Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rain... Part of a Hiker's Life

Blissful in the fog of PA before descending down to Palmerton

I felt like tonight I should blog about rain, since the great thru hikers out this year are going to encounter some rain. And not just any rain, but major rains from a tropical system this weekend. It will likely be downpours and strong winds. Heavy stuff. There isn't much weather protection that can keep you and your gear dry in that kind of extreme weather, except a good ol' warm hostel or other place of refuge. And I do hope hikers find a place to stay this weekend before it all hits.

But rain is a fact of life on the trail. And you must protect your gear and yourself. In some conditions it can be a life saver, especially if you hit the 50 degree temperatures with a wind that can actually cause hypothermia to set in rapidly. Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature begins to drop. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, poor decision making, weakness, drowsiness - if it progresses further you are in serious trouble. In the case where the temperatures warrant it, I always don my full gear - rain jacket, rain hat, and my rainpants. In the summer I don't bring rain pants as its warm enough that a good shower can actually feel good. But in colder conditions they can help prevent you from getting soaked to the skin and having real issues.

This is a picture that a fellow hiker took of me atop Springer Mountain during my southbound hike. And it shows me with full rain gear in action as it is November. Because of my glasses issue, I prefer wearing a rain hat. Its an Outdoor Research brand and has served me well. I am wearing a Marmot precip rain jacket (the orange color here came in handy when I hiked through the states of TN and NC in the fall and full hunting season with hunters out actually carrying their rifles - slightly unnerving). I did switch to DriDucks for a light weight option in the summer and it served me well on the Long Trail, but note - it is NOT durable if pine branches snag it!  My son disliked rain gear and carried a lite umbrella for the summer rains. In the above photo I am also wearing Marmot precip pants. I only have regular trail runners on, not waterproof, but on a nice sunny day afterwards, I find they dry out amazingly well. But I did use a pair of the Gore Tex waterproof trail runners to test them out in the spring snow-like conditions. And I must say, having dry feet at night sure felt good.

As for pack protection, in this photo my husband sewed for me a sil nylon pack cover (we also made our own stuff sacks). You can get kits to make your own covers like this at Thru-hiker Gear which sells kits and materials for that creative person. I have met hikers that have made many of their own gear items, including a backpack, a sleeping bag, a vest, etc. Just recently I purchased a Sea to Summit pack cover and it has worked out well. But in heavy downpours, no pack cover keeps a pack dry, so it behooves you to keep the contents dry.  On the inside I have lined my pack with a trash compactor bag. The thicker the bag (in milliliters), the better. After a heavy storm though, I found the Z packs cuben fiber pack liner a must-have. Nothing gets by this - it's bombproof. They also make a variety of stuff sacks for clothing and sleeping bag (which must stay dry no matter what) as well as pouches for your cell phone, etc. Worth the $$.

Another way I have protected my gear, especially for homemade nylon bags is to also put them in Reynolds oven bags. They are cheap, durable and offer secondary protection when combined with a stuff sack. But if I use the cuben fiber, that's all I need.

So this is a few ways I have coped with rain while hiking. Sometimes its hard to see the fog rolling in and know you are missing some good views. But there is also good to be found on a rainy, foggy day. Clean fresh air. Plenty of water at the springs and streams when you need it. And knowing the sun will eventually come out.

1 comment:

Steven said...

We are getting rain in west Texas tonight. First rain in almost 250 days of drought. I hope everyone out on the trails are dry...but I felt like dancing in it tonight.

I recently bought a pair of pants that the sales lady assured me could double as rain pants in all but a downpour. I took them into Glacier's backcountry where the Cow Parsnip was up to my chest along the trail. After a light rain my pants started wicking all the moisture right off the brush and before long ran down my legs into my boots. I finished out the day with soaked boots...but just two hours in the sun the next day and they were bone dry.