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My friends and I are setting off on a hike this Friday through Michigan's UP. I've been watching the forecast which, to be fair, is never accurate in Michigan. Nonetheless, it shows a good amount of rain. We have been planning this for a little over 3 months now, and already have the time taken off work so moving the trip isn't possible.

What precautions should you take when going on a backpacking trip around the length of one week?

We are water-proofing our bags and tents tonight, and all of our food are in safe containers to keep that dry as well.

How would we dry wet clothes, if need be?

I don't think cold will be too much of an issue during the day - it should be in the mid 70's consistently, but at night it can get down pretty low (40 is normal, could be lower).

If we need to dry clothes/towels/bags/etc WHILE it is raining, what methods are best?

This may not even be possible. We may just be stuck avoiding getting our clothing wet, which shouldn't be much of an issue.

  • In addition to what others have said, bring lots of extra socks. Having wet feet is an instant recipe for blisters. – Ben Crowell Aug 4 '15 at 20:34
  • Go barefoot. Avoids blisters, avoids wet socks and shoes, and you can more freely stomp in mud puddles and wade through streams. – Don Hatch Aug 5 '15 at 0:13
  • @DonHatch: Don't advise barefoot for those who've never done it. You and I have tough soles and callouses, and dry skin on the foot. Most people who do not regularly go barefoot have soft skin on their feet which tears and punctures easily. Also, we are desensitized, but those used to shoes will have a touch time with stones, branches, and even artificial tough surfaces such as asphalt or cement. – dotancohen Aug 5 '15 at 10:11
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    As a Michigan resident, +1 because Michigan weather forcasts are basically useless. Be prepared for a hot sunny afternoon followed by snow showers in the evening. – Chris Cirefice Aug 5 '15 at 20:55
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    @ChrisCirefice I know exactly what you mean... Only state I've been in where you get all 4 seasons in one week at times. The weather forecast changed from 6 days rain to 2 overnight as well, so that's not helping anything! – Ryan Welsh Aug 6 '15 at 12:21
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What precautions should you take when going on a backpacking trip around the length of one week?

Build a rough route card, where you plan to be and when. Give it to someone you trust who will keep track of you. That way if you get into serious trouble and can't get help yourself there will be someone to raise the alarm. Better than lying in a ditch with no hope of rescue...

How would we dry wet clothes, if need be?

A fire is a good option here, if you get the fire nice and hot (and your in an area where fires are appropriate, i.e. fire pits, etc.) you can hang your clothes out on branches near the fire to dry (careful no to set fire to your clothes and don't do this with anything with a low melting point, GoreTex, etc). It'll also keep you warm. Your clothes may well get smokey but after a week of not washing you likely won't notice that :)

If we need to dry clothes/towels/bags/etc WHILE it is raining, what methods are best?

Your going to struggle here, I would always keep a dry set of clothes. Keep these sealed in a bag and only put them on when you can stay dry. That way, if you can't dry out your day clothes at least you've got some dry night clothes to wear. though putting the wet one's back on in the morning will be unpleasant...

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    Definitely have a dry sack of clean clothes - especially socks. Wet feet at night isn't nice... – Aravona Aug 4 '15 at 12:39
  • Thanks for the advice Liam, this site has been really great for helping us prepare for this! I don't think the last point will be an issue, it seems that only the first 3 days will be rainy, than it'll be sunny and upper 70's... We all plan on bringing a lot of clothes - enough to go 4 days without being able to dry. – Ryan Welsh Aug 4 '15 at 13:00
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    @ruedi, that just gets you a wet sleeping bag. – Mark Aug 4 '15 at 22:46
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    Also don't hang your clothes using anything that would melt easily -- I've ruined things this way. – Chris H Aug 5 '15 at 12:21
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    -1: Drying cloths by a fire often ends with uncomfortable and expensive results. Sparks and Goretex means its no longer waterproof. Polypro and fleece melt at very low temperatures, socks usually have a low melting point synthetic which goes hard or lumpy is heated (great for creating blisters). Boot leather hardens if heated. Best way to dry wet cloths in the wild - put them on and start walking. – user5330 Aug 5 '15 at 22:12
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Don't get wet!

No I'm not being facetious, I hike through the rain forests of BC all the time, I've spent days in a row in solid rain while backpacking and setting up camp. Getting wet up here can mean death overnight even in the middle of summer, doesn't matter how hot it gets during the day, temperatures can drop to near zero overnight, if you're wet when it gets cold, then you're at serious risk of catching hypothermia, doesn't even need to get cold, you can still get hypothermia when it's warmer out, if you are wet, and there's a wind, then you are at risk of hypothermia.

What do you need to go backpacking in the rain?

So how do you stay dry? First of all, you need to have waterproof boots and gaiters, on top of that (literally, overtop of your gaiters), wear a full rain suit. Ponchos in my experience just don't cut it, you need waterproof and preferably breathable uppers and lowers, it's not just the falling rain you need to worry about, it's also the water that collects on all the undergrowth. To keep your backpack and everything inside it dry, you need a waterproof bag cover (which many packs come with nowadays) as well as a waterproof bag liner (large black garbage bags work well enough), and waterproof stuffsacks to pack your clothes and food in. You can use a poncho over top of everything to help keep your bag dry if you wish, I've yet to use a bag cover that keeps all the water out.

I feel like you often get more wet while hiking after it rains, because the underbrush is saturated with heavy drops of water on every leaf and blade of grass, which soaks into your pants and boots as you brush by. Under your rain suit, wear fast drying clothing. Polyester and nylon blends hold very little water, and shed it quickly. Cotton is awful to wear when you're trying to control moisture and stay dry, it soaks it up like a sponge and hangs onto it forever, so don't wear cotton if it's wet out.

If you only get light rain, then I'd say it's fine to hike through it in your rain-gear, just don't hike so fast that you sweat buckets under your rain suit and get soaked anyways, but if it looks like it's going to downpour like crazy, then I'd recommend pitching your tents where you are and waiting the rain out.

Something extra you need to bring is a good tarp to hang up over your cooking area. The size will depend on how many people you're camping with, it needs to be big enough for everyone to fit under and prepare their food. Under the tarp will also be where you hang up any clothes you couldn't keep dry.

How do you set up your tent in the rain?

Set up the fly first. Whether or not you can do this may depend on what type of tent you have, but I'd recommend practicing setting up your tent under your fly, even if it's a matter of simply spreading your fly out and then fumbling around with your tent underneath it like you're hiding under the covers of your bed. I have an MSR Hubba hubba, which is extremely easy to set up with just the fly, you can quickly put the fly and poles up, then bring the tent in afterwards, clip it to the poles, and spread out the corners.

How do you dry your stuff in the rain?

Wear it. As long as you're still warm, then leave your wet clothes on, your body heat will dry them out, if you get a fire going, wear it next to the fire vs. hanging it up near the fire, I can't tell you how many articles of clothing I've burnt trying to dry them by the fire. Keeping them on your body gives you an idea of how hot they're getting, so you don't get them too close to the heat and flames. Get them as dry as you can wearing them, then hang them up inside your tent, it'll be warmer in your tent than outside, which will dry them faster than hanging them out in the cold.

One thing that is imperative, is to always have a dry pair of clothes! These should be the clothes that you sleep in, keep them in a dry bag, and only wear them in your tent. In the morning, change back into the clothes that you had hung to dry, even if they're still wet, make sure that you always have at least one pair of dry clothes for the end of the day.

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    "Your body temperature can drop to a low level at temperatures of 50 °F (10 °C) or higher in wet and windy weather" –WebMD. 70°F and raining is well within the danger zone. – Mazura Aug 5 '15 at 2:12
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    @RyanWelsh wet + wind = hypothermia. Wetter and windier just sends you there faster. – ShemSeger Aug 5 '15 at 15:12
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    One thing you forgot: as well as having a waterproof bag cover, put everything that doesn't want to get wet (clothes, food, sleeping bag etc.) in waterproof bags inside your main bag. – bon Aug 6 '15 at 14:27
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    @cripox And some people are just like that, which means you're probably a larger guy and retaining heat is something that you body does very efficiently, so hypothermia is less of a concern for you. Just wear as little as possible, like a single light layer under your waterproof layer, and only use that layer for while you're hiking. You may also need to carry extra clothes, I know some guys that need to carry an extra shirt everywhere they go just because they have wicked efficient cooling systems and sweat more than most people. – ShemSeger Sep 29 '15 at 15:24
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    in my experience waterproof AND breathable is a misnomer. If it isn't plastic or rubber it simply isn't waterproof. All breathable waterproofs will fail given enough rain, or even a little rain and a contact point like a backpack strap. – tomfumb Mar 11 '16 at 17:59
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TL;DR:

  • Bring a set of clothes that are comfy-when-wet and expect to spend a lot of time in them.

  • Keep a set of dry clothes for in-the-tent-only use.

  • Don't ever let your wet clothes come into contact with your dry clothes, cause now you have a whole lot of damp clothes.


I've done a lot of 3-week canoe trips and 3+ day winter hikes at -30 C (-22 F) where wet can actually be life-threatening, so here's my tips for that:

What precautions should you take when going on a backpacking trip around the length of one week?

Keep a drybag for clean / dry clothes, and a separate laundry bag for wet / dirty clothes. Don't mix them.

Dryness is precious, once you lose it, you never get it back, so avoid putting (even mildly) damp clothes back in with your dry clothes.

You want to keep your dry's dry, so keeping yourself to a strict "wets on before leaving the tent" policy will ensure that you always have something dry to sleep in. When you get up in the morning, hang up the stuff you slept in (outside if it's nice, or in the tent if it's not) and leave it up for as long as you can before putting it back in the drybag. (This goes for your sleeping bag too, by the way.)

You will spend a lot of time in your wets, so make sure to bring something that's comfortable and warm even while wet. A base-layer of Under Armour cold-weather and layers of very thin sweaters with a thin rain jacket works well for me.

How would we dry wet clothes, if need be?

As others have mentioned; hanging them by the fire works, but not if it's raining (or if your clothes are frozen solid and it's too cold for a fire -_-).

I make the following suggestion hesitantly, but I've had success sleeping with damp clothes pressed against my skin in the sleeping bag so that my skin absorbs the moisture. Be Careful with this, with the wrong conditions this make things much much worse - clothes too wet (you get sick), sleeping bag too cold (you get sick), sleeping bag too warm (you sweat, clothes get wetter), but I've woken up to dry clothes, even at -30 C, using this trick.

If we need to dry clothes/towels/bags/etc WHILE it is raining, what methods are best?

If you're able to set up a shelter in which to dry them, that will always be best.

If you're on the move then keeping them inside your rain jacket can help so that they benefit from your body heat and your skin's absorption - provided that you're not sweating on them (though I suspect this trick works better in cold, dry winter than in soggy summer).


EDIT: (in response to comments)

Should I bring a tarp to put over my tent as well as underneath it? We waterproofed our tent, but I'm not sure how much I can trust it as I haven't seen it in rain.

If your tent has a good rain fly, then stringing up a tarp over top won't add much, but if you've got the time, it can't hurt - plus tarpology is fun :-)

The best thing you can do for your tent is to avoid putting it in a place that will become a puddle overnight. Put it on high ground, or even slightly slanted ground so that the water will run away from it.

As for ground-sheets, in my experience, putting a ground sheet under the tent in heavy rain runs the risk of water pooling between the ground-sheet and the tent bottom. I prefer to put the extra tarp inside the tent and curl it up near the edges so that if the tent bottom or walls leak, the water will run under the tarp and not touch your sleeping bag.

  • When you get up in the morning, hang up the stuff you slept in.. How would you suggest we hang our clothes up in a single-man tent? or do you mean more of a "laying them out" to dry type of situation? My tent also has a tarp-like bottom (typical). Should I bring a tarp to put over my tent as well as underneath it? We waterproofed our tent, but I'm not sure how much I can trust it as I haven't seen it in rain. – Ryan Welsh Aug 5 '15 at 12:47
  • @RyanWelsh hmm, yeah, a 1-man tent is small, do what you can I guess. For tarps: see edit in the question. – Mike Ounsworth Aug 5 '15 at 14:06
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    Really good suggestion to put the tarp inside the tent! I will definitely be doing that on our adventure. I appreciate the help Mike! – Ryan Welsh Aug 5 '15 at 14:25
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My two concerns for trekking in wet weather are safety and comfort. The safety issue here is primarily hypothermia, which can be a real risk even in the upper 40s or lower 50s (F), if you're wet enough and out for a long period. Definitely something to be aware of. But even if you're warm enough to be safe, being soaking wet for a week just plain sucks- you'd probably end up bailing just as if you'd had hypo.

My advice: Make sure to have an extra insulating layer stashed away where it'll stay dry, and avoid cotton clothing if possible (it tends to hold moisture and lose its insulating properties more than synthetics/wool). Line your pack with a heavy-duty trash bag to keep everything nice and dry, especially clothes and your sleeping bag. Bring a footprint if your tent's base isn't 100% waterproof. Bring a breathable raincoat and rain pants (breathable, cause otherwise you'll be wet with sweat instead of rain). If you were planning on cooking over fires, bring a backpacking stove instead- much less impact and no worrying about wet fuel.

What precautions should you take when going on a backpacking trip around the length of one week?

As Liam said, tell someone where you expect to be and when! If possible, scheduling check-ins during the week would be good, if you expect to pass by anywhere civilized or can rely on there being cell reception. It's generally good to set a fixed time to call in the cavalry if you haven't been heard from.

How would we dry wet clothes, if need be?

If you have a dry spell during the day, either hang clothes off your pack or run a line while in camp. At night, my personal preference is to wear wet clothes to bed in order to dry them- it's a little uncomfortable at first, but gets comfy enough, and it's a sight better than getting back into clammy clothes in the morning.

If we need to dry clothes/towels/bags/etc WHILE it is raining, what methods are best?

Bring a genie along? I don't think there's any way this would be possible, except if you find a great natural shelter. Hanging them in your tent probably wouldn't be the best idea.

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    +1 - Except wearing wet cloths to bed. That is a recipe for a wet, cold sleeping bag - for many nights to come. Personally I like my sleeping bag dry and warm (I use a Down sleeping bag so keeping it dry is critical compared to synthetics). – user5330 Aug 5 '15 at 22:23
  • Good point. All of my bags are synthetic, and for me wet clothes are a greater safety/comfort issue than a damp sleeping bag, but everyone's mileage may vary. – Patrick N Aug 6 '15 at 18:15
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Backpacking in rain is pretty normal in Oregon—especially along the coast and in the western Cascades. No matter the time of year, it is usually not more than a week until the next rain shower (except this summer which is unusually dry).

  1. I don't take any special or particular precautions. The Ten Essentials have been learned from thousands upon thousands of injuries and fatalities. Whether it is a one-hour hike or a year-long trek, the Ten Essentials are sage wisdom which have saved me at least three times so far. The "extra clothing" item addresses rain and snow.

  2. One can dry wet clothes by hanging them up to dry or by wearing them during times of exertion. When camped, rig up a tarp with line underneath or a tent to hang things. Even if it is continuously raining and the relative humidity is high, wet clothes still benefit. If the humidity is more than about 70%, I'd first wring them to shorten the interval before they are dry. They may not be 100% dry, but it will be more comfortable than soaked. Besides, putting damp clothing on before hiking is a good way to dry it, particularly if you wear a GoreTex or other breathable shell. In summer, the humidity is usually not high for long.

  3. Even during rain, keeping items out of the rain with air circulation will eventually dry them. Plan B is to bag wet articles until there is a good time to dry them.

I practice low impact backpacking, so I do not build campfires. I have been 98+% comfortable in over 30 years of Oregon backpacking.

  • "Backpacking in rain is pretty normal in Oregon... it is usually not more than a week until the next rain shower" Er, if it only rains once a week, and it's only a shower, why would you backpack in it rather than waiting for it to stop? Do you mean that it's usually much less than a week until the next rain shower and it's usually much more than a shower? – David Richerby Aug 5 '15 at 8:39
  • If you don't build campfires, do you have a portable stove? We thought about investing in one if not this camping trip, than for sure our next one. We weren't sure how our budgets would hold up for this year, but in the future that's definitely our goal. – Ryan Welsh Aug 5 '15 at 12:43
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    @DavidRicherby: If only the weather were predictable here. I mean that showers could occur anywhere from several times a day up to a week apart. Why would wait for it to stop? a) It is hard to know when that would be, b) waiting for rain to stop is silly, and c) It isn't really all that bad hiking in the rain. – wallyk Aug 5 '15 at 15:27
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    @RyanWelsh: Yes I have a backpacking stove which is a 20+ year-old version of this. That was the culminating result of a bunch of similar stoves which either were impossible to light or lacked sufficient output the worst of which couldn't bring 16 ounces of water to a boil in 30 minutes. – wallyk Aug 5 '15 at 15:37
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    @wallyk Ah, I see your point. I guess I was tripped up by the concentration on how long the interval between rain could be; something like "it's rare to have a week without rain" feels closer to "it rains all the time" than does "it might not rain for a week". – David Richerby Aug 5 '15 at 17:06
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As far as precautions go, look at everything and ask the question "what happens if it breaks?" It's much better to have several pounds of gear that you don't use, because the one time you do need it, you really do need it! The most pointless piece of equipment is the spare that's sat on the shelf at home. :) I'm used to solo walking, so I pack heavy and know I can get myself through any problem short of major physical incapacity. If there are several of you going though, then your mates' gear could well be your contingency plan.

Needles and thread are the single most important get-out-of-trouble item, and weigh nothing. Close after that are clothesline, bootlaces, a spare tarp, and a spare torch. If it's going to be wet, add extra plastic bags for waterproofing stuff.

Water-based proofing is a godsend, because you can reproof your boots even if they're currently wet. Wet feet don't have to lead to blisters if you've got good socks though, so don't cheap out on those, get top ones like Smartwool.

In the event you do get blisters, get Compeed plasters. Very recommended. Also good for regular cuts, because they're fully waterproof so they keep the cut protected, which is handy when you can't afford things getting infected.

  • I love Bridgedale socks to add to the list of quality sock manufacturers – user2766 Aug 5 '15 at 10:27
  • +1 for the solution to blisters. Where can I get the plaster? Any outdoors store (Gander mountain, Cabellas, REI, etc)? – Ryan Welsh Aug 5 '15 at 12:31
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    Problem is carrying too much adds to weight and bulk - which slows you down - meaning you have to walk longer hours, get more tied and are more prone to accidents that mean you need the gear you carry. The extra weight puts more stress on you and your gear, and upsets your balance and agility more - meaning higher chance of you or the gear breaking. Carry no more than you need to survive an unexpected adverse event, not what you want so you have a comfortable time coping with an adverse event. – user5330 Aug 6 '15 at 5:15
  • Ryan, in the UK most pharmacies stock them. check the footcare section – Graham Aug 26 '15 at 15:45
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    mattnz, of course there's a trade-off, but carrying an extra 5 pounds of key gear will make no difference whatsoever to your speed, balance or agility. It may make a huge difference to your survival though, or at least to your ability to continue. Every adverse event is "unexpected". You should be able to fix all common problems and continue, survive all moderately-uncommon problems and bail on your own, and survive a very high percentage of rare problems with (perhaps eventual) outside help. Less than that, and you're a danger to yourself - and to rescuers who have to come get you. – Graham Aug 26 '15 at 16:10
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Everyone has given a lot of good advice about clothing and shoes. I'd like to add to what ShemSeger said about the tent. If you are expecting rain, or if it is raining, you want to be extra careful about how you set up your tent. Normally, you would just be looking for a nice, flat place without stones, but if you're expecting rain, that nice flat place can sometimes become a nice puddle or small lake.

If you're expecting rain, you may want to choose a tent site with a very slight incline and build a slight berm a few inches uphill from it from leaves and dirt to encourage runoff to go around the tent. You will also want to make sure your footprint/tarp/ground sheet under the tent (if you're using one, which I would recommend) is the right size for your tent. If it is too small, it won't protect all of the tent bottom, if it is too large, fold the excess under and tuck it below the footprint. This (and the incline) helps to avoid pooling extra water between the tent and the footprint.

I'm afraid I respectfully disagree with Mike Ounsworth -- I don't think keeping a tarp inside the tent will help you stay dry. Feel free to skip using a footprint/ground-cloth, but I would recommend against bringing it inside the tent. You really want to concentrate on keeping the water outside the tent -- if the water is inside the tent, you're already going to be unhappy, as your seam-sealed waterproof tent bottom will become a small pond, and a tarp inside that mini-kiddie-pool is not going to stop the water getting you and your gear wet. Bringing a used tarp inside at your next campsite on a multi-day backpacking trip is also likely to bring moisture and dirt.

You'll also want to take extra care in staking the tent and fly. If the fly is too slack, it is more likely to catch and hold extra water instead of letting it run off. If water pools in the fly, it is going to seep through and drip inside the tent. It is also a lot easier for stakes to get pulled out due to wind when the ground is wet, so you may want to make sure you have high quality tent stakes that will hold well.

And if you're hiking close to a river or stream, a heavy rain can sometimes cause a surprisingly significant rise in the water level, so you may want to bypass enticing camp spots close to water level in favor of higher ground. (Of course, you should never camp right next to the river -- most areas require a minimum distance from water sources, NPS generally wants 100 ft. But the level of the water also matters for keeping dry.)

Finally, if your tent has less than a 3/4 fly, you may want to consider setting up an extra tarp above the tent.

One more thing I don't see people talking about is your bedding. Down is great for backpacking (light and very packable) but it is terrible when it gets wet -- it loses its insulating properties and takes a long time to dry out. If you use down, make extra sure it stays dry. A silk or synthetic bag-liner can help protect it further from your own dampness, but make sure you have it in a waterproof stuff-sack and not just the regular bag it came in.

  • (edited to expand on not using a tarp inside the tent) – NadjaCS Aug 6 '15 at 16:38
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You don't say exactly where you're going in the UP, but my wife and I spent a week backpacking in the Porkies last year and it rained every day, for at least several hours. I also took a long trip with my son's Boy Scout troop to Pictured Rocks and it rained buckets then too. They were both great trips, but staying dry/comfortable took some doing.

My pack has a built in rain cover, but I find it to be worse than worthless since it doesn't fit well and on a trip a few years ago I discovered that water would run down the outside and collect inside the bottom, holding it just right to soak the bottom of my pack where my sleeping back goes...not fun. Since then, I use a 3 mil contractor bag as a liner. I stuff it into my pack then load my sleeping gear and dry clothes into it then fold the top over and tuck that between the bag and the pack, continue to pack as normal. I briefly dunked my pack in a river and while all else was soaked, my sleeping gear and clothes were dry.

On the outside, I use a second contractor bag slit along one edge as a pack cover, putting bottom of the bag over the top of the pack, tying the slit corners loosely under the pack and then tucking the loose part of the bag between the knot and the bottom of the pack.

If you can at all avoid it, don't set up or take down the tent while it's raining. Make sure before you go you can do it quickly without fumbling around wondering which pole goes where in the tent. Also, if that nice flat area is the low spot, it will be a mud puddle when it rains so think about drainage. As you're setting up the tent, put the rain fly over the tent as you set it up, it won't be perfect, but it will be better.

  • How would you suggest we put up a tent if it is raining? The only thing I can think of is having my group members hold a tarp over an individual while they put up their tent. Would that work for you? Also, on an unrelated note, how far did you guys travel a day and what type of terrain did you face? – Ryan Welsh Aug 6 '15 at 17:58
  • You could use a tarp. When we went, it was just the two of us, so instead of holding up the tarp, we just laid out the tent, laid the poles on top, then the fly and set up the tent under the fly. You should experiment before you go. The first day, we hiked about 11 miles, the others were more like 7-8 mi. The terrain was pretty hilly everywhere, lots of loose and uneven rocks along Superior and when we were in the forest, boot-sucking sticky mud. The old growth forest was impressive, it seemed almost prehistoric at times. – DLS3141 Aug 6 '15 at 18:55
  • Also good to have is some kind of super absorbent synthetic towel to mop up any water (hopefully a very small amount) that does get in your tent. I use an old "ShamWow". It soaks up a lot of water and wrings out almost dry. – DLS3141 Aug 6 '15 at 19:08
-1

From this article on SectionHiker:

If you only hike on days when there’s zero percent chance of rain, you aren’t going to do much hiking. Sooner or later, you are going to get soaked through-and-through on a hike.

Forget all of your fancy gear: it won’t be worth a hill of beans when you have to walk in pouring rain for a few hours on a day hike, or several days on a backpacking trip. Your waterproof, breathable rain jacket and pants won’t keep you dry, nor will your waterproof hiking boots/trail shoes.

Your best defense isn’t expensive gear, but learning how to stay healthy and safe when you get wet. You can only gain this experience by hiking in the rain, which is why you want to practice it close to home before you need to rely on it in more challenging or dangerous conditions.

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