Batten down for wind and rain
  |  First Published: March 2004

THERE are two things that can really spoil a camping trip – wind and rain – and if you combine them both you can be in for a really miserable time.

It can start even before you leave on your trip. Packing the car, boat or trailer in the rain is not one of life’s more pleasant tasks and it can start the whole trip off on the wrong foot. Travelling in the rain, particularly if you are towing, is draining on the body and mind as concentration levels must rise just to stay on the road. And sometimes it is a good idea to put the trip off for a day or so just to be safe.

Wind, while not as miserable as rain, has its own particular problems. Travelling in strong winds can be dangerous as the vehicle is buffeted by gusts and tossed about the road. And just watch the fuel gauge go into free-fall if you are towing a boat or van into a strong headwind.

If you are lucky enough to have a strong tail wind you have only to touch the accelerator and the fuel gauge doesn’t move. These times are rare because Murphy’s Law dictates that the wind always blows the opposite way to which you are travelling.

When you arrive at your destination and you have to set up in the rain, it can be one of the most miserable things you can do. Pitching a tent in the rain inevitably means everything will be wet when you finally get the tent erect and all the gear in and set up.

It is even more complicated if it is windy, as everything seems to just want to blow down or away as you are trying to set up. Poles and ropes go in all directions – and try setting the tarp over the tent on a windy day. It is like a wet sail and can even lift you off the ground if you hang on too tight in a big gust.

Then there are the good days when it is sunny and there is not a breath of wind, so you set up the tent and tables cooking gear, eskies and the like and everything is rosy. This can lead you into a false sense of security.

It is a sad fact that most tents these days are not waterproof unless they are the old style 10oz to 12oz canvas with dozens of wooden poles and ropes all round. The continental style, made of light poly/cotton and with tubular steel frames, and the dome tents with the fibreglass frame inserts and nylon covers, just don’t keep out the elements. A good tarp is virtually mandatory if you want to wake up dry and in one piece.

Even if you set up on a good day, you have to ensure that all the ropes, poles, tents and tarps are adjusted to withstand extreme weather such as pouring rain and strong winds so you can remain inside, safe and dry under cover if all hell breaks loose when that storm comes in the middle of the night.


First you must have some idea as to which direction extreme weather or strong winds are likely to come from. Don’t have your tent opening facing that direction. If you do survive and the tarp and tent doesn’t turn into giant sails and blow away, then every blade of grass, leaves, sand, dirt and garbage will blow into your camp.

Secondly, you must make sure everything is securely anchored to the ground. The more poles, ropes and long pegs the better and make sure everything is tight, with no loose, flapping tarp edges or poorly supported poles.

Springs on the end of ropes are a good idea to absorb the sudden gusts that loosen tent pegs and eventually lead to everything coming loose and sagging. Cutting an old car tyre inner tube with a Stanley knife, as you would calamari rings, and using them to make springers, is a cheap and easy alternative to the metal springs.

Then there is the tarp itself. Cheap, light tarps will shred to pieces after the eyelets all pop out and you will be left to the mercy of the elements. Buy a strong tarp and place a pole or rope in every eyelet for maximum support so when the extreme conditions come you are ready. If you have only a few supports and leave most eyelets unused, then even mild winds can cause damage and send your tarp into the bush and the poles spearing through your tent.

It may seem like you are going a bit overboard but it is worth it to be safe and dry when that filthy storm hits in the middle of the night. Also make sure that all the water runs off the tarp, as a huge pool of water gathering in the middle can cause everything to collapse under the weight of the water. It’s also a wise idea to support the tarp with an extendable ridge pole, rigged between two of the upright poles, so that the water simply runs off as it does from a pitched roof.

Even if you do have everything strapped down tight and do all the right things, there are times when eyelets still pop, or rips and tears occur. This is where the prepared camper has the duct tape ready. Three layers of good old silver duct tape, top and bottom, over a torn eyelet make a very good substitute anchor point for a pole insert. A small hole popped in the tape so the pole can be reinserted can save the day and it will last until the end of your trip.

Any cuts or rips in the covers can be repaired with duct tape applied to each side of the offending hole and repaired when you get home.

Try to avoid camping under large trees because duct tape can fix only so many things – broken bones and flattened tents from large falling branches are not a job for duct tape!

Sometimes, in the most extreme conditions, there is nothing you can do but let it all fall down and head for a safe area and wait for the weather to calm down. It is not worth risking life and limb for a bit of canvas and nylon.

Storms are a fact of life when camping so you have to make sure you are prepared for the worst. If it doesn’t happen you will have a great, tight camp. If it does, you will be well prepared and able to spend a bit of time helping those who worked on the ‘she’ll-be-right’ principle. When the wind and rain come, you can be assured she won’t be right if you are not prepared.

This is how to set up a tarp – double corner ropes and a pole in every eyelet. It is tight as a drum and when the wind and rains come, all should be hunky dory.

The tarp is shredded and all the tents are exposed. Four poles just weren’t enough to withstand 45-knot winds. When the rain comes, it will be a wet, miserable time – multiplied if you have kids.

Duct tape to the rescue. This eyelet tore under the strain of high winds but the tape saved the day with a new strong point to anchor the pole.

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