Wind, rain, and temperature are three of the basics to manage for family tent camping.
On this page we will explore the effect of wind on family camping and on being in the outdoors. We will cover suitable tents, rainflies, and campsites, as well as how to manage in the wind.
If you haven't already, please first read the Family Camping Grand Wind Scale Page in order to get a basic understanding of this wind measurement system and how to apply it.
Family tents will be divided below into 2 season, 2-to-3 season, and 3 season tents.
Campsites are divided by whether they are sheltered from or exposed to the wind.
Sheltered campsites are usually in a forested area. Hills can also shelter campsites from winds from a certain direction.
Exposed campsites are usually on open ground or at higher elevations. These are more common in the arid Western U.S. states.
Be sure to get a forecast or bring a radio with you to monitor weather at the campground.
Suitable equipment, useful tips and important information for each wind range category
Calm to light.
Any family camping tent is suitable for light winds.
Big, boxy, bargain cabin tents designed only for light wind—these tents are best confined either to sheltered or forested campsites or to light winds at exposed campsites.
Both forested and exposed sites are suitable for family tent camping in these winds.
Rain in these winds
Rain in light winds is vertical only. No wind-driven or horizontal rain that might creep in under a half rainfly.
Suitable tent rainfly
Family tent campers may prefer smaller rainflies in hot weather and moderate rain to allow warm air to more easily escape from the tent.
Tree or limb breakage (in forested campsites)
Very slight to none.
Hanging, broken branches (widowmakers) over a tent are a concern in any wind.
Campers should be careful where they pitch the tent and notify the campground office of any hanging branches or rotting trees near the campsite.
Wind origin (of these winds)
These winds are often due to a high pressure system or a weak or distant low pressure system.
This is approximately the average or mean wind speed for much of inland, low-elevation, continental US during the summer. In these regions, half the time the wind speed is at or below this threshold, and half the time it is above.
Campers who are tent camping in the mountains, on the coast, in the arctic or in windy regions can expect more wind.
This is also an approximate baseline speed where wind exerts a usable force on objects on land near the surface. For example, the speed at which small wind generators begin to produce electricity.
The reasons above make this speed a good baseline for measuring wind at a tent campsite and in the outdoors.
At 7.5 mph, the wind force against a tent is not significant. Any family camping tent should be able to withstand it and perform.
7.5 - 15 mph
(12.5 - 25 kph)
Light to moderate.
2 season tents are usually suited to light to moderate winds:
Families can safely tent camp in both sheltered and exposed sites in these winds.
Rain in moderate winds
Fairly vertical to somewhat horizontal, slanted or wind-driven.
Tent rainfly suited to moderate winds
At an exposed campsite in rainy weather, campers should consider a tent with at least a 3/4 rainfly. This will help prevent gusts from driving rain under the fly, through the ceiling mesh and into the tent body.
In a sheltered campsite, most of the wind will be blocked by trees, so a half rainfly will likely still be adequate. At these sites, the angle of the rain should not be enough to splash water under the rainfly.
A full rainfly on a family tent prevents water intrusion through ceiling mesh in any wind, but can make a family tent stuffy in hot weather. The rainfly can be removed, but privacy will be reduced.
Gusts in this range have a moderate effect on tent stability.
Once winds increase beyond the calm to light range, campers should guy out their tents for protection.
Tent failure or breakage
Tent collapse is not significant in these winds.
These winds are, however, an upper limit for many family camping shelters for various reasons:
Tip for camping in the wind
It is not difficult to stay within this wind range in a forested campsite, where trees block the majority of the wind. In exposed campsites, winds from passing storms often exceed this range, and the tent will be exposed to the full force of the wind.
Possible, but not significant. In light to moderate winds only leaves and small branches will be in motion.
As always, watch for widow makers—large hanging branches.
These winds are usually caused by a moderate low pressure system or a weak storm cell.
As we move up the wind scale, each threshold will be double the previous one.
This threshold is an upper limit for bargain tents and for novice family tent camping, which is roughly the first 3 to 5 camping trips.
Compared to 7.5 mph, at 15 mph, the wind force against a tent is 4 times as great.
Campers should note that as the wind speed (mph) doubles, the wind force (psi) against a tent wall quadruples.
The wind force at 15 mph is significant, but manageable with most family tents.
This wind speed threshold approaches the manufacturer's wind rating for many family tents, which is about 17 mph.
15 - 30 mph
Moderate to strong.
Most family tent campers do not choose to recreate in moderate to strong winds, but may experience them due to a passing storm.
These winds become a gray area for experienced family tent camping in exposed campsites. Tent design and camping know-how will determine whether the camping trip is successful.
If these winds persist longer than an hour or so, they may (instead of a passing storm) be due to an approaching moderate to strong low pressure system, which can persist for a few days—along with the winds.
Check the weather forecast to make sure there are no strong low pressure systems affecting the region of the campground when you plan to tent camp there.
15 to 30 mph winds are the maximum recommended for experienced family tent camping.
In forested sites, 2-to-3 season tents should perform. These tents include:
In open campsites, campers will be exposed to the full force of the wind. A standard, 2-to-3 season family tent may function, but a full, 3-season tent will offer better performance, shelter and security.
Families camping in these winds should consider a quality four, six or eight-person dome tent from a well-regarded camping tent manufacturer. This tent style will have a better wind profile and will be designed for more wind than most cabin tents. You will have to give up some head room, but the tent should perform well in strong wind and heavy rain.
An outfitter tent is also a suitable choice for an exposed campsite. It may be a bit overkill for a sheltered campsite at a developed campground, but will be much appreciated in these winds. It will also offer more headroom.
If exposed to these winds while camping with a family tent, you may be able to park the vehicle on the windward (upwind) side of the tent to block some of the wind.
Both sheltered and exposed campsites are suitable for family camping in these winds, although campers would be more prudent to seek out a sheltered one.
Rain in 15 to 30 mph winds is fairly horizontal.
In an exposed site, these wind speeds will produce wind-driven rain and sidespray. Horizontal rain is also known as "raining sideways".
It takes a fairly experienced camper to competently manage setting up a camp under these conditions.
In an exposed site, campers should consider a tent with a full fly.
In a forested site, where much of the wind will be blocked, a half to 3/4 fly tent may be adequate, but be prepared for a bit of sidespray to get inside the tent.
Gusts become significant in this range.
Strong gusts can be 50% or more faster than the sustained wind speed and are often the coup de grace of a family tent that is fully exposed to the wind and has reached its limit.
Unless campers have a full 3-season tent, it is advisable to also keep wind gusts within the 15 to 30 mph range while family camping.
A forecast of strong gusts along with these winds should be noted and considered when deciding to ride out a storm or to break camp.
Tent failure in these winds is fairly certain for 2-season tents in exposed campsites, often due to 2-3 second wind gusts.
2-to-3 season family tents often reach a physical limit in these winds, and many are likely to fail as wind speeds increase from 15 to 30 mph.
Most 2-to-3 season family tents are not warranted against these winds. Some family campers occasionally use the tents in these winds anyway, mainly due to a passing storm.
If you decide to test your tent in these winds, thoroughly stake it down and guy it out to support it against the wind.
Have a tent repair kit handy in case a pole breaks or the fabric suffers a small tear.
Tip for setting up a tent
It can be dangerous to pitch and take down a large tent in these winds.
Tents are not designed to shed wind until they are fully pitched and guyed out.
When setting up the tent, it is easy for wind to catch the fabric and break a pole or tear the fabric.
Tree failure in forested campsites
There may be a fallen limb or an occasional toppled tree—especially after a heavy rain has softened the ground. However this risk is manageable with careful inspection of campsite and placement of tent.
Pay careful attention to hanging or rotting branches, which can be stripped from trees. Inspect trees around the campsite for signs of rotting.
In these winds, medium and large branches will be in motion, but generally not large trees.
Tree motion in winds is determined by the size of the trunk, the amount of foliage, whether the tree is softwood or hardwood, etc.
These winds are caused by strong low pressure systems or moderate thunderstorms.
Many experienced family campers who choose to camp in 15 mph winds have sturdy equipment and are prepared to camp in up to 30 mph winds.
These campers usually live in open regions or at higher elevations, where winds are stronger on average.
These winds are suitable for experienced family camping, especially for campers who live in windy regions.
This threshold is:
Compared to 7.5 mph, at 30 mph, the wind force against a tent is 16 times as great.
The force of this wind—that's "wind load" in tech speak—is now very significant. Sturdy, quality and well-designed tents can withstand it, but these winds will collapse many family tents. These are not bargain-tent winds.
Techie tips for wind vs family tents
Warning: The following info is more technical in nature and may be a bit difficult for some readers to grasp.
Campers should feel free to safely ignore it, if the previous information on this page has sated their curiosity…
We will first try to establish some upper limits for various family camping tents vs wind speed.
We will also briefly compare the Campetent wind scale with the older and widely used Beaufort wind scale, in order for experienced outdoor enthusiasts to better understand the scale.
2 to 3 season tent
A good 2-to-3 season family tent should withstand a wind force of up to roughly 10 times the force of the Campetent 7.5 mph baseline, which occurs with approximately 24 mph winds and gusts.
This may help some readers who are trying to determine where, in the 15 to 30 mph wind category mentioned above, many family tents might reach their limit before breaking.
24 mph winds correspond with the limit of the Beaufort Force 5 wind-speed category.
U.S. tent manufacturers who rate their family tent models for wind usually rate them to a Beaufort Force 4 wind, which is 17 mph.
3 season tent
A quality 3-season tent should withstand a wind force of up to 25 times the force of the Campetent 7.5 mph baseline, which occurs with approximately 38 mph winds and gusts.
These tents will have either an aerodynamic design or a very strong frame.
38 mph corresponds with the Beaufort Force 7 wind category. Campers should expect a lot of tent wall billowing and flapping in these winds, and sleeping will be difficult at best.
The Campetent wind scale uses a 30 mph wind threshold for family tent camping, which corresponds with a Beaufort Force 6 wind. Many experienced leisure tent campers with good tents concur that this is a safe upper wind-speed limit for their camping.
Campers are also encouraged to call the service center of their tent manufacturer to check whether the tent has a wind rating.
We have now covered the light and moderate winds experienced by families when tent camping.
However, the ability to think clearly in high wind situations will further increase our confidence in the outdoors.
To that purpose, let's explore the upper range of the wind scale on the Family Camping and High Winds Page.