The Gift Of Rain On The Trail
The wind kicks up, stirring the trees, releasing a fresh shower from the rain which ended an hour prior. Or is the sky opening up again? Hiking when the clouds are low upon the mountain makes this discernment difficult until you know for sure.
Raincoat on. Raincoat off. There are times it becomes an exercise in futility, removing my backpack at each decision point.
During the summer a rain shower can be a welcome friend. I’ve hiked in rain so many times it led to the creation of my trail name. I’ve also come close to hypothermia at 5,400 feet in July. The raincoat decision is sometimes an important one.
A Mountain Trail Is Where The Water Goes
Trudging along the trail, socks squishing at every step, an epiphany of sorts is realized. Waterproof boots aren't. Unless you intend to hike in large rubber boots, a drenching rain will eventually get to your feet.
I keep the important things dry. Head, arms, torso, and the contents of my backpack. In the summer I carry a thin lightweight raincoat, and of course, a rain cover for my backpack. All of my other hiking clothes are moisture wicking. They will eventually dry. In fact, my hiking pants usually dry within two hours. Give or take.
I carry more socks than most. It’s my thing. Three pairs. I’m okay if my legs and feet are soaked on the trail, as long as I have dry socks, and a dry cotton shirt at camp, I am happy.
Never hike with a cotton shirt. Trust me.
At this point I feel compelled to provide a disclaimer. My experience comes from hiking on the east coast, where the highest altitude I’ll see is around 6,000 feet. My pack-out, when/if I’m fortunate to backpack in Colorado, will be a bit more extensive.
Speaking of hiking on the east coast, things do not dry overnight. After a rainy day my boots are almost always wet the next morning. Hiking the next day, those dry socks are essentially soaking up the water remaining in my boots. It helps though. They dry eventually. Unless it rains again. Yep. That has happened to me.
Trail hack. This only applies to those who don’t carry camp shoes, like me. I carry large sandwich bags at the bottom of my clothing bag. At camp, I put these on my feet over my dry socks, and then put my boots back on. Feet remain dry and comfy. Until the next day.
It’s Still Raining At My Campsite
When I first returned to hiking in 2015, my solution to this dilemma was to carry a tarp. Great idea. Right? Even though it is light, it’s still extra weight and added complexity. It now collects dust in my closet.
Last year I read about attaching grommets to my tent’s footprint. Some footprints come with grommets. See where this is going?
This can provide for a lightweight option if you pack only your footprint and rainfly. I hike on the east coast where there are lots of bugs. And field mice. The lightweight option is not why I have grommets in my footprint.
Setting up the rainfly over the footprint provides another benefit. It allows you to erect your main body tent beneath the rainfly during a rainstorm.
I’ve done this on more than occasion. Again, I have a trail name as a result of my luck when hiking and camping in the wilderness. Nature is a gift. Nature is a gift. Nature is a gift.
During a September hike, after having completed the arduous task of erecting my tent beneath my rainfly (no one said it was easy) I realized by 7:30 the rain was not going to stop. I committed a backpacking sin. I cooked beneath my rainfly.
I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous this is. On the occasions I’ve felt compelled to do this, I make sure all activity ceases while I wait for water to boil. This is not the time for a critical mistake.
Yes. A watched pot really does boil. Eventually.
Mountain Climates Are Different
Let’s sum this up. When it rains on the trail you will get wet. Embrace the suck. The key is the ability to get dry at camp.
My summer raincoat is important. In 2017 I came close to hypothermia because I thought it was going to be a short rainstorm. An hour later, as my core temperature dropped, I realized why so many warnings exist about having the proper gear when hiking in the mountains.
When deciding what to pack for your trip, know the altitudes you will encounter, and make sure you are able to keep everything inside your backpack, and your head and torso, dry when encountering rain. And finally, if the forecast calls for a dry weekend, believe that at your own risk. Especially if you are hiking with me.
It’s the mountains. Rain happens.
Thanks for taking the time to read this great blog written by fellow hiker and outdoorsman, Jerry Caldwell. Jerry's trail name is monsoon and in addition to running his own hiking club, he is also the owner and operator of The Coffee Shelf coffee shop in Chapin, SC. You can read more of Jerrys hiking adventure stories at the link below: