Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Walking in the Rain

With next week's West Coast Trail hike looming, I find myself thinking back to soggy shoulder-season hikes I've done in the past. September is a bit of a gamble in this part of the world - it could be warm and sunny, or it could rain heavily the entire time. Lately, the nights have been quite chilly, and in the last week we've had a mix of sun and very heavy rain.

With this in mind, I thought I'd share some things I do differently, or at least more carefully, when I know the weather is going to be rough.
  1. Take a couple of spare pack liners (I like the Glad Forceflex garbage bags) as these inevitably get torn. They're good for sitting on, putting under your mattress, a makeshift parka or tarp, collecting rainwater, all sorts of things.
  2. Lots of nourishing, warm, easy to prepare food. When you're cold and wet, nothing warms you up more than a hot meal.
  3. Label a set of clothes as "must stay dry". I usually make this my sleepwear (longjohns and a tshirt). They stay in a plastic bag until I'm in the tent and have as much mud off me as possible. Even if a bear eats your hiking clothes, wear the abovementioned garbage bag for hiking, and keep these clothes for when you're in your tent.
  4. Take care of your feet. You'll never be able to keep them dry on a trail like the West Coast Trail, but when you get to camp, take off your wet shoes and socks and dry off your feet. Even if you're going to be out in the rain, wear your sandals and let them air out. When you get into your tent, towel them off and change/remove any blister treatment.
  5. Wear a hat. I find a hood limits your field of vision and your hearing, both of which are important on the trail. A hat with a brim will keep water out of your eyes and prevent it from running down your neck.
  6. A small silnylon tarp is a luxury well worth the weight. Those who know me to weigh out the peanuts in my trailmix might be surprised, but having dinner under a tarp with your hiking friends makes the rain much more bearable. If you can get a fire going just outside the tarp you can almost forget the previous 10 hours of mudslogging.
  7. If you know you'll be spending long hours in the tent, some simple entertainment is nice. A book or mp3 player if you're by yourself, or cards, dice, and travel games are always good in a group.
  8. Only take what can get wet. Maybe skip the SLR this time and take a cheap or waterproof camera. No amount of bagging will keep away rainforest humidity, and if you don't take it out to use, what was the point of bringing it?


John from Ideal Hiking Equipment said...

I agree on your tips especially the one about looking after your feet.
I have hiked in some hot temperatures (though not as humid as you describe) and have always found hiking boots of great benefit and support over difficult terrain.
I'm curious as to whether you did try wearing hiking boots or were they too much in that humidity?

Matt said...

I have worn boots (good quality, lightweight Gortex) on both the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, and there are definitely some benefits. I was able to walk through water/mud without as much skipping around, and my feet did stay dry. The breathability of the boots did lessen after 3 or 4 days though, so sweat became an issue. The only reason I now use runners is the weight - I can cover more distance with less fatigue. The tradeoff is damp feet, which I'll accept but isn't for everyone.