Ground Rules: Storm Hero

Nine fine tips to disaster-proof your campsite when bad weather moves in.

As I canoed a popular lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area after a storm, I came upon a snug camp occupied by a troop of older Scouts. The guys were relaxing by a blazing fire and sipping hot chocolate. Nearby stood a crisply rigged tarp with several dry packs around it.

I told the Scoutmaster that every camp I’d passed that morning (except his) was a disaster: flooded tents, lines brimming with wet clothes, not a campfire in sight. He listened with a smile and then proudly answered, “Yep, we got us one bomb-proof canoe camp here!”

A “bomb-proof” camp doesn’t just happen; you must meticulously plan and execute one. To become a hero during a storm, follow these rules:

1. Read every camping book you can find; even the old ones have some good stuff.

2. Always use a waterproof plastic ground clothinside your tent—except in winter when the tent’s bottom would freeze to the ground. (Click here to see “Bedding Down Without the ‘Ow’” in our September-October 2009 issue.)

3. Sew additional stake loops to the body of your tent. The common three or four loops per side provided by the manufacturer usually aren’t enough to secure a tent in a bad storm. It’s easy to sew these additional storm loops. You need a few feet of inch-wide, lightweight nylon webbing—available at most hardware stores and camping shops. You can sew the loops by hand or with a sewing machine.

Ordinarily, you won’t have to stake the extra loops, but if a high wind comes up, those “storm loops” can make the difference between a tent that survives the storm and one that doesn’t. Where possible, secure storm lines to the framework of the tent, not the fly. Try to locate storm loops so they attach with Velcro to nearby poles, transferring stress to the frame.

4. Bring twice as many stakes as your tent needs for a normal setup. Two stakes per loop—each set at a different angle—will double the surface area and holding power.

5. Bring a variety of tent stakes so that you’ll have what holds best in different types of ground.

6. Attach loops of shock cord to high-stress storm lines. Nylon tents and lines expand when wet; shock cord keeps them tight.

7. Bring tools to make a rainy-day fire (if local restrictions allow fires): candle, fire-starters, sturdy knife, folding saw. Use a splitting wedge or hand-axe for splitting small logs to get at the dry heartwood inside.

8. Everyone needs a sitting pad. The ground gets wet during a rain, so bring a piece of closed-cell foam.

9. Don’t leave home without a nylon tarp. A 10-by-12-foot tarp, with enough cord and stakes to rig it, provides a dry place to cook and make repairs. The alternative? Dog-house it inside your tent until the storm lifts. I suggest one rain fly for every five campers.

If you bring two tarps, you can rig one lean-to style (open front, back staked down) and “float” the other overhead to provide a horizontal awning. If you leave an air space between the overlapped tarps, smoke from a backlogged fire will be drawn out through the “ceiling hole” rather than drawn into the shelter.

Cliff Jacobson, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, has written more than a dozen top-selling outdoors books, including Basic Illustrated Camping (Falcon Guide, 2008).

3 thoughts on “Ground Rules: Storm Hero

  1. Absolutely essential– dry clothes. Had a miserable weekend in Kansas City, MO once because we “experienced campers” only brought a change of socks with us. Woke up in two inches of water. Soggy all day. Not very nice. Should have listened to our mothers when they said “Take more than just socks with you.”

  2. We just finished camping in Denali National Park, some areas are heavy with roots from trees and rocks hidden below. Even though one can tie tents off at times, good stakes are essential. We used stainless steel stakes in these areas because they do not bend or break like aluminum or plastic and as mentioned previously by another person, have extra!

  3. Ensure that each person brings the “10 essentials”
    1. Navigation (map & compass + know-how)
    2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
    3. Insulation (extra clothing, rain layers)
    4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
    5. First-aid supplies (pack for specific outing, may only need band-aids & moleskin per person)
    6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles/dry tinder)
    7. Repair kit and tools for tent/pack etc. incl. duct tape
    8. Nutrition and Hydration (extra food & water or water purification system)
    9. Knife
    10. Emergency shelter (as simple as garbage bag, emergency blanket etc.)

    On rainy days when you are staying at a base camp and are heading out for a hike, have everyone bag up and waterproof their sleeping gear and extra clothing inside their tents just in case water gets in despite your best waterproofing efforts, then everyone has a dry place to sleep and dry clothing to change into.

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