Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Stay Dry While Backpacking in the Rain

1. Stay home.

Heh, heh.

Just kidding! So this weekend looks shifty, with a 40% chance of showers. In Alaska, a 40% chance meant a nice day. Here--not so much. It could go either way. I refresh, click on the little patch of land where I want to go, and debate. Stay or go? In the end I will probably go, because SNOW is forecast by Monday. Snow! The horror!

Over the years I've tried, discarded, and tried again various ways of dealing with rain on backpacking trips. For day hikes, or long runs, or even kayak trips, this isn't an issue. But backpacking? It can ruin an entire trip if you get your essential stuff wet. Here are some tips I picked up along the way.

1. Trash compactor bag to line your backpack. The best thing ever. Yes, it means you can't pack as efficiently in all the corners, but it keeps everything amazingly dry.

2. Dry bag for your sleeping bag. Okay this might be overkill, but if you get your bag wet, you will at the least have a miserable night. I've had it happen, so I use either a compression sack lined with a regular trash bag or one of those super light dry sacks you can buy now--not the rubber ones you use for rafting. If you use a trash compactor bag you probably don't need this, but you pack your fears, and that's mine.

3. Pack rain covers--a mixed bag. I used to swear by these. Until I was in a big rainstorm on Muir Pass. The way most pack covers are constructed, they wrap around the bottom of your pack. And what happens? Water collects in the bottom and seeps into your bag! Some of them have drain holes, Not always reliable. I'm not a fan anymore, but sometimes you don't want the outside of your pack drenched. I use mine, but with #1 and #2, it helps. However, this summer I did find that water seeped through and wet the outside of my trash compactor bag. So beware with pack covers. Some people wear the poncho/pack cover contraption; I choose not to, because I don't always want to wear a poncho. Plus, wind gusts.

4. Set up your tent under a tree and move it to the spot you want. I know, basic, right? But I struggled for years frantically setting up the tent with rain pouring in. If you carry a free-standing tent, you can pitch it under cover and then happily carry it to where the campsite is. If you feel like carrying the weight, pitching a tarp over your tent rules! You can get out, stretch luxuriously, and smugly change into your hiking clothes with a dry tent next to you. Be sure you know how to set up a tarp--it is a lost art. One tip: be the happy guy! Nobody likes a whiner!

5. Sleep with wet clothes under your sleeping pad. Strangely enough, this actually works. They might not dry all the way, but they do dry some, better than if you try to hang them in your tent (hello, smelly, drippy socks) or put them in your bag (dampness seeps into your bag).

6. Tents don't always have to be in their stuff sacks. When I pack up a wet tent, I stuff it in the mesh pocket outside of the backpack. If I didn't have a mesh pocket, I would strap it on the outside, to avoid getting everything else wet because...

7. I feel a yard sale coming on! The first chance you get, when the sun comes out, throw everything onto the (hopefully dry) bushes. I don't tend to hang around camp waiting for things to dry. I hike on and wait for that opportune moment. Getting stuff dry the next day before it rains again is essential. Try the trekking pole method of drying socks--stick the pole  in the ground and stick the socks on the poles. You can drape underwear over branches--just don't hike on and forget it!

8. Sleep socks/long underwear I keep in with my sleeping bag. That way I know I always have a dry set of clothes to change into.

9. Don't go too crazy on the dry stuff sacks--it makes your pack too hard to pack efficiently. But you do want your electronics (camera, phone if you carry one, GPS etc) to stay dry. You really don't need to invest in fancy pants bags. Ziplocks work fine. For your bear bag--you can line it with a garbage bag or use a dry sack like I do. Don't sleep with your food. Don't. Sleep. With. Your. Food. I know, I know, some of you ALWAYS sleep with it and no bear has gotten it. I worked in the Sierras prior to the bear canister rule. I remember the rocks stacked outside our tents as bears prowled outside. I remember the charges! Don't sleep with your food!

10. If all else fails, embrace the brutality. Your shoes are going to be wet. Your socks are going to be soaked. Keep your sleeping bag and your sleep clothes dry and you will be fine. There's a whole array of rain gear out there--don't be cheap. Someone may chime in and talk about umbrellas. People love their umbrellas. Hey--maybe I will take one this weekend.

Any other tips out there?


  1. Some really great tips! THANKS! Coming from dry California, I'm a water wuss . . . you know one of those I'm sugar will melt in the rain type gals . . . watch the weather and choose the sunny ones for adventure . . . Okay maybe I'm maturing as I just spent a month in Washington, albeit with mostly great weather.

    I hadn't heard of putting the wet clothes under my sleeping pad tip previously. Will try that. Also, still in search of the perfect free-standing UL tent so I could do as you suggest. Actually, I guess I could still follow this advise as mine is semi free-standing.

    I did get an umbrella for my WA trip, used it hands free, and LOVED it! Even ran with it attached to my pack :)

    If it's COLD and wet, you can use bags over your socks in your shoes. I keep bread bags in my emergency gear kit.

    I keep a pair of latex gloves in my emergency kit to wear over my merino wool ones in the COLD and wet also.

    Keep up the blog, love it Mary!

  2. Heard the bread bag thing but have not tried it so my tent is a big Agnes fly creek. You still want to stake out, but can set it up as is and move it before doing so.

  3. I learned about the plastic bags (any work, but the size and weight of bread bags seems to work well) from a bike trip in Vermont when we had an unexpected snow day and all we had were cycling shoes. They worked great for keeping in the warmth, that I use routinely now if I get cold feet.

  4. With your very recent wonderful news, you will be floating above all the wet weather. :-)

  5. My mom used to line my winter boots in the spring when all the winter snow was really wet. I still use that trick backpacking when my shoes stay wet.

    I guess the only tip I can add is that when you get home, hang everything to dry, even if you don't think it is wet. Mildew ruins good gear so fast.


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