34

What are some quick ways to dry clothes in moist weather?

  • 7
    (Carefully) by a fire? – Kevin Jan 27 '12 at 19:32
34
+50

Humidity

Keeping clothing dry in normal weather can be challenging, but high humidity or precipitation regions can make this even more difficult.

That's because humidity is really a "relative" measure and means the amount of water vapor that the air can hold at a given temperature before condensation.

The condensation can occur in the sky as rain, near the ground as fog, or in your tent as water droplets clinging to the inside. The water can also cling to your clothes, if they hang inside your tent when the relative humidity approaches the "dew point"

Dew Point

The dew point is the temperature to which a given parcel of humid air must be cooled, at constant barometric pressure, for water vapor to condense into liquid water. The condensed water is called dew when it forms on a solid surface. The dew point is a saturation temperature.

This is important because if you try to dry your clothes in the open air and the temp and humidity are near the dew point your clothes will not dry, if fact they may become more wet!

Many people have seen this when they get up to hike early and there is water clinging to tall grass along the trail even though there was no rain.

So then how do I dry my clothes?


The nice thing about dew point is that it's totally dependent on the temperature of the air. As the air temp goes up, so does the amount of water it can hold.

The easiest way to increase the air temperature is to use your body, it is a constant 98-99 degrees and you always have it with you.

So I am a human clothes line?


Not exactly. Most likely on a long trip you brought a sleeping bag and in that sleeping bag at some point be your body. The air in the sleeping bag will be higher than the ambient temperature, and overnight your clothes will dry.

Below are the basic instructions for a sleeping bag clothes dryer.

  1. Start by using a relatively dry sleeping bag.
  2. Wear a light set of polyester or other synthetic fabric base layer, which should be very lightweight.
    • These will wick the moisture and sweat away from your body.
  3. Get into your sleeping bag and lay your clothing (wrung dry) on top of your legs and torso.
    • Tie socks together and place around your neck
  4. Zip up the sleeping bag and try to fall asleep. Through the night, reposition the clothes on your body.
  5. After the clothes are dry, place them at your feet.
    • They will dry quite fast, usually within 3-4 hours.
  6. Add another layer of moist clothes if you have them.
  7. Repeat steps 3-5

Suggestions for keeping clothes dry.


  1. Keep a lightweight water proof bag to put your dry clothes in during travel.
    • There are waterproof breathable bags which pack down tight and work great for this.
  2. If you have a sunny dry day, hike with the clothes tied to your backpack.
  3. If you have lots of people in the tent with you (2-3) try making a drying line inside the tent.
    • Remember to provide for plenty of ventilation by opening the rain fly slightly to allow for air flow.
  4. If the temp is lower (50 Deg F) but the humidity high, place clothes around your neck or torso while hiking.
    • They can partially, or fully dry this way throughout the day.

Other suggestions

  • Boots are hard to dry when wet.
    • Some people put mini synthetic towels in them to absorb some water, then pop them in the sleeping bag over night too.
  • Open the zipper by your feet (if you have one), to allow for the moist warm air to escape.
    • This also keeps your sleeping bag dryer, and warmer as a result.
  • You can also put the clothes on top of the sleeping bag, but my experience has shown this to be less effective.
  • There will likely be some condensation on your sleeping bag in the morning.
    • Make sure to dry this off with a towel before it gets into the loft when you repack the bag.

Extra reading on the subject...

Best of luck to you out there!

  • Nice answer... You'll have my +1 in approximately 3 hours when I get my votes back. – Timothy Strimple Jan 27 '12 at 20:38
14

If you have a synthetic sleeping bag, you can put your hiking clothes down the bag, near your feet, when you go to sleep. Your body warmth will help them get drier. Note, however, that they will not be completely dry by morning, but will still remain somewhat damp.
Still, better than completely wet.
And do not use this method with a down bag.

  • 7
    And, very important, don't bring cotton clothes, as those will NEVER dry. – Lagerbaer Jan 24 '12 at 20:45
  • Even if you clothes are wet in the morning, at least they will be a little warmer than if you had left them outside your sleeping bag. I also sometimes put my wet clothes between my sleeping bag and my matress for the same reason. – Shawn Jan 26 '12 at 23:59
  • 1
    I think this information is very helpful, but doesn't quite fit the "quick ways" qualification in the question. – Timothy Strimple Jan 27 '12 at 19:59
12

Depending on how much moisture you're talking about, it can also help to wrap some clothes together with a microfiber towel and wring them out together. The towel will draw some of the moisture out of the clothing and into itself. This won't get clothes dry, but it can substantially reduce the amount of water in clothes.

I use this technique to mostly dry out my son's cotton socks (yes I know cotton is evil! But it's harder to justify hiking socks that someone will outgrow in a few months). It takes them from soaked to damp, and definitely gets more water out than simply wringing them alone.

7

Wearing the wet clothes can help dry them quicker, though this can only be done in certain situations of course.

On a sunny day, sun-bathed rocks can be a good way to dry clothes as they are hot and in the sun, heating the garment on both sides. You should move the clothes around a lot to get different parts exposed to the sun. Also the rock will loose its heat quickly so go from rock to rock to gather all their heats in your garment.

  • +1 The body heat dries up clothes pretty good. What do I do with my wet clothes? - wear them. The only downside is that you are getting arthritis, but hey, who lives forever :D – Vorac Jun 1 '12 at 13:35
2

If by "clothes" you mean inclusive socks and other smaller apparel; one way is to fasten these smaller items between the belt and the pants and hang them inside close to the groin. If using a base layer, I would recommend to get the apparel between the base layer and the pant since they'll otherwise just absorb your sweat. The groin is truly a hot spot along with the arm pits, thus making the arm pits a good place too for hanging wet stuff, but harder to fasten in a good manner. (There are a lot of blood vessels in those places close to the surface of the skin, which is why they are good drying places).

1

Fire. As Kevin's comment said, carefully. I am surprised that was the only mention of fire so far.

Benefit over "just use your body to dry clothes"

The other answers take at least hours, sometimes days, and that is generally assuming you can use your body heat as a resource at all, as opposed to needing to heat yourself up as well. In my personal experience, if my clothes are wet enough that I want them drier, then I do not want to be sharing body heat.

So, fire is both faster and more versatile for warming clothes, so if the conditions are bad enough, just make a fire.

Details

When I want to get warm and dry, I make a small fire. Small enough that it cannot flare up into a big one if I ignore it for a while, so that I can leave it while I work and keep coming back to it as needed; also small enough that I can get up very close to it. Large enough that anything held a few inches to a foot away for more than a few seconds starts to get hot.

You can probably guess that hanging clothes over top of this fire is not generally a good idea, as it will get smokes and also drip water into the fire.

On-Body

Similarly to some other answers, I often dry my clothes on my body, but it is the fire doing the drying, not my body. In fact, after heating the clothes up, while they are on my body, the warm water then keeps me warmer too and it feels good. Warning!!! You must be very, very careful when doing this. If you stay close to the fire too long or get too close at all, obviously bad things will happen: depending on your type of clothing, it could melt, burn, or both melt and burn. Keep enough distance that you can get the fabric hot, but not nearly hot enough to ignite.

I have caught clothes on fire before, but never as part of drying them, not even with 100% cotton clothes, though cotton usually ignites easily.

When I step away from the fire after being close for 5-10 seconds using this technique, the wet areas of my clothes are at least warm, sometimes hot. If my clothes are completely soaked, then I often get them hot enough that I can see the water steaming off my clothes rapidly. But, another warning! Even if you do not get your clothes hot enough to burn, you can still be hurt by hot, steamy clothes. Multiple times, I have warmed up a wet pant leg or shirt that was not flat against my skin and gotten a surprise when I stood up and the material pressed back against my skin again, wet but hot.

When doing this, I generally have to repeat often. Either because I'm very wet and each application of heat last long enough to get out only some fraction of the water, or because the conditions are wet and I keep getting wet such as when working in light rain or snow.

This works well, but I cannot stress enough how careful you must be. Negligence will lead to injury. If you are getting cold enough that you are having difficulty feeling the heat, then you are very likely to damage yourself by overheating; please do not over-expose yourself to the fire due to lack of feeling after you have been over-exposed to the wet and cold! In this situation, you must get help.

I have done this multiple times, but here's my best anecdote...

One time I did this after being fully submerged under water; it was either late fall or early winter, and it was cold enough that there was some thin ice over parts of the water. After surfacing from the water, I chilled so fast in the breeze I have no doubt that I would have become hypothermic if it weren't for the fact that we had prepared ahead of time with a fire near the shore specifically for warming/drying on. Because of the fire, I only got cold enough to shiver for a while but was otherwise fine and resumed normal activities within an hour. Whenever I see people doing cold weather activities where water is involved (or could accidentally be involved) without a fire ready, it makes me cringe. Fires are an important tool.

Off-Body

Now, if your clothes are not on your body, you can still use the fire obviously. In this case, do not put them as close to the fire as you might while they are still on your body; since you will likely be leaving them there longer, they can be further away. Also, use fire-heated rocks to keep the clothes warm enough to dry faster. Be careful though that you do not heat the rocks too much. If the rock has heated up enough that I cannot touch it at all without burning myself, then I will not use it to warm anything flammable.

Summary

In short, and to quote Kevin's comment: "(Carefully) by a fire"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.