Let’s Talk About the Rainfly!

Camping Tent 2 by Laura Glover

Tent Rainfly: what it is and what it can do

Rainfly – that big fabric thing that covers the tent to help keep it dry inside.

So, so, so important. Whether you’re long term camping in a tent, or just out tenting for a night or two at a local park, the fly can equate to a large difference in finding yourself floating in your tent the next morning.

You may have noticed in this post, that the examples I chose all have a bigger rainfly. Anywhere the rainfly ends is a place that can drip water.

Rainfly ends near the top of your window? Rain on your window.

Rainfly ends directly over your door? Rain in your tent when you open the door, or a sudden puddle when you step outside.

Rainfly from an old tent you’re using on a bigger tent because you don’t have/can’t find the original one? Rain anywhere the fly doesn’t cover. ┬áNot to mention, rain dripping everywhere inside once it’s rained more than 7 hours.

Is there a front or back? Can it just go however?

Yes, there is almost always a front and back. No, don’t just throw it on without looking.

A fly almost always has straps, ties, velcro and awnings. The picture on the tent box/bag is usually the best way to tell how the placement should work. The instructions aren’t always as accurate as one would hope.

If the fly has no support poles except for the awnings, look for a logo and match to the picture.

If there is a central pole down the whole center of the fly, place one end of the pole over the door (not the side window, unless your tent is a non-standard setup).

If there are multiple poles that cross, follow the instructions and pictures and cover as much of the tent as possible.

Rainfly awnings

Above the windows the rainfly should bow out. However, with enough rain or wind even the extra support pole can’t always stop it from lying directly on your tent. (yes, always use the support pole, even if it’s become slightly warped) Lying flat becomes a problem if it has rained enough for the fly and tent to become saturated. Once this happens, your tent ceiling and walls will start to drip, and can continue to drip long after the rain has ended – actually, it can seem like the civilian equivalent of water torture for those who are light sleepers and hear well.

Always carry extra towels, and waterproof your belongings as best as possible.

If you can, get out there are maneuver everything around enough to get the awning back up. It will keep the rainfly shaped over the tent better, as well as lead any drips (or rivers) onto the ground or at least lower on the tent.

If you can’t leave the tent (unable, winds too much, rain blinding, large-ish hail, etc) then move everything away from the dripping and do your best to lead the stream to the edge of your tent. If you can tell it won’t be a lot, set down a folded up towel and check it regularly. Switch towels before the water soaks in enough to reach the floor.

You absolutely want to avoid getting a large amount of your floorspace wet, since that will increase how much and quickly the water will spread. Also, unless you are using cots, you will run out of sleeping space fast.

Why did rope come attached to my fly?

Those are the tie-outs. When you first set up your tent, you want to stretch those out to a good distance to keep the fly off the sides of your tent, but not so much as to stress the top. They are adjustable, so don’t knot them.

The tie-outs are something you will need to adjust if you are making a trip into the rain to fix your awning. Fix the awning, reposition all of the tie-outs and check for puddles on the fabric. Keep adjusting until the awnings stay up and there are no places for puddles to form on your tent. Once done, head back into your tent and warm up asap. Even if it’s a warm night, you do not want to develop a cold or weaken your immunity out on the trail.

Even if you use tarps, take care to set up and adjust your rainfly to give you the best chance against the weather as possible.


The other purpose of the fly is to give you circulation through the tent. No matter the temperature, without fresh air you will quickly find yourself in trouble.

Unless you are expecting a huge storm, never stake your tie-outs right next to the tent. The further out your place them, the more air will move through your tent.

The netting sections of the tent are your windows, whether or not the tent’s actual windows are unzipped. Air, and tiny bugs, will be moving in and out of the netting, with the air providing the correct levels of oxygen for continued health and the wind providing a nice breeze on a hot day.

Why bother with the velcro?

Oh, the little velcro tabs. Bane of my existence.

Yes, they eventually tear on one side. Yes, they can slide around enough to make you think they tore even if they didn’t. Yes, they are so small my numb fingers can’t do them well when I’m cold (it is possible to do them with your teeth at the right heights, but depending on the amount of mud it can taste really horrible).

Even with all these minor issues, use the velcro!

They help keep the fly from sliding up the poles and creating puddles. They also help keep the reinforced fabric over the pole joints, helping your tent and fly last longer and stand sturdier.

The velcro also provides an extra safety in case something comes undone. Say the wind is really strong and you think your tie-out stakes came up. You need to go fix those, but the straps and velcro make it so you don’t have to chase your fly into the trees. Say it’s been raining for so long that the ground is getting soft enough for you to sink in when you step on your floor. They help keep everything above you steady and in place. Say everything just lurched and you’re pretty sure your corner poles may not be staked in the ground anymore. The weight of you and your belongings in the tent, and the fly connections to the poles, will help keep it from flipping over or rolling away. If it’s dangerous enough then you have to leave, possibly immediately. If it isn’t, you can readjust and go back to sleep.

Overall, I’ve had more times where the straps have disconnected from the corner and side poles (even with no weather interference) than I have of the velcro letting go. Really. It seems weird, but there we are.


Do you have any stories about the fly? Questions? Comments? Velcro conundrums? Leave a comment below!


Connect with Mar on Google+

Again, just to remind you, the links may be affiliate programs; but you don’t pay extra for it!


I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *