5 Ways to Avoid Letting Rain Ruin Your Outdoor Adventure

After the rain on Devil's Path, trying to remember
backpacking is fun! (PC: D. Herscovitch)
For a while, I thought Devil's Path in the Catskills and Mother Nature were truly out to get me. 

We faced torrential downpours on my first three pilgrimages to the area. On one backpacking trip, after gaining what felt like thousands of feet on our first day, we took a break and huddled underneath a rock outcropping looking for some sort of reprieve from the weather. It was supposed to storm for 48 hours. We snacked, relaxed for a bit, listened to the rain falling, and then continued on.

I have many fond memories like this from trips I went on despite wet weather. Even if being soaked to the bone felt terrible at the time, I still had fun. Case and point, you don't have to let wet weather ruin your trip. Here's how.

Understand Basic Thunderstorm Safety.

There's a big difference between getting caught in the rain and getting stuck in a dangerous thunderstorm. Before you leave home, make sure you understand how to deal with a thunderstorm if you're stuck in one, and if you're planning to be at higher elevations, consider coming up with a backup plan. 

NOAA lightening safety expert John Jensenius says the best places to seek shelter from lightning are in substantial buildings or a hard-topped metal vehicles. If you're exposed, do your best to avoid situations that increase your risk of being struck by lightning, like being the tallest object or seeking shelter under the tallest object around you. But due to the random nature of strikes, you don't have many good options aside from avoiding being exposed in the first place. Read more about storm safety here.

Protect Your Stuff.

There's nothing worse than getting to camp and realizing everything you own is soaked. I've found pack covers marginally effective; they're good at protecting the parts of the pack that aren't exposed, but water still leaks through the shoulder straps and the space between my back and the pack. I'll still take one with me if it's pouring, but there's more you can do.

A hazy post-storm morning in the Catskills. The tarp helped us collect water, and gave us some living space outside the tent!
Start by lining your backpack with a trash bag. The bag can the be easily pulled out of the pack for storage inside your tent while the wet pack sits outside. Store everything in Ziploc bags, or waterproof compression sacks, and bring extra Ziploc bags just in case any of yours spring a leak. Open your pack as infrequently as possible; you run the risk of getting water in it every time you do, and a little bit over multiple pack openings adds up. 

Pick the Right Spot for Your Camp Setup.

On a trip to the Adirondacks early in my backpacking career, I woke up in a puddle because our tent leaked, and we pitched it in a place where water collected as it flowed downhill. No bueno.

Whether you have a super fancy expensive tent or not, it won't keep you dry if you put it in the wrong place. When you're setting up in the rain, don't pitch your tent on soft ground or in depressions in the earth, like we did. If it's raining while you're setting up, watch where the water is moving, and look for high ground if possible. Look for washouts and other indications of areas that appear to have flooded before, and avoid setting up in those areas.

Campsite selection is key all the time, but especially if you're expecting wet weather.

I've also found bringing a giant tarp to cover camp and your cooking area can help make setting up in the rain significantly easier, and provides an additional layer of shelter. If you set up the tarp before unpacking the tent, the inside of the tent won't be subjected to rain before you get the fly on. And you're going to have to leave the tent to cook and attend to other business, so having an extra layer of protection will help.

Be Prepared for How Amazing the World Looks when the Rain Stops.

Water is essential for life on earth, and to me, everything living in the woods seems brighter and happier after a warm weather rainstorm. Trees and plants look greener, the contrast between the colors of the wet ground and forest foliage seems stronger,  and all of the birds seem to sing a little more loudly. Even if you're soaked, and everything you own is soaked, it's still incredible to see how the world changes before, during, and after a good rain. Plus, keeping a "look on the bright side" attitude can make any trip that doesn't go as planned a little bit better.

After a spring or summer rain, everything just looks so green!

Air Out your Wet Stuff at Home.

Odds are if you're stuck in a storm when you're out, you're packing wet stuff back up before heading home. Wet weather can definitely ruin future outdoor adventures if you don't take care of your gear when you get back. 

As soon as you have a chance to, unpack everything immediately after you get to a dry space to let it air out. Pull your tent out and spread out each individual piece to dry to avoid damaging the fabric and any waterproofing coating. Tent poles should also be aired out, as rust can develop. Hang up rain gear, clothing layers, and open your shoes completely to let them air out. If you don't, mold, mildew, and strange smells will develop and you run the risk of permanently ruining fabric.

What tips do you have for camping, backpacking, and adventuring in the rain? Do you have any wet weather horror stories, or any stories about times you've turned the mood around after getting soaked?

Comments