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761 Walking in the Wet 2013-01-23

rainy trails on Mount LeConte

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to join a group hike in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Prior to the trip I closely watched the weather forecasts. I eventually made a few gear substitutions because the Park was supposed to have unseasonably warm weather. Instead of snow and winter weather, the prediction was for more spring-like conditions with warmer than usual temperatures and naturally wind and rain.

Well, it always seems to be raining in the Park or at least on every hike I have made! So how was I going to stay dry? With predicted lows of 40 degrees, the conditions were perfect for developing hypothermia. I needed to decide on a system of clothing and gear that would help me stay warm in the wet weather and yet be light and compact.

So for a few Walking in the Wet gear tips ...

If you walk in the rain, you are going to get wet. If the rain doesn't soak you, the sweat will.

Being wet, while you are walking, is generally not that uncomfortable. While moving, you can generate enough heat to stay warm despite being wet.

When you stop walking, especially in moderate temperatures, you're warm and generally are ready to cool down. If you allow yourself to cool, be careful and try to regulate your body's temperature. Cooling to quickly can lead to an uncontrollable shiver and possibly hypothermia.

In chilly weather I try to cool as slowly as possible.

On this trip, instead of wearing a jacket with either Goretex or a waterproof/breathable coating, I opted to carry a lightweight umbrella and a waterproof jacket. The umbrella was for walking and the waterproof gear was for wearing around camp.

The umbrella was a lightweight, backcountry umbrella made by GoLite. I have used a backcountry umbrella many times, but this was a new umbrella. It would keep me relatively dry while moving. For clothing while using the umbrella, I was going to wear a wind shell over a lightweight capilene top.

The waterproof shell that I was going to use in camp does not breathe. Once at camp, instead of taking my wet clothes off, I was going to put on a sweater weight insulator jacket and then the waterproof top. I would allow my body to dry my wet clothes while wearing them.

The waterproof top needs to fit loose. Moist air will try to condense on the inside of the fabric unless vented - just like a tent.

On the trip, it took about two hours for my top to dry in camp. I ate some food and drank hot beverages to help my body stay warm during the drying process. If I still felt cool, I did camp chores to regain a few degrees.

It was helpful to be staying at a shelter rather than tent camping. In the shelter I could do chores or exercises while staying dry beneath the porch of the shelter. Tents do not have enough space for such movement, but there is enough room for sit-ups and push-ups. A few sets of those limited space exercises will definitely warm a cold body.

A Goretex or waterproof/breathable jacket will also work to dry the clothes you are wearing, but they are generally much heavier jackets.

Wet clothes may also be dried by sleeping next to them, or hanging them from the pack in better weather.

If you opt to carry an extra set of camp clothes you can change into the dry set and try to dry your wet trail clothes at camp. More than likely, you will be putting on damp clothes in the morning!

Keep the gear in your pack dry by using a pack liner.

Use a skin balm like Hydropel, Bonnie's Balms, or Sportslick to prevent chaffing and blisters.

Wear a hat. I wore my wide brimmed Tilley to help shed the rain on the trail. In camp I wore a ski cap for the extra warmth.

While using an umbrella, I use only one trekking pole. Another hiker in our group also used an umbrella. He rigged his umbrella on his pack and still used both poles.

It might be impossible to stay dry while hiking, but it is possible to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Have a plan for hiking in wet weather and a backup!

One last point, a good frame of mind probably raises your temperature by at least a few degrees : - )

Happy Wet trails


Trip Report from the trip


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