April showers brings May flowers, right? If you’re in California where rainy days are scarily few and far between right now, you’d probably consider yourself lucky to get dumped on. Well, let this be in an effort to rally the storm clouds then. And regardless of where you are, as you head out camping over the next few weeks, it’s best to be prepared for anything and everything. Savvy campers and backpackers know that inclement weather is always a possibility: many popular trails and wilderness destinations are criss-crossed by microclimates, meaning it can literally be raining in one square mile and sunny in another.
So, as spring sneaks closer, we got some pro tips for wet weather camping from James Dong, who runs Last Minute Gear, a San Francisco-based gear rental company. James’ take on how to avoid (and recover from) soggy long-johns and a puddle in your tent:
First, some key pointers for camping and hiking in the rain that will make can make your trip way more pleasant.
1. Pick your campsite location wisely:
- Good: high, flat ground
- Bad: a slope where water could just roll on in; a depression that could turn into a puddle; areas near rivers/streams that may flood; under large branches that could fall in a heavy storm
2. Pitch a solid tent and keep it dry:
- Set up a tarp overhead, preferably over the entire campsite if possible, or hold the tarp overhead. If you don’t have a tarp, do this with the rain-fly
- Keep the rain-fly taut and away from the walls of the tent, and avoid accidentally pushing the tent wall out from the inside. If a wet rain-fly touches the wall of the tent, water will seep inside from the contact
- Ensure the tent is well ventilated to prevent condensation building inside
- Don’t set a ground cloth; water may pool and seep into your tent. Instead, consider bringing the ground cloth inside and using it as an extra layer of protection from the damp floor
3. Hike with extra attention to:
- Water crossings: both because of flood risk and because the water will be running much faster
- Rocky trails: rocks can become very slippery when just a little damp
- Bare, dirt paths: if trails become muddy, this also will make them extra slippery
- Know the signs of hypothermia
- Remember to drink water! As with being in the cold, being in the rain often makes us forget we’re thirsty
Let's say it’s really coming down and you've followed our advice above. Still, a mildly unpleasant scenario can become dangerous in the backcountry. Wet and cold can cause hypothermia, so it’s super important to be able to dry off quickly and stay warm and dry. Some gear that'll help you fight the damp:
- Rain jacket with hood, rain pants, waterproof hiking boots, (gaiters are also great if you’re expecting a ton of rain)
- Rain cover for your backpack
- Rain cover or water-tight bags for your camera/electronics
- Synthetic clothing. Make sure you bring at least two sets so you can always change into something dry when you get to camp!
- In-camp shoes like sandals or flip-flops (keeping your feet in wet-boots/socks is not fun and can lead to problems)
- Large tarp(s) and extra rope(s) that can be strung high across tree branches and provide overall camp shelter
- Rainfly for your tent (you might consider bringing a bigger one since you could spend more time inside it than on a sunny trip)
- Gas stove: a warm meal and/or beverage like hot tea or coffee does wonders for wet weather morale and hypothermia prevention
- Plastic bags (a million uses, bring sturdy ones!)
- Towels (preferably the lightweight, microfiber kind since they also dry quickly)
- Reflective blankets (helpful whenever there’s a risk of hypothermia)
- Newspaper: building a fire can be the fastest way to warm up and dry your clothes, but hard to accomplish in a wet forest, so newspaper could serve as perfect kindling
Depending on how bad the weather is, the trails may be completely un-walkable, and you may be cooped up in a tent together with nothing to do. That said, if you plan ahead and adventure with the right group of people who make the best of any situation, I promise that you can return from a rain-soaked adventure with wide smiles, happy memories, and awesome stories. Plus, camping isn’t supposed to always be easy – that’s what makes it fun!
Good luck, and happy (wet-weather) camping! [Cue the Hipcamp team’s weekly rain-dance.]