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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Stay Comfortable in Any Weather: Rain

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

by: Molly Loomis

Pick Your Conditions

On the Trail | In Camp | 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, 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, 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,, 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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Reader Rating: -


Feb 12, 2010

umbrellas are fabulous! used a trekking -specific (Go-Lite) but added a top loop so that I could hang it while getting lunch out of my backpack during a downpour. Vastly superior in moderate and warm climates, but also used mine even in a Sierra snowstorm-allowed me to hike with a vastly more breathable water resistant shell. a big one catches too much wind, a telescopic shaft will break, as do jointed rib struts...simpler is stronger and lighter.

Nov 14, 2009

Drying things in your sleeping bag (over night), when you are in it, will make you cold. Yes, your things will dry, but you will not be comfortable at all. I speak from personal experience.

Oct 25, 2009

I find that using an umbrella is more comfortable than using a poncho when it's raining.

bob alou
Oct 22, 2009

A hat,gloves,and a bandana around the neck can make a wet day a great deal more bearable.

Dave Y
Oct 22, 2009

Since my wife and I seem to draw rain whenever we go camping, we've found that disassembling the tent and stuffing it in its bag while the rainfly is still up (think footprint shelter), the main tent body stays drier and you won't have to stuff the tent nearly as quickly. It tends to be a cramped affair, but nothing beats a warm, dry sleep:) Once the main tent is safely stowed, take apart the fly according to the authors recommendations. Just our personal experience ;)


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