Many backpackers turn back when the rain begins to roll in, but those who persevere are treated to a version of the world reserved only for those who are bold enough to push forward when the wilderness pushes back.
Backpacking in the rain doesn’t have to be miserable. In fact, backpacking in the rain can often be more enjoyable. With the proper preparation, you’ll find yourself comfortable, and content, even in the foulest of storms. You’ll gain solitude, have your choice of camp site, dodge the heat, and you’ll view the vast beyond with a modified perspective offering a stark contrast to the blue skies that most are accustomed to. Fluffy fogs roll through the trees, cascades appear on the trail where previously there were only dry stone, the forest glisten with a majestic sheen.
This is how you enjoy yourself while backpacking in the rain.
modify your expectations
Those who avoid backpacking in the rain often do so because, primarily, they envision a miserable trip stuffed inside a soaking wet tent, cold, bored, and waiting for the storm to pass. This is your first problem. You must first realize that this isn’t the case, and backpacking in the rain is much more than hiding from the elements. You must learn to embrace the elements, and learn to enjoy them. They’re not the enemy, nor the bane of your entertainment. They’re the challenge that adds variety to your trip. Sure, if you hole up and anchor yourself to one spot you’ll run out of things to do. Instead, keep moving! Don’t let the rain keep you down. Get out, and play in it.
Having the proper equipment will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your trip. Rain gear that doesn’t work, and a tent that restricts your movement will only hold you back. Here are some things you’ll want if you hope to milk the most out of the bad weather.
1. Rain gear.
A solid rain suit, pants and a jacket, will keep you warm, dry, and quite happy. I’m a huge fan of Goretex Packlite apparel, as it’s light weight, packable, provides impressive rain resistance, breathes better than most, and feels great against the skin. You’ll want something with vents, and a good hood to protect your face from the rain. Cheaper garments will often be a simple nylon that is sprayed with a water proof coating. This coating wears off, doesn’t work when it gets dirty, feels clammy, and doesn’t breath well at all. Poorly breathable materials will actually trap your own body moisture, causing you to get wet from the inside out.
Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry. I, again, prefer Goretex here because I have found it to be more reliable.
Solid rain gear will keep you cool, dry, and will be comfortable to wear. You won’t even notice the rain coming down on you. You’ll enjoy hiking in the rain, and moving about camp instead of buttoning down and hiding the entire trip.
2. A better tent.
When you do decide to bed down, you don’t want to be stuffed into a tube. A tent should be livable, with ample room to move about and stretch out, with plenty of headroom so you don’t feel cramped. Great ventilation will help to keep you feeling comfortable, without feeling like you’re in a sauna. Some tents even provide awnings so that you can enjoy watching the storm, like the Sierra Designs Flash, Lightning, and Flashlight.
This almost sounds like it’s against the rules, but bring something fun. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the backpacking community thinks it’s ruining the experience, hike your own hike and enjoy it. Things to consider bringing along are books, tablets pre-loaded with movies, portable gaming systems (headphones any time you’ll be playing sound please), e readers, cards, light weight board games, MP3 players, journals, field guides, the latest issue of Backpacker (save it for these days!), whatever you would enjoy at home. Bring it along and enjoy your time spent in the tent, if you do decide to hunker down.
Bringing along a large but light weight tarp is a great way to stay outside while the storm breaks. This will give you a large area to move about, without being constrained to the inside of a tent. Here, you can cook, play games, and socialize if you bring along a large enough tarp. Position it over a fallen log or stones to create a nice place to huddle up.
5. A seat.
Yep, Butt comfort. You’ll thank me later. Even a simple Thermarest Z seat will provide warmth, comfort, and a dry place to plant your tush. This, and it provides a dry entry and exit into and out of your tent if you have to get on your knees. Many seats start at just 2 oz, and provide a wealth of usability.
You’ll need to protect all of that gear. A few simple items like a pack cover, to keep rain out of your pack, and a waterproof sleeping bag sack will keep the items that need to be dry, well protected. A separate waterproof bag for your clothes, pillow, and other items like electronics should also be used. Don’t rely on a “waterproof” backpack, or a pack cover to keep your stuff dry. They won’t!
7. Extra Socks and undies.
Just in case. I bring two pair of extra socks on every trip that has a chance of rain. Soggy feet will hamper your enjoyment of any trip, and it can takes several pairs of dry socks to dry out wet boots, if that should occur. Always save one dry pair for bed time, as that’s when you’ll need them the most.
Choose a strategic destination
Backpacking a destination known for huge vistas knowing that it’s going to be cloudy? Why waste the experience? Instead, target somewhere known for cascades, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. All of these places are enhanced by the rain, instead of diminished. There is something beautiful about a cold lake with fog slipping across the surface, a deep gorge with bellowing clouds tumbling over the peaks, or evergreen hardwoods with the rain trickling through the sun-shafts as the storm breaks.
Some locations offer weather protection, such as the Appalachian trail, which has shelters strung along the entire trail. This is a great retreat on those rainy weekends. Just try to avoid these when the through hikers are working their way through your area. They need it more than you do.
When you are heading out, just take time to consider what you will see, as opposed to what you will not see. Make the best out of every moment you have. Don’t let the rain stop you from enjoying what you love. Rain is a part of backpacking, and it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’ll eventually find yourself in the thick of it. Suck it up, and enjoy it while you can.