Wouldn’t it be nice to be a weather forecaster, be wrong more than 50 percent of the time, and still keep your job?
It doesn’t work in my case.
As a writer I have to be accurate all the time. On the occasions when I’m not, I can print a correction; when the forecast is not accurate, you and I suffer. This all came to an ugly fruition on a camping trip in the desert between Phoenix and Tucson.
Were were about an hour West of I-10, in the remote reaches of Ironwood Forest National Monument near Ragged Top Peak. “Gusty winds ending by sunset” and a “30 percent chance of rain” became a night-long storm sustaining winds over 20 miles an hour—gusting to 40 miles per hour—and close to 10 hours of continuous slashing rain.
To put it mildly, a pleasant weekend camping trip can be rather uncomfortable in the unprepared tent during such a storm.
Three Simple Rules About Your Tent
Being prepared for a storm is part of any camping trip—even when no rain is forecast—and especially when camping in the desert in the summer. The key to storm survival is anchoring the tent and staying warm and dry. When camping with your family, the advanced preparation can make a storm an adventure rather than a disaster.
There are three simple rules: protect the inside of the tent from rain and wind damage, keep the tent floor dry, and prepare for the worst.
How to Prepare
Here are my standard procedures learned from four decades of tent camping:
The ground cloth. Always use a ground cloth under the tent. Preferably a “footprint” designed to fit your tent. A thick tarp is perfectly acceptable—as long as it is folded and shaped in a way that is not a bathtub holding water under the floor of your tent. The footprint designed for your tent will clip to the corners and is sized to prevent its becoming a catch basin.
If you’re using a tarp, purchase the thickest material you can find along with tent stakes that fit through the grommets. Spread it underneath your tent, set up the tent and then fold under any portion of the tarp sticking out beyond the edges of the tarp. Ensure that it’s folded towards the ground and not upwards. This permits water getting under the tent to flow away from the tent. If the folds face upward, the tarp is a bathtub that will trap water under the tent floor.
Once shaped under the tent, stake the corners through the grommets. If this isn’t possible, the weight of the staked tent is generally adequate for holding the tarp in place. However, I have wrapped heavy rocks with the corners of the tarp to hold it down and protect the floor of the tent.
Staking the tent. Stake each corner – and midpoint if applicable – of the tent. Use a tent stake mallet, which is easier to use than a regular hammer, to drive the stakes deep into the ground. Most mallets have an extension at the end of the handle that is used to pull stakes from the ground when breaking camp. It’s worth the few dollars to buy one. If high wind is expected, find heavy rocks and place on top of the stakes.
Roping the tent. Attach ropes to each designated position on the tent. Sometimes they attach to the poles, sometimes to the rainfly. Use the thin tent rope cord and pull it taunt to the stake. Hammer the stakes into the ground and place heavy rocks on top. Most tents accommodate one rope on each corner and two about mid-way along the sides. Every place you can rope down … tie it tight.
I always twist-tie narrow strips of aluminum foil — about six inches long — onto the ropes to make them more visible in darkness. This comes out of years of tripping over tent ropes.
Even though winds gusted to nearly 60 mph during the storm, the tent held tight. The advantage of a dome-style tent is its wind resistance and resilience. A number of times during the night, the windward side of the tent attempted to flatten us, but the leeward side kept its shape, the ropes held, and it sprang upright in an instant. None of the stakes came up and the floor of the tent remained dry.
Staying warm and dry. Use plastic bags under packs and ensure the frame is in contact with the floor just in case water gets into the tent. Keep sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses off the floor or in their cases and stuff sacks until bedtime as a precaution. Stuff tomorrow’s clothes to the bottom of the sleeping bag when readying for bed to warm it. Even if it’s cold, sleep with as few clothes as possible. Sleeping bags will breathe and transpire your perspiration away from your body; clothes will become damp making you cold.
Preparing for these steps, and taking the extra time to batten down the hatches, is a good way to enjoy a warm, dry evening in the tent while the elements roar around you.
Eric Jay Toll is a travel writer living in Scottsdale, Arizona. During their childhood, he dragged his two children (sometimes kicking and screaming) from one coast to the other and parts of Canada. Check out his blog, For Whom The Toll Bells. Eric’s travel writing appears regularly as the Four Corners travel writer on Examiner.com. He has been published in USA Today, LiveStrong, Trails, and Golflinks and is a regular contributor to eHow.com. He is an avid camper, an accomplished chef and not bad with a camera. His son, Michael, turned 29 in May 2011.