How to keep your gear dry when backpacking in the rain or snow

I remember my older brothers whining about going backpacking at Vicksburg Battlefield Park back in the late 1960’s.  It was a bit different than hiking there nowadays.  For one thing, they used to allow Scouts to camp at Vicksburg Battlefield (they don’t anymore).  And another thing, this was back in the bad old days before internal frame backpacks came out, so the only choice for camping packs was an external frame pack.

There my brothers were, so the story goes, dragging all their camping gear up and down the hills at Vicksburg in these giant external frame packs, and it started to rain.  Pretty soon they were all hauling 70 pounds of waterlogged gear and their tough-as-nails Scoutmaster wouldn’t let them give up or turn back.  I’m pretty sure those packs get heavier every time this story is told – but any good story should get better with each successive telling.

Another buddy of mine grew up in western Canada, and he also tells of tribulations with backpacks, wet weather, and a mean-as-hell Scoutmaster.  He tells that whenever they would get ready to go on a packing trip they’d meet at a lake and the Scoutmaster would tie a rope to each pack and heave it out into the middle of the lake and watch it sink.  He’d time it at the bottom of the lake for 3 minutes and then pull it out and anything in the pack that was still dry the Scout could use on the campout!

Those guys learned how to waterproof their gear and it saved peoples’ lives later on!

It is the age-old question, as applicable now as then – how do I keep my stuff dry when I’m backpacking in the rain?

Here is about the best way I’ve found – you need four things –

  • A large, heavy-duty garbage bag – Place it inside the main compartment of your pack as a pack liner.  Pack all your stuff inside the garbage bag and twist tie it shut.
  • 2-Gallon Ziploc bags – These are not all that common in the stores around here but sometimes you can find them.  A 2-gallon Ziploc is big enough to fit several days’ socks and underwear or 1 day’s pants and shirt in.  Anyway, package your clothes and food and water-sensitive gear inside these big Ziploc bags and then put them into the improvised bag liner inside your pack.
  • A pack cover – These are inexpensive because it’s nothing but a waterproof bag with elastic at the mouth.  Once your pack is loaded, stretch the pack cover over the outside of your pack to help it shed water instead of soaking it up.
  • A large, PVC poncho – Carry this in the top of your pack so it is easy to get to.  This will do 2 things – lying in the top of your pack, it might help deflect any water that makes it past the pack cover, and when it starts raining you can put it on over yourself and your pack, providing another layer of protection.

I can’t say that this will pass the Mean Canadian Scoutmaster (MCS) test 100% of the time.  Nowadays they would drum us out of the Scouts if we did anything like that to Scouts (even if it was for their own good).

But I can say that these hints will make you much less likely to soak up 70 pounds of rainwater someplace like Vicksburg. And these hints work pretty good everywhere from Canada to Kilimanjaro!



Categories: Adventure, Camping, Hiking