How Do You Know if a Tent Is Waterproof? (Simple Test)

The last thing you want to do is find out that your tent isn’t waterproof when you’re out camping and it starts raining.

This is something you should check periodically before camping trips, whether your tent is old or new.

But, how do you know if a tent is waterproof or not?

We reveal a quick and easy test to check if your tent is waterproof, take a look at the different waterproof ratings, and we’ll even cover how to DIY waterproof your tent if it needs it.

How to Make Sure Your Tent Is Waterproof

You can quickly check if your tent is waterproof by running a simple test in your backyard with just your tent and a garden hose. Essentially, you want to spray your tent down with a hose and see if it’s waterproof or not.

Related: Do I Need to Waterproof My Tent? (Important Tips)

Tent Waterproof Test

  1. Pitch your camping tent on a clean, flat area outside.
  2. Close the tent’s doors and windows.
  3. Attach the rainfly and vestibule if applicable.
  4. Attach a spray nozzle to your garden hose.
  5. Now, spray the tent down using your hose. For best results, don’t aim the hose at a specific spot. Instead, simulate a rain shower by aiming the flow upwards and gently sprinkling the tent with water for a more natural effect. And be sure to spray around the bottom of the tent, as well, to test if the tent floor is waterproof.

Tip: For a more hands-off test, set up a sprinkler and let it spray your tent for 20-30 minutes.

If you notice any water leaks along the tent seams or the tent material itself, the tent is not waterproof.

Whether your tent is brand new or has seen its fair share of camping trips over the years, this is the most sure-fire way to tell if your tent, including its material, seams, rainfly, etc., is waterproof.

Aren’t All Tents Waterproof?

No, not all tents are waterproof. While many are waterproof, some tents, even new ones, are considered water-resistant, meaning they merely slow down the entry of rainwater into the tent but do not stop it completely.

Typically, these tents use tightly knit fabrics to slow water penetration but still require an additional waterproof coating to be considered “waterproof” or “water repellent”. Many canvas tents are produced this way (though it really just depends on the manufacturer).

Even new tents with a “waterproof” coating may not be as waterproof as you need them to be.

It really comes down to the waterproof rating of your tent, whether there are any flaws in the seams or tent fabric, and the weather you typically camp in.

Most new tents will come with a minimum strength of 3000 mm of hydrostatic head. What does this mean? In short, hydrostatic head is a measurement of how much water a fabric can repel. In other words, how waterproof your tent is. The higher this rating is, the more waterproof your tent will be.

For example, a 5,000 mm waterproof tent will be better than your typical 3000 mm rated tent. And a 10,000 mm waterproof tent will be better than the 5,000 mm rated tent at repelling moisture.

Is 3000mm waterproof enough for a tent?

A 3000 mm tent will keep most rain, light snow, and dew from penetrating your tent.

For example, the Hui Lingyang Pop-Up Tent features a 3000mm – 4000mm rating right from the manufacturer and does a decent job of stopping water from penetrating your tent.

Hui Lingyang Pop-Up 4-Person Tent

Hui Lingyang Pop-Up 4-Person Tent

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Frustratingly, not every tent manufacturer supplies their waterproof rating.

Coleman, for example, makes waterproof tents using their proprietary WeatherTec technology. However, they do not display any sort of waterproof rating on their website or products themselves.

But, even if your tent has an excellent rating, it could have some defects, even as small as a tiny tear in a seam that you can’t see, which could result in water leakage.

So, you may still need to waterproof it.

How to Waterproof a Tent (DIY)

If your tent failed the waterproof test above, or you just want to add a little protection to your tent, you can easily make your tent waterproof with our simple 3 step process.

Here’s a quick rundown of that 3 step process. Check out our guide on How to Waterproof a Tent for more detailed instructions.

1. Clean The Tent

Before we begin the waterproofing process, we need to ensure the tent is free of any dirt, debris, sap, or anything else that may have found its way on the tent material.

Any gentle soap and a sponge will do the trick. Check out our guide on how to clean a tent for some important tent cleaning tips.

Tip: This is also an excellent time to inspect your tent for small tears, rips in the seams, etc. Repair any holes in your tent before proceeding.

After you’ve completed cleaning and mended any tears, set up the tent on a flat surface.

2. Seal the Seams

A seam is a point where two pieces of cloth are joined together, making them one of the most vulnerable spots for your tent to leak.

Sealing your tent’s seams is a vital yet often overlooked part of the waterproofing process.

We highly recommend using a seam sealant designed explicitly for tent use, like Gear Aid – Seam Grip WP Sealant Adhesive.

To apply the seam sealant, use the supplied applicator or a paintbrush and brush on the sealant. It’s OK to be liberal with your application. If you spend a lot of time in heavy rain, both sides of the seam should be treated with the seam sealer for added protection.

3. Apply Tent Waterproofing Spray

Now, it’s time to waterproof your tent!

Be sure to choose the right type of tent waterproofing spray for your tent’s material. Modern tents are usually constructed of synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. However, canvas and canvas hybrid camping tents can be found.

Long story short, if your tent is made out of synthetic material, then you use Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof! This is an extremely durable water repellent product that will withstand not only rain and moisture but block the sun’s rays from damaging your tent fabric.

If you have a canvas or cotton-based tent, they have a cotton tent waterproofer, as well.

Tip: If you have a canvas tent, read our in-depth article titled Are Canvas Tents Waterproof? to see if you should season your canvas tent or waterproof it.

To apply Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof:

  1. Pitch your tent and, if applicable, lay the rainfly on the ground next to it.
  2. With your tent still wet/damp from washing it in step 1, spray down the exterior tent walls and the rainfly with the Nikwax spray. Cover each evenly.
  3. Allow a few minutes for the product to dry completely before wiping off any remaining liquid with a rag or cloth.
  4. Allow the tent and rainfly to completely dry out of the sun.

Your tent is now waterproofed! Once your tent is dry, you can perform the waterproof test again to make sure it is sealed properly.

Keep in mind, waterproofing a tent, which is an essential step to completely weatherproof a tent, will need to be done more than once as the waterproofing compounds will break down over time. Check out our guide on how long tent waterproofing lasts for more information on this.

Regularly checking your tent to see if it is still waterproof, and re-applying waterproof spray as needed, is the best way to ensure you and your tent stay dry while camping!

Bonus Tip: Using a groundsheet or footprint under your tent will help keep water from soaking in through the floor.

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