My friends and I had been on the trail three days when the rain hit. It started as drizzly rain, then changed to a fat-drop rain, then to a misty rain and then to a sprinkling on- and-off rain. We’d been hiking in an open valley, and by the time we reached the relative shelter of a distant pine forest, we were already waterlogged. Even under the canopy of the tall pines, the damp ferns and undergrowth brushed against our pants and hiking boots, keeping our lower halves saturated. My boots were marketed as “water-resistant.” But apparently there was an asterisk in that claim I had missed. And I could feel my toes pruning inside my double-layered socks.
Three hours in the rain, two more to go.
After three hours of the backcountry’s version of Chinese water-torture, the clouds broke, and the sun came out, turning the entire valley into a sauna. We still had another hour or two to slosh our way to the campground. When we did reach it, we made quick work of pitching our tents, and stripping down to place our wet socks, pants and shirts on boulders and sun-lit tree-limbs. As we pulled dry clothing out of our Hefty-lined backpacks, I noticed my friend Wilson tying his wet hiking boots to a large stick he’d dragged out of a nearby copse. He’d rigged his boots to the branch like he was creating found-object abstract art along the trail. When I asked what he was doing, he simply responded, “Drying my boots.” I should note that Wilson is an experienced outdoorsman. Not just a Patagonia-wearing suburbanite with an REI Membership like me; he borders on Hemmingway-esque, having hunted big game on four continents. So when he explained that his boot-drying technique was something he’d learned from an Inuit guide on a caribou hunting expedition in Canada’s Northwest Territories, I simply nodded. Of course that’s where he learned it. The rest of us in camp left our boots in the sun, and Wilson continued with his Inuit technique. His boots and feet were dry in about an hour. The rest of us dealt with flip flops that evening and the next morning succumbed to the remaining dampness as it crept through our socks when we started back on the trail. It’s a trail trick that works. So it’s a technique worth sharing.
1. Find a stick that will hold the weight of a pair of soaked boots; use boulders, or branches to brace it a foot or so above the ground. 2. Reverse tie the laces so the boots are suspended upside-down. To reverse tie, first do a half square at the normal mid or ankle bend of the boot. Next, wrap the laces under the arch. Tie again and suspend them. 3. Place a portable gas stove underneath so the heat will rise up into the boot. 4. Ignite the stove and keep it lit until dry. (Could be as long as an hour, depending on how damp your boots are.) This is effective, but not something you want to goof around with. Probably not something you want to teach to a group of pyromaniacal Boy Scouts. And you definitely don’t want to go take a nap once you get things started. Use common sense. Don’t melt your boots or start a fire. That’s not the Inuit way.