What is a Rainfly? Everything You Need to Know

tents with rainflies

A rain fly is a piece of fabric that goes on top of your tent, which is meant to stop rain from getting inside. Since most camping tents are not waterproof, the rain fly is an essential piece of equipment for keeping your tent dry in bad weather.

Rain flies come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all share the same basic function. In this article, our expert team will explain everything you need to know about rain flies: when you need them, how to set them up, the different types, and how to properly care for yours.

When Do You Need a Rain Fly?

A rain fly will be useful whenever it starts to rain while you’re camping. Aside from not being waterproof, most tents are designed with plenty of mesh ventilation for good airflow when the weather is nice.

While this is great for getting fresh air or staying cool inside your tent, it also lets rain get inside easily.

This is why you should always bring it along when you know there will be rainy weather, and it’s never a bad idea to always keep it with you just in case.

Besides protection from the rain, your rain fly can also keep out tiny debris and bugs that might normally slip through the mesh.

On the other hand, if it’s a particularly hot or sunny day, then the rain fly might be better off not on your tent. It can limit your ventilation and make your tent hot and stuffy, which isn’t good for comfort.

tent rainfly

How to Set Up Your Tent Rain Fly Correctly

Most tents will come with instructions for setting up the rain fly, but in case you’ve lost them, the process is similar for most.

Once you’ve pitched your tent, spread out your rain fly and line it up with the outer poles on one side of the tent.

Then, you’ll want to attach your rain fly to the tent poles using the straps. Pull it tight and then do the same thing on the other side of the tent. It must be taut so water will roll off your tent instead of pooling on top of it.

This is all you have to do for a perfect rain fly setup. Nice and easy!

rainfly setup

Types of Rain Flies

Tent rain flies primarily come in 2 types: full and partial coverage. Each has its advantages and disadvantages that we’ll detail below.

Full-Coverage Rain Fly

Full-coverage rain flies cover your entire tent from top to bottom. This is great for people that are camping in heavy rainfall or high winds, as the rain fly will be 100% effective at stopping water from getting inside.

It can also act as an added layer of insulation in colder weather to help keep your tent a bit warmer.

On the other hand, a full-coverage rain fly isn’t as good for mild weather. They cut off all of your tent ventilation, which can make it feel stuffy inside.

They’re also heavier than a partial coverage rain fly, which could be a problem if you’re going backpacking.

full coverage rainfly

Partial Coverage Rain Fly

Partial coverage rain flies will usually only cover the top of your tent. If the potential rain is mild, it will still do a perfectly good job of keeping it out while also maintaining your tent’s ventilation.

This is great for camping in warmer weather or times when you want to fully experience the outdoors.

On the negative side, this type of tent rainfly can fail to keep the inside of your tent dry in extreme weather.

If the rain and winds are strong enough, water will come inside your tent’s side vents, so make sure there won’t be any crazy storms during your camping trip.

Available Rain Fly Material

Most rain flies being sold today are made of a combination of nylon and polyester material. As with the type of coverage, each has its pros and cons.

Hybrid rain flies often give you the best of both worlds and are our suggested option if you’re unsure.


Nylon is a very lightweight material, making it easier to transport and store. It’s also a bit more flexible than polyester, which can make the tent rainfly setup easier.

On the negative side, nylon absorbs water relatively easily. While this doesn’t mean the inside of your tent will be getting wet with a nylon rain fly, enough exposure to water can cause it to stretch and deform over time.



Polyester has superior waterproofing to nylon and the water will roll right off. This means you don’t have to worry about the material getting ruined over time.

However, polyester can be quite heavy to move around and they don’t fold up as well in storage.


Maintenance And Repair Tips

If you’re like most people, you want to keep your entire tent in great shape for years to come.

Now that you know about the importance of the rain fly, you should be taking care of that too. Here are some tips on how to do it.


Along with the rest of your camping gear, you should be cleaning your rain fly after every trip.

Dirt and debris can cause the material to degrade or even grow mold over time. Cleaning it will stop that from happening.

When cleaning your rain fly, you’ll want to get a warm bucket of water, a non-detergent soap (like dish soap), and a non-abrasive sponge. Lay out your rain fly and gently scrub away any dirty spots you see.

Afterward, hang it out and let it dry completely before packing it away.

tent with rainfly


If you use your rain fly for a long enough time, the waterproof material will degrade no matter what you do.

Fortunately, instead of having to buy a new rain fly, it’s pretty easy to restore the waterproof coating yourself.

For waterproofing, the first thing you need is a good tent waterproofing spray, often called a DWR spray in stores. You’ll also need a garden hose and a small towel or non-abrasive sponge.

Once you’re set up with the materials, lay out your clean rain fly and spray it down with a hose. Then, give the outside of your rain fly an even coating with the DWR spray. Wipe down any excess with your towel and hang the rain out until it’s completely dry.

It’s now perfectly waterproofed and set up to protect your tent for much longer.

Repairing Minor Damage

Did you discover a small hole in your rain fly after your latest camping adventures? Don’t worry, as long as the damage isn’t severe you should be able to fix it using the following tips.

First, you’ll need to get some rubbing alcohol, a cloth, patching tape, seam grip, and waterproofing spray.

Clean around the hole with your cloth and rubbing alcohol until the dirt and waterproof coating close to the rip have been removed.

Then, tightly put the patching tape over the rip, making sure it’s got a firm hold. Apply the seam grip on the edges of the tape where it meets the rain fly material.

Let it dry according to the instructions on the seam grip, and once it’s ready spray a coat of waterproofing on top, letting it dry a second time afterward. This will make your rain fly good as new!

tent with rainfly


Now that you’ve read this article, you know everything you need about rain flies and how to use them. Never again will you be unprepared for a rainy day on a camping trip.

If there’s anything you think we missed, please let us know in the comments below. Happy camping!

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