Backpacking in the Rain
Some of my very best and very worst backpacking memories have been in rainy weather. The difference between them: preparation. If you’re backpacking in Alaska it’s wise to assume you will encounter rain regardless of forecasts.
In preparation for your trip it’s important to pack wisely, and learn about responding to rain in the backcountry. These two elements are the difference between potential death by hypothermia, and a fond memory of the time you cozied up in your tent for hours laughing with your best friends. If you are curious about packing, check out our list here, and then continue this article to learn about handling rain.
What to Do
So imagine you’re backpacking in the rain, in the bush, and the clouds roll in, and rain starts to come down. It may not seem serious but Alaskan weather will change on a dime, and it’s easier to stay warm and dry than it is to get warm and dry. Everything with weather boils down to one goal: be warm and dry.
Layer up and put on a rain jacket if you are getting wet or too cold for comfort. If you wait until you are cold, you have lost precious body heat and will be colder for longer. So rule number one DON’T GET COLD! You have the layers, so use em! Jackets maintain the heat your body produces. By putting on jackets when you are warm you are keeping yourself safer.
The rain is getting heavier and the clouds are not letting up. You have your warm synthetic layers on, you are wearing your rain jacket, and still you are beginning to feel cold and realizing that your rain jacket is soaking through. At this point, it’s time to figure out the closest place to set up your tent and kitchen tarp/shelter. Staying warm and dry is no longer possible on the move.
When you are setting up your tent, make sure that your ground tarp does not exceed the surface area of your tent floor. If the ground tarp is over-sized water that hits the edges will collect under your tent. Once you’re set up get inside and get warm and dry! Change out of any wet clothing. Get out sleeping pads, sleeping bags, hats, dry socks, gloves and whatever else you have to stay warm and cozy.
Once you are warm and dry it is time to hunker down with your tent-mates. Some of the best memories are made when your are stormed in. Hot food tastes better than ever before, stories are funnier than usual, and you get a deeper bond with the people and environment you are surrounded by.
Rainy weather does make backpacking more difficult. If someone gets wet and cold, and stays wet and cold, they are in an extremely dangerous position. Permanent damage or death is caused by hypothermia if not caught early on. Hypothermia will also cause no damage whatsoever if you stay warm and dry.
There are many reasons backpacking in Alaska is one of the most astounding outdoor experiences possible. What makes it dangerous and sometimes difficult also makes it spectacular. By preparing properly and packing wisely, you are well on your way to creating lifelong memories in some of the greatest wilderness that exists.