By Bill Steiden
Most anecdotes about awful camping experiences begin with rainstorms. The wet, the cold, the discomfort; the plans dashed by deluge. But camping in wet weather doesn’t have to be traumatic.
The first rule of the outdoors is to know what you’re getting into. With pinpoint weather forecasting a mouse click away, there’s no reason to get taken by surprise. Gauge the situation. You wouldn’t plan a river run in a flood, or a mountain outing for youngsters in an ice storm. But the prospect of a few showers shouldn’t keep you at home. Just heed the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
• Your tent. If you haven’t done it, or haven’t done it in a while, apply a commercial seam sealant and use rip-stop tape to patch any tears or holes that could admit water. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I say skip the groundcloth unless it’s an integral part of your tent body. Any tent worth having these days has a tub-sided, reinforced bottom to keep out water. A plastic sheet beneath the floor may help prevent punctures, but in a rainstorm it holds puddles that can seep through to the interior. Save the Visqueen to use as a mud porch under the vestibule. And leave the cozy one-man tent for when weight is really a factor. You’ll appreciate a bigger tent if you’re cooped up for a day in inclement weather – besides which, there will be less chance of your sleeping bag wicking up moisture from making contact with the tent wall.
• Tarps. Take along a couple, and plenty of rope. One you can pitch over your tent for extra protection. The other covers your cooking area, keeping your gear and firewood dry. And pack everything securely, so it won’t get wet. I like contractor-grade trash bags for this.
• Your campsite. It should go without saying: Higher is drier. Avoid dry creekbeds and low areas where water will gather, and streamside sites that can flood. And while you want some kind of windbreak between you and the prevailing flow of the weather, don’t camp under big trees that can shed branches in a thunderstorm.
• Your clothing. A pair of Tevas or old sneakers for campsite use helps keep your boots from getting unnecessarily wet or muddy. And take extras of everything. Avoid cotton, which will hold the damp, but even quick-dry fabrics will stay a little soggy when the humidity is 100 percent. One more old lesson: Avoid using a poncho as your primary rain gear. It gives you no protection from wet underbrush.
• Your mindset. This may be the most important factor of all. Being outdoors means being in the elements – using what nature gives you instead of getting frustrated because you can’t ramble about. Henry David Thoreau wrote in “Walden” of the joy to be found in a rainy day in the woods: “Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. … I sat behind my door in my little house… and thoroughly enjoyed its protection.”
However often he gets the chance to camp, it still isn’t often enough for Bill Steiden, a Decatur, Ga.-based journalist. Got a suggestion or a question about a camping destination? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.