Why Does My Tent Leak? 6 Points For Consideration

I am sitting here in front of my computing, thinking of all these times I had a leak in my tents. Frankly, that was an ongoing issue which accompanied a decent piece of my journeys and caused so much frustration. The worst part was that each time I overcame an obstacle, I found my gear wet due to a different one. I’ve begun asking myself that question over and over again: “why does my tent leak?” – well, in this article, I will try to cover as many different aspects as I can.

Combining experience and in-depth readings, I was able to gather 6 main reasons for the phenomenon.

Tents tend to leak when their seams are worn-out, the Polyurethane coating has degraded or when featuring a tear in the floor. Also, leakage may many times occur when touching them from the inside, or when camping in too harsh conditions. 

In other cases, it might merely be condensation, which accordingly may come from the outside or otherwise – your own body sweat or breathe.

1. Worn-Out Seams

The seam featured from the inside are vulnerable points in every single tent. By definition, these are the areas in which two layers of separated fabrics join together.

In most cases, tents manufacturers seal these with a special tape, to maximize their water resistance. Yet, in many cases, those tapes tend to peel off over time.

The best way to figure whether or not that is the case is by observation. If you notice your gear tends to get wet only in some parts, and those are mainly where the seams are located – there is a good chance that is the case.

However, leaking seams does not mean you have to give up on your tent. These are actually good news if you ask me since there is an easy solution for the issue.

First, you should pitch up your tent completely, lowering the chances of missing hidden seams. Then, peel off the tape which got a little loose and clean-up the area – it is okay to leave tape residues which still stick well. 

Take a seam sealer and apply it gently on the damaged area, using a soft brush. Once you’ve finished, leave your tent to dry and do not touch it until then.

2. Touching From The Inside

If, in some cases, you happened to wake up in a damped sleeping bag – you should pay close attention to this one.

One common phenomenon regarding tents is that they tend to leak when touched from the inside. When you reach the inner walls, you tend to break the water surface tension. 

This one, in turn, is responsible for binding water molecules together. When the surface tension breaks, water can quickly get in.

While you are sleeping, there is a good chance you touch the tent’s walls by accident – ending with a wet sleeping bag in the morning.

From my experience, there are several ways to overcome that issue.

First, you should stick to a thin sleeping pad instead of a big mattress. The more the space inside is occupied, the more it is likely to touch the walls by accident.

Second, you shouldn’t buy the exact size of the tent you think is needed. Instead, try buying one which is 1-2 persons larger. 

If you are planning to camp with two other people, for example, consider buying a large camping tent instead of a 4-persons one.

3. PU Coating degradation

Polyurethane is the primary factor which keeps your tent water resistant. It is a synthetic material which is used to coat the outer parts of your tent to prevent leakage.

While extremely useful, the PU coating does not last forever. If you’ve taken your tent out of its storage in a sticky condition and found out it does not resist water as it used to be – that would be due to the PU coating degradation. 

The phenomenon occurs especially when stored for a long time in a too small condition. Unfortunately, that is roughly the end of the road of every old tent.

If you wish to stick with your tent, instead of buying a new one, you should work on restoring its water resistance.

I’ve already described the process genuinely in the mentioned article, yet, the entire thing is quite simple.

First, make sure you remove any PU coating remains, by using an ammonia solution. Then, you may use different kinds of products to re-waterproof your tents, such as Tent Sure or Nikwax.  

4. Harsh Weather Conditions

That one brings me back to a few campings I’ve made in October across Europe. I was still a beginner back then and thought a water resistant tent is precise as described – waterproof.

Yet, reality forced me to realize differently than promised – in some nights it was so rainy I thought my tent was about to break. Although it was high quality and expensive tent, water was still able to get in.

That got me to dig a little deeper into the issue, or more precise – what bring tents to different water-repel capabilities.

That was when I first encountered the term Hydrostatic Head value. 

There is a good chance you’ve already faced that term – perhaps on your tent manufacturer label or under product description when reading online. It is so easy to ignore that number, just because we are unfamiliar with its definition.

In short, hydrostatic head is the height of a water column in millimeters, which the tent’s fabric is able to hold without getting soaked. 

Different tents feature different ‘HH’ values – the higher the number, the more water resistant your tent is.

In harsh condition, that imaginary column of water is naturally higher, requiring a tent with a higher hydrostatic head value.

5. Simply Condensation

Let’s say you woke up in your tent and found your gear a little wet. You are looking around, trying to find where water got in, buy each area you cover is evenly moist.

The most intuitive thought is that your tent is leaking; however, your tent might get wet even when entirely waterproof.

That would be due to condensation, which may come from the inside or outside. Regarding outside condensation, you should pay attention that your tent’s fly does not touch the walls. 

This way your fly will get wet like it should, however, water may slowly get to the inner part overnight.

If your tent features a fly which is separable, try pitching it in a way that there would be a distance between the two.

Besides, you shouldn’t camp in areas which are closed to water sources. Water which evaporates from lakes or rivers, for example, turns the air humid and prone to condensation.

When it comes to condensation from the inside, you should know that most of it comes from body perspirations and breathe. To overcome this, you should first pick a tent which features a few proper vents. 

That would turn your tent more breathable, without compromising temperatures (as most people think).

Regarding body sweats, you shouldn’t exaggerate on clothing while sleeping. 

If you choose a good quality sleeping bag, perhaps a down-filled one, I personally recommend sleeping naked.

If you do so, you might also find sleeping bag liners useful, since they are capable of maintaining your sleeping bag clean without soaking too much sweat.

6. Tear in The Tent’s Floor

That one is most obvious and noticeable, so I’ve chosen to keep it for last.

If you do not prepare your sleeping area properly, there is a good chance you will find a leak, following a tear in your tent floor. 

You should really pay attention to this one since I’ve personally learned the hard way how frustrating that little mistake might be.

When you choose a camping area, you should first make sure it is a plane one. When pitching a tent on an incline, it may elevate tension in some parts – resulting in a tear.

Second, you gotta make sure you remove each and every broken branch or rock – it is amazing how the tiniest things have the most significant impact when it comes to camping.

If you wish to take extra caution, you may consider using some ground tarps or footprint. Not only they reduce tears likelihood, but they also provide a general cozier feeling while moving inside your tent.

What Should Be My Tent’s Hydrostatic Head Value?

As mentioned above, ‘HH’ value is one key component when it comes to waterproof capability – hence, the question of how high should the hydrostatic head be is inevitable.

With less knowledge on this one, I began to search the internet. One reliable source that I’ve found is outdoorgear.co.uk. According to them, the required ‘HH’ differs between the four seasons.

When camping in Europe during the autumn, spring or summer, you should make sure the number is above 1,000mm. The winter is a different story, of course, with a hydrostatic head recommendation of 2,000mm plus. 

Regardless of touching the inner part, the water’s surface tension might also break due to strong winds. In this case, the tent’s hydrostatic head should be even higher.

How Does Tents Ventilation Work?

We all know tents should be ventilated, yet, we often don’t quite understand what it means.

The principle behind tent’s vents is that hot air naturally climbs up. When being inside a tent, our body temperature is usually higher than its surroundings.

As you might have already guessed, thermal conduction is involved, moving heat from your body to the air nearby.

The hotter air, which usually has our breathe humidity, climbs up, encounters the vents in your roof and dissipates outside. On the contrary, cold and fresh air from the outside gets in through the vents at the bottom of your tent. 

That, in turn, creates a ventilation cycle which lowers condensation consistently.

How to Deal With a Tear in The Tent’s Floor?

A tear in your tent floor is a terrible experience I’ve personally encountered.

Most of the times it happens in the middle of your trip, so you are definitely not prepared with seams and glue beforehand. 

If you do – that is great, you probably also know how to fix it. Yet, if you are new to this like I was, there is a good chance you have to improvise. When this first happened to me, I realized my stuff is going to get wet regularly until I fix it.

Since I haven’t brought any special tools with me, I decided to use some dirty socks I knew I wasn’t going to use. I realized that it was best when I placed my sleeping pad over the tear because this way I was applying pressure on the ‘seam’ I improvised. 

When you get back home, you should definitely use some more essential and long-lasting techniques, however, using an improvised cover had served me pretty well.

Conclusions

Water might get in your tent for many different reasons. While many times frustrating, that issue does have a few solutions.

First, leakage may be due to seams which are already worn-out. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong – that is just how things eventually go overtime.

If this is the case, you might use different kinds of seam sealers, after thoroughly cleaning and drying the damaged area up.

A different scenario is when water gets when you accidentally touch the inner part. In this case, I highly recommend you choose a more massive tent than actually needed in future to come adventures.

Older tents may leak since their PU coating has degraded. When this happens, you might choose between getting a new one and reproofing with Tent Sure or Nikwax.

On the contrary, there is a case in which the tent is not the one to blame. When the conditions outside are too harsh, even water resistant shelters many times leak.

To adjust your tent more appropriately, you should take a look at its hydrostatic head number.

If you are camping in the winter, perhaps you need a tent with an ‘HH’ of 2,000 plus, especially when facing some hard winds.

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