Camping in the rain sounds awful – and it is if you aren’t prepared! Here’s ten tips for surviving rainy camping trips:
1. AVOID IT
I have canceled or rescheduled weekend camping trips if heavy rain or horrendously bad weather is forecast. We aren’t Marines and the safety of the free world does not depend on our withstanding really awful weather. Our high adventure trips are long enough that we usually get a day or two of rain so we are sure to be prepared.
2. BIG TARPS
We have several 10’x16′ tundra tarps made by Cooke’s Custom Sewing (see picture above). Weighing only 3 lbs these provide ample shelter for a patrol of eight. Regardless of the forecast we pack these tarps and they are the first things to go up when we establish camp.
Tundra tarps are exceptionally well-made and worth every penny. I’ve sheltered under them in high winds and torrential downpours. Rather than grommets they have stout nylon loops positioned all over the tarp and all of the seams are reinforced.
3. PLASTIC BAGS
I pack all my gear and clothing in various sizes of plastic bags (heavy zip-locks or clear recycling trash bags). My back pack (Golite Pinnacle) is waterproof too. Everything I pack has at least two layers of waterproofing between gear and the elements.
4. RAIN GEAR
A good quality rain jacket and pants are essential. Some folks like ponchos but I recommend against them, especially for Scouts. It is hard to keep dry in a poncho compared to a rain jacket and pants.
Cheap plastic rain gear is cheap for a reason; they tear if you look at them the wrong way. A decent coated, lightweight rain suit will cost about $50-$60. I like the rain suits offered by Campmor – we have recommended them to our Scouts for years. Breathable waterproof fabrics are an added expense and they may work for you or not. If you perspire a great deal they may not keep up.
5. NO COTTON CLOTHING
We’ve all heard the warning that ‘cotton kills’. Even if it doesn’t kill you it will make you clammy and uncomfortable in the rain. Lightweight nylon clothing and synthetic underwear in the summer – wool or polypropylene layers in the winter will keep you both safe and comfortable.
6. WARM AND WET BETTER THAN COLD AND DRY
Staying warm is important. An overcast, rainy, windy summer’s day can be uncomfortably cool and even dangerous. Our standard gear for any outing at any time of year is a suit of polypro long underwear. Even when it is soaked the fabric wicks moisture away from the skin and leaves one feeling reasonably dry.
If things go from bad to worse layering on your rain gear will keep you warm enough to sleep even if your tent and sleeping bag are wet. As I tell our Scouts being warm and wet is okay, being wet and cold is unacceptable.
7. NO GROUND CLOTHS
Tents floors do not wear from the outside in but from the inside out. Ground cloths under the tent floor don’t protect the tent and they tend to collect rain water between the floor of the tent and the groundcloth. You’ll say I am crazy (plenty of people have) but this is true.
Instead of a ground cloth make a tent liner from heavy duty builder’s plastic. Make the liner about six inches too large in each dimension and fold the extra material up the sides and ends of the tent to form a sort of tub on the tent floor.
In a really steady all-day soaking rain even the finest tent money can buy may take on water through the floor. If you don’t have the finest tent money can buy (I don’t) lining the inside floor of the tent will keep things dry much more effectively than a ground cloth on the outside.
Cooking in the rain means using either a gas or alcohol stove or a wood fired stove. The Littlbug stove is great in or out of the rain. Once a fire is going it is easy to maintain with small diameter wood that can be dried quickly by keeping it close to the outside of the stove. (With either option remember; no flames in tents!). A very comfortable kitchen using a wood burning stove can be set up under a tarp so long as the tarp is wet and far enough (5-6′) away from the flame.
A deck of waterproof cards, a harmonica or some kind of low-key group activity will help maintain morale while you are hunkered down under the tarp or in your tents.
10. SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY
Don’t panic, you won’t melt. If you are hiking or canoeing stop and haul out the rain gear when the signs point to rain – don’t wait for the rain to start. Stay prepared for rain all the time it will not cause an emergency. Rain is not the end of an adventure – it’s part of it. It is the coldest, wettest, most challenging outings our Scouts remember most fondly.