FEW things dampen the spirits on a camping trip quite like waking up cold in a wet sleeping bag with drops of water hanging off the inside of your tent.
Condensation, by its very nature, is an unavoidable fact of camping, but there are lots of steps you can take to reduce the moisture in your sleeping space.
Before being concerned about condensation, or thinking that a damp sleeping bag puts you in the ‘amateur camper’ bracket, it’s worth understanding that even the world’s greatest explorers with the pinnacle of expensive technology at their hands will still experience condensation. Moisture in a tent can only be reduced and managed – it cannot be eliminated.
The reason for this is down to the fact that, as a living and breathing human being, you are the main source of damp in your tent. We are, after all, made of 60% water and, therefore, cannot help but produce moisture.
Simply through breathing and evaporation through our skin, the average person will put around one pint of water into the air during the night.
Imagine, then, there are three of you in a poorly ventilated tent. That’s three pints of water sloshing about – potentially being mopped up by your sleeping bags and clothes, or just dripping from your tent’s inner.
In addition, there’s also the moisture from any damp clothes or boots kept inside, as well as the natural occurrence of water in the air (the space within a three-man tent will, in typical atmospheric conditions, contain about half a pint in the air alone) – and you could be in for an unscheduled bath in the morning.
If the outside air temperature is much cooler than the inside temperature – particularly if it has experienced a significant drop after a warm day – then condensation inside the tent will almost certainly be at it its worst.
The waterproof material of the outer sheet will also cool, attracting moisture to both sides of the fabric.
Rain during these conditions will, as you might expect, make things significantly worse – not because your tent is leaking, but largely due to the effect it has on the temperature of the fabric.
How to reduce condensation…
- Keep a couple of absorbent cloths in your pack for the purpose of mopping up water drops. They are easily wrung out and dried.
- Gently wipe the walls to prevent drips, but try not to allow the inner wall to touch the outer layer as this will almost certainly lead to moisture patches – particularly with polycotton.
- The temptation on a cold night will always be to lock yourself in tight and shore up any draughts. But, even in the most severe conditions, you will benefit from having as much ventilation as possible. Ensure you make the most of a good sleeping bag to keep you warm, rather than compromising on a reasonable airflow. It may feel odd to want to have a draught, but it will go a long way to keeping your sleeping bag dry.
- If your tent is damp, and you intend to remain in the same location for a while, take the opportunity during the day to fully open the inner, and remove the outer sheet to dry out. If rain is an issue, leave the fly in place or create a canopy with a tarp, if you have one.
- If you are moving on, shake and wipe off as much water as you can before packing the damp tent in a liner (two if you can, so that you can separate the outer and inner), and make the most of rest stops on your hike to get the tent out to dry. When reaching your next camp, pitch the inner fully unzipped, and place the outer somewhere it can have a good airing.
- If atmospheric conditions are against you, try to avoid total shelter from the wind (here’s a guide on how to pitch in high winds). Instead find a semi-sheltered area that will provide a reasonable breeze to help remove moisture and create a reasonable draw from the tent’s vents. Keep as many of the vents open as possible and, in good conditions, consider opening up the top of each door zip to aid airflow.
- Even if it’s below freezing outside – avoid using any kind of heater. Try to stick with your own body heat and a good sleeping bag. Science dictates that raising the temperature inside your tent is a guaranteed way to wake up in a puddle.
- Use a tarp or makeshift shelter – or awning if your tent doesn’t have a reasonable vestibule – to stow any damp bags, clothing or boots. Avoid placing them in your sleeping space as this will raise the amount of trapped moisture in the air.
- If you are camping close to water, try to pitch at least five metres away. Moisture in the air is well concentrated close to the water source, and humidity will be at its greatest. Also, get at least half a metre higher than the water surface – the water table will pool humidity and moisture within the natural dips and bowls of the landscape.
- Condensation is largely unstoppable, so keep a dry set of clothes and a spare towel on longer trips in case the weather or circumstances won’t allow you the opportunity for drying your tent and your belongings out.
FURTHER READING: Pitching in the wind… Camping in the wind – Ever Wild Outdoors