Rainy Day Skills (Skills)

To stay dry in a downpour, carry the right wet-weather gear and know how to use it.

One day soon, the heavens will open and endless buckets of water will pour forth. That's when you need a watertight strategy for beating backcountry deluges. What follows is advice on how to keep a dry camp. In the next issue, we'll cover staying dry while hiking.

Choose the right gear

If you're in the market for new gear, or plan to rent or borrow equipment, keep these points in mind:

  • A tarp is invaluable as a supplemental shelter in heavy rain, but adds weight to your pack. Consider buying an ultralight model (see "A Room With A View," August 1999), or pack yours only when the forecast calls for prolonged showers.
  • A spacious vestibule in your tent can serve as a "mud room" where you stow wet gear. One tent entrance and vestibule per person makes each responsible for his or her own wetness. If your tent lacks a vestibule, a tarp can serve as a mud room.
  • Tents with poles that slip through sleeves usually pitch faster than those that attach with clips.
  • Avoid a tent with a mesh ceiling if you'll be camping in cool, humid, and hard-rain conditions. Condensation that forms on the inside of the rainfly can spray through the mesh.
  • Seam-seal every stitch that isn't factory taped. Allow 24 hours for the sealer to dry, and test the tent's waterproofness under a sprinkler for several hours. (See "Tidy Seam-Sealing" on page 85.)
  • Synthetic sleeping bags soak up less water and dry faster than down bags. A water-resistant shell or bivouac sack protects against condensation.

Use the gear wisely

  • Avoid pitching your tent in a depression or where water might collect. Even if your tent floor doesn't leak, the floorless vestibule will be over a puddle.
  • Spread the rainfly over your unpitched tent to protect it from rain. Then slip the poles into their sleeves and erect the tent while you're under cover.
  • Minimize your comings and goings, or use an umbrella to shield the inner tent when the door is open. Use a pee bottle if nature tends to call you frequently.
  • Keep sleeping bags and clothing away from the entrance, and avoid contact with wet floors and walls. Keep spare clothing inside waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags.
  • String a clothesline across the tent ceiling to dry wet clothes. Boot insoles and wet socks or shirts will dry inside your sleeping bag overnight.
  • Tighten rainfly straps and guylines to keep the fly and tent walls separated. This improves air circulation and reduces condensation.
  • Zip the doors shut before packing the tent so they'll be closed during a wet-tent setup.