Fall is a time of red and yellow leaves crunching underfoot in quiet forests after the summer crowds have gone. It’s also colder, wetter and darker, which makes for potential misery back at camp. Here’s how to contend with some rainy-day scenarios without killing the fun.
You pull up at the campsite to find the grass squelchy beneath your boots, the river rushing by, and dark clouds gathering overhead. What do you do?
Head to higher ground. You’re in a flood zone, and the sky is about to fall. Choose a campsite with a little elevation, and not right beside a river or lake. It’s not fun to wake up in three inches of water during a downpour. Even better, if your tent faces the morning sun, it’ll be easier to get out of your sleeping bag on cold, wet mornings. And whatever you do, don’t set up under a tree. Long after the rain has stopped, raindrops will keep dripping on your head, and falling branches could injure you if the wind picks up overnight.
Under the tree canopy in the rain, it’s dark before you’ve finished cooking dinner, and you’re in need of some ambiance to keep the mood up. What do you do?
Light up the night. Bring LED string lights to drape around the campsite, light some candles to flicker sweetly in mason jars, and pack a good camp lantern and flashlights, too. Remember to bring plenty of extra batteries; lithium batteries are extra-reliable in cold weather. If you think you’ll be returning late, attach reflectors to the trees at your campsite so you can find your way back in the dark.
Happy hour in the rain isn’t working for your crew. They’re heading to their tents to read alone with headlamps. The horror! What do you do?
Don’t stop believing. You’re here for the outdoors, so instead of crawling into your tent, create an outdoor living room. String up a tarp or two for shelter overhead, and one on the ground as well. Then set up camp chairs, attend to the ambient lights, break out the brews and snacks, and get some music and games going. Cards Against Humanity, anyone?
You’re back from an amazing hike, but the camp is damp, the air is cold, and the crew is getting a little hangry. What do you do?
Give them comfort food. A cup of hot cocoa goes a long way on rainy afternoons. Aztec hot chocolate with chili or Irish coffee with whiskey go even further. Got a killer campfire pizza or Dutch-oven lasagna recipe? Now’s the time to bust that out. We humans need more calories to maintain body temperature when it’s cold, so keep the carbs coming. It’s always nice to throw some veggies in the mix, but do yourself a favor and prep them first, in your warm home, instead of peeling and chopping in the cold.
Your cotton socks got soaked on the hike, and back at camp, your teeth are chattering. What do you do?
Layer smart. A good layering system will help regulate your body temperature, wicking moisture while you’re active, and retaining body heat when you cool down. Choose polyester or wool base and mid-layers under a waterproof jacket. Cotton is never a good choice, because when it gets wet it stays wet, which will plummet your body temp fast. Make sure to pack an extra set of base layers and wool socks in a waterproof bag for hanging out back at camp, when you’ll want dry clothes to change into and a cuppa something hot to warm up.
You’ve chosen the perfect fall campsite, but it’s hunting season in the area. What do you do?
Wear bright colors. You don’t want to be mistaken for a deer or water fowl, so leave your urban color scheme at home and show off the orange parka that really brings out your eyes.
Your clothes got soaked, it’s still raining, and you’re tempted to dump them in the corner and take a nap. What do you do?
Hang them up. You’ll thank us tomorrow, when you have dry clothes that don’t smell like mildew. Pack a clothesline and string it under a tarp or your tent’s vestibule so you can hang all your wet clothing to dry. Taking time to manage the moisture factor will make your trip a lot more pleasant.
Pro tip: If you’re desperate for dry clothes, put a few damp items in your sleeping bag. Your body heat will dry them overnight.
The ground is wet and cold and your bed doesn’t look inviting. What do you do?
Insulate the ground. Yep, that’s right. Adding a bivy bag will help protect your sleeping bag from moisture, and it can also help retain a little heat.
You can also double up on the sleeping pads to keep you warmer. Once you’re nestled in for the night, try to keep your face exposed. Breathing into the bag can cause down insulation to get wet, which will affect its performance. Even better—choose a synthetic bag that insulates even when wet.
You’ve coaxed yourself out of the sleeping bag and you’re ready to embark on the day, but your clothes are stone cold! What do you do?
Pre-heat to 98.6 F. Pack tomorrow’s clothes into a small mess bag and stuff it down into your sleeping bag so it stays nice and warm next to your body overnight. Having warm clothes to put on in the morning makes chilly mornings so much better.
You wake to find you have lost feeling in your toes, and this is concerning. What do you do?
Bring hand warmers. Stuff a few in your boots to make breakfast a little cozier, then ride those warm, happy feet into your morning hike.
You wake to find your water bottle has frozen overnight, and you’ve nothing to brush your teeth with. What do you do?
Flip your water bottle. Water always freezes from the top. If temps dip to below freezing overnight, turn your water bottle upside down so the bottom will freeze instead, and you can get at least a few sips out in the morning.
While visiting the loo, you brushed up against enough wet leaves to soak your pants clear through. What do you do?
Wear rain pants or gaiters. Morning dew can get you wet in a hurry. Rain pants and gaiters can save the day.
How do you stay dry while camping in the rain? Share your tips in the comments below.