Whether you’re an avid hiker or you just purchased your first backpacking tent, waking up to water dripping on your head is the last thing you want after an incredible day up in the mountains.
You’ve gone to great lengths to make sure your tent is waterproof, so what gives? You most likely have condensation inside your tent. Because it can be very hard to get rid of condensation, your best chance is to get out ahead of the problem and stop it before it accumulates. Our guide on how to stop condensation in a tent will help you do just that. Let’s dive in.
There are several factors that could cause condensation to form inside your tent. Let’s look at a few of the most common ones.
If you’re hiking in a humid region, especially during the summer, condensation is all but inevitable. If the humidity where you’re backpacking is above 60 percent, you can expect condensation to form on your tent overnight.
At night, when temperatures go down, humidity goes down, too. All that water in the air has to settle somewhere, and it gravitates toward the closest cool objects. Grass is one of those objects—that’s where morning dew comes from—and your tent is another.
As the night goes on, more and more droplets will form in your tent. You can mitigate this by keeping all the vents on your tent completely open and by opening the doors to get airflow at night.
Wet hiking clothes and gear don’t belong in your tent. The inside of your tent is mostly closed off from the outside air, so moisture and heat tend to get trapped inside. If you’ve got wet gear in your tent, a lot of that moisture is going to transfer from your gear to the tent walls as your gear dries out.
It’s best to leave your gear outside or in the tent’s vestibule. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but most of the time the condensation problem can be solved simply by not having wet items in your tent at night.
There’s not much you can do about condensation when it’s caused by your breath. When you exhale in your tent, you push hot, humid air out into the air. Overnight, especially when there’s more than one person in your tent, the moisture can accumulate quickly. If you happen to sleep with your mouth closed (which is less than half of all Americans), you might find condensation due to breathing is less of an issue than those who sleep with their mouths open.
So, why do we care about condensation when we’re camping? For one thing, it’s annoying. Waking up in the middle of the night to water dripping on your forehead is pretty much the exact opposite of what you need after a long day of hiking. Even if the condensation isn’t so bad that water is dripping on you, sleeping in a humid tent is miserable. Working to stop condensation means that you are also working to prevent humidity as its primary cause.
Similarly, the more condensation forms in your tent, the more your tent will suffer over time. Your tent will last longer and need fewer repairs if you are diligent about making sure it’s dry, inside and out. You definitely don’t want to risk mold forming inside your tent because you packed it up for storage with condensation water still inside (more on that later).
In some cases, high condensation in your tent can even weaken the seams and waterproofing over time, meaning you’ll end up with a tent that leaks like crazy every time it rains. If you want to take care of your tent and get many seasons of backpacking out of it, do your best to manage condensation.
Let’s look at three ways to keep your tent condensation free.
Before deciding on a place to pitch your tent, study the area carefully. Sometimes, a potential camping spot may look dry, but underneath the surface layer of dust and leaves, the ground is still pretty wet. Investigate the area before you pitch your tent, looking for signs of moisture or wetness.
Lightly kick the dirt where you’re thinking about pitching your tent; if you bring up mud, look elsewhere. However, be careful not to break the rules of Leave No Trace while searching for the perfect site.
Choosing the ideal spot to pitch your tent can make a big difference in the amount of condensation that forms in your tent. If the ground around you is wet, you’ll bring in water every time you get in or out of it.
In addition to paying attention to the ground, it’s equally important to take note of the direction to face your tent. If you pitch your tent so that the doors and vents face directly into a breeze, humidity and moisture won’t stand a chance. This is one of the most effective things you can do to stop condensation in a tent: pitch your tent into the breeze so that air is always flowing.
When completely zipped up, tents are humidity factories. The moment you close the door, any moisture that is inside your tent is trapped there. In a matter of minutes, that moisture and humidity can lead to condensation.
Camping and backpacking tents are built with vents that allow air to flow even when the doors are zipped shut. The vents are also made so that air can flow through, but rain won’t get in unless it happens to be raining sideways. So, if you want to reduce condensation in your tent, take full advantage of the ventilation.
Pitch your tent properly, so that the vents are exposed and not covered by the rainfly. Sometimes, if you pitch the tent too loosely or if the rainfly isn’t attached correctly, you can accidentally cover up one of the vents, making condensation in your tent far more likely.
Similarly, leave the doors to your tent open as much as you can. There’s no sense trapping moisture inside the tent unless you truly need to close the doors. The more you have your tent sealed up, the more condensation will form.
As mentioned, condensation occurs in your tent most often at night. Sometimes, even after taking every precaution, water droplets will form in your tent at night. If it’s especially humid, it might be wise to open the tent doors once or twice each night as you sleep.
If your clothes, shoes, or socks are damp after a long day of hiking, don’t wear them to bed or even bring them inside at all. It’s doubtful that you’d want to—sleeping always feels better without dirty socks on your feet—but this is also an important step toward stopping condensation.
Any of the moisture on your belongings will turn into humid air inside your tent—and that will result in condensation forming. That’s why it’s important to leave anything wet and damp outside of the main part of your tent.
If your tent has vestibules—a piece that amounts to your tent’s “covered” porch—you can store your wet or damp gear there. They’ll be mostly protected from rain and the elements, they won’t bring condensation into your tent, and using your vestibules saves you a ton of space inside your tent. It’s an all-around good idea, even if you aren’t worried about condensation.
Most of the time, you’re only going to be able to stop most of the condensation with these steps, not all of it. That means, after a long backpacking trip or just a humid overnight, you’re going to need to dry out your tent.
If you don’t make sure your tent is completely dry before you put it back into storage, you run the risk of mold forming, which can lead to you buying a new tent next season. If you want your tent to last, you have to make sure it’s dry.
When you get home from any backpacking trip, the first thing you should do is pitch your tent in your backyard or garage for at least a night. Check the fabric on the inside and outside for moisture, and leave it with the doors and vents open until it dries out. Pro tip: you may also want to wash your tent when you get home, especially if you backpacked in an exceptionally muddy or dusty place.
When your tent is all dried out, you can store it with confidence that it’ll be in great condition next time you need it! It’s also a smart idea to hang up your hammock sleeping bag, synthetic sleeping bag, or whatever you sleep in while camping, for 24-48 hours. Condensation doesn’t just affect tents—it can get into all your camping gear.
Stopping condensation from becoming an issue inside your tent can seem like a fool's errand—if it’s humid outside, there is little you can do to fix it. However, with a bit of selectiveness in choosing your campsite and a lot of air flow, you can sleep easy with a cool, dry tent. Have any questions about condensation or how to stop it? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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