5 tips for coping with rain on multi-day hikes

I’m British, and it’s a sad fact for hikers in the UK that some of the best places here to hike (Wales and Scotland) are also amongst the rainiest. Anyone who wants a decent multi-day hike in the UK, even in the height of summer, is going to have to contend with the very high probability that it will absolutely chuck it down for hours, and perhaps days, without end.

When you’re hiking in the rain, going to sleep in the rain, and getting up and out of your tent in the rain, it’s easy for morale and indeed your physical wellbeing to suffer. So, based on the valuable experience I have gained from wild camping in both Wales and Scotland at times where I’ve felt like I might never be dry again, here are five tips that might help.

1. Your enjoyment of the hike will be directly affected by the kit you keep dry 

It’s very easy to set off on a hike and be a bit blasé about getting wet. It could be an unwise decision to simply enjoy the feeling of walking through the pouring rain without a raincoat, letting your t-shirt get soaked through; or striding through wet grass in your long trousers, as I did on the first day of a hike in Wales. Regardless, things that might not seem like a big deal at the first rain-shower will feel far more important two days later when the sun is a distant memory and you lie awake at night dreaming of dry socks.

Packing your kit properly (see item 2), selecting high-quality waterproof gear, and getting waterproofs on early will all keep your kit as dry as possible for as long as possible, and that’s something you’ll thank yourself for later on.

2. Keeping your kit dry is directly affected by how you pack your bag

I’m an advocate of the super-organised, super-waterproof, dry-sacks within dry-sacks approach to packing. I recognise that isn’t for everyone, and this isn’t a post about exactly what packing method is ‘best’. Instead I’ll just say that, however you choose to pack, you need to answer three key questions:

a) Will your most essential dry kit stay dry in pouring rain, or if your bag became submerged during a river crossing? It’s fine to answer this question pragmatically with reference to how likely it actually is to rain and how likely you are to do river crossings, but don’t forget to plan for the worst-case realistic scenario.

b) Is your most essential dry kit protected from potential water bottle leaks, and the need to stow wet kit? Smart packing isn’t just about protection from external sources, it’s also about being able to ensure that key dry kit stays dry even if you have to stuff your soaking wet Gore-tex back in your bag, or if your CamelBak leaks.

c) Can you remove and replace key pieces of kit without exposing everything else to the rain? This is probably the trickiest one to answer, and to resolve. While the first two can be sorted by sensible use of drybags and raincovers, this question requires an organised and systematic approach to packing, and familiarity with your kit. If it starts pouring with rain, and finding your waterproof trousers requires chucking everything else in your bag out onto the ground without protection, then it’s not going to stay dry long. Equally, if you can’t get your tent up and down, and food made, in driving rain, without the rest of the contents of your bag getting soaked, you’re going to have difficulties.

3. You can hike wet, you can’t (or shouldn’t) sleep wet

The biggest mistake you can make on a hike of more than two days is to treat your dry kit as something comforting to wear on the second day. Sadly, unless you’ve taken fresh sets of clothes for every day of your hike (which I don’t recommend from a weight point of view) your wet kit from your first day hiking is what needs to go back on for day two. It’s an unpleasant feeling, I know, but if you layer appropriately and have kept as many of your insulation layers as possible dry, wet socks and a soggy baselayer aren’t going to kill you.

So what’s the spare kit for? That’s for getting into once you’ve stopped for the day, and are safely in your tent, when wearing wet socks and baselayer actually could kill you. Once you stop, get dry, and into dry kit as soon as your shelter is up. Then, in the morning, be brave and get back into your wet kit. With any luck, it’ll have stopped raining and you’ll soon dry it off anyway.

4. What is wet may never dry

(The joke I liked so much I had to use it again).

That said… you’ll discover that, sadly, it’s pretty tough to dry kit while hiking and almost impossible if it doesn’t stop raining for at least a few hours. So, and this goes back to point 1, work on the assumption that once something is wet, it’s wet for the rest of your trip. Hopefully that will focus your mind and mean that you don’t allow kit to become wet idly, or sacrifice precious dry kit earlier than you have to.

5. Take every opportunity to dry any item you can

Equally, if there is an opportunity to get something dried off, then grasp it with both hands. If the rain stops, hang underwear and shirts on the back of your backpack; alternatively, you can even scrunch up wet socks and put them under your armpits where your body heat will eventually dry them. And of course, if you’re going to be having a fire at any point (which is unlikely, as it’s generally frowned upon when wild camping in the UK) try to get key pieces of kit dry by placing them on rocks near the fire.

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