A tent rainfly is the outermost layer of fabric that covers (fully or partially) the body of a multiple layers tent.
It can be part of the tent itself, that is not detachable and only has few vent areas that can be opened, or you can find it as a completely separated layer, that can be attached via zippers, clips, ropes.
This last type of rainfly is most often found in mesh-top only tents.
In order to achieve its rain protection goal, the material of the rainfly has to be waterproofed, water repellent, and very important, it has to be breathable to protect the tent from condensation, especially for double or triple wall tents.
Together with the tent footprint, the rainfly should form the perfect protection layer against the elements.
For single wall tents, the fabric will act like the body and the rainfly, and it usually has the same protection against the elements as listed above.
It’s sometimes referred to as a fly tent, which is basically a sheet of material hanged by ropes and without a body.
Do you need a tent rainfly?
This is just like asking if you need an umbrella.
The answer really depends on the weather.
It is necessary to use the provided rainfly if it starts to rain. This will prevent water from getting inside your tent and keep it dry if installed correctly.
For dry and warm weather, it is recommended not to install the rainfly to allow for sufficient ventilation.
What about an extra rainfly to go on top of the existing one? Will it offer better protection?
The only situation when you’ll need an extra rainfly is when your existing one doesn’t fully cover the body of the tent. This is especially true when you’re camping during heavy rain and the partial fly can’t keep up.
It is not recommended on having 2 fully covering sheets, or at least not for a longer period of time, as it can obstruct the ability of the fabric to breathe and allow for water vapors to escape.
If you are having them both on for more than 2-3 days, there are big chances that mold will start to grow between them.
How to properly use a rainfly
When attached to the top of the tent, it’s important that the rainfly is stretched as much as possible to try and form an even surface so that rainwater can easily flow down on it.
If the tent allows it, it is recommended that the fly should not touch the tent’s body, and having a layer of free moving air between them is very beneficial.
In the case of a fully covering sheet that is longer than the walls, it should be tucked underneath the footprint and not between the floor and footprint.
Whatever covering you are using, it is important to still be able to provide some ventilation.
Maintenance and repair works
Repeated usage (stretching, packing, etc) and poor installation could eventually lead to damage like holes, waterproofing layer wearing off, etc.
Sometimes this can be fixable, and here are some DIY solutions for each situation:
Reapplying the waterproofing coating.
The main problem that coated materials have, rainfly included, is that after a while it can lose its waterproofing coating.
Although this is a serious issue, it is often very easy to fix. All you need is a waterproofing spray (go for a known brand) and it’s as simple as spraying it on both sides and leaving it to naturally dry out.
For more details, you can read our full waterproofing guide.
Patching a hole in the rainfly
For small holes or cuts, it can be easily repaired with the help of a patching tape.
Here are the materials required: patching tape, seam grip, alcohol rub, waterproofing spray.
The steps you need to take are as follows:
- Around the hole/cut, clean both sides by rubbing it with an alcohol solution. Note that this will destroy the waterproofing coating, so make sure you’re not rubbing more than the required surface.
- Place the patching tape on both sides then press and stretch it firmly with your fingers to make sure no air bubbles are being trapped between them.
- Carefully apply the seam grip along the edges of the patch. Make sure you are covering enough of both the patch and the rainfly. A good rule of thumb is to try and cover at least half an inch on both sides.
- Leave the sheet to dry for at least 12 hours.
- Re-apply a waterproofing coating on the area. Since you can’t be sure that the seam grip has covered all the areas that you’ve previously rubbed off, it is recommended to reapply the coating on that entire section.
Depending on how carefully you’ve been following these steps, this repair might last you for a very long period of time.
Washing and cleaning
Dirt and mold are almost impossible to keep out of any camping gear.
But that shouldn’t worry you too much, as it is possible to wash the rainfly fairly easily.
If there isn’t a consistent amount of dirt, you should try to dry clean it as much as possible. It is important though not to rub it down, but perhaps try to blow it off. Rubbing will often destroy the very sensible waterproof coating.
If the sheet is very dirty, a mix of water and a tent cleaner like Nikwax would be the best way to tackle the problem. Even though the mix will feel soapy and slippery, it is still recommended to gently wash it, perhaps using a very soft sponge.
Finally, if mold is growing on your rainfly, this can sometimes be cleaned using a very distilled vinegar mix. Although it kills the mold, it could also “kill” the waterproofing coating. Therefore it is recommended to reapply this coating.
It is never recommended to wash the rainfly in a washing machine.
If smells persist, follow our guide on how to get rid of this.
Replacement tent rainfly
If none of the methods above can save your rainfly, or perhaps you’ve lost yours, it’s still possible to get a replacement.
Especially if you own a new tent model, the manufacturer should be able to sell you replacement parts for that specific tent.
Here are some links for some of the most popular brands:
|Coleman rainfly replacement||Find part||Few models available|
|MSR part replacements||Find part||Very few options|
|Big Agnes replacement support||Find part||Have to speak to customer support|
|R.E.I||Find part||Universal sizes only|
If you’re having trouble finding an original part, there is still the option of buying a universal rain fly from Amazon for a very cheap price.
It won’t be a tight fit like the original one was, but for the few occasions that you’ll need it, it will do its job to keep your tent dry.
Here’s one that I really like and recommend:
Part-covering vs Fully-covering: which one is the best
If you’re wondering why part-covering rain flies even exist, it’s because it has something to do with ventilation.
You see, condensation and mold have always been a problem for campers.
And believe me, they don’t happen because the tent’s are poorly built, it’s 9 out of 10 times the fault of the owner. We forget to ventilate them. And it doesn’t take long for that disgusting mold to start growing.
Therefore, having a fully covering rainfly for a prolonged period of time is not helping to achieve proper ventilation.
That’s the reason many of us choose to go with a part-covering sheet, especially if only dealing with small amounts of rain.
But this really depends on what type of tent you’re using. Having a fully mesh tent body means that you’re not going to be able to pick a half covering fly.
This information should cover everything you need to know about tent rain flies and how to use them. If you still have any thoughts or concerns about them, feel free to write a comment down below and I should be able to reply to you shortly.