Pitchin' a tent

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Pitchin' a tent

Postby TheresaD » Thu Jun 04, 2009 10:13 pm

Since my trailer isn't campable yet I'll continue to tent camp for a while longer... I was just reading somewhere a recommendation about digging a small trench around the tent in case of rain to redirect the rainwater away from the tent. Currently I just put a heavy duty tarp (a couple inches shorter than the tent all the way around) under the floor of the tent as a ground cloth. So far I have been fortunate and have never had it rain so badly that my tent has gotten water in it except for a few drops when someone has had something against the side. But I've also been lucky and not had it rain alot when I've been out tenting. My question here is... What are the recommendations for the ground cloth and what about the whole trench thing? If I dig a trench, how deep and how wide? I'm assuming just a few inches? :roll:
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Postby Bigwoods » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:12 pm

This should start a good discussion. Everyone has different ideas. I know several people that only put a tarp inside the tent, the idea is that it keep the floor nicer and will keep water out.

I honestly have never seen anyone trench around a tent up in these parts. To me it doesn't make any sense to make a holding dam for the water, I just want it to flow away from the tent, not hold it there.

I put a tarp under the tent to keep ground moisture out. I have never gotten soaked but I am careful when I pick a site.

So, anyone else have an opinion? Are you an innie or an outie? ;)
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Postby AZSpyder » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:27 pm

I don't think it is so much of a trench, more like a channel. If you think you could end up in running water such as on a gentle slope the channel would guide the water around the tent. Give it a place to drain out on the low side. Never tried it myself.
I use a tarp under the tent. It will keep moisture in the ground from condensing on the bottom of the tent. Easier to get damp dirt off the tarp later the get it off the bottom of the tank while you are trying to pack it away.
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I have seen drawings of how to do this many years ago. It may have been in a military or maybe boy scouts manual. I think it dates back to when tents didn't have sealed floor or maybe no floor at all. The one tip I pay particular attention to now is not to put up a tent in a dry river bed.
Last edited by AZSpyder on Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Nitetimes » Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:32 pm

I pitched my tent a few years back so I'm not likely to be much help. 8) 8) :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Postby Laredo » Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:10 am

some parks now prohibit "ditching" around a tent. It's a practice common in pre-Desert Storm military encampments, though.

For my money it's too much of a PITA. Instead, get yourself a roll of builder's plastic (the 10x25 3 mil is plenty heavy) and take a cheap level with you when you go camping. Choose a site that's as level as possible and run a leaf rake / coarse broom over the spot for your tent. Lay the plastic out so that it's UNDER your tent, and sticks out about 2''. Drive your tent stakes without punching holes in it, though. It'll deflect water and prevent wicking from wet ground.

Been doing this since the 70s. Only time I ever got water in the tent doing this was once when all my tent stakes pulled out of the ground during a wee-hours thunderstorm in McKinney Falls State Park. A tent that collapses wets everything it falls down on.
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Postby bobhenry » Fri Jun 05, 2009 4:11 am

Our May 19th outing was punctuated with a worm drounding rain the 1st night. We had some advance notice so we put up a 10 x 20 "party" tent.
We took all the right precautions in staking it for the wind and rain. ALL that is but where the water would go. We could not have placed it in a worse spot We found ourselves in a very shallow canal after the 1st 5 minutes of the storm. I am sure our state park staff would frown on every camper roto tilling the sites with a maze of mini trenches. However, on that night it sure would have made our party a little less muddy. If there are an abundance of leaves or sand available It could be used to shape a small hump shaped to the inside dimensions of the tent. Then cover with a tarp or the builders plastic mentioned letting it trail out beyoud the tent. Now since water won't run up hill it should go elsewhere leaving you dry.
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Postby TimJones » Fri Jun 05, 2009 6:59 am

Trenching is old school and was for tents without floors. Tents today have what are called bathtub floors. That is no seams on the ground for water to get inside. Groundcloth should be under tent and smaller than footprint (i.e. about 2 to 3 inches less than floor) Careful site selection
should help with any water flow. But in a 2 to 3 inch almost any tent will get some water inside, part of camping. Take some Sham Wows great for
the "leaks" Tim
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Postby S. Heisley » Fri Jun 05, 2009 7:48 am

These days, campsites are often made with rain in mind. Many (not all) have man-made tent sites that are compacted and reasonably level with maybe a very slight slope. My favorite tent (limping toward retirement) has a plastic-coated bottom that runs up the sides about 6 inches. Still, I put down a heavy plastic ground cloth to deflect moisture and cooler ground temperatures, keep the tent clean, and help with any possible rock or stick intrusion. (Raking is a good idea but some obstacles could still remain.)

My suggestion is that you take a small level with you or simply eye your site to check the ground so you know in which direction the water would flow, should it rain. Then, choose to place your tent so that the opening isn't facing up the slope and the water coming down won't puddle at the 'door'. Put your ground cloth underneath the tent and roll the edges up a bit (Roll the plastic under, towards the ground, not upward.) just slightly under the tent sides so that there is a lip. This roll will help deflect water around and away from the tent and on its merry way. Don't put anything on top of that rolled lip that might cause it to dip and let water in, especially on the 'up' slope side. If you want to be certain that the ground cloth lip doesn’t collapse on the up side of the slope, you can take something like a pole or extendable rod and roll the ends of plastic onto that, on that side.

Oh, and don't camp in a gully or anything like that! :lol:
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Postby bobhenry » Fri Jun 05, 2009 8:47 am

S. Heisley wrote:
Oh, and don't camp in a gully or anything like that! :lol:



Ouch ! :cry:
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Postby hiker chick » Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:35 am

Shenandoah National Park specifically prohibits tent "trenching."

In pitching a tent, I do the following:

1. Try to read the campsite for evidence of waterflow from previous storms and for obvious perils such as gullies and slope.

2. Ground cloth under the tent (careful not to have it sticking out so it funnels rain under your tent)

3. Tarp inside the tent to protect the floor from shoes and dog toenails as well as modest amounts of water.

4. Keep clean clothes in the car or in waterproof bags (garbage bag, if nothing else). The biggest gripe from fellow campers whose tents have been inundated is that their clean clothes got wet.

5. A cot or tall aerobed will keep your sleeping bag out of harm's way, unless a river really does run through your tent.

6. Always pack a sense of humor. Today's camping nightmare is a great story years later.

7. Good luck!

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Postby TimJones » Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:46 am

How right you are Hiker Chick. You never hear a good camping
story start with "My tent stayed so dry........"

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Postby EffieRover » Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:35 pm

S. Heisley wrote:My suggestion is that you take a small level with you or simply eye your site to check the ground so you know in which direction the water would flow, should it rain. Then, choose to place your tent so that ...


Agreed, placement is crucial. We also have a Coleman tent with the bathtub bottom (I think they call it Weathermaster or something like that). That thing will float before it lets in water on the bottom. We tarp underneath mostly for missed stick/stone protection and, since we have children young enough to forget directions, we place one of our canopies over the tent during strong downpours. That usually takes care of leaning against the fabric. We can (usually) even leave the doors wide open for air.

And in a nod to hiker chick, those storage 'space bags' are great for taking your clothes camping. If you're really organized, you'll pack a day's worth of clothes in each one, deflate them, then open as you need.

We've never had to ditch the tent for the van yet and we've been caught in some pretty good thunderstorms. Hope that helps.
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Postby TheresaD » Fri Jun 05, 2009 1:53 pm

I knew I would get some good replys from all of you! :thumbsup: So far so good... I guess I've been doing things right these past years. I have a newer cabin tent from Cabella's now and that doesn't have a rain fly. I haven't had to deal with rain since I started using it so hopefully that won't be an issue. I'm just going to keep paying homage to the weather gods as I have in the past and ask them to keep the rain away when I camp! :lol:
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Postby Wolffarmer » Fri Jun 05, 2009 2:13 pm

For a ground trap I last used a rain fly from the previous tent. ( it got ripped apart in Death Valley by the winds ). Make sure it doesn't stick out from under the tent.

As far as trenching. It seems pretty useless to do until it actually starts to rain. Then the water will tell you where it wants to go. I did that the last time i tented, in Death Valley. Did two tents that way and we stayed nice and dry. It rained so much that time they closed the campground ( Texas Springs ) but let our group stay. there was about 20 of us on that camp out.
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Postby madjack » Fri Jun 05, 2009 3:02 pm

...we used to do trenching...when I was in the Boy Scouts and we used WWII shelter halves for camping...since we camped in the piney woods, we would rake up some pine straw, place it in the tent and put a poncho over it, with the sleeping bags on top...along with some proper trenching, you could stay dry in all but the most persistent rain...at least until the rain soaked thru the canvas shelter half............
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