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What is a Rainfly? And What Does a Rainfly do?

A tent rainfly is an outer layer of material covering the top and upper sides of a tent. It is separate from the actual tent and can protect your tent from the harsh elements of cold and wet weather. 

A rainfly is simple to assemble and attach to your tent. They usually come with ropes or guy lines and stakes to keep them in place over the tent. Some even come with poles to keep the shape of the rainfly. 

Having grown up in a very wet climate, I am familiar with the importance of a good rainfly. We will discuss the benefits of a camping rainfly, when to use one and how to care for a rainfly. 

What does a rainfly do?

A rainfly is an added layer of protection for your tent. It can keep you warmer and dryer while camping in wet, cold climates. 

A camping rainfly will sit slightly suspended over the top and upper sides of your tent. Most tents have mesh material at the top of the tent for ventilation. The mesh is important for the breathability of your tent. 

Tents can be stuffy without the mesh and hold onto moisture inside the tent. So if you are camping in warm weather with zero chance of rain, you do not need a rainfly.

But if you may experience any moisture, even harmless morning dew, you are going to need a rainfly.

A rainfly should always have a little space between it and the actual tent. This allows for airflow to go between the two materials. If the rainfly is lying on the tent, the moisture will just go right from the rainfly and to the tent. 

When is a rain fly necessary?

A rainfly is necessary whenever you encounter cold, wet, or windy weather while camping. A rainfly is not just great for wet conditions but can also protect you from windy weather. In addition, it can serve as a windbreak for your tent. 

We like to use our rainfly if there is any chance of getting rain. We also will use it to protect us from morning dew. Nothing like waking up to drops of cold dew on your face. 

A rainfly is relatively easy to remove and can be taken off during the day. This way, you can have more ventilation inside your tent during the day. It also is a great way to dry out your rainfly. 

You can hang your rainfly from a tree, like hanging a wet towel on a bathroom hook. This way, your rainfly can dry off during the day, and you can get more airflow inside your tent.

Then just put it back on before the sun goes down. 

Can you buy a rainfly for a tent?

You can buy a separate rainfly for a tent, but most tents will come with one that is integrated or detachable, depending on the type of tent.

Large tent companies sell rain flys for specific sizes of tents if they get damaged and have to be replaced. Contact the manufacturer to see what options they have.

A tarp is also an option, but not ideal. A tarp is not fitted for your tent and must be held up with ropes or a cord. It also will not have any integrated poles to keep a shape.

Tarps can be heavy and difficult to work with but are super waterproof. 

Are two rainflys better than one?

No, two rain flys are rarely a good idea. If you have a rainfly that doesn’t cover your tent well, I would use a tarp suspended well above your tent for an added layer of protection. Ideally, you want a large rainfly covering most of your tent.

A second rainfly will encourage mold to grow and affect the ventilation of your tent. I grew up in a wet climate, so mold was a constant problem with tents. In addition, it was challenging to get the tent and rainfly fully dry after our camping trips.

We also tended to use a tarp, but this was only when it was raining buckets. Use a tarp for an added layer if you absolutely have to. If your current rainfly doesn’t seem to be big enough, purchase a larger one before you head out on your next trip.

On a side note, we always put a trap under our tent. Our tent does have a durable floor, but a tarp that fits just under the tent will help keep moisture out.

It will also help with tent insulation and keep your tent clean. We don’t care if our tarps get dirty, but we try to keep our tents clean. 

Why would a tent not have a rainfly? 

Not all tents have or need a rain fly. Canvas tents are designed to not need a rainfly. Canvas material is naturally water-resistant and also provides excellent ventilation.

If you were in extremely wet conditions, a canvas tent might benefit from a tarp suspended well above the tent. 

Dome tents tend to have a full coverage rainfly. The shape of a dome tent allows for a rainfly to cover the entire tent. Cabin tents and pop-up tents tend to have smaller rainflys.

These do not provide much coverage. You may need to use a tarp for better coverage if you have a cabin or pop-up tent.

Are rainflys waterproof?

Most rainflys are water-resistant. This is very different from waterproofing. It should be waterproofed for a rain fly to work best for you. The best rainfly is a waterproof rainfly.

It is simple to waterproof your rain fly. You just need some waterproofing spray, be sure to spray both sides of the rainfly. Then, allow it to completely dry and do more coats if you feel it is necessary. 

You can be the judge, but it’s good to spray your tent once a year, more if you are frequently camping in wet conditions. After all, your rainfly is your best protection against a wet tent. 

The waterproofing agent will also wear off and become less effective over the years. Another good reason to give it a fresh coat every couple of years.

How should I care for a rainfly?

Over time, a rainfly can become weak and may need extra care. As discussed above, keep up with waterproofing your tent rainfly every couple of years.

If your rainfly gets a hole in it, this can be easily repaired with a patch kit. You will need patching tape, seam grip, alcohol for cleaning, and some waterproof spray.

Clean off both sides of the rainfly with alcohol and a cloth. Let it dry before adding patching tape to both sides. Once you have pressed these together firmly, add seam grip to the edges of the tape. Do this to both sides. 

Allow your patched-up rainfly to dry for at least 12 hours. After that, you will need to reapply waterproof spray to this area and let it dry again. 

If the rainfly becomes dirty, you can get it dry cleaned or clean it yourself. Use a tent cleaner and be very gentle. Be sure to allow the rainfly plenty of time to dry.

What is the best way to store a rainfly?

The most important thing to remember with storing your rainfly is to dry it out before packing it away. Mold is the most significant factor in taking care of your tent rainfly. 

Keep your rainfly as clean as you reasonably can, and it will last you for years. Try to fold it up and keep it separate from the tent bag. 

It is a challenge to get your tent back in the bag, and if you also are stuffing in the rainfly, it could get damaged. For example, we caught the fabric of our rainfly in a zipper when we tried to add it to the tent bag.

It tore the material, and we had to fix it once we got home. 

It is best to store the rainfly with your tent in a spot where it won’t get too hot. You also want to keep it away from moisture, encouraging mold. 

This depends on where you live too. I grew up in a wet climate, and we were constantly trying to keep our tent from getting moldy. So we kept our tent in the dry attic.

We live in a hot and dry climate, so we don’t keep our tent in the attic. We aren’t worried about mold but about the tent integrity breaking down in our hot attic.

Our attic can easily get over 130 degrees. So we keep our tent and rainfly inside the house in a spare closet. 

Let’s wrap it up

Camping rainflys are essential for keeping you and your tent dry. We hope this post was helpful and answered your questions about rainflys. 

Camping is so much more fun when you are appropriately prepared with the right equipment. So get out there, and as always, camp s’more worry less.  

Steve and Kris
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Steve and Kris are avid campers, outdoor lovers, and founders of Camp S'more Worry Less. When they are not camping, they enjoy other outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking with their family. Read more.

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