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.



  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.

    • How do navigation, sun protection, food & water, and first aid supplies help “bomb proof” a campsite against stormy weather? Or are you going outside the scope of the article?

      • “Be Prepared” is good advice regardless of the scope of any article. With the possible exception of sun protection (I have seen bright sun right after a storm many times.) every item in the 10 essentials could be useful in a storm/post storm survival scenario. Read your Boy Scout handbook for more info!

  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!

      • Sorry, Kent – as thoughtful as it is, trenching is a no-no; specifically frowned upon by the BSA and LNT principles. You are better off moving than camping anywhere water will pool.

      • With low impact camping,leave no trace, trenching is not recommended anymore. However, a plastic tarp inside the tent helps a lot.

  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

  7. Best way to insure you have dry clothes and socks is gallon size zip lock bags. I’m a big guy but I can fit a days change of clothes in one and they flatten out to aid in storage also

  8. If high wind is the forecast I would not have the Scouts pitch their tents under a tree branch as seen in the picture.

    • also…pitching a tent at the top of a hill to improve drainage (as was previously suggested) may turn it into a “wind target”. Very likely to take a lot of wind abuse. Better to pitch it in a sheltered area sans overhead threats, where runoff is unlikely to occur. Situational awareness of conditions and location are paramount. In high wind conditions, I’ve had success using a brushy area (few trees) as a wind break. Gives good tie off points as well.

  9. Pack each days change of clothes separately in ziploc bags. Or, store everything in a trash bag (backpack, sleeping bag, etc.) inside your tent. If your tent leaks, you’ll have dry clothes! Also, make sure your tarp is tucked underneathe your tent so rain water does not accumulate on tarp and cause flooding.

  10. I was raised to believe that you do put a ground cloth inside your tent. On my first campout with a couple of Eagle Scouts they informed me I was wrong and it was supposed to be under not inside. So which is it? Please enlighten a Girl Scout now a Scoutmaster Mom.

    • you should have the ground cloth/Foot print under the tent. Also, not mention in the article only invest in tents with full coverage rain flys. The biggest failures for water getting into tents is inadequate footprints and cheap tents with inadequate rain flys.

      My Big Agnes has only gotten soaked once, when I accidentally setup at a campsite that was the main sheet flow drainage for the entire campground. That ranger quickly removed that site from the rotation for the rest of the season after I spoke with him.

      • Put the ground cloth under the tent (protects the floor from micro-punctures). Also, should not extend past the footprint of the tent. Fold it under if it does. Otherwise, rain will travel down the fly and under the tent…..

      • I agree with the other Jason Here. Buy a Big Agnes, you won’t regret it. They are NOT cheap but, the quality will outlast many other tents. I have taken my BA King Creek 6 out with Cubs & Scouts many times and was dry and cozy while everyone else was leaving due to being waterlogged, along with damaged and ruined tents. The other reason I love BA gear is it’s designed with big guys in mind. There sleeping bags, chairs, tables, etc… are all designed with real men in mind. Not the small asian measurements most other companies use. Lastly, BA will repair any tears & damage to your tent body for a minimal fee. I have had them replace my doors and patch up my pockets after years of use and wear. Total cost was $50 with the shipping too and from. A fraction of the cost of a new tent.

    • There will always be a debate on this, but the reasoning for putting it inside is that however well you treat the floor of your tent, it will not remain water proof for long. A ground sheet on the outside will let dampness gather in between it and the tent’s floor,

  11. One thing only briefly glanced on is “Operational Knowledge”. Yes, the article says older scouts but… The best scout master I ever had, Mr Taylor came upon me – cold wet and miserable huddled around a barely lit fire.

    So as he drops his pack and pulls out his knife and starts splitting wood…

    “Were you at the Troop meeting?”
    “Yes sir ”
    “Did you hear me suggest everyone check the weather?”
    “Yes sir”
    “Did you?”
    “Yes sir”
    “So where’s your poncho?”
    “Keeping my bed roll dry sir.”
    “Where’s your ground cloth?”
    “I’m using it as a rainfly”
    “We’ll where’s your rainfly?”
    “It blew away last night…”

    By now there is a raging fire, he hands me 3 packets of hot cocoa, after putting the kettle on.

    “So, your poncho wasn’t big enough so you swapped it for your ground cloth, ground cloth for rainfly…gear soaked because no rain fly, and having to swap your groundcloth. You’re alive and got a fire lit…and you’ll get some hot cocoa into you in a minute. What have you learned?”

    “I should have packed my stuff in a garbage bag, it would have stayed dryer. Had I laid in more wood last night it might have been easier to find dry stuff. Splitting the bigger stuff gets me to dry wood. Oh and back up snacks like soup or hot cocoa helps.”

    With a smirk on his face and a glint in his eye he asked “…and!?”

    “…” I had nothing, I shrugged.

    “And your knots need work so you don’t lose your rainfly in the first place.”

    You don’t know all that can go wrong, until you’ve been there to see it go wrong.

  12. Lot of good suggestions. Some of the most important are the basic ones though. Placement, placement placement! Like Dora and Ponani said above, don’t make your camp on ground likely to get wet or collect water. Get the fly up first to protect your gear and keep a dry area for firewood and kindling. Make sure your clothes are packed in a water proof bag. Bring enough clothes to cover weather expected or unexpected – an extra fleece pullover or vest or warm hat is not that much extra weight. Check and treat tent seams in between trips so that your gear is in good condition. Extra tarps to cover tents if they do leak or to cover your supply of dry fuel (which, hopefully you collected before it started to rain), extra lines and larger stakes in case of wind. I think someone also mentioned a stove – hot food always helps when the weather is nasty and you might not be able to get a good fire going. Bring some hot chocolate or bullion cubes for hot drinks. Think about some cards or something similar to help pass the time while you wait the weather out. Unless of course you like to go out hiking and singing in the rain!

    • I’d add: You won’t need a groundcloth to stay dry unless water is moving across the ground. And if’s doing that, you’ve already camped in the wrong place. Ground cloths are really for saving the floor, not staying dry.

  13. I think you forgot the number 1 thing. Talk to the park warden! So he knows how many in your party. If the place your camping has a storm plan or shelters. Not all camp areas are as rugged and remote as the BWCA. And after the storm in the Boundary Water a few years ago with the tree blow down and the subsequent lighting storm. It is good to have an evacuation plan.

  14. TYVEK or other house wrap material makes great ground cover for backpack camping or any camping experience. Light weight, stuff-able, and sturdy can go under and in a tent. Just make sure the letters are in the right direction when you use it.

  15. For starters, those tents are much too close together from a lightning point of view. Not to mention trip hazards for those midnight excursions.

  16. At “More Rain” State Park… National Scout Jamboree in 1977, not only did we have a “B” plan for activities, if it rained, we brought along rolls of plastic, that painters use to cover a floor while painting. Each tent was lined with plastic across the floor, and up about a foot on all sides…….. Well the rains, came, and came, and came. Our troop held tight, and dry while everyone around us was washed away,i.e Tents collapsing, sleeping bags, and personal gear, soaking wet. BE PREPARED!

    • As I recall, not all troop sites were all that well situated – many were in the low spots and flooded out despite the scout’s best efforts.

  17. Sleep in the car. Works every time. Also nice to not have to set up a tent, and minimizes damage to the land.

  18. Didn’t see the answer to why you put your ground cloth inside vs. outside the tent. Also like the idea of tyvek.

    • Use plastic sheets inside and outside if you want to play it safe. flooding sometimes will come right into your tent, and the double protection can save the day. With plastic lining the interior of your tent,floor and sides, is like sleeping in a boat…… water moves around you, and not through you.

      • There will always be a debate on this, but the reasoning for putting it inside is that however well you treat the floor of your tent, it will not remain water proof for long. A ground sheet music n the outside will let dampness gather in between it and the tent’s floor,

      • You could be right….. all I know is most unit around us we’re washed away…. everything soaked….There were many trips to town to find dryers for sleeping bags and wet clothes……. We also had a eight day “B” plan for activities outside of what the Jamboree offered….. that too, saved not only the day, but a % of the week. Happy Trails

  19. We like to camp right on a lakefront during the summer. However, we have some of the best fashioned Walmart tents like most people in this world… I have been through many scout and family camping trip disas… Learning experiences. The last one was accompanied by 60-70 mph sustained winds, hail, and unrelenting lightning right off the water, none the less it did not go well, one of two tents destroyed, and had to evacuate to a hotel….family scared and upset….recouped….the very next night, forecast was looking the same. I decided in order to survive again, needed to adapt. I figured out the wind direction off the lake, moved my SUV into place on the campsite, moved the tent directly behind it, tied tarp from luggage rack to the trees behind tent, creating little covered porch if u will between the car and tent, all clothes/gear in car… Prepared, the severe weather pounded the place, fellow campers lost tents that night, camper shell was ripped off couple campsites down, but we stayed perfect! When kids got scared we just hopped right in the car, nice and dry… The wind was essentially not a factor, not a raindrop got in the tent. Will be using this method from now when expecting red/purple radar formations…family stayed happy too, which is what counts

  20. when my sone was to go to boyscout camp and the weather was to be rainy all week, I sprayed his jacket, shoes, and the lleg of all his jeans with 2 coats of Camp Dry from Kiwi. His leader asked me how he kept dry all week while most of the other were wet despite precautions. I told him “Camp Dry”. That was over 30 yrs. ago and I still use it. It has saved many a wet campout. I have tried many other waterproofers and none compare.

  21. Sew additional stake loops. That sounds like advice from someone who has never camped before. I have camped my whole life, and in many, many different kinds of tents, in lots of weather ranging from mild to scary.

    The problem is not enough stake loops, the problem is that scouts tend not to stake their tent down or use all the stake loops. Properly staking down the rain fly is an essential part of making your tent ready for heavy weather. 75% of the tents I see on a campout have the rain fly attached at the tent corners and left loose to flap fore and aft. That compromises the ability of the tent to withstand high wind, plus reduces the effectiveness of the rain fly in keeping out rain.

    Plus, of course – do a good job of staking the tent down.

    I’m annoyed that REI’s quater dome tents don’t actually come with enough stakes.

  22. Put all clothes and anything essential in a large water-proof bag. I put a change of underwear and socks in their own zip-lock bags. I have a poncho exclusively for my pack. Finally, I have a bungee or three on the outside of my pack to dry things whilst moving with the ruck.

  23. 1. Have a tabletop risk management and response exercise with Scouts, Leaders to define plans, mitigation, and response to most likely hazards based on the characteristics of campsite. The “unforseen disaster control” consideration is always paramount. Tabletops allow scouts to consider and prepare for potential natural and human caused risks, and then develop and practice scenarios. Let the youth pose “what if this happens?” Then brainstorm best practice ideas to respond to or avoid the scenario. Ideas may range from proper equipment, behavioral response, to evacuate, shelter in place or cancel the event and reschedule. Then make sure that everyone participates in the “what if” practice scenarios so response becomes second nature and in an emergency, everyone is already mentally prepared to identify risks, and if a sudden emergency arises, there is already a practiced plan in place and most everyone will know what to do to prevent injury and illness, how to shelter in place or evacuate, and how to use emergency equipment and resources to cope with the emergency.
    Practical hands-on simulations of emergent scenarios creates confidence and instinctual practiced responses and teamwork. If everyone knows their capabilities and has training to apply those skills, catastrophic outcomes can be avoided in most situations. Very few youth and adults that do not engage in such preparedness training and simulation will experience optimal outcomes. Semper Paratus or “always prepared” which is Scouting’s timeless motto is always paramount. You cannot anticipate all possible scenarios in severe weather or natural hazards, but preparing for the most likely will give each youth and adult the tools to adapt to most emergent situations and to use their reasoning power to apply sound response and mitigation principles to almost any emergent health and safety/risk management situation.
    Some common and readily available tools to enhance preparedness include:
    1. NOAA NWS weather radio receivers that constantly update weather forecasts, and provide emergency weather alerts, watches and warnings for severe weather.
    2. Reliable communications to request emergency assistance. Remember that cell phones often do not work in backcountry areas. See backcountry communications article in the March-April 2016 Scouting Magazine for use of DeLorme Satellite linked Emergency communications devices [SEND], satellite phones, GPS locator devices, ham radio two meter band VHF radios/repeaters, cell phones often do not work in remote areas for lack of cell towers, so having backup systems in place can save lives and coordinate rapid contact with public safety resources.
    3. Practice and instruct Scouts and Leaders on appropriate clothing for backcountry scenarios. NO COTTON–COTTON KILLS due to water absorption and evaporative cooling causing hypothermia which occurs more in summer weather than in winter. A sudden rainstorm and wind can cause soaked cotton tee shirts and shorts, socks, jackets, and without synthetic wicking fabric [e.g., polyester, nylon, acrylic] that absorb very little moisture, Hypothermia is insidious and presents as abnormal mental responses where the affected individual does not even realize they are in trouble. Others have to recognize symptoms and take immediate action to provide shelter, removal of wet clothing and rewarming of the victim or death may occur.
    4. Take a BSA curriculum [16 hours] American Red Cross that provides substantial hands-on simulation approved Wilderness and Remote First Aid course

  24. With regard to the title, Making your campsite “disaster proof” connotes a virtual impossibiity given the poor power of we mere mortals to have any significant impact on force majeure phenomena such as flash floods, tornadoes, lightning and thunderstorms, hurricanes, high winds, wildfires, earthquakes, et al, ad infinitum. Similarly nothing can be considered “idiot proof” only “idiot resistant!…”

    Consequently, the preferred term utilized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross is DISASTER RESILIENT Communities [substitute Campsites].

    Such terminology is more in keeping with preparing for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from such phenomena with a minimal loss of life and property if at all possible.

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