Thanks to COVID, most of us aren’t traveling far from home anytime soon. That has meant more people are taking to road trips, RV’ing, and old-fashioned camping. The latter is the perfect form of pandemic-friendly travel with plenty of fresh air, wide-open spaces, and no one else around except you and maybe a significant other and a dog. But, being outdoors more also means more chances of getting stuck in bad weather.
Camping in the rain needn’t be a miserable ordeal, though. Thanks to modern technology, there’s plenty of gear on the market to help keep you comfortable in wet weather. Plus, by remembering a few techniques for prepping your campsite and some clever rainy day camping hacks, you can turn your sodden outdoor experience into a pleasure despite the drizzle or downpour. Here are eight of our top rain camping tips when Mother Nature decides not to cooperate.
Wear the Right Clothing for Camping in the Rain
Layering is critical when camping, and even more so in inclement weather. When we talk about clothing suitable for rain camping, at the very least, you need the right pants, weather-resistant boots, and a waterproof jacket or rain shell.
Ideally, you would bring a good brimmed hat and a poncho too. The poncho can help cover a pack or stand-in for the jacket if it gets damaged, dirtied, or soaked through, while a hat keeps more water off your face than a hood. Tucking your hood into your hat creates the ideal dry head situation.
Pack redundantly, especially in base layers and socks. Once your clothes are wet, get them off ASAP to avoid hypothermia, skin issues, and basic discomfort. Even if your outerwear is amazing at keeping you dry, it will also probably make you sweat, so always keep a change of clothes ready.
Also: Leave the cotton at home. It soaks through quickly, has zero insulation capability when wet, and takes forever to dry. Swap out your cotton base layers, including socks and underwear, with merino wool or comparable synthetics.
Carry Waterproof Bags
Among our other camping tips for rain or snow, be sure to protect your gear with a proper weather-resistant or even weatherproof bag. Don’t trust your usual tent or hiking pack when it comes to water-resistance. To be sure that your critical gear stays completely dry when camping in the rain — “critical gear” meaning sleeping bag, a change of clothes, food, any electronics, and medical supplies — you need to tuck everything into a waterproof bag, even when said stuff is inside your supposed “waterproof tent.” Consider a purpose-built, waterproof dry bag designed for boats, a trusted pack, or even some plastic trash bags!
Pack Foods That Don’t Require Cooking in the Rain
Hot camp food is great. But if it’s raining too hard, a warm meal is probably off the menu. If all you packed were dehydrated meals that require boiling water or raw burgers and dogs, you’re in — to keep the culinary jokes going — a bit of a pickle. Always pack a few ready-to-eat meals or snacks because you can’t build a fire or use a camp stove in your tent. If you’re an intrepid outdoorsman, however, you can build a fire in the rain while camping with a bit of practice.
Don’t Forget to Bring Stuff to Do
Even the great outdoors can seem dull or downright oppressive when it’s raining too hard for hiking, biking, fishing, or even just sitting around the campfire. It doesn’t have to be, of course. Another of our favorite tips for camping in the rain is to bring books, playing cards, board games, and other things that you and your campmates can use to pass the time. Don’t huddle around an iPad to watch Netflix movies, though, because your precious tablet might succumb to moisture or direct rain damage. And also because — come on, man — you’re out in the wilderness!
Pitch Your Tent on High Ground
This might seem obvious, but no list of rain camping tips is complete without the reminder that water runs downhill. So don’t make camp at the bottom of a hill. You’ll want to pitch a tent on the flattest available ground for comfort while sleeping. If possible, however, set up a portion of your campsite on terrain that’s slightly sloped. The ground on a hill won’t have pools of water anywhere, so if you can hang a tarp above a gently sloped area that you’ll use for cooking, gear maintenance, card games, and so forth, you’ll enjoy an overall drier experience.
Lay a Tarp Down Inside Your Tent
Unless I’m climbing a mountain or doing a really difficult hike, I always bring a spare tarp with me even if the forecast is fair. When no rain is falling, I place the tarp under my tent to prevent moisture in the ground from seeping upward and to tamp down any sharp brambles or twigs that might poke up. If I’m actively camping in the rain or it’s likely to pour, I advise putting your waterproof tarp down inside the tent. Laid under the tent, the tarp can inadvertently collect water that will pool underneath, making it more likely your tent will soak through. Inside the tent, water that seeps up through the floor or goes dripping down along the sides will end up under the tarp, so your sleeping bag, your pack, and all the rest of your gear on top of the tarp will stay dry.
Sidebar: Make sure you have a waterproof tent with a rainfly. But you already thought of that, right? And you tested the tent and checked for punctures or tears? Great.
Be Careful on Wet Terrain
Whether you’re hiking over miles of soggy land or simply making your way a few steps out of the campsite to deposit some water of your own, wet ground is slippery ground. Falling over on wet ground can, at worst, lead to a serious injury and, in a less-bad-but-still-not-awesome scenario, leave you wet and muddy.
Use trekking poles to give you more stability, especially on wet rocks or when crossing streams, and consider adding some extra traction to the bottom of your shoes or boots when the ground is slick or muddy. You don’t need to strap on a set of ice crampons or anything, but I’ve used my on boots, trail runners, and casual shoes, as they provide exceptional grip on muddy, slick terrain even snow. A pair of these tuck easily away into a jacket pocket.
If You Do Get Soaked …
Get dry and warm ASAP. If you don’t have dry clothes and it’s warm enough in your tent, get naked in order to let your skin fully dry. Or get naked, then get in your warm, dry sleeping bag. Use hand warmers, layering, a fire built under a tarp outside, or whatever else you need to do to maintain your body temperature.
Hang wet clothes under a tarp to dry, but don’t hold your breath. In the moist air, it will take a long time for them to dry out fully. Stuffing balled up newspaper into wet boots, socks, or the sleeves of shirts or down pant legs can help, and if you’re car camping (or have access to a generator or an outlet), accessories like the shoe dryer can help, as you can even use it to warm up and dry out clothing. (Yes, I have one. Why? Because wet feet suck.)
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