Hiking and backpacking when it’s wet

wet 1

By Lynley Joyce

You’ve organised a walk with friends. It’s been months in the planning and the weather forecast is for heavy rain. What do you do?

Consider your options

wet 6The colours can be more intense just after rain, and hikers can get that extra sense of being out in the elements.  Life would be sad we only went out when there’s a 100% chance of fine weather. Still, some people like hiking in the rain, but most of us don’t love it.

One option is to choose a shorter or less exposed walk and then have the more social parts afterwards in a cafe, pub or another type of shelter.  Take some spare clothes to change in to and a hairbrush.

For longer walks, choose a less exposed walk, for example, a valley walk rather than a mountain climb.  Unless you’re a serious peak-bagger, a good motto is: “If you can’t see it, don’t climb it.”

Sometimes there will be showers or rain where you are walking and there is no way around it. If you are going on a multi-day backpacking trip, there may well be some wet days.

Keeping dry

Wear layers of clothes that easily dry out. Jeans are a no-no, as is most cotton.  Dress for the temperature to avoid sweating too much when walking. Take short breaks so as not to get cold.

A decent raincoat is an obvious must-have.  If you can, it’s worth investing in a gore-tex jacket or something similar that breaths.  Cheap raincoats might keep the rain off, but they keep the sweat in. Waterproof leggings are important anywhere exposed, windy or even just slightly cold.

A backpack rain cover is effective but is not essential.  Wrap everything in sturdy waterproof bags if you have them or two layers of ordinary plastic bags, especially sleep bags and spare clothes.  A strong garbage bag or pack liner is a good idea. Remember some food packaging can turn to mush when wet.

Pitching camp in the rain

wet 2When pitching camp in the rain, try to get the tent out and set it up without having to take out everything else. Most pack the tent near the bottom of the pack as it’s heavier.  Use the so-called separate sleeping bag compartment for the tent.  If you don’t have one, pack the tent near the top so you can grab it and leave everything else protected.

Be careful not to camp in depressions in the ground or any area that could become flooded.

A decent waterproof tent is a must.  Preferably it’s one with a good annex for storing stuff out of the elements. If it is bucketing down for a whole day or more, most choose to stay put and have a rest day.  Take a pack of cards, a book, some light knitting or other handcraft to pass the time.  It’s times like this that you will be glad if you have taken a tent you can sit up in.

If it is wet, be sure to keep one set of warm clothes dry all the time for wearing in the tent.  Getting back in to wet clothes is not one of the great joys in life, but it is important to keep some dry clothes. Aim to keep wet stuff outside the tent, and only allow dry things inside.

Never use a camping stove in or close to a tent, no matter how wet it is outside. Tents are flammable. Wangle it so you can stay in the tent while the stove is an arm’s length away.

At night make sure there is enough airflow through the tent, even if the air is moist.  Enclosed tents trap condensation, especially if it’s cold.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a real risk when hiking in the wet.  Even experienced hikers have been surprised how quickly someone can become too cold when they are saturated.

If someone is suffering from hypothermia they may not feel cold themselves but could be drowsy and perhaps confused.  Get them warm in whatever way you can.

Find shelter, and perhaps use others’ body warmth to help them heat up.  Most hikers take extra warm things and an emergency silver “space” blanket for times like this.

Wet underfoot

Some hiking trails are known for bogs and water.  The United State’s Pacific North-West, the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea are notorious for mud, as are many hikes in Western Tasmania, Australia and the Fiordland region in New Zealand.

Gaiters help keep feet just that little bit drier and make it easier when travelling though wet and boggy areas.

It is tempting to try and go around patches of bog but be careful not to damage the surrounding area.  We are there because we love our natural environment, right? Let’s try not to destroy it.

Embrace the mud and just go through it.  Feet are going to get wet on a boggy walk anyway, so get into it earlier and make your life that little bit easier. Sometimes a bit of judgement is needed to not go in too deep, but it’s all part of the adventure.  Just make sure your spare clothes are dry so you can get changed into them later, and watch out for a stream or lake to rinse off in.

Multiple Contributor at | Website

Lynley Joyce lives on the outskirts of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia with her family and a variety of other wildlife. She loves to camp and hike in her home territory of Tasmania, though she has been sighted on walks in other parts of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Europe. Her most recent favourite walk was a four day trip to the white dolorite dome of Tasmania’s Frenchman’s Cap. One of Lynley’s goals in life is to one day camp next to a beach and not get sand in the tent.

10 thoughts on “Hiking and backpacking when it’s wet

  • January 5, 2020 at 10:43 am
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    I have to admit I am not a fan of hiking or camping in the rain but I have done it on a few multi day hikes. I agree a good waterproof tent is a must, there is nothing worse than waking up and your stuff having got wet in the tent overnight. Being english if we waited for good weather to hike we would never get outside, so you have to learn to be prepared for all weathers!!! Even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, I will still pack a waterproof jacket!! I never realised how important airflow through a tent is though and that condensation gets trapped, I will definitely watch out for this next time.

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  • November 21, 2019 at 2:18 am
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    I haven’t hiked or camped that much in the rain…well not intentionally anyway. We did have a few unexpected downpours during a camping trip and that was not pleasant at all. We found that ventilation was definitely key, just like you mentioned. Without ventilating properly, our tent got so humid and uncomfortable. Great tips for staying comfortable on a wet hike/camping trip!

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  • November 20, 2019 at 11:28 pm
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    I haven’t hiked that much throughout my travels but this is great information to keep in mind for weather situations like this! Will keep these tips in mind for future hikes.

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  • November 20, 2019 at 4:25 pm
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    I am sharing this with my cousin because every time she goes camping it starts completely pouring out. One time their tent even collapsed entirely and they had to sleep in their car. I didn’t know that you can have hypothermia, but not even feel cold. I think I’m so used to movies where the person with hypothermia can see their breath and is shivering uncontrollably like in Titanic lol. You’re so right that rain brings out some of the most beautiful colors in nature. I’ve visited southern India and southeastern Asia and they were stunning right after the rain.

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  • November 20, 2019 at 3:44 pm
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    If you can’t see it don’t climb it is amazing advice! I’m not a backpacker but do go for short hikes. Love the idea of bringing dry clothes and getting coffee after

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  • November 20, 2019 at 6:16 am
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    Those are good tips and precautions for hiking in damp weather. I have done short hikes. But never prepared myself for rains. Now when I think of the jeans I am usually in, it is such a misfit. I am updating my packing list with rain pants. I was not aware of the hypothermia condition too. Great meaningful post.

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  • November 20, 2019 at 5:04 am
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    I am a real hiker girl but I have to admit that this girl is made by sugar and melt in the rain! But as a hiker we all have encounter unexpected rain falls. Sometime people are not prepared and some are. And now after been reading your tips about hiking and backpacking in the rain, I am ready more than ever to tackle a day of hiking in the rain!

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  • November 20, 2019 at 1:35 am
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    These are great suggestions- especially wearing the right shoes and packing extra clothes. Sometimes, hiking in the rain can be a really nice experience.

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  • November 19, 2019 at 6:56 pm
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    Admittedly, I’m not a fan when it’s wet and windy outside, so these tips are more than invaluable! The tips about keeping dry clothes inside the tent when raining is so helpful, as is where to set up the tent in case of flooding. We really can’t control the weather, so I completely agree that sometimes you just need to do it!

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  • November 19, 2019 at 2:07 pm
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    Hiking in the rain is never a perfect experience. But sometimes the experience is still worth it. When we did our cruise to the Norway Fjords we knew we would likely have wet weather. And we were not going to miss those hikes. We could often not choose our paths. So we needed to be prepared. We shopped for a new raincoat. And rain pants too. And we remembered to pack our backpack rain cover. Keeping warm was a bigger challenge. Our rain gear made us sweat. And when we opened up we got cold. So sometimes my body temp seemed to cycle. Even with good hiking boots I did not trust them to be totally waterproof. So we were careful with embracing the mud.

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