How to Collect Rainwater without Gutters or a Roof (with Pictures)


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Last Updated: August 16, 2021

Don’t have a roof or gutters you can use to catch rainwater?

Don’t worry.

Here are six ways to collect rainwater, including with a tarp rain catcher, umbrella rain catcher, and other survival rain catchers.

What You Need to Collect Rainwater without Gutters or a Roof

All rainwater harvesting systems use the same parts.  This is true even if you aren’t using your roof and gutters or are making an emergency survival rainwater catcher.  These parts include:

  • Catchment surface: The bigger the catchment surface, the more water you will be able to catch.
  • Conveyance system: Without gutters, you will use a “drip conveyance system where the water drips or flows directly into the container.
  • Container: These can be barrels, tanks, buckets, ponds, etc. If you won’t use the rainwater right away, you’ll want a container that is closed so pests don’t get in and evaporation doesn’t occur.
  • Way to access the water: If your container doesn’t have a spigot, then you’ll need another way to get the water out of the container.

Ways to Collect Rainwater without Gutters or a Roof

1. Tarp Rainwater Catcher

A tarp is great for catching rainwater because it can be easily set up, is lightweight, and comes in many sizes.

The key is setting up the tarp so all of the rain drips to the same point.

One option is to make a hole in the middle of the tarp (as shown in the first photo).  Alternatively, you can rig the tarp so it angles downwards (second and third photos).

In a survival situation where you didn’t have a tarp, you could use a poncho or trash bags to collect rainwater.

However, it’s smart to keep a tarp in your bug out bag: not only can it be used for catching rain, but it also makes a great survival shelter.

Tip: Put a stick or other heavy object on the tarp to angle it towards your buckets or barrels.

rainwater collection system

collecting rainwater with plastic tarp tent

rainwater harvesting tarp setup

How Much Rain Can You Catch with a Tarp?

A 9×9 foot tarp will catch approximately 36 gallons of water during a typical rainfall. A 10×12 foot tarp would catch approximately 54 gallons. However, these amounts can vary depending on how the system is set up, the intensity of the rain, and its duration.

See our rainwater harvesting calculator to get a more accurate estimate.

2. Butterfly Structure Rainwater Catcher

This type of rainwater catcher is sometimes called a “butterfly” system because it has two sides that are angled upwards like wings.  The water hits the wings and flows towards the center, where it then drips into a collection device.

The image below shows a beautiful butterfly-type rainwater catcher.  These could be made out of simpler materials as well, such as plywood, so long as the midline is sealed, such as by covering the structure with plastic trash bags.

butterfly rainwater harvestnig system without gutters or roof

3. Umbrella Rainwater Catcher

Also called “saucer rainwater catchers,” umbrella rainwater catchers are basically upside-down umbrellas with a hole and conveyance tube in the middle.  There are some companies that sell these but it’s fairly simple to make one too.

Just be warned that these need to be securely anchored as they easily fall over in the wind.

umbrella rainwater collector

4. Catch Rainwater from the Ground

You can also utilize the ground to catch rainwater.  This was actually common throughout history as a way of catching water for livestock.  To do it, you’ll need to construct a slanted surface on the ground.  The surface needs to funnel rainwater into some type of container, like a pond.

The images below show examples of these rainwater catchment systems, likely from the 5th to 8th centuries.

catching rainwater from the ground

mthod of catching rainwater from the ground

5. Rain Ponds

A simple way to catch rainwater is to dig a pit, line it with plastic, and allow the rain to accumulate.

These types of rain catchers aren’t usually recommended because lots of water is lost to evaporation and the stagnant water gets dirty quickly.

It is also illegal in many places to build a pond on your property without a permit. In many places though, rainwater ponds are a primary source of water.

rainwater pond

6. Buckets and Basins

As a very last resort, you could put buckets and other containers outside to collect rainwater in survival situations.

However, because the surface area of a bucket is very small, you won’t catch much water.  You’ll drastically increase the amount of water you can catch by using a tarp, plastic bag, wooden boards, or any other surface to funnel the water into your buckets.

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