Spending days or weeks outside in a place that gets a lot of rain, you quickly learn that there’s nothing more important than staying dry. It can also feel like there’s nothing more impossible. When you spend all day paddling or hiking in the rain, then set up camp in the rain and start a fire in the rain and cook dinner in the rain and fall asleep to rain drumming on your tent, water seems to permeate everything. It’s enough to make you crawl into the nearest bed with some popcorn and Netflix and wait for a better forecast.
But don’t do it! I’ve 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 get 126, 152, and 264 inches of rain a year, respectively-and it turns out you can be sort-of 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 sacred socks
This is 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 stick your sacred socks into your boots. If morning dawns and the only other thing you have to put on your feet are sopping, 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 moldering gear.
3. Keep your waterproof-breathable gear clean
You’re carrying armloads of duffy cedar to start a fire and clambering over mossy logs and getting splashed with salt water? That sounds like fun, but when you go home soak your Gore-Tex in some Tech Wash. Dirty waterproof-breathables doesn’t work as well as clean. Also, no matter what your manufacturer claims, they lose their effectiveness over time. Don’t take your circa-1996 jacket that looks all vintage and cool in Colorado with you to New Zealand. Invest in a new waterproof-breathable.
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 when buckets of water are pouring from the sky.
5. Wear a lighter around your neck
Ideally, your systems will be so dialed that you’ll never be soaked to the skin. Duct tape a lighter to some p-cord and wear it as a necklace, and you’ll have the one tool you need for emergency warmth on hand and dry at all times.
6. Never leave a dry bag open
Even if the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in sight. NEVER. You will open and close approximately 682,000 dry bags a day. You will have dreams about opening and closing dry bags. This is okay.
7. Ziplocs are a girl’s best friend
Well, mine anyway. When I was guiding, I’d put my most important items, like my journal, in a two-gallon ziplock, which would then go inside a lightweight Sea to Summit dry bag, which would then go inside my giant NRS dry bag. It never got wet. On a Grand Canyon river trip, I got lazy-it was the desert!- and put my DSLR camera inside a single dry bag. Then I flipped a raft and my camera was ruined. The only part that stayed dry? A spare lens stuffed inside a Ziploc.
8. Wear your hood
Wet hair can stay wet for days. Wet = cold.
9. Compactor trash bags are just as good as dry bags for a short trip
Not any old trash bags will do-spring for the compactor ones. Line your backpack with one and gooseneck it at the top, or use them inside your big dry bag for compartmentalization and extra waterproofing. You can even stick them inside you 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 freaking beautiful, so get out and enjoy it. Unless you live in Southwest Colorado, as I do now, in which case rain is the only good excuse you’ll ever have to watch Netflix and stay in bed.