Backpacking in Rain and Wet Conditions – Tips and Things You Should Know

Rain, Rain, Go Away?

Can Traveling in Wet Conditions be as rewarding as Fair Weather?

When you think of a great hike, rainy and wet weather is probably not the first thing to pop into your head.

However, hiking in rainy wet weather may afford you some of the best scenery Mother Nature has to offer.

Don’t believe me?

Have a look at the Hoh Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US.

The Hoh rainforest sees 135 inches of rain per year, usually meted out in small drizzly doses that create more of constant wetness than a drenching downpour.

Add to that the heavy fog that regularly inhabits the area and you have a potentially soggy trip if you plan to visit.

Hoh Rainforest

Don’t let the precipitation deter you, the sights you can see in the Hoh rainforest can not be seen anywhere else. Several plants and animal species exist only in this forest, such as the northern spotted owl, the pacific tree frog, and the infamous banana slug.

The banana slug, as the name suggests, is a yellow slug with brown spots, similar in appearance and size to an actual banana. It moves at a whopping 6.5 inches per minute, so if slugs are not your thing, at least you can out-run them.

The Hoh has mountain glaciers, miles, and miles of Pacific coastline, huge shaggy moss-covered old-growth trees, mushrooms and fungi you have to see to believe, and magical quality, a sort of enchanting quietness only found in the dense atmosphere of a rainforest.

So, for your next trip, don’t rule out wonderful locations like the Hoh, simply because of wet conditions or you will be missing out!

Hoh Rainforest
Photo credit by: Todd vanGoethem

How to Camp and Travel in Wet, Foggy, Rainy, Drizzly Conditions

If you are planning a trip that includes rafting, kayaking, fishing, canoeing, or any other activity done on the water or in the rain, you need to know how to secure your gear and stay dry.

Wet feet, rain-soaked gear and waterlogged provisions can ruin a camping trip and even compromise your health or safety.

If you are hiking in a climate with persistent rain and your important gear gets wet or damp, it could be several days before you have a chance to dry it out.

  • Do you have a plan in place to stay dry in wet conditions?
  • If you or your gear were to get wet, what would your next steps be?

How would you get or stay warm? These are important questions to ask yourself before you head out.

kayaking

Bottom Line?

Get informed. Getting soaked is inconvenient at best, and life-threatening at worst. Keeping your core body temperature stable is challenging when wet and could lead to hypothermia is not dealt with properly.

Chilling Facts:

Hypothermia happens when the body can not produce enough heat to replace the heat it is losing due to cold, wet and/or windy conditions.

Since water naturally steals body heat, being wet is a risk factor for hypothermia, especially if exposed for an extended period of time.

The following 11 tips will help you stay dry and show you what to do and how to dress if you do become drenched.

11 Tips to Keep Dry and What to Do if You Become Soaked

The Mind Game

One of the best assets to have in bad weather is a positive attitude.

If you know ahead of time there is a possibility of rain or wet conditions, you can adequately prepare for those conditions and accept the fact that you are going to get wet ahead of time instead of being unprepared and disappointed by the wet weather or conditions.

Even with the best waterproof gear and best hiking boots you will be dealing with perspiration and rain has a way of finding its way inside via the neck and sleeves of your jacket, and your shoes will take on water from vegetation while hiking.

If you are in the rain long enough, eventually you will be wet.

Follow this tip and the others that follow and you may find you enjoy traveling, hiking and camping in wet conditions.

kayaking down to river

Keeping Your Tent Dry in Wet Conditions

Try and pitch your tent on high ground. Water pools at the lowest areas and you don’t want to sleep in puddles

Get two tarps that are larger than the footprint of your tent. One tarp goes under the tent and the other is hung over the tent, but not touching it.

Use a tent with a rainfly because the rain fly acts as a secondary barrier for moisture, keeping it outside the tent. Of course, the best 4 person camping tents and just like other great models will provide excellent protection against rain.

However, rain is not the only thing to keep in mind since there is also wind. For this you want to look at tents for windy conditions, that can also protect you from rain.

Be careful not to touch the sides of the tent as this allows water to pass through the tent fabric to the interior, getting items inside wet.

Do not bring wet items inside the tent to cut down on moisture. The humidity from wet items will evaporate and leave condensation on the inside of the tent, adding to the moisture problem.

When packing the tent up to head out, try to do so while the tent is still under the tarp, to keep it as dry as possible for the next night.

Tent and aurora

How to Use a Hammock in the Rain, and Why They are Ideal for Wet Conditions

If you want to avoid the problems that come with a tent camping in the rain, a hammock tent just might be the answer.

The benefits a hammock tent has over the traditional tent are:

  • Hammock tents are easier to set up
  • Hammock tents are more comfortable to sleep in, vs. sleeping on the ground
  • You won’t wake up in a puddle
  • Hammock tents can be used for more than simply sleeping, they can be used as a chair, a place to hang out, a place to lie down, while still being outside and still interacting with your fellow campers, whereas a tent closes you off.
  • Hammock tents dry faster than standard tents
  • Hammock tents weigh less than traditional tents

Hammock tents can be used with a tarp, just like a tent. You will need one tarp overhead, but not underneath.

camping hammock packaged

The key with the tarp is keeping it taught. A tight tarp will work best to deflect rain and keep the moisture off you while you sleep.

Be sure that the tarp has its own ridgeline; this will keep it tight and in place, unaffected by your use of the hammock.

The tarp can also be adjusted depending on the severity of the rain, for light intermittent drizzle, the tarp can be set open wider, and if a heavy storm comes, it can be set narrower for secure protection.

Independent Wolg Orange Camping Hammock

Keeping Food Dry

Pack all food in Ziploc bags and place inside dry bags as an added layer of moisture protection.

Ziploc bags do not add weight, and the benefit they provide, surely ‘outweighs’ the cost. They can be used later to store wet or dirty items, to keep dry clothes dry, the can be used as makeshift water storage, they can protect electronics and more.

Plan ahead. If you expect rain, it stands to reason that a leisurely, drawn-out means is not a likely possibility.

Plan foods that can be eaten on the go, with the least fuss possible. Pack a few bags of trail mix, snack bars, nuts, or any other handy foods to eat on the go.

If rain is in the forecast, try and plan a few meals that do not require cooking. While a hot meal can be beneficial in cold weather, sometimes trying to get a fire going or using a backpacking stove in the rain is more trouble than it is worth.

If possible, travel with a thermos of hot coffee or other warm beverage and if or when you have the chance to get a fire going refill it as needed to stay warm.

cooking food on stove

What to Do if You Get Soaking Wet

Navy diver and Sitka big Game Product manager John Barklow has experience with staying warm after becoming seriously wet and cold.  He has spent time in Alaska training Navy SEALs how to survive extreme situations such as falling into a frozen lake or river.

Barklow had the SEALs tread ice-cold water fully clothed for 12 minutes, then get out of the water and attempt to warm up.

Conventional wisdom says they should remove the clothes to get them dry somehow, and attempt to start a fire to warm up.

Instead, the SEALs were instructed to first, put on a synthetic layer of clothing over their soaking wet base layer, also made from synthetic material. Then they were able to start a fire.

They ten went to their tents, got inside their sleeping bags, made from synthetic material, and waited for the fire to warm up water for food and a hot drink.

After the water was boiling hot they began sipping coffee and eating a hot meal to get their metabolisms going, furthering the warming process.

kodiak alaska

After several hours, the SEALs found that they were no longer cold or shivering and the base layers they were wearing were dry.

The mid-layers were still damp, and the outer layers had frozen, but the SEALs were warm and out of danger of succumbing to hypothermia.

The clothing system used the biggest heat source available, the human body, to heat the clothes from the inside out, and the synthetic layers, which do not hold water, allowed the water to evaporate from the inside out to the surface, leaving the men dry.

winter camping in tent

Barklow used a similar process without a stove.

In this situation, the SEALs put on a synthetic layer over a synthetic base layer and began slowly marching.

The activity generated enough heat to dry the men, but not so much heat that it caused sweat, exacerbating the issue.

Their base layer dried in one hour and mid-layer dried in two, proving that using synthetic layers wisely is the way to go if you get drenched unexpectedly.

Dressing for Wet Weather and Conditions

Here is the deal:

Cotton and down are water-loving material. That is why towels are made from cotton, it absorbs water.

Once cotton or down feather become wet, they tend to stay wet longer than synthetic materials.

Down is a great insulator when dry, but once it gets wet, it keeps the cold and damp next to your body, which is a problem.

Synthetic is best. Why?

Synthetic material is water repellant, AND stays warm, even when wet.

Use a light synthetic base layer, synthetic mid layer, like a fleece sweater or jacket, and a synthetic sleeping bag in wet weather conditions.

Wool is a decent alternative to a synthetic material if you want to use a natural fiber. Wool will absorb some water, but it also stays warm even while wet.

Synthetic material works with your body mechanics. You are a huge source of heat. Your heat turns the water on your clothes into vapor.

This vapor is able to easily escape synthetic material because a synthetic material does not hold moisture. This allows you to dry out, even while wearing clothes that are wet.

The Truth About Waterproof Jackets

hiker with waterproof jacket

Waterproof jackets are actually best at keeping you warm, not necessarily keeping you dry.

They get so warm, that if you are doing any sort of activity, hiking, walking, puttering around the campsite, etc, they can make you warm enough to sweat.

Then the sweat becomes a problem, keeping you damp. Waterproof rain jackets are good for winter weather and heavy rain, but for light summer and spring drizzles, they can defeat the purpose.

The same hold true for waterproof pants. They can get quite hot, causing perspiration, which adds to the moisture problem. If you use them, they are best for really cold weather or serious downpours.

Pack all clothes in a dry bag (or two or three dry bags), inside your backpack. At night, before going to bed, change into dry clothing to warm up after spending the day in the rain.

Headwear

A wool hat with a good bill is helpful in the rain. It can keep water from hitting your face and glasses if you wear them.

Your head is a major point for heat loss in cold weather, so get your head covered if you are having trouble staying warm.

How to Start a Campfire in the Rain

campfire in winter

A campfire is a source of heat, light, and safety out in the wilderness. It has many physical benefits, but starting a fire can also give a much needed psychological boost in bad weather.

Campfires are associated with comfort and security and may be just what your party needs after a rainy day or unexpected fall in the water.

Starting a campfire is practically a rite of passage for some. It is a basic outdoor, bushcraft, survivalist and camping skill. Starting a campfire in the rain is a skill on an entirely different level.

To be truly prepared for any situation while ‘roughing it’ one should know how to start a fire in wet conditions with only basic supplies. This video gives a good visual demonstration of one effective way to start a fire in the rain.

Supplies:

Source of spark or ignition:

  • Cigarette lighter (wrapped in duct tape is better, in case you get really soaked or fall in the   water.)
  • Matches in a waterproof container. You can ignite a strike-anywhere match on the zipper of a pair of jeans. Matches are inexpensive and readily available, but they don’t work if they get wet.
  • A striking fire starter such as a magnesium stick or Swedish Firesteel (link to Amazon.com). These are not too expensive and can easily be found online, or at sporting goods and camping stores.

Firestarter fuel:

Fatwood (wood saturated in tree sap), birch bark, cotton balls soaked in Vaseline, wood shavings, wet fuel etc.

Tinder:

Collect or create these diameters: Hay/Straw diameter, stir stick diameter, drinking straw diameter,  pencil diameter, thumb diameter and so on.

Use a saw or knife to make the shavings and smaller pieces.

Firewood, dry logs, Folding Saw and fixed blade knife

Prepare the site for the fire
Clear an area, removing grass and vegetation, around 3 feet in diameter, down to sandy soil.

The area needs to be clear of vegetation and dug down to the soil so the fire does not spread accidentally.

Gather fuel
A good source of fuel for a fire are dead trees that are still standing.

While you are scouting out a good pitch in the rain, keep an eye out for resources, such as dead standing trees and potential firewood.

The standing tree may be wet on the outside, but standing dead trees should be dry on the inside, unlike trees that have already fallen and been fully soaked by rain and snow.

Start the fire
Begin with the ignition source and the fire starter fuel, eg. A match and a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline.

Light the match and set the cotton ball on fire in the clearing you made. Stack the tinder starting with the small pieces with the narrowest diameter, working up to larger and larger diameter tinder, until the fire is going strong.

The tinder should be arranged in a teepee formation.

Sustain and maintain the fire
Once the larger tinder is burning well, take a large log and set that in the fire as the base.

Add other logs perpendicular to this base log, resting one end on top of the base log. This allows air to move, fueling the fire and gives soggy logs a change to dry out.

Keeping Gear Dry While Hiking

Most backpacks are not waterproof, especially if you get caught in a heavy downpour or you fall in a lake or river.

Woman by Waterfall

Many backpacks are water-resistant, but they can still allow water to enter if there is enough of it.

Backpack covers offer some protection, but can fail in heavy rain and do not help at all if your backpack gets submerged underwater.

They also don’t protect the back of your backpack so the raindrops that hit your jacket will slide down your back and saturate the backpack.

For items that require protection, use a waterproof dry bag. Use a dry bag for your sleeping bag, a dry change of clothes, all fire starting material, and electronics if you have any, first aid kit and map. For the electronics, not to mess them up in cables use travel cable organizers. This way, you can easily find what you need without having to hold your dry bag open for too long.

Even if rain is not in the forecast, a dry bag can be a lifesaver if you have any activities planned on the water.

Fishing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting and similar activities will be more secure if you stash your essential gear in a dry bag that will float if it falls in the water, keeping everything dry.

Footwear

Boots and Waterfall

Many people believe they need waterproof footwear to hike in the rain, but hikers with ample experience in wet conditions tend to disagree.

Waterproof shoes take on water eventually, given enough water and exposure to rain. They also create a barrier that traps perspiration, making your feet damp anyway, defeating the purpose of waterproof shoes.

The exception to this is freezing weather because the waterproof lining will trap warmth, as well as moisture.

If you use synthetic or wool socks, your feet will stay warm, even if they get damp or wet. In freezing weather waterproof shoes are a good choice.

In warmer weather, a light well ventilated athletic shoe with mesh panels will help your feet stay cool and allow them to dry quickly.

Wool or synthetic socks are the best choices for any weather conditions because they do not hold water like cotton and other natural fibers.

Sleeping Considerations

camping tent and rocks

The same principle behind using synthetic clothes and socks applies to your sleeping bag in wet conditions

If a sleeping bag made from synthetic material gets damp, it will still keep you warm, and this type of material dries faster than feather-down or cotton.

Down and cotton lose their insulation when wet and leave you at risk of a freezing cold sleepless night.

Ideally, it’s best to keep your sleeping bag dry. Consider dedicating a large dry bag to carry your sleeping bag.

Getting a good night’s rest is an important part of an enjoyable trip and a much-needed reward for a challenging day in wet conditions.

A dedicated dry bag for your sleeping bag is a worthwhile investment.

Awe-inspiring Hiking, Camping and Travel in Rainy or Wet Conditions

The following are a few of the most breathtaking and refreshing areas to hike, camp or visit in the rain.

Silver Falls State Park. Oregon, USA

The trail of 10 waterfalls will give you plenty of opportunities to get wet. There are even waterfalls you can walk behind in this park, located in one of the US’s rainiest states, Oregon.

Vancouver BC, Vernon Lake, Canada

If boating and fishing are activities you enjoy, this clean and quiet campground is an undiscovered gem, and as a bonus, you will not have to worry about the crowds during rainy season.

New Zealand Milford Sound

‘Lord of the Rings’ style scenery, sheer cliffs towering vertically into the heavens, a freshwater/seawater underwater observatory and caverns filled with glowworms await the visitor of this magical ( and often wet or rainy) New Zealand destination.

Comments