How to keep yourself and your gear dry while camping & hiking in the rain
Getting wet when in the outdoors is like banging your head against the wall – it might be amusing for some time, but eventually it causes severe discomfort and can even lead to death. Keeping yourself and your gear dry is extremely essential, when on multi-day backcountry trips, so read carefully.
Choose Appropriate Gear
Not all gear is created equal and there is nothing like rain to demonstrate that. Jackets, trousers, tents, bivy-bags, boots etc. are categorized to levels of water resistance depending on their PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) measurements. Depending on how severe you expect the conditions to be, how much time you are planning to spend outdoors and how variable might the weather be, you should choose your gear appropriately (you can find an excellent review of waterproof gear here). A lightly water resistant rain jacket might be enough for a short day hike, but might get you in severe trouble if on a multi-day expedition through mountains.
Build Appropriate Shelter
When choosing your tent/bivy-bag, you should know what conditions you are likely to encounter and choose accordingly. Double wall tents by reliable outdoors companies are usually a good choice for hiking in rainy conditions. Make sure to build and stretch your tent properly, as any sagging parts will become water funnels. Also, do your best for the gear inside not to be touching the walls of your tent, especially, if you have a single wall tent – contact with the membranes will make the water soak through.
Do not pitch your tent at the bottom of a hill, unless you want to wake up in a river or a lake. High ground is your friend. Also be aware of leaves’ and grass deposits that might trap water and drown your tent. Finally, if in trouble, you can also dig a trench around your tent (camping pots are perfect for that).
If you are using a bivy-bag and you expect it to rain, look for shelter under boulders, trees or make sure to have a tarp.
I feel this deserves a category of its own, when discussing this topic. Backpacking and mountain packs are usually somewhat waterproof, but if you might be spending a lot of time in the rain, it is a very good idea to invest into a kit of waterproof sacks. Companies like Sea-to-Summit and Exped produce a range of various volume-capacity waterproof sacks ranging from 5 to 50 liters and more.
One of the major items to have if you are likely to be hiking in countries notorious for their rains like New Zealand, you should acquire a waterproof backpack liner. It could be one of the lightweight high capacity special backpack liners or just a hard plastic large plastic bag – both do the trick, but the later one is 50 times cheaper, lighter, however – less durable.
In addition, you should have at least a few smaller size dry-sacks for your clothes and other items you want to keep dry. I usually have one 20 liter pack that I use for my clothes and another 5-10 liter one for electronics and valuables. Dry sacks are also perfect for compartmentalizing your bag, and making packing much easier.
Plastic in Nature
It’s ironic how nature-loving hikers and campers are so dependent on plastic. Zip-lock bags are perfect for protecting your cell-phone, first-aid kit, oats, books and even toilet paper. I always carry at least a few spare plastic bags of various sizes in my pack. However, remember to REUSE any plastic bags; they are usually strong enough to serve you for many months and trips – think about the beautiful nature you are enjoying.
Cotton is a hydrophilic material, designed to attract and absorb water (that’s why cotton towels are so good, even when wet). This is not what you want your clothes to be made of on a multi-day trip, as they will get wet very fast, and will take forever to dry. Choose wool and synthetic materials, as they dry fast, are usually lightweight, somewhat water-repellent and provide warmth even, when wet, unlike cotton.
What to Wear: Strategy
If you will be hiking in the rain for an extended period of time, you will inevitably get wet; there is no way around it. Even the most waterproof fabrics will get wet after n number of hours, unless you are wearing plastic gear (in which case you will just get wet from your sweat).
What I do, when on multi-day hikes is that I keep one set of clothes dry for when I stop for the night at a hut or tent and another set I spend my days it. And yes, that means putting on the same cold and wet clothes in the morning. However, this way you are keeping the weight of your kit low, and making sure that you will be able to warm up once you stop. This last point I would like to stress again – on multi-day trips, do make sure you can warm up, especially if you are travelling on your own. Hypothermia is very dangerous and should not be taken lightly.
A very good addition to any kit is an emergency bivy bag or a space blanket. If you are caught in an intense rain storm you are not ready for, this lightweight emergency gear will protect you from the rain and will you keep warm.
The main advice I would have, when on multi-day trips, is to limit the level of wetness in your gear. Don’t worry about getting your shorts or boots and socks wet, if you have a dry set to change to when you stop. Waterproof key pieces of your gear that are supposed to get you warm in the end of the day – like your sleeping bag and a warm jersey. Also, remember, backcountry hiking gear is often more about survival than comfort.
Have fun and stay dry!
About the Author
I’m Eric, and I’m the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics. I’m also an avid adventurer, digital nomad and traveler. I enjoy all types of outdoor sports, a good golf tan, and spontaneous weekend trips. I currently live in Brazil where I can be found frequently