Stay Comfortable in Any Weather: Rain

In the wettest conditions, learn to create and maintain a personal bubble of dry space.
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In the wettest conditions, learn to create and maintain a personal bubble of dry space.

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear



ON THE TRAIL

Organize gear. Segregate snacks, shell, map, camera, filter–anything you'll need while hiking. Use your pockets, pack compartments, or lash on a waterproof stuffsack for this stuff; never expose other gear to rain.

Stay cool. Even the best waterproof/breathable shells can cause overheating if you're working hard, making you wet from sweat on the inside. Moderate your pace, keep the hood off, and even wear the jacket like a vest: Stick your arms through the pit zips and tuck the sleeves into pockets. Wear just a baselayer in mild temps and a light drizzle; your body heat will keep you comfortable.

Avoid raising your arms. In a downpour, water will enter at your cuffs and seep up your sleeves. Use trekking poles? Shorten the length to minimize wrist exposure. Rest when the rain stops. Forget your schedule; in extended bad weather, take advantage of dry spells to eat.

Wear wet stuff. If your inner layers get soaked, don't risk getting dry clothes wet. Hiking will keep you warm.

Tap body heat. Dry wet socks and gloves while you hike. Stow them between your layers, not balled up in a pocket.

Wait it out. If the shower is likely to be temporary–like a passing mountain storm–30 minutes of patience can prevent a day of soggy clothes. Hunker down under a rock overhang or trees.

Beware of wet brush. Even after the storm, wet vegetation can soak you. Keep your raingear on while bushwhacking or if the trail is overgrown.

Make the last hour count. When you have about 30 to 60 minutes of hiking left for the day, assess your comfort and the conditons. Chilled? Increase your pace so you warm up before stopping (otherwise you'll get cold fast in camp). Overheated? Slow down, so you start drying on the trail and don't reach camp with sweaty (read: cold) inner layers.

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear

IN CAMP

Keep your inner tent dry. Pre-pitch it in a sheltered area without staking it, drape the fly over, then move it as needed. Or use your kitchen tarp as set-up shelter, then move the tent. In extremely wet conditions, pitch the tarp over the front of your tent to create an extended vestibule for changing clothes and stowing soaked boots, shells, and gear. (Turn the page for tips on tent site selection.)

Pre-rig your fly. At home, rig your fly's guy loops with 15-foot lengths of nylon cord. Use an adjustable trucker's hitch so you can easily retighten guylines on a sagging fly. (Or use an Editors' Choice Award-winning Nite Ize Figure 9 Rope Tightener; $9, niteize.com.)

Keep the tent's interior dry. Spread the footprint inside the tent to protect your sleeping pad and bag from ground-level moisture, which can accumulate from condensation, doorway drips, and leaky floors. Use an absorbent camp towel to soak up excess moisture.

Pack tent clothes. Store dry socks and an extra set of baselayers (top and bottom) in a waterproof stuffsack or zip-top bag. Never let these items get wet.

Keep your feet dry. Wet skin is more prone to blisters. If you must walk around camp in soaked boots, protect dry socks by slipping plastic bags over them, then putting on boots. Sprinkle talcum powder on your feet before bed. Remove wet insoles and dry them on your quads while in your sleeping bag.

Wear a baselayer dry. Too wet for a fire? Keep a damp (not soaked) shirt on under your insulation while you perform camp duties.

Stow a wet tent in stages. Detach the rainfly, but leave the tent covered while you disassemble poles and (quickly!) stuff the tent. Shake the fly as dry as you can and store it in a separate waterproof stuffsack or garbage bag.

On the Trail | In Camp | Key Gear

KEY GEAR

Rainshell Duh, right? Just don't skimp on these key features: unlined cuffs (read: no wicking) that cinch tight with Velcro; a three-way adjustable hood with bendable brim for better protection and visibility; and a cinchable hem that covers your butt. For more on choosing the right fabric, see Gear Lab: Raingear.

Hat A waterproof lid offers better visibility and breathability than a hood. Get Outdoor Research's Coastal Sombrero for hard rain ($50, orgear.com) or Revel for lighter precip.

Gaiters Rainpants should cover the tops of your boots, but gaiters add critical protection, especially if you step in unexpectedly deep water. Wear them under, not over, your rainpants.

Neoprene socks They're steamy in mild temps, but waterproof socks (such as SealSkinz H20 Waterblocker: $45, sealskinz.com) will keep your feet warm in the wettest conditions.

Gloves Pack both quick-dry liners and water-resistant gloves; for cold rain, add waterproof shells. In a pinch, use a pair of dishwashing gloves; trim the cuffs.

Umbrella Lightweight models, such as MontBell's U.L. Trekking Umbrella ($35, montbell.com), are great for hiking when temps are warm and wind is nil. Marco Johnson, a NOLS instructor, swears by a golf umbrella, which is heavier but provides beaucoup "sanity space" in prolonged rain.

Water bottle "Put hot water in it and rub it against your wet clothes. It dries them like an iron," says NOLS instructor Jenn Pine. Stow hot bottles in wet boots overnight to speed drying.

Waterproof sacks Get lightweight stuffsacks in multiple colors, so you know what's stored in each. Trash compacter bags are tough: Put one over a wet pad to shield a sleeping bag. Pack covers are good for reducing water weight absorbed by your pack, but limit access and tend to flap in the wind.

My Secret: Eli Fierer

Alaska Mountain Guides' Fierer swears by his "three-sock cycle": On the first night, tuck wet socks into a tent pocket or ceiling loop to start drying. Night two, move the first pair into your sleeping bag to let body heat finish the job–without soaking your bag–and put that day's wet pair in their place. Save the third pair for tent use only.

Rig a Kitchen Tarp

A-frame (A): maximum weather protection. Lean-to (B): more headroom and better view, less cover. No trees? Use trekking poles that you guy out in two directions for stability. Minimum size for two campers: 7'x11'. For three, increase it to at least 9'x12'. Too stormy for a tarp? See the end of this article for tips on cooking in your vestibule.

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