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Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

We are into our first week of fall, and as temperatures begin to drop (both at night as well as during the day), many places are also seeing tons of rain. I'm curious to see what the community has for personal tips/tricks when it comes to backpacking in wet and cold (still above freezing, aka not snow/ice) conditions. If you have any entertaining stories (bad experiences, good experiences, times you were grateful for having a piece of gear, times you wish you had a piece of gear that you didn't, etc.) around the theme of backpacking in a wet and cold environment, please share!
12 Replies

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@bryndsharp Actually, temps around freezing are the nastiest of all; I would rather it be 5-10  degrees colder and just deal with snow.

Case in point:  Christmas Day, 1983.  I and my partner were tasked with searching down a drainage high in the Santa Catalinas (Tucson area, for all you furriners)for a young lady who hadn't returned from gathering firewood for a picnic.  We started our chore just at dusk, as a gathering storm approached.  We halted around midnight and crawled into our bivvy sack with down bags.  Sleeping was marginal and fitful as the alternating rain and snow saturated the atmosphere with moisture. Gradually I  could sense the down absorbing atmospheric moisture, losing its insulating power.  This same bag was perfect at temps of 10-15degrees F. on numerous occasions.

Anyway, the increasing cold contributed to an early start as rosy fingered dawn kissed the pines and we found our lady, in relatively good shape, within just a few minutes.

These were classic down bags' today, either water repellant down or synthetic fill would be superior an would function well in wet conditions.  At the time I was wearing a relatively new Patagonia synthetic fleece jacket which functioned very wel l(I still have that jacket today, although it is quite well worn - lots of good memories).

Down clothing is great when temps are really low - 20F or lower, but fleece is great in the range you are proposing.  Often a synthetic base layer, a nice wool or synthetic shirt and a stout fleece, topped with a breathable wind and and waterproof hooded shell parka, perhaps with a balaclava, will keep you nice and snug.  you must adjust the clothing as your activity level changes.  You can't afford to get soaked with perspiration.  So keep your bod, as well as your powder, dry....

Wind is just as critical factor as temperature, so shelter from wind is quite important,  Careful selection of a camp site can make a huge difference.  Sometimes its just a matter of a few feet...

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@hikermor I definitely agree that temps around freezing are the worst - snow is much better than freezing rain. Thanks for sharing!

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@bryndsharp This is a fantastic topic! I’m really looking forward to reading everyone’s stories and advice. 

For some reason, I have often found myself in the middle of a torrential downpour on the trail. Irregardless of all the rain gear and water proof gear you may have, the best words of advice that I can provide are always keep a dry pair of clothes and be sure to keep your sleeping bag/quilt dry. For everything else, accept that it will get wet and embrace that mentality. 

I was once on the Art Loeb Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and everything I had accept my dry set of clothes and sleeping bag was SOAKED! I left my wet clothes outside the tent overnight, and it ended up freezing...hopefully that is the one and only time I have to pry frozen socks apart to put them back on my feet! Thankfully the sun came out and I ended up with dry clothes and gear by the end of the next day


Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@tadoerner I completely agree with what you said about always having a set of dry clothes and keeping your sleeping bag dry! I always carry my sleeping bag in a compression dry bag/sack, regardless of where I am. Thanks for sharing!

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@bryndsharp I was camping in Doughton State park in NC in 2008 and an unexpected storm came in.  Blew with gusts to 65 mph which my tent could not handle.  With the hail, it drop around 30 degrees in less than an hour.  although mostly rain and sleet, it was really something to see.  Only part of my body that stayed slightly warm was my feet.  I was wearing marino wool socks.  I ended up hiding in the state park bathroom until the morning huddled up against a light that put off some heat.  I learnt that day why they say cotton kills on the trial.  It may cost a bit more but I dont leave on a hiking trip without my Alpaca hoodie 🙂 and those socks.

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@Gary2 I've had a similar "take cover in the bathroom" event...the stench of the pit toilet was so bad though that I decided to stay wet and cold instead!  Only used the cover of the bathroom to light my jet boil and make some food really quick.

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

@Gary2 I can totally relate to camping out in a bathroom/outhouse to avoid weather while thru hiking / backpacking! Hail is also one of my least favorite phenomena to encounter on the trail. Glad you made it out alive, and thanks for sharing!

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

Always have a dry set of clothes for sleeping. Especially socks.
I've seen too many people stuff their previous days wet socks into their pack and crack out their dry pair for the next days hike, resulting in two pairs of cold wet socks and no dry ones at the end of day 2. As nasty as it feels, your wet socks will warm up when you hike in them, but will not in the sleeping bag at night.
This can be dittoed for other clothing - ie dont be tempted to wear your tent/camp/sleeping shirt when your day shirt is damp (within reason, if you have no wind protection and you're hiking out then putting on a wet shirt in the cold might not be smart...)

Your Tips/Tricks for Backpacking in CHILLY & WET Environments

yep, the idea of keeping a 'dry set' of clothes, as well as keeping your down and sleeping bag dry is one of the cardinal rules of backpacking. (probably others, and a possible new topic...anyway)

I think things change as the temps drop below a certain point.

First some caveats:

  • I've suffered enough with freezing rains and no longer voluntarily hike/camp/backpack in them.
  • HYOH
  • My comments are for COLD TEMPS (>40F) and may not apply to everyone's situation
  • I now cancel any weekend backpacking trip with over a 50% change of precip.
  • Sometimes a rain/freezing rain in cold temps (40F and below) just cannot be avoided and I recommend always being prepared.

When it is very cold, like I said 40F or lower, that is about the only time I can wear my rain jacket and rain pants and still keep my clothes dry.

This is also the time that layering-up or de-layering becomes really critical, so I can stay warm -and- dry, at the same time.

Too many layers, going to sweat, a lot.  Too few, I'm going to get cold (but, better than wet clothes)

I find it easier to regulate my warmth/dryness when walking on a more or less horizontal trail.

Going uphill, I can easily start to pump out some heat, especially when wearing a rain jacket, even more so when wearing rain paints,  so I find I need to de-layer and/or slow down. (which is laughable for me because I'm so slow anyway, but I digress),

So bottom line, I find I can bundle up from the rain AND cold, if it's cold enough, and stay pretty comfortable, and still use the same set of clothes the next day (I still have that dry set sealed up),

Now, some sweat is inevitable on my back, getting the layer closest to my back a bit damp, but so far that hasn't been a problem drying out inside my tent, still worn.

BTW here's a blog post from a few years ago:


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