Mud season comes but twice a year, but always presents ultralighters with a gear challenge: What’s the best way to stay dry and comfortable when everything around you seems to be wet and mucky? With some thought and planning, though, you can still keep your minimalist kit while keeping (mostly) clean.
Make a backup plan
The first thing to keep in mind when planning mud season trips is that it helps to be flexible. Have at least one or two trail alternatives in mind, and check local conditions through park and forest service websites to make sure your intended area is open to the public. If you can, call the local ranger station up to learn more about expected trail conditions.
Pack the right gear
Most of your three-season hiking kit should work for mud season. There are definitely some specialized products you should consider taking along, though.
No matter what shoes or boots you wear—and during mud season, it’s good to go waterproof since you might find yourself trudging through some icy water—bringing extra traction will help keep you from slipping all over the trail.
You might think they’re just for snow, but a good pair of trail spikes can help with traction on muddy climbs and descents. The 2.5-ounce Snowline Chainsen City Crampon is the lightest traction device we’ve seen, but it only offers forefoot traction and the teeth are small, so is best for relatively shallow muck.
In seriously muddy, slushy conditions, spring for a pair of Kahtoola MICROspikes. They joined our Gear Hall of Fame in 2018, and at 11.9 ounces they’re light enough and pack down to the size of a soda can.
Pro tip: Bring a carabiner so you can hang your traction devices on your pack to dry after use. It’ll keep the metal from rusting and the inside of your pack from getting wet.
Waterproof gaiters are another essential piece of gear during mud season. Another offering from Kahtoola, the mid-calf LEVAgaiters GTX have kept our ankles and pant legs dry through many muddy spring outings in the Rockies as we trudged through calf-deep snow and brushed against wet willows and grass. They’re waterproof, flexible, breathable, and weigh just 4.6 ounces.
Whether you use them or not, trekking poles with baskets are also essential for the muck. Plus, trekking poles are a great tool for checking whether or not the ice or snow covering a stream is thick enough to support your weight. A good pair of folding ultralight trekking poles, like the 10-ounce Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles won’t weigh you down and easily stow away when you don’t need them.
When you’re camping during mud season, there are two pieces of gear you might not normally bring with you that are worth adding to your kit. The first is a ground cloth to keep your shelter’s base dry and clean. Tyvek is a great option for a DIY job; it weighs a scant .2 ounces per square foot and you can often find sheets of it for under $20.
The second item is a sleeping bag liner. If you think you’ll be camping in temperatures that might stretch the insulating capabilities of your sleeping bag or tarp, a liner like the 4.8-ounce silk Cocoon TravelSheets can add warmth to your sleep system without costing or weighing you down as much as a whole new sleeping bag.
All in, this gear shouldn’t add more than 2 pounds to your kit, but will keep you on the trail even when conditions turn particularly nasty.