The Dreaded Tent Condensation: How to Prevent and Manage It on Your Thru-Hike

Condensation can ruin your thru-hiking nights. Learn what causes tent condensation, tips to prevent it, and how to manage it when it occurs on your backpacking trip.

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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!

My Dan Durston X-Mid Pro 2 Person DCF Tent is a single wall tent which will always have condensation buildup
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Many new long-distance hikers may have never heard of nor experienced heavy condensation in their tents before their first trip. For many of us, this wasn’t a thing when we car camp or used our tents at a campground.

When you begin thru-hiking, though, you start to stay and camp in a wide variety of climate and weather conditions, and you will notice how different each one can affect your tent.

You will also notice how condensation can vary depending on how humid it is outside, how many people are in your tent, what kind of gear you have in your tent, how much you sweat during the day, etc.

Today I wanted to tackle how to prevent condensation in tents to provide some ways you can look to minimize condensation or ways to manage it if you experience it on your hikes.

What is Condensation Anyway?

Condensation occurs when the warmer water vapor in the air meets the cold night air through a cold surface and turns into liquid water droplets. When we perspire, our bodies release water vapor.

This same principle applies when we breathe out as we release water vapor with each breath. All of this water vapor rises and meets the typically colder roof of our tent, turning into water droplets or condensation.

While we can’t completely prevent condensation from happening, there are ways to manage it, so it doesn’t ruin our gear or make sleeping uncomfortable.

Understanding how it occurs and how you can manage it will help you with managing a wet tent on your hike.

What Causes Condensation in Tents?

Since condensation is such a pain when trying to keep your gear as dry as possible, let’s face it as a thru-hiker, it won’t be super dry often. Keeping things as dry and clean as possible is vital for comfort on the trail.

Typically, there are three primary causes of condensation in your tent, and they are:

Your Breathing Is Typically The Largest Contributor

Your breathing releases around 1 liter of water each night, and this moisture is a big reason you may find a large amount of condensation on the inside of your tent wall and on your gear in the morning.

As we breathe out, we release water vapor, and as that water vapor hits the cold walls or roof of our tents, it will condense and form tiny droplets of water.

This is why you may notice more condensation on the top of your tent or around your face as you sleep since that is where most of your breath escapes.

External Air Temperatures and Humidity Contribute To It As Well

If it is already humid outside, there is a higher chance that you will have more condensation in your tent since there is already more water vapor in the air.

The colder it is outside, the more likely the water vapor will also turn into condensation on the inside of your tent.

You Have More Gear or People In Your Tent

If you have any extra gear in your tent, it will take up space and make it harder for air to circulate, which can cause more condensation to form on the walls of your tent.

The same goes for having more people in your tent, as it will raise the internal temperature and cause more perspiration.

Ground Temperature

If even dry ground is very cold and warm air manages to reach it, you can find droplets forming on the tent floor, making sleeping uncomfortable.

Tips to Prevent Tent Condensation

There are a few key ways to help prevent condensation from forming at an insane level, but note that especially in a single-wall tent you will need to maximize the below to limit the levels of condensation by focusing on the following:

  • Choose a Double Wall Tent: While the weight is typically more, a double-walled tent generally provides more breathability and typically allows for fly removal for even more airflow.
  • Choose a Tent with Good Ventilation: When shopping for a tent, be sure to look for one with good ventilation. Tents with windows and vents will help allow air to circulate and will also help reduce moisture build-up.
  • Pitch Your Tent Properly and in the Right Spot: Be sure to set up your tent in a spot with good airflow. Avoid areas where there is little wind or air movement and for trekking pole tents, get the pitch as high up as possible to allow better flow underneath.
  • Use a Ground Cloth: A tent footprint will help to create a barrier between the tent floor and the ground itself. This will help keep moisture from rising into your tent and add to the breathing that will already occur.
  • Don’t Touch the Walls of Your Tent: When you touch the walls of your tent, you transfer moisture from your body to the fabric. This will actively draw the condensation from the wall into your space and allow it to make it inside the tent.
  • Keep Wet Gear Outside of Your Tent: Make sure anything that could bring excess moisture inside your environment is kept outside the tent and in your vestibule if possible. Some items like clothing and shoes you may need to bring in.
  • Don’t Set Up Camp In Proximity to Water: Another key is to limit outside moisture. While the picturesque views may be amazing, they come with higher humidity and more condensation, so always put space between your campsite location and water sources.

How to Manage Condensation When It Occurs

Managing tent condensation when it occurs can be tricky, but you can do a few things to help mitigate how bad it gets and how often.

  • The Wipe Down: Most single wall shelter users will adjust to bring something like a sham-wow style quick absorbing and squeeze to dry, allowing you to efficiently clean off all excess moisture and not just shift it around to help the tent dry.
  • Avoid Folds in Outer Wall: Folds provide a place for the water to create droplets and fall into the tent; the flatter the walls, the better the water will follow the fabric when it collects enough to form a droplet.
  • Open Doors: If you have doors on each side, open one on each side to help create cross ventilation and allow the air circulation to pull excess moisture out of the entire tent.
  • Stop And Dry Tent In Open Air: Thru-hikers can’t wait for the full sun to come up, you may pack away a wet tent body and rain fly, but you need to remember to stop and pull them out once you have good airflow and sunshine to hang them out to dry.

FAQ On Other Gear Getting Wet From Condensation

Additional gear may have issues if it gets wet. Like your tent, other gear can end up with moisture and dampness.

Below are some tips and thoughts on managing drying gear.

What if My Sleeping Quilt or Bag Gets Wet From Condensation?

Most sleeping quilts and bags have a DWR or durable water repellent coating that will help keep the moisture beading up and not soaking them down. If your sleeping gear does happen to get wet, make sure to hang it up in a spot where it can dry out as quickly as possible.

On a thru-hike, many will pack up everything and hike until the sun comes up, and they have an open and well-lit area to allow for taking a break and drying out your shelter and your backpacking quilt or sleeping bag.

What if My Clothes Get Wet From Condensation?

If your clothes get wet from condensation, the best thing to do is hang them up in a spot where they can dry out quickly. If you’re on a long-distance hike, you may not have the luxury of hanging your clothes up to dry, so pack extras just in case.

Final Thoughts On Tent Condensation

When it comes to dealing with condensation in your tent, the best offense is a good defense. Using these tips to prevent condensation from occurring in the first place, you’ll be able to enjoy your thru-hiking nights without worry!

Condensation will happen no matter your excellent skillset and placement, and weather will make for temperature differences inside and outside of the tent fabric, which is what drives the moisture to form in the first place.

Your goal is not to have it so bad that your gear gets soaked or sleep is uncomfortable. With some planning, you can make sure your next backpacking trip is condensation-free!

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