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Last summer, I went camping with my family for the first time. We bought a second hand tent, similar to the one on the picture below. We had a great time, but after a rainstorm that went on for 24 hours, the tent started leaking at the seams at the top, causing the rain to drip down at the inside and soaking our sleeping bags. More rain was coming for the next day, so we were forced to pack up our wet tent and return back home a few days earlier than planned. Back home, we discovered that the rubbery sealing of the seams had worn out, so we have repaired this, but it might not provide enough protection for heavy rainfall during a next camping trip. So I was thinking to bring a large tarpaulin and use that to cover the tent at the top. Is this a good idea ? Or might this get dangerous if heavy wind gets under the tarp ? And should I tighten the tarp directly over the tent (like this) or keep some distance using cords (like this) ?

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First of all

You might need to look into getting a new impregnation for your second hand tent. This can be done either yourself using sprays or wash-in-products (and in your case a probably huge washing machine) or by giving the tent for re-impregnation to professionals, i.e. your local outdoor/tent supplier (this can be expensive though). In any case it might be a good idea to get their professional opinion on if and how you could re-impregnate the tent.

As for the tarp idea

This is totally feasible and also quite cheap. The main disadvantage is the added weight and packing space. But looking at the size of your tent it seems you're likely not carrying it for any significant distance, so the additional weight of a tarp (and the needed additional tent pegs/cords) shouldn't be much of a problem.

I's also possible to just directly tighten the tarp over your tent. This will actually make the entire construction quite a bit more stable I'd guess, as there will be less area of attack for wind. Just make sure to tie the entire thing down well enough and you should have no worries.

Note:
As correctly mentioned by @mattnz draping a tarp directly onto your fly sheet can lower its life expectancy, as friction between the two (cause by wind for example) can degrade the impregnation a bit. But seeing as your fly sheet is not currently rain-proof in the first place I think you'll still be better off with an additional tarp than without: that way at least you should have a working (read: rain-proof) construction for the time being.

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    Giving the tent a spray is probably worth while anyway, as moisture doesn't always come from rain, and for times where tarp could be impractical :) though putting tarp directly on the tent could possibly cause issues with condensation? By this I mean our tent gets condensation inside, but by not directly touching the outer layer it never drips. Could directly placing the tarp over the top cause this breathability issue? – Aravona Jul 15 '15 at 21:01
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    Condensation will happen regardless unless you have fresh air moving tough the tent. Open a vent or window at each end, more wind, less vent needed. This is especially needed when raining and wet things (shoes, people, raincoats) come inside. – user5330 Jul 16 '15 at 1:02
  • @mattnz yes of course, I wasn't saying that, I was saying having touching layers on the tent causes the condensation to drip, which is why the inner parts hang down? Surely tarp touching the top of the tent would be the same as the inner liners touching the outer? – Aravona Jul 16 '15 at 14:40
  • The two skin tents I have used, the condensation builds on the outer, as the inner is less water proof but breathable, touching the inner to the outer gives a path for the water to drip. In the case of a single skin tent with a tarp over it (initially at least), the tent is waterproof. Condensation will form on the "inner". but any condensation on the outer will not get though the (presumably water proof) tent fabric. – user5330 Jul 16 '15 at 20:42
  • We are just back from our camping trip and the tarp worked perfectly. Even after impregnating the rain fly and repairing the seams, we had leaks wit the first rainshower. I quickly covered the tent with the tarp and we were perfectly dry during some heavy thunderstorms afterwards. – jeroen_de_schutter Jul 29 '15 at 21:22
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Generally a tarp is a bad idea as a long term solution as it shortens the life of the tent. As they are not shaped to fit around the tent (like a rain fly), they tend to sag in the middle and touch the outer. this quickly wears of the water repellent, and rubs the water into the fabric. Before long, the tent is leaking very badly without a tarp. Most people doing this use a cheap tarp, which leaks fairly quickly and the worn tent fabric leaks, so you are back to square one. If you use a tarp, remove it as soon as possible after the rain has stopped to let the tent dry.

Experienced campers do not use tarps. Tents are maintained (as already suggested) with water proof treatment etc. Most of us have had water get in at some time, you have already learnt the importance of keeping stuff inside dry when it happens. Its possible (although difficult) to have dry sleeping bags and cloths even if the floor is awash with water. It starts with good water proof storage and putting things away.

A better, newer tent made of canvas based product is the best protection against heavy, long rain (the cotton swells when wet and seals small holes caused by stitching etc).

When tenting, there is nothing wrong with heading home early if weather and equipment conspire against you.

  • there is "newer tent" and "cotton" in the same sentence, I am confused. – njzk2 Sep 11 '16 at 20:21
  • Why so confusing - Canvas is made of cotton. – user5330 Sep 11 '16 at 21:57
  • tents made of cotton? wouldn't that be extremely heavy? – njzk2 Sep 12 '16 at 0:20
  • Yes they are and yes they are, but they are also waterproof, breathable durable, and very strong and economical. Where I live there are two types of campers. Those that pack up and go home when the rain falls and wind blows, and those who own Canvas tents. Despite the progress in chemical engineering, Cotton Canvas is still the one of the best tent materials every where that weight is not a concern. – user5330 Sep 12 '16 at 0:58
  • IME, when you touch canvas while it is raining, that spot will begin to sag and drip. If you can avoid ever touching a canvas tent, it's only heavy, expensive, and prone to mildew. If you are human, it is leaky as well. – jejorda2 Sep 13 '16 at 20:30
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I agree that tarps may be good for a short term sloution, but not for the long term. Depending on the Season or regardless of the season, I prefer a tent with a good fly and tent location is key. Higher ground, with ground sheet, and tent fly should be more of a longer term solution.

You can always treat the tent for water reproofing and then there would not be any real reason for the tarp.

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