What is a Rain Fly and Why is it Important?

Great example of a tent with the rain fly attached on top.

Wondering “what is a rain fly?” If you’re new to camping, it’s not the most obvious. A rain fly is a cover that goes on top of the tent to protect you from the elements. Whether that’s snow or rain, it’s an essential part of any tent.

An additional reason that rain flies exist is that a lot of tents have mesh ventilation at the top of them. If uncovered and the weather decides to get nasty, you’re going to get a lot of water in the tent because of that.

They’re also referred to as the fly, flysheet, and outer tent sometimes.

How to properly use a rain fly

While it seems pretty straightforward, it is possible to install your rain fly incorrectly. It should always be taut to allow wind, rain, and snow to pass off it instead of staying there.

It’s also good to apply waterproofing to the rain fly periodically as it’s the layer that gets the most exposure to the elements. Typically, this will be a different waterproofing solution than what you apply to the rest of the tent.

To attach a rain fly to a tent is usually as simple as throwing it over the tent, lining up the lines with the appropriate notches, then tying it down. This process can vary depending on the manufacturer, but it’s never that difficult.

Is a rain fly necessary for camping?

It depends on the weather you’re going to be in. If it’s the middle of summer without a drop of rain in the forecast, it’s probably not necessary. However, if you’ve been camping before, you know that things rarely go according to plan.

I always have my rain fly on hand, just in case. You never know when you might need one and I’d rather have it than not.

Some folks think that because tents can be waterproof that the rain fly isn’t necessary. That’s not true, because rain flies do more than just keep water out! As mentioned above, they help with mitigating snow and wind too.

Can tarps be used as rain flies?

Tarps absolutely can be used as rain flies. You can even buy them separate from your tent if you wanted to upgrade the one that came with it. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend that unless you know what you’re looking for.

The rain flies that come with tents are designed to be easy to use and cover the shape of that specific tent. As a result, it really makes setup a lot easier and the end product is a much more aerodynamic tent.

If you’re ever in a pinch though, having a tarp on hand that you can put over the tent can be a real lifesaver. I’ve experienced some downpours while I’ve been out camping, and I can’t imagine having water coming in through the top.

Putting it all together and answering what a rainfly is

Rain flies are an essential part of tent camping. Using one correctly will help protect you from the elements, keeping you comfortable and dry! They’re a big part of making tent camping more comfortable. Additionally, they don’t require much maintenance aside from waterproofing to keep them good for a long time.

If you still haven’t been convinced of the importance of rain flies, you should at least have a tarp on hand. Not only can they double as a rain fly in a pinch, but they can also be useful as tent footprints.

Never underestimate the utility of a good tarp!

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