Learning to Love Backpacking in the Rain

The first time I got caught backpacking in a serious rain I was totally unprepared. Nothing bad actually happened to me, but I was hilariously naive to the possibility. I didn’t notice the ominous signs of a thunderstorm until it was nearly too late. I hadn’t packed the proper gear when I left home. I hadn’t considered the trail I was on and what it would look like in a torrential downpour. I was wearing jeans when it started raining. Jeans!

Thankfully, I had descended from above treeline and already set up camp when the first drops began to fall, and I’d lucked into a patch of high ground below a canopy of towering pines. Mere moments after I’d climbed into my tent lightning bolts lit up the granite peaks nearby, and I realized how close I’d come to having to try to remember whether I was supposed to run toward trees, or away from them in an electric storm (I still can’t remember, to be honest). When the first pea-sized balls of hail started pelting the tent fly and piling up outside the vestibule like somebody had turned on a giant ice machine, I thought of how I’d almost left the rain fly behind because there was no rain in the forecast. When I wriggled out of my soaked synthetic shorts and pulled out the only pair of pants I had in my backpack, which were, for a reason unfathomable to me now, denim, I couldn’t help but repeat to myself the mantra: “cotton kills.”

Then the rain suddenly stopped. The spigot was shut off. Minutes later the sun was out. The trout bite was on after the rain as it always is, and soon my stringer had two healthy cutthroats pulling at the end.

The rain poured for close to an hour and sent great torrents of water sluicing past the tent. Thunder would repeatedly crash and echo off the granite, filling me with a foreboding after each magnificent clap.
Then the rain suddenly stopped. The spigot was shut off. Minutes later the sun was out. The trout began biting after the rain as they always do, and soon my stringer had two healthy cutthroats pulling at the end. Everything worked out just fine.

I learned a healthy respect for storms in the backcountry, but more importantly, I realized I’d actually enjoyed the experience. The power of nature in a storm thrilled in a way fair weather backpacking never had. I wanted more foul-weather backcountry experience. I didn’t start seek out exposed passes in a thunderstorm or anything, but setting out for a multi-day trek with rain looming or even falling is now its own kind of joy.

I like lining a pack with a trash bag to protect the contents, pulling on the pack’s rain cover just be sure. When rain starts, I get a little charge out of donning my rain gear. The mud sloshing around waterproof boots is satisfying. The sound raindrops make as they pound pine trees and boulders and meadows is soothing. Quickly setting up a tent (rainfly first, tent body upside down is my trick) during a downpour and keeping things relatively dry is a point of pride. Judging the towering buildup of thunderheads and predicting how much time I have to make shelter makes me feel like an overlanding explorer, reading the land itself as if it were my map.

The mountains are never more beautiful after a rain passes. The clouds never whiter, the sky never bluer, birdsong never more beautiful. It’s like a miniature spring in the afternoon, as animals emerge from their bad weather refuges, me included. A little bad weather gives a more complete picture of the backcountry experience than you’d get if you only tramp around in 75-degree perfection.

Photo: Tony Hisgett



Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…