【Guide】Tips for beginners——What Is The Purpose Of A Rainfly?

I’m Jarett Wegner, the guy behind The Adventurous Camper. I’m a huge enthusiast for all things camping, hiking, or exploring. I try to get lost in the woods nearly every chance I get. I also love surfing and grew up going to the beach every time I could. And when I’m not out catching some fresh air, I’m here writing for The Adventurous Camper.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, my tent is flooding…wait, that’s not how it goes?

But that’s what can happen if it starts to rain and your tent isn’t prepared for it.

If your tent isn’t waterproof or you have a fully mesh roof, you’ll want to bring along a rainfly.

So, what is the purpose of a rainfly? A rainfly is a piece of waterproof material that covers your tent to keep it dry.

Pretty simple, right?

However, like always I had a ton of questions when researching rain flies.

Chances are you might’ve had these questions too, so take a look below for the answers!

What Does A Rainfly Do?

As I mentioned in the intro, rain flies help keep your tent from getting wet on the inside.

They are waterproof pieces of material that are either attached to or are placed over your tent to keep rain out.

Simple as that.

However, just like with most camping-related products, you have options for just about any situation!

Full-coverage rain flies

Just like the name implies, these rain flies wrap all around your tent to provide ‘full-coverage’, not just from rain but also from high winds.

These are great for if you plan on going camping in colder climates or in areas with high winds.

Partial-coverage rain flies

If you’ll be in an area that is warmer and you don’t mind the wind (or there isn’t any wind), partial-coverage rain flies will work perfectly.

These don’t cover all the way to the ground, and instead work like a fabric pavilion; protection from rain up top but wind can still pass through on the sides.

Are There Tents That Come With A Rainfly Built-In?

Tent with rainfly

Yes, some tents will come with a rainfly built-in.

These will usually have the rainfly already attached to the tent poles, so no extra setup is necessary.

This makes it super easy to set up and have a waterproof tent in no time.

However, there are some drawbacks to having a built-in rainfly.

For starters, you won’t have the option to remove the rainfly and get a little extra circulation going inside of the tent.

On sunny days when it doesn’t rain, sometimes it is nice to remove the rainfly and soak up the sun.

And since there is no option to remove the rainfly and enjoy your mesh roof, you can also expect tents with built-in rain flies to be much warmer in hotter temperatures.

That is because you won’t be able to fully utilize any mesh that comes with the tent.

Depending on the type of tent you have, it may have a double-walled construction consisting of the tent body and a rainfly that can also be detached.

Is It Better To Have A Removable Rainfly?

So, knowing the pros and cons of a built-in rainfly, is it better to have a removable rainfly?

The answer is it depends on your preference.

While you won’t be able to remove it to enjoy a mesh roof and it will be slightly warmer, you do have the convenience of only needing to set up your tent rather than both a tent and rainfly.

That’s one less thing to carry and one less thing to forget if you’re planning a camping trip.

The last thing you want to do is be stuck without a way to protect your tent from the rain in the first place!

Having a removable rainfly will give you the freedom to take off the roof of your tent and enjoy the sun and fresh breeze passing through.

It’s also not super hard to set up a rainfly, so having it separate won’t add too much trouble so long as you remember it!

Is A Rainfly Necessary?

All this talk about what rain flies are and which one to choose begs the question: is a rain fly even necessary in the first place?

The answer is no, for two reasons.

The first is more so a ‘no, but I’d bring it anyway’ type of answer.

That’s because there is a chance that you won’t experience any rain at all.

In that case, a rainfly wouldn’t be necessary.

However, I’d rather have the extra weight and be sure that I can stay dry than risk it.

Hypothermia can happen even in warmer climates; it’s better to be safe than sorry!

The second answer is more practical.

And that’s because some tents come waterproof without the need of a rainfly.

If your tent is already waterproof and you don’t need any protection from high winds, what’s the point of bringing along the rainfly?

A word of advice; be absolutely sure your tent is waterproof before you leave the rainfly at home.

It’d be no fun to find out by sleeping in a pool of water with all of your gear sopping wet.

What Are Tent Rain Flies Made Of?

Now that we’ve established that it’s probably a good idea to always have some sort of way to block the rain from your tent, let’s talk about what materials rain flies are made of.

Typically you’ll find two materials: nylon and polyester.

When it comes down to quality, polyester is the best choice.

The reason nylon doesn’t work as well is because nylon can expand up to 3.5% when it gets wet.

This isn’t a huge issue with smaller tents, but can be a lot when using a nylon rainfly on a larger tent.

When nylon gets wet it expands and tends to sag, and for this reason it isn’t as good of a choice as polyester.

You’ll often find polyester rain flies to be more expensive.

That’s simply because they are higher quality and work better at keeping rain out of your tent while maintaining their structural integrity.

Polyester absorbs much less water and can also dry faster than nylon.

This helps the rainfly to weigh much less and helps reduce sagging to prevent water from getting trapped on top of your tent.

While both will do a pretty good job at keeping water out of your tent, polyester is the better choice.

Can You Use Anything As A Rainfly?

You don’t even have to purchase a rainfly made specifically for tents either.

The main thing you are looking for is something to keep water from getting in your tent.

So the material has to be waterproof, be large enough to cover your tent, and be durable enough to withstand rain and high winds.

Tarps, for example, can make great rain flies.

Just be sure to purchase the guy lines and stakes along with your waterproof material so that you can properly set up your makeshift rainfly.

While you can DIY a rainfly, there are some benefits to purchasing ones that are specifically made for tents.

First, they will fit your tent better.

Since they are manufactured for tents, they will work better to hug your tent and repel water.

Second, as long as you purchase a high quality rainfly (you can read the reviews if you’re skeptical) you’ll know that they work.

Finally, the materials that come with a tent-specific rainfly will likely be very durable but also very lightweight, packing up into small bags for easy carry.

How Do You Put A Rain Fly On A Tent?

We’ve learned all about the different types of rain flies, different materials used, why they’re necessary.

But how do you set up a rainfly?


Your rainfly will come with the nylon or polyester material, guy lines (long strands of thin rope), and stakes.

To assemble and set up a rainfly:

  1. Find the notches where your guy line ties up to.
  2. Tie the non-looped side of the guy line to each notch.
  3. Throw your rainfly over your tent.
  4. Secure each guy line to the ground using the stakes.
  5. There should be an adjuster on your guy line to tighten or loosen them. Adjust accordingly until the lines are tight (no need to stretch the rainfly, just secure it).

A fun tip for making sure you don’t trip on the stakes or guy lines is to add a colorful pool noodle to the base of them!

Can I Camp Using Just A Rainfly (No Tent)?

If a rainfly blocks rain from getting my gear wet, do I even need a tent?


You could camp without a tent using just a rainfly.

However, since you don’t really want to get your gear wet and it’s nice to have a dry pad to put your stuff on, it’s recommended you at least bring a footprint (tarp or similar).

Because having a wet or muddy sleeping bag would suck to clean.

You’ll also need to worry about bringing something to set your rainfly up with, such as tent poles or extra guy lines to attach to trees.

And you also won’t have walls to protect you from the elements if things get nasty out or if there are a ton of bugs, so have a plan in place!

Related Questions

Why do tents get wet inside? Simply put, tents get wet on the inside because they are not waterproof. Even tents crafted out of nylon or polyester can have seams that aren’t waterproof, which will cause them to leak. The way to prevent a tent from getting wet is to either purchase a tent that is truly waterproof or to use a rainfly above your tent. If you are using one of these two and your tent is still wet on the inside, condensation is likely the issue. Try to ventilate your tent more to provide condensation from forming inside your tent.

Do tents keep out rain? Some tents are waterproof and do a great job keeping out rain. Other tents have mesh roofs that don’t work well at stopping rain. You can keep rain out of your tent by purchasing a waterproof tent, purchasing a tent with a rainfly built-in, or setting up a rainfly above the tent to keep rain from entering.

How do you keep a tent dry in the rain? You can keep your tent dry in the rain by setting up a rainfly above the tent, purchasing a tent with a rainfly built-in, or purchasing a waterproof tent (be sure to test this before using it while camping just to be sure!).

Can you use a tarp as a rainfly? Absolutely. Using a tarp made out of vinyl or polyester is a great way to create a makeshift rainfly. It is waterproof and will work the same as manufactured rain flies. Just be sure to purchase guy lines and stakes to properly set up your tarp.