Anyone who’s ever hiked on the west side of Washington State knows there are no guarantees on sunny weather. While I have recently moved back to the drier east side of the Cascades, I certainly have experienced my fair share of wet backpacking trips and would love to share some helpful tips that have become staples in my backpacking regimen when hiking in the rain.
1. Bring garbage bags. Garbage bags are not only good for keeping your clothes and gear dry, but also you. Lightweight and small, these extremely useful items work great for backpackers concerned with weight. Many backpackers carry them anyways, so if you run into unexpected weather and didn’t bring the necessary gear, they can be a lifesaver. I always pack all of my clothing in a garbage bag before putting them in my backpack. Garbage bags can also be used as ponchos to keep you dry and the large ones can fit over you and your backpack depending on the size of your backpack (and you too). Even if you have a quality raincoat it can be difficult to dry if the rain doesn’t let up, so this adds extra protection. You could also invest in a backpack cover of course but this is a cheaper option.
2. Don’t wear cotton. Cotton is the sworn enemy of moisture. It soaks it up and keeps you wet for hours. Whether it’s hot and you’re sweating or it’s cold and rainy, cotton is a terrible choice for hiking clothes. I always wear a synthetic blend that wicks away moisture, keeping me more comfortable, dry and warm. The same rule applies for sleeping bags. Most newer backpacking sleeping bags are synthetic, and for good reason. One night while camping on Third Beach, the wind-rain mixture filled our tent with cold, wet sand and we woke up in puddles. If you don’t have a quick-drying sleeping bag this could mean getting into a wet sleeping bag the next night. Not only is this uncomfortable but can be dangerous depending on temperatures. Also, pack or wear a good raincoat that holds out water. I have a Columbia Interchange, which I have been happy with. It is fairly thin and not made for super cold weather, but works well as a shell. I would recommend buying a size larger than your normal size so you can fit several layers under it.
3. Invest in waterproof hiking boots. There is nothing worse than spending days in the woods with wet feet. Wearing waterproof boots is the smart choice, whether you are hiking in a wet climate or not. There have been several times, either because of poor planning or rivers and creeks being higher than expected, that I have had to ford water unexpectedly. You can also use waterproof spray on your boots also to ensure that the water will stay out, unless you fill your boots, then you’re out of luck either way. I have Hi-Tec brand waterproof hiking boots and although they were fairly cheap, they have held up well to the wet climates.
4. Don’t forget the rainfly or footprint. I didn’t always see footprints as that important until I moved to Seattle. Hiking on the west side certainly gives you a greater appreciation for footprints, as you will have much less dew in the tent come morning. Waking up damp does not lead to happy campers. I have the REI Camp Dome 2 and have had pretty good luck with it in all kinds of weather. The rainfly stands up well to weather and stays on even in strong winds because it is hooked underneath the tent. The footprint is sold separately but is a good investment.
5. Always be prepared. Look at the weather report and plan accordingly, but also realize that sometimes the weather report is wrong. I always pack at least the rain essentials just in case because, just like in life, Forest Gump’s words hold true. “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Packing extra socks is also very important. You do not want to be stuck with wet feet after crossing a body of water. I always have my hiking sandals with me as well which I use for crossing water and on warmer days I wear them throughout the hike.