Make your campsite disaster-proof during bad weather


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. First of all, know the weather forecast. Check the weather before you head out on a campout, and have a plan if the weather gets bad. At least one leader attending the outing should have completed “Weather Hazards” safety training on

2. Set up a rain fly shelter immediately when you get to camp. This way, if the weather quickly changes, you’ll have a place to stay dry (or keep your gear dry). A 10-by-12-foot tarp, with enough cord and stakes to rig it, provides a dry place to cook and make repairs.

3. Always use a waterproof plastic ground cloth inside your tent.

4. Did your Scouts bring rain gear? This article examines how to select the best rain gear. Don’t let your Scouts leave home without it, particularly if there’s a risk of rain in the forecast.

5. 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. 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.

6. Bring tools to make a rainy-day fire (if local restrictions allow fires): candle, fire-starters and a sturdy knife. Use a splitting wedge or hand-axe for splitting small logs to get at the dry heartwood inside. Better yet, bring a camp stoves for cooking to avoid the need to make a fire in the rain altogether.

7. Everyone needs a sitting pad. The ground gets wet during a rain, so bring a piece of closed-cell foam. This is particularly handy when temperatures plummet, too.



6 thoughts on “Make your campsite disaster-proof during bad weather

  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.

  4. Never mentioned are the safety aspects. Where did you camp? Although, often you have little choice. You in the flood plain? Area of runoff? What is up above you? Any potential widow makers? That one high, lone tree that acts like a lightning rod? For us in Hawaii or on the beach are you way above the high surf zone? If using campfire, do you have some wood hidden to stay dry?
    I have found if you have a fire, dry clothes and can get out of the wind/rain the boys will have a great time no matter what the weather. Just different kind of stories to tell.

  5. Something nobody mentioned is placement of tents. Not in hollow, but on a rise where water will not gather. Elementary, Watson!

  6. In much younger days, I was a scout, as well as a sea scout, and thought I “knew it all” even into my late teens..1940’s, WW II , and in the army out in “the field” on maneuvers .near Ft. Knox, Ky…. wrong. !!
    First few nights of sleeping on the hard ground, I noticed some of the guys would “liberate” fence wire that was perfect for attaching between two trees with a limb placed on each end, horizontally for the “bed”, then placing moss, grass, whatever, on top of the “hammock” with bedroll on top. then, securing a single wire above for your “Shelter half” for a cover from rain, etc. Man, I gotta do that too, and not sleep on the ground again…Well… wouldn’t ya know, my first night of comfort in my hammock was interrupted by a terrible rain and lighting storm, which, almost immediately, blew off my overhead covering “shelter half” and left me with pouring rain in my face.. got out of my hammock type bed and ran and “stooped” under my gunner corporal’s (still secure) hammock and cover, for protection.. Almost immediately, a lightening bolt struck a nearby tree, and with bare feet on wet ground, I got a heck of a jolt, which caused me to raise up from stooping which turned the protective cover of the hammock above me, upside down, with resulted in my corporal friend falling face down in the mud and rain….I won’t tell you the “rest of the story,” because it’s not pretty…..So, you can see, be sure to have all ropes, etc. well tied down……Buster Barlow

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