10 ways to stay dry when camping and hiking

When you spend days or weeks outside in a place that gets a lot of rain, you quickly learn that nothing is more important than staying dry. It can also feel as if nothing is more impossible. When you spend all day paddling or hiking in the rain, camping in the rain and starting a fire in the rain and cooking dinner in the rain and falling asleep to the rain drumming on your tent, water seems to permeate everything. It’s enough to make you want to crawl into the nearest bed with some popcorn and Netflix and wait for a better weather forecast.

But don’t do it! I have lived and guided in three of the wettest places on earth – the east side of Hawaii’s Big Island, Southeast Alaska and Fiordland National Park, New Zealand, which get 126, 152 and 264 inches of rain a year—and it turns out you can be a little dry and even semi-comfortable in a place where your boots grow mold if you don’t wear them for a week. (True story.) A few of my favorite tricks:

1. Maintain holy socks
These are a pair of toasty wool socks that live in your sleeping bag and never come out. They are for one thing and one thing only: sleeping. No matter how wet and gross your other socks are, resist the urge to tuck your holy socks into your boots. If morning dawns and the only thing left on your feet are sleeping half-frozen rags that smell like garbage, so be it. Your feet will thank you later.

2. Use Gold Bond
Heaps of it. The inside of your tent should look like a snow globe after your evening powdering ritual. Bonus: It masks the smell of casting equipment.

3. Keep your waterproof breathable gear clean
Do you carry armloads of duffy cedar to start a fire and climb over mossy logs and get sprayed with salt water? It sounds like fun, but when you go home, soak your Gore-Tex in some Tech Wash. Dirty waterproof-breathables don’t work as well as clean ones. Likewise, regardless of what your manufacturer claims, they lose their effectiveness over time. Don’t take your circa-1996 jacket that looks totally vintage and cool in Colorado to New Zealand. Invest in a new waterproof-breathable one.

4. Know your systems
This is true in any environment, but especially in wet ones. You don’t want to be digging around in an open bag trying to track down your headlamp as buckets of water fall from the sky.

5. Wear a lighter around your neck
Ideally, your systems will be so dialed in that you never get soaked to the skin. Tape a lighter to a p cord and wear it as a necklace, and you have the one tool you need for emergency heating, close at hand and dry at all times.

6. Never leave a dry bag open
Even if the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in sight. NEVER. You will open and close approximately 682,000 dry bags per day. You will have dreams of opening and closing dry bags. This is okay.

7. Ziplocs are a girl’s best friend
Well, mine anyway. When I was guiding, I put my most important items, like my journal, in a two-gallon ziplock, which then went into a lightweight Sea to Summit dry bag, which then went into my giant NRS dry bag. It never got wet. On a trip in the Grand Canyon river, I got lazy – it was the desert! – and put my DSLR camera in a single dry bag. Then I flipped a raft and my camera was destroyed. The only part that remained dry? An extra lens stuffed inside a Ziploc.

8. Wear your hood
Wet hair can stay wet for days. Wet = cold.

9. Compactor waste bags are as good as dry bags for a short trip
Not any old garbage bags will do for the compactors. Line your backpack with one and gooseneck it at the top, or use them in your large dry bag for compartmentalization and extra waterproofing. You can even stick them inside your boots for dry(er) feet.

10. Learn to set up a very high tarp
You can have a fire and cook dinner under it. You will be happy.

Rain is wildly beautiful, so get out and enjoy it. Unless you live in southwest Colorado like I do now, in which case rain is the only good excuse you’ll ever have to watch Netflix and stay in bed.

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