The Constant Battle: How Thru-Hikers Manage Wet Tents on the Trail

Packing a wet tent while backpacking brings constant challenges. Learn how thru-hikers battle the wetness to keep their gear dry and mold-free on long hikes.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

rain drops falling on the surface of a puddle
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In your first week on the trail, you will probably have to put away your tent while still soaked, if not from the rain from loads of condensation and morning dew.

Learning how to effectively pack away the wet parts of your tent while keeping other parts dry is essential, but also learning what to do to dry out the tent is just as vital.

Let’s discuss how to pack a wet tent when backpacking and how to manage this busy process, teaching you the ins and outs of why you don’t want your tent to stay wet for long periods.

What Makes a Wet Tent Different Than a Dry Tent?

For thru-hiking, wet tent adds weight to your back that you must carry along with additional maintenance time later in the day to dry it out.

Then you have to think about the wet tent causing other gear to get wet if not properly stored away from other dry gear.

Therefore, packing away a wet tent when backpacking is essential for success.

Why Wet Tents Are Unavoidable on Long Treks

There are reasons that unlike usual car camping or overnight treks, thru-hikers tend to carry wet tents more often and for longer periods:

Early Starts To Your Day

For the vast majority of thru-hikers, you will have early starts to your day before the sun has hit its peak and produced enough sunlight and warmth to help dry out the tent.

That means you’ll have to break camp for the day with a wet tent and carry it around for most of the day.

Managing Mileage Needed To Next Camp

When trying to make specific mileage, you will have to manage your time well, early starts to the day are good to help with this, but if you know you have 20+, your focus won’t be on waiting an hour to dry out your tent.

Managing Packing Of Your Wet Tent

There are some slightly different ways to manage a wet tent from the perspective of having a single or double wall tent I wanted to call out:

Packing Up a Wet Double Wall Tent

The most common tent for many is the double wall or an inside tent body and a rain fly that connects to the outside to keep the rain out.

Step 1: Detach the Inner, Roll it, and Store it in the Dry Area of the Pack

To start, you want to do your best to keep your inner as dry as possible. For many tents, you can detach and leave the outer rainfly in place, giving you cover from any rainfall while packing away your inner.

Once taken off the main tent outer, you will want to roll it nice and tight. To keep this dry, you want to add it inside your pack and if possible, inside a dry sack or pack liner.

You really don’t want the inner to get soaked as this is your sleeping area, and this is the last place you want to have to dry later.

Step 2: Take Down Fly & Poles

Next, you will need to take down the rain fly and poles, and you will want to keep the poles out outside your pack in their sack.

If raining, roll it up and get into the tent sack as fast as possible. If it isn’t actively raining, take the time to shake it out and get as much moisture off as possible before storing it.

Step 3: Packing Wet Gear Outside Pack Or Away From Dry Gear

If you don’t have a tent sack, then you could go inside with caution if wet to keep away from dry gear.

For your rainfly, you will have a wet and heavier piece of gear that, if possible, you want to keep outside your backpack.

The large front pocket would be perfect for carrying this.

If you have no space in the pocket, you will want to keep it at the top of your pack but away from all dry items. This is less preferred, though, as it has risks.

Packing Up a Wet Single Wall Tent

A single-wall tent is a little different as you need to take it down and pack it away wet only in the rain. You want to be efficient to avoid as much rain as possible.

Step 1: Take Down the Tent & Poles

With single-wall tents, you will need to take down the whole tent, which leaves you no cover for any rainfall, so you need to have a plan before starting.

You will need to take down any poles. More than likely, these will be trekking poles as these are most common on most single-wall shelters like the Zpacks Duplex and Gossamer Gear The Two.

If you want to see more distinction between them I built a comparison between the Zpacks Duplex Vs Gossamer Gear The Two here.

Once the poles are down, you will want to organize and roll up your tent and get it into its tent sack as fast as possible.

If not actively raining, shake it to get off as much moisture as possible.

Step 2: Packing Wet Gear Outside Pack Or Away From Dry Gear

If you don’t have a sack, then you can go inside with caution if it’s wet to keep your dry gear away from the wet.

When possible, you want to keep the wet and heavier piece of gear outside your backpack in the large front pocket.

If you have no space in the pocket, you will want to keep it at the top of your pack but away from all dry items.

This is less preferred, though, as it poses a risk to other dry items.

Where to Pack the Wet Tent in Your Pack

This is a key for a thru-hiker. If you use a contractor or nylaflume backpack liner, you can add the tent inside even when wet.

I prefer to add my tent to the front pocket so that once I stop for a snack or find a good open area with sunlight, I can quickly whip it out and hang it on a tree branch or similar for maximum airflow and sunlight to start drying.

Some people prefer to add their tent inside the pack, but this is only really suitable for shorter periods when you know your gear will stay dry and you may have further to go before adequate sunlight exists.

Drying Out Time is Sightseeing Time

Having a wet tent with you should drive you to take a long break, preferably where the sun is shining heavily, and you get amazing views of the surroundings.

This is the perfect time to take in the forest and surrounding area, taking out your tent and allowing it to air and dry in the sun as soon as possible each day when wet.

Tent Care Tips When You Reach Town

Once you reach town, you should perform a deeper check and clean of your tent, cleaning and testing any worrying waterproofing areas on the fabric as necessary.

It would be best if you also understood how your tent was affected by the wet weather conditions and how you can make improvements for next time.

Unpack and Air Out ASAP

While you should have been doing this on the trail already each day, you should do one while inside a room to clean more effectively and check for any issues or problems you may not see on the trail.

Inspect For Mold or Mildew Growth

This is a prime time to look for starting mold or mildew in the many cracks and sewn areas to stop it before it worsens.

If you find any, you may need to start again by cleaning with a mixture of one part vinegar and two parts water to kill it off as soon as possible.

Final Thoughts on Managing a Wet Tent on Trail

When packing up a wet tent when backpacking, we want to be efficient and organized. This keeps us dry and helps us get back on the trail effortlessly.

Managing how to pack a wet tent and store it when in town is also key, making sure you air out the tent and inspect for mold or mildew growth before packing again.

Overall, if we take proper measures with our tents, we cannot be protected from the elements better, but we can also extend their lifespan.

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