Remember that series of Calvin & Hobbes strips when the family went camping and it rained for a week straight? They all looked pretty miserable, save for Calvin’s irrepressible dad. Why? Because they didn’t plan ahead and didn’t properly respond to the conditions at hand. But you, sir, are doing it right. Reading this article is a good first step toward learning how to enjoy camping in poor weather. Having a lot of patience and a good sense of humor helps too, FYI.
Camping in the rain is not as much fun as camping when it’s not raining, let’s not kid ourselves about things here. But camping in the rain need not be the miserable ordeal you might imagine it to be. There are several pieces of gear you can bring along, a few techniques for preparing your tent and campsite, and some clever hacks that, used in concert, will make your sodden outdoor experience a pleasure despite the drizzle or downpour.
Pack the Right Clothing
I’m not going to spend much time on this one, because it’s just such common sense. But to cover our bases: When we talk about clothing suitable for rain camping, at the very least you need a waterproof jacket, pants, and boots, and ideally a good brimmed hat and a poncho too. The poncho can help cover a pack or can stand-in for the jacket if it gets damaged, dirtied, or soaked through, and 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, you need to get them off ASAP to avoid hypothermia, skin issues, and basic discomfort. Even if your outerwear is amazing (I use Colombia OutDry Ex Stretch Pants and the brand’s OutDry Caldorado Shell) at keeping you dry, it will also probably make you sweat, so you need to have changes of clothes ready Also: No cotton! Cotton soaks quickly, loses all insulation ability when wet, and dries slowly. Sorry, cotton.
Pitch Your Tent On High Ground
Water runs downhill, so don’t set up your campsite at the bottom of a hill. Got it? Also, while you need to pitch a tent on the flattest possible ground for comfort while you sleep, if possible 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 a drier overall experience.
Lay a Tarp Down — Inside Your Tent
Unless I’m climbing a mountain or doing a long-distance 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 any moisture in the ground from seeping upward and to tamp down any sharp brambles or twigs that might poke up. If it’s actively raining or quite 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. Side bar: 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.
Bring Waterproof Bags
Don’t trust your tent or hiking pack 100 percent when it comes to water-resistance. To be sure that your critical gear stays completely dry when you’re camping in the rain — critical gear meaning sleeping bag, a change of clothes, food, any electronics, and medical supplies — you need to tuck the stuff into a completely waterproof bag even when said stuff is inside your “waterproof tent.” You can use a kayak/canoe dry bag, a trusted pack, or some good old plastic trash bags — just make sure you use something!
Pack Foods That Don’t Require Cooking
Hot camp food is great, but if it’s raining too hard, then hot food is also off the menu. If all you packed in were dehydrated meals that need boiling water or raw burgers and dogs, you’re in a bit of a pickle (to maintain the culinary jokes). At least a good portion of your food should be ready to eat, 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.
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, and falling over on wet ground can, at worst, lead to a serious injury and, in a less-bad but 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 Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats 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.
Bring Stuff To Do
As hard as it is to believe, even the great outdoors can be boring or even downright oppressive when it’s raining too hard for hiking, biking, fishing, or even just sitting around the campfire. So bring books, playing cards, board games, and other things that you and your friends or family can use to pass the time. Don’t huddle around an iPad to watch shows, 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!
And If You Do Get Soaked …
Get dry ASAP. And get warm. 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 get warm.
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 DryGuy Travel Dry DX 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.)