How to Waterproof a Tent With a Tarp (Avoid This 5 Common Mistakes)

You want to go camping, but you’re worried about your tent getting wet in the rain. 

You don’t want to buy a waterproof tent and don’t have time or money for expensive treatments that promise to make your tent water-resistant. 

How to Waterproof a Tent With a Tarp

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to waterproof your existing tent with a tarp! Following the instructions outlined in this article, you will learn how to waterproof a tent with a tarp in a few easy steps. 

You will learn how to position the tarp over your tent, secure it in place, and cover key areas that could be vulnerable to water.

So without delay, let’s get started. 

Complete Guide: How to Waterproof a Tent With a Tarp

Step 1: Prepare the Surface

Before setting up your shelter, it is important to make sure that you properly prep the surface. This will help ensure that your tent and tarp have a solid foundation on which to build.

Starting with a clean base will also help reduce water absorption and ensure that the tent remains waterproofed for longer periods. Use a broom to sweep away any leaves, sticks or dirt that may have accumulated on the ground.

Step 2: Place the Tarp Down First

Once you have prepped the surface, it is time to begin setting up your shelter. Start by laying down the tarp first and ensuring it is centered and leveled on the ground.

If possible, use stakes or rocks to secure the tarp’s corners and pull it tight against the surface for maximum waterproofing.

Step 3: Place the Tent on Top of the Tarp

Once you have secured the tarp, place your tent on top. This will ensure that water can’t enter the tent through any gaps in the tarp. Make sure to use all included stakes, loops, and ties to ensure your tent is properly secured to the ground.

Place the Tent on Top of the Tarp

Step 4: Secure Edges of Tarp Around Tent

Once you have placed your tent on top of the tarp, securing the edges around your shelter is important. This will help ensure that no water can enter underneath the tent and create an extra seal against wind and cold air. You can use rope or elastic straps to keep the tarp in place.

Step 5: Using Seam Sealer for Extra Protection

To give your tent extra protection, you can use a seam sealer on any exposed seams or cracks. This will help to ensure that the inside of your tent stays dry no matter how rainy or windy it gets outside.

You should also use seam sealer around the edges of your tarp to give it a more secure grip and to help keep out any moisture.

Step 6: Adding Urethane Coating on The Floor

For additional protection, you can also apply urethane coating to the floor of your tent. This will help to waterproof it against any moisture that might seep in from the ground.

If your tent does not come with a waterproof floor, you can purchase urethane coating from any camping or outdoor store.

Step 7: Securely Stow Away All Your Gear

Finally, securely stow away all of your gear when not in use. This will help ensure moisture or dirt does not accumulate inside the tent and compromise its waterproofing.

Securely Stow Away All Your Gear

It is also important to keep all items off the floor when possible, as this can create pockets where moisture can become trapped.

These steps will help you waterproof your tent with a tarp and stay dry during your camping trips! It is important to regularly inspect your shelter for any leaks or holes and practice proper maintenance and storage techniques to keep it in the best condition possible. 

Some Additional Tips When Using A Tarp Over A Tent:

1. Make sure to use the tarp and tent according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Apply a new layer of seam sealer every few months to help keep out moisture.

3. Place rocks or stakes at each tarp corner for extra stability and waterproofing.

4. Reapply urethane coating on the tent floor every few months.

5. Always securely stow away all your gear when not in use. 

6. Inspect your shelter regularly for any leaks or holes and fix them as soon as possible. 

7. Carry a repair kit with you whenever you go camping in case of any unexpected damage to your tent or tarp.

8. Move the tarp if it starts raining heavily or if there is a high wind gust to ensure that the water and wind are not pushing against your tent.

Advantages You Get Using a Tarp Over Tents:

Protect Your Tent

A tarp over your tent will protect it from UV rays, rain, wind, dirt, and debris. It helps you keep your tent in better condition and prevents it from becoming worn out or damaged too quickly.

While hiking or camping outdoors, having a tarp over your tent can also be beneficial for keeping you comfortable and warm.

Increase waterproofing

Using a tarp with your tent can help increase the waterproofing of your shelter. This is especially beneficial during heavy rain or periods of extended rainfall.

Increase Waterproofing

Tarps are usually made from more waterproof materials than tents, so they will provide an extra layer of protection for you and your gear. Additionally, some tarps have reinforced corners and edges, which increase their waterproofing capabilities.

Keep the Inside Warm

Using a tarp with your tent can help keep the tent’s interior warm and dry. Tarps act as an effective wind barrier, helping deflect cold air away from your shelter while also providing extra insulation that helps retain heat inside and outside the tent. This will help keep you and all your gear dry and safe from the elements.

Lightweight and Portable 

Tarps are usually much lighter and easier to transport than tents, making them a great option for those traveling light. They also don’t take up as much space in your backpack or vehicle, leaving room for other essential items you might need on your camping trip.

Keep Your Tent Clean

Using a tarp with your tent is also a great way to keep it clean. As the tarp will be underneath the tent, it will be the bottom of your shelter from debris that might otherwise accumulate over time.

Keep Your Tent Clean

This will help prolong the life of your tent and keep it in top condition for many years to come.

Give Shade

Finally, using a tarp with your tent will also provide shade from the sun. This can be especially helpful when you are trying to keep cool in your shelter during hot summer days.

In addition to providing shade, having a tarp between you and the sun also helps reduce interior condensation. Because it deflects direct sunlight away from your tent, reducing the amount of moisture buildup inside. 

Now that you know the benefits of using a tarp with your tent, let’s look at how to waterproof it effectively. You can take several steps to ensure your shelter is well-protected and remains dry during wet weather. 

Disadvantages of Using Tarp Over Tents:

Can be an Extra Burden in High-Wind: 

Using a tarp with your tent can be an extra burden in high-wind situations. A large tarp will create more drag, making it more susceptible to the effects of strong winds. This could potentially cause damage to your shelter if the tarp gets ripped or torn during a gust of wind. 

Add Extra Weight: 

Tarps are not usually heavier than tents, but they can add extra weight to your camping gear. This might not be a problem if you have access to transportation and don’t need to carry the shelter long distances.

Tarp Can Add Extra Weight

However, for those who are backpacking or hiking, this could be an issue as it adds additional weight that must be carried.

Not as Quick to Set Up: 

Due to the increased complexity of using a tarp with a tent, it is not as quick or easy to set up as just pitching a tent on its own.

This can be especially challenging in inclement weather or when pressed for time. Although the additional time spent setting up is worth the added waterproof protection, you must factor in the extra setup time when planning your camping trips. 

By now, you should better understand how to waterproof a tent with a tarp and the potential advantages and disadvantages associated with this method. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Tarp for Waterproofing:


One of the most common mistakes when using a tarp is getting the size wrong. The tarp should be large enough to cover all your gear and provide extra protection on the sides and edges but also be small enough so that it does not become cumbersome or too heavy to handle. Ensure you have the right measurements before you purchase or use a tarp for waterproofing. 

Gap Between Tarp and Tent: 

Another mistake often made is having gaps between the tent and the tarp. If there are any openings, water can still get inside your shelter, defeating the purpose of using a tarp in the first place.

Ensure the tarp is tightly secured around the tent to prevent water seeping in. 

Wrong Type of Tarp Material: 

Different types of tarps are available, and it is important to choose one suitable for waterproofing. Some tarps are made from breathable materials, which will not help in creating a waterproof barrier.

Wrong Type of Tarp Material

Make sure to read the material specifications before purchasing your tarp to know what type of material you need for waterproofing. 

Not Keeping Space for Ventilation: 

When using a tarp for waterproofing, it is important to remember that the air must still circulate inside the tent.

Covering your shelter completely with the tarp risks trapping moisture and creating a damp environment inside the tent. Leave an opening or two at the top or bottom of the tarp so that air can still circulate. 

Installing Without the Attachment Points: 

When installing a tarp, it is important to use the provided attachment points. This will ensure that your tarp is securely in place and provides maximum protection against water.

Not using the attachment points can result in a loose or poorly fitted tarp, which will not be able to keep the tent stable during high wind or rain. 

These are some of the common mistakes to avoid when using a tarp for waterproofing a tent.

Ensure you understand the different materials, sizes, and attachment points available before setting up your shelter with a tarp. This will help ensure that your tent is properly protected against water and other elements. 

How Long Does Tent Waterproofing Last?

The lifespan of a tent waterproofing treatment depends on several factors, including the type of material used for the tarp and how often it is exposed to the elements.

Generally, if treated properly with a good quality tarp and sealed correctly, your tent should remain waterproof for up to two years. After that period, you may need to consider reapplying the waterproofing treatment.

How Long Does Tent Waterproofing Last

Additionally, you should especially pay attention to areas of the tent that are more exposed to direct sunlight and rain, such as the top or seams and zippers.

This is because UV rays from the sun can weaken and degrade tarp material over time. If you notice any water leaking through or signs of fabric wear on the tent, it’s time to reapply to waterproof.

It is also important to regularly inspect your tent and its seams for any damage or wear that could compromise the waterproofing treatment. Look out for fraying edges, holes, cracks, or other damage allowing water penetration into your tent.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can seam tape help keep water out of my tent?

Yes, using seam tape can help to keep water out of your tent. Seam tape is a durable material that helps to seal the seams and prevent water from entering through the stitching.

Although it does not make the size waterproof on its own, when combined with a tarp or other waterproofing treatment, it can effectively keep water out of your tent. 

Can you spray a tent to make it waterproof?

Yes, you can use a waterproof spray to make your tent more water-resistant. However, it is important to know that the type of fabric used for your tent will determine the effectiveness of this method.

For example, fabrics such as polyester and nylon are suitable for waterproofing sprays, whereas natural fabrics such as cotton may not be effective. It is always best to read the instructions on the spray before applying it to your tent. 

How often should I reapply for waterproof treatment to my tent?

The frequency of reapplying waterproofing treatments depends on the material and how often it is exposed to the elements. Generally, if treated properly with a good-quality tarp and sealed correctly, your tent should remain waterproof for up to two years.

After that period, you need to consider reapplying for the waterproof treatment. Additionally, you should inspect your tent regularly for any signs of fabric wear or damage that could compromise the waterproofing. 


Waterproofing your tent with a tarp is an effective way to protect it from the elements.

However, several common mistakes can be made when using tarps. The most important one is that you must confirm the tarp is properly sized and fitted to the tent, with no gaps between them.

By following these tips, you should be able to ensure your shelter remains properly protected against water damage and other elements for up to two years.

Regularly inspect your tent and its seams to identify any potential weak spots so you can reapply the treatment if necessary.

After reading this article, we hope you have a better understanding of how to waterproof a tent with a tarp. 

Good luck and happy camping!

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