A rainy day in the back country is a beautiful thing. I’m talking about cold air, good books, hot tea and fluffy, warm blankets. But heavy rain and blistering wind while hiking in the backcountry? Not so much.
In fact, the proper midday rainstorm can put a weeklong backpacking expedition at risk of total ruin. Last summer, I got slammed with a 24-hour rainstorm in Rocky Mountain National Park. It threw off our hiking schedule, thwarted our summit plans and left us antsy in our tent.
But when the weather finally passed, we were warm, dry and refreshed for the day ahead. Here’s how we weathered the storm:
Invest in the Proper Hiking Fabrics
When preparing for your trip, it’s important to remember that cotton clothes are the enemy. They hold moisture, pack heavy and after several days of wear, STINK, really bad. Invest in the good stuff – synthetics, for that moisture wicking goodness. Snag some wools and silk to keep you warm and cozy too.
Keep the Rain Gear Accessible in your Pack
If an unexpected rain shower hits you in the middle of the day, chances are that you’re already hiking. Nobody wants to be digging through layers of gear in their pack hoping to come across their rain jacket and pack cover. Keep that stuff easily accessible.
Resist the Urge of Getting More Gear Wet
It can be so tempting to change out of the cold, damp clothes as soon as you stop for camp. But if the weather is being fickle, chances are that you may be hit with showers again. You definitely don’t want to get more than one of your very few outfits wet. Resist the urge to change into camp clothes until you know you’re finished with your chores. Set up the tent, make yourself dinner and protect the rest of your gear from getting soaked too.
We all know that the easiest way to set up a tent is by starting with the internal, meshy stuff. When it’s raining however, although it may seem awkward and backwards, it’s important to set up the tent fly first. This will prevent the inside mesh from getting unnecessarily wet. No one wants puddles where they sleep.
Eat a Proper Meal
After a full day of hiking, you may be cold, shivering and miserable. I don’t blame you for wanting to skip the hassle of heating up the JetBoil but DO IT! Hot, calorically dense food and hot tea will heat up your insides and make you less likely to wake up shivering in the middle of the night.
Learn to Love Waterproof Stuff Sacks
Because of my affinity for kayaking, almost all of my stuff sacks are also waterproof. However, a waterproof compression sack can be A LOT more expensive than a regular one. If you know you’re going to be hiking somewhere wet, invest in at least one waterproof compression sack. Your most important piece of gear to protect? The sleeping bag.
All Hail the Sacred Socks
One of the most valuable tips I’ve ever received for backpacking is to keep one pair of your warmest, thickest, best wool socks at the bottom of your sleeping bag. Rain or shine, you will wear these socks exclusively for sleeping. Because the socks live in the bag, they will stay dry and warm on their own. Your feet will thank you.
Plan for a Rain Day
If and when the rain gets really bad, there is no shame in setting up camp at 3 in the afternoon. Don’t freak out about how this hiccup will impact your trail schedule. In fact, when planning for a trip, make sure you’ve given yourself a little wiggle room about how many days you’ll take to complete the trail. If you had planned a technical summit for the day, never let your pride get in the way of realizing what is safe and what matters. Take the extra time to recalculate. Rain days make the best rest days.
Make yourself an emergency rain kit
I LOVE care packages. When I know I’m going to be in the backcountry for more than a few days, I will sometimes devote 1lb of weight in my pack to self love. Throw in your favorite gourmet chocolate, a deck of playing cards, your favorite book, a small coloring book, hand warmers, tea bags, hand crème, a Capri sun….whatever you know will give you some relief when you’re experiencing a low.
Hike like you’re Hitching
And whenever the rain finally passes and the sun begins to shine for good, hike like you’re hitching! There is no shame in hanging every piece of wet or damp gear you own haphazardly off your pack with carabineers and duct tape. Instead of balling it up at the bottom of your pack in a sopping trash bag to remain indefinitely soaked, let the wind and the sun be your clothes dryer. You will look ridiculous but hey, your stuff is going to dry so much faster than everyone else’s!
Happy Hiking, trail bums!