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Waterproofing tent - seams only or all surfaces?

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More' started by Inazone, Oct 13, 2015.

  1. Inazone


    Aug 27, 2012
    I went on a three-day/two-night camping trip last week, and the weather took a soggy turn the first night. My brother and I each brought the same tents we'd used at the same site back in the spring, when it rained twice but for shorter duration overall. On the previous trip, we didn't get any water in our tents, but this time it came up through the floor of both.

    I'm still pretty new at camping, so forgive my newb question, but should I just focus on sealing the seams, or should I use a spray-on waterproofing treatment on the entire tent?
  2. calc


    Apr 7, 2014
    Seam sealer worked pretty well for the backpacking weight/size tent my wife and I use when we go camping. We've only got caught in the rain a few times, but it did its job just fine. YMMV.
  3. spyderg


    Sep 28, 2014
    A few years ago, 2 friends and myself went camping. As it turned out we had all just bought new tents. Friend 1 trusted his tent as is, friend 2 used seam sealer, I chose to use "Footlocker" boot spray. Friend 1 was soaked, friend 2 not soaked but his tent leaked. Mine was dry as a bone. Let both use the spray for the second night, it rained even harder but everyone was dry this time. I bought the spray after the sales guy sprayed some on one of those crappy brown paper towels and poured water on it, the water beaded up and ran off the sprayed portion and of coursed immediately soaked into the unsprayed section. It's like Franks red hot, I put that sh** on everything!
  4. gadgetgeek


    May 19, 2007
    depends on a lot of factors. a lot of tents, especially ultralight or lightweight tents do better with a footprint than without. If you are getting leaks from the floor that is just the seam, then seal it, if from all over, then you will have to look into other treatments. One thing to consider is that a lot of the sprays are a bit diminishing returns as far as water proofing. they will make water bead off when its just sitting on the fabric, but if its under pressure, as in soaked ground under you, they are less effective. I would not use any spray if the tent body is sil-nylon or if its PU-coated nylon, the cheaper stuff tends to be just nylon with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, which wears quickly, and only works in some conditions, ie, when the fabric is tight and nothing is touching it.

    what sort of tent do you have, and what sort of floor, flat, or a tub?
  5. Thomas Linton

    Thomas Linton

    Jun 16, 2003
    Your story sounds familiar. The large tent I used successfully for a week-long camp in July, 2014, with little rain leaked badly in a very rainy week-long in early July, 2015. Then I remembered that it was fourteen years old and only in the middle quality range.

    "Durable water repellent" is not waterproof and is called durable becasue it washes off (that is, not really durable). Unlike "waterproof," "durable" has no set meaning. It's like "good." It's the stuff you can buy in a can and spray on an "overcoat" that has started acting more like a blotter than "water repellent."

    "Waterproof" means that, when new, the material will not allow water to penetrate when the water pressure is equal to a 1000 mm high column of water. That is almost always due to a coating. The coating on the floor wears away from your first use so eventually, the material leaks. Cheaper tents start out at 1000 mm coatings and so they leak pretty quick. My tent described above had a 1300 mm coating. Better tents may have coatings over 3000 mm rating.

    The way to make the tent floor stay waterproof longer is a piece of plastic under the tent and one inside covering the floor. This system provides mechanical protection to the floor and also some added barrier to water. Indeed, your tent may be usable again simply by putting a plastic liner inside.
  6. SpyderPhreak

    SpyderPhreak Rocketman for hire Platinum Member

    Apr 13, 2004
    Totally depends on the quality of the materials and the construction of the tent. Does the tent claim to be "waterproof"? If so, then you really only need to do the seams. My 11'x11' Eureka! Sunrise tent we use for family camping at least twice a year (10-14 nights on average per year) is still as waterproof as the day I bought it 12 years ago. All I did was seam seal it, and I didn't have to worry about re-doing it for 10 years after that. We've had it out in some pretty drenching, long-lasting rain storms (in the middle of the night too), and it has kept us dry as a bone everytime.

    Also, something very important that many people don't realize is that you do NOT want your groundcloth (were you using one?) to extend past the edges of the tent, otherwise water will pool up between it and the tent and can eventually compromise the waterproof membrane.

    Finally, taking good care of your tent will make all the difference in the world. With our family tent, I use a good polyester floorcloth inside and a waterproof nylon groundcloth outside, to help keep the waterproof floor from wearing out and getting holes in it. We always dry it off as much as possible before packing it up. Mold/mildew will damage the waterproof membranes over time and compromise the tent. If it is still raining and not possible to put it away dry, be sure to set it up at home and dry it out before packing it back up for long-term storage.


    PS - Use SeamGrip polyurethane to seal the seams. VERY long-lasting, and I have not found anything that works better. The downside is that it takes time to do it right, and you'll need to leave your tent set up for a day or so to allow it to fully cure before packing it up. Once dry, wipe the seams down with a tiny bit of talcum powder to prevent them from sticking to each other. You can thank me later. ;)

    PPS - McNett's Tenacious Tape is also really good stuff to use to repair any holes you might get (they're bound to happen). Comes in an array of different colors. :thumbup:

    Here's a pic from this past summer of our tent mentioned above.


    Doesn't look 12 years old, does it? That's the difference taking care of it makes. :cool:
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2015
  7. taldesta

    taldesta Retired :-) Time is the Gold Platinum Member

    Jan 24, 2013
    Quality of/and/or product(s) aside ... is simple site drainage being addressed? Yes, groundcloth set under rainshedding fly for sure, fly to ground for rainshedding, not pitching in low (water catchment) area, tight pitch for separation of fly and tent ... mechanical shedding and diversion. I've camped in old times uncomfortably ... since the time when all tents leaked and no air mattress held air ... but I find a good pitch of a modern tent with fly to the ground on a site well chosen with good drainage is quite dry and comfortable and able to withstand a good few days of rain. Keep rain shedding in mechanical view. Tent and ground. Tent sites used to be ditched around perimeter for drainage. Perhaps we are not anticipating well enough?
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2015
  8. sideways


    Feb 19, 2013
    My first thoughts were of drainage too taldesta.

    Maybe there is water pooling in places it should not be pooling?

    One of the reasons I like a hammock is that it gets me up off the uneven wet ground. Throw a waterproof rainfly over it and you are good to go... for warm weather at least.
  9. Mannlicher


    Nov 19, 2008
    sometimes it just depends on the tent. My Eureka Outfitter 6, a tent I have used for at least 7 years now, has never been treated with anything, and has yet to leak a drop. Nothing comes through the floor, or the tent.
    Camping in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, in all sorts of weather, from the Keys and monsoon rains, to mountain downpours, it has remained dry, no matter what.
  10. OwenM


    Oct 26, 2000
    Depends on the tent, but a quality one should just need seam sealing when new. After a lot of use, UV exposure, etc. you may want to hit it with silicone spray. I did this for the heck of it while resealing the top seam on my Tarptent Notch after several years of use, though the material itself hadn't actually shown any leaks after 150+ nights in it.
    It's very rarely used, but I have a TNF Slickrock that comes out now and then if I camp at a TH. It came with taped seams, and has never seen a bit of care except having a small hole in the floor patched.
    Granted, I would probably hose it down with silicone spray and seal the outside of the seams if it went back into regular use, but it's at least 14yrs old.
  11. Hacked


    Jun 1, 2010
    The too biggest issues I've found with most tents are the tie outs at the corners and partial rain flys.

    The corners of most tents have webbing sew into or onto them. Cheap tents often sew the webbing into the seam. The webbing can act as a wick soaking up moisture into the tent throughout the night. Sealing the area where the webbing is attached as well as any seams that touch the ground is a good idea.

    The next big issue I've seen is tents that do not have rain flys that go almost all the way to the ground. Cheaper tents often have partial rain flys that act as more of an awning. The problem here is that the top of an inner tent is not sealed and isn't ment to be. It is designed to breath even the parts that are not mesh. So if rain gets on the side wall of the tent it will drip down until it gets to the seam where the upper tent meets the floor and begins to seep through at the seam. This is much harder to fix than the first issue and why I don't recommend these tents for anything other than fair weather car camping or backyard campouts.
  12. Inazone


    Aug 27, 2012
    Thanks for all the replies. The tent itself is an Eagle's Camp Crystal Canyon bought from Cabela's a couple years ago. It's now discontinued, apparently, but the description was still out on their site, including this:

    Weatherproofing Ever Dry™ keeps rain and moisture out, and is enhanced with factory-taped fly and floor seams.

    Now, I have camped with the exact same setup in the exact same campsite before, but even though it rained then too, it was far less rain overall. The site is overall fairly level with no obvious low spots, but this time around was reduced to a muddy mess. Based on previous comments, one mistake I made was that my tarp (a "sport tarp" from Menard's supposedly intended for camping use) did extend beyond the rain fly, resulting in standing water in a couple of places. That's probably what did me in.

    I found some Kiwi waterproofing spray that I must have bought and forgotten about, so I was thinking of trying after this experience. As far as I can guess, the water probably came up through the seams due to the tarp collecting water and redirecting it under the tent. Not sure that I'd need to spray the entire floor, but I do feel like it might be better to do so, just in case water did actually make it up through the floor material, not just the seams.
  13. leghog


    Aug 10, 2013
    Buy and use a seam sealer meant for silicone coated fabrics otherwise you're just wasting your time and your money. SIL NET Silicone Seam Sealer works well. It's about $5.00 - 7.50 a tube, and one tube will seal the seams of one average two man tent.

    Always use a proper ground cloth/foot print under your tent. Ensure its edges do not extend beyond your tent's floor. If it does, tuck the edges in by tucking the edges UNDER the ground cloth/floor.

    Once your tent is at a point you must spray the entire tent with a spray it's time to replace the tent. You either bought one of the cheapest tents available or the fabric just isn't up to the task any longer. This is caused by packing away wet tents, packing away dirty tents, or just age with too much UV exposure. I have a Kelty Canyon Ridge 2 (out of production nearly ten years now) that's about 20 years old, and it's still good to go, but I've been diligent and disciplined in keeping it clean and dry and hanging it clean and erected in the garage for a few days when I return home. When this tent does succumb and require replacing it will be to due to UV exposure.

    Lastly, take care never to touch the tent's sides while in the tent when it's raining. This allows moisture to wick into the tent at that point which may cause a leak at that point on the rainy day. Even when using the tent's fly over the tent this is a great habit to get into.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2015
  14. SpyderPhreak

    SpyderPhreak Rocketman for hire Platinum Member

    Apr 13, 2004
    I figured that might have been what happened. It's a common rookie mistake, and it sounds like you learned your lesson. That's what it is all about! :thumbup:

    I'd avoid using that stuff. Get something a little higher quality if you really think you need to spray your tent down. But if you do, it's likely the tent is going to be more trouble than it's worth, and you should probably invest in a new one. Sorry to say, but honestly that's not real great tent, and my best advice to you would be to upgrade for anything but fair weather.

    That's a good point, and something I skipped. The wall seam between the bathtub floor and the wall fabric should be seam-sealed as well. Some tents (like mine above) have a high bathtub floor and waterproof walls, and have venting at the very top. These are a good choice for a large tent, as they are less likely to have water penetration.

    That's not necessarily true. ;) Sil Net was developed for the newer ultra-lightweight silicone-faced nylon fabrics. It does not work nearly as well on non-silicone faced items (like the OP's tent). Many tents still use polyurethane as the waterproof membrane, and that's where Seam Grip is a much better choice (again, like the OP's tent).

    The opposite is also true; Seam Grip will not work well on silicone treated fabrics, and that is where Sil Net should be used instead.

    Again, that statement needs qualification. That will only happen on non-waterproofed fabric like the old canvas tents, or walls that have not been treated with a waterproofing material. Waterproofed walls will not do this.

    Personally, I like to avoid tents that do not have waterproofed walls, and have some sort of vent at the very top. I've found that those kinds tend to stay dryer inside in my experience.
  15. leghog


    Aug 10, 2013
    It’s more conditional upon the fabric's construction, the warp and fill vs the material, whether the material be canvas or nylon. A tight non coated canvas can be just as waterproof as a coated nylon. That's why when the old timers who were in the know bought a new canvas tent the very first thing they did was erect it and run it through a couple of cycles of soaking it completely and thoroughly through then letting it dry so as to tighten the warp and fill even more. Now not all fabrics even made of the same material are the same. SilNy, which is used in many tents because it's cheaper and lighter is prone to stretching thus wicking. Coating a fabric with looser warp and fill may or may not prevent wicking of moisture through the fabric when rubbing the fabric. Those coatings aren't nearly as durable as the fabric they coat. Out in the woods you'll often see tents with cracked and peeling PU coatings. They just crack and peel as they age and get exposed to UV. Also understand that other tents aren't coated entirely as doing so adds significantly to the weight of the tent (can be as high as 30%-40%). More weight is rarely the best compromise in a backpacking shelter. If you are only going to be car camping or are rarely a stone's throw away from your car weight doesn't really matter, but if you are hauling what you need on your back any appreciable distance, a little more weight here and a little more weight there weight adds up very quickly. Coated tents also add to another not insignificant moisture problem that must be dealt with. Condensation. This can prove quite a problem in frost and freezing conditions. Venting is the solution, but the different venting solutions bring about even more compromises to be considered. Just another of the MANY things to consider when selecting a tent(s). Every tent and every tent design is a compromise solution between many factors. Each man must choose his own compromises. One thing is common among all of them though --- the first line of defense is the fabric.

    I stand by my statement, it's good to develop the habit of not touching the walls of a tent, regardless of the tent.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2015
  16. SpyderPhreak

    SpyderPhreak Rocketman for hire Platinum Member

    Apr 13, 2004
    I can't disagree with any of that. It's all good info, but we're likely way beyond the OP's need now.

    One thing that I do not care for with all this SilNy stuff is the way it stretches a little once wet.
  17. Thomas Linton

    Thomas Linton

    Jun 16, 2003

    The only Kiwi products that I can find via Google are water repellent sprays. They do not even claim to create waterproof tent floors, sides, or roofs.

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