas, or polyethylene tarps. These resist punctures and abrasion best. Ensure the fabric is fully waterproof, not just water resistant.

  • Where exactly should I position the tarp under the tent?

    The tarp should sit flush underneath the tent walls with no fabric overhanging. Stake the tarp edges just beyond the perimeter for full coverage from rain and moisture.

  • How often do I need to reapply waterproofing spray treatments?

    Ideally, treat tents and tarps before first use and then once or twice per camping season thereafter. More frequent water exposure means more frequent re-treatment.

  • What spots on the tent should I focus most with the seam sealer?

    Pay particular attention to sealing all floor seams thoroughly. Fly attachment points, vents, zippers, and pole joints also often leak if not well sealed.

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