Damp Management Skills on Longer Backpacking Trips

Drying a Double-Walled Tent Out in the Warm Sun
Drying a Double-Walled Tent Out in the Warm Sun

One of the biggest differences between a single night backpacking trip and going out for a couple of consecutive days is the need to keep your gear dry. While this is relatively easy in warm, dry weather, it becomes far more challenging if you experience consecutive days of rain or sustained rain coupled with cooler shoulder-season temperatures.

This is when it can pay to carry an extra change of socks, to stop and dry off a wet tent rain fly in the warm sun, or to take a break and make a hot drink with a little extra sugar to stoke your engine and warm you up.

While your body can do an amazing job of staying warm and even help dry your wet clothes while you hike, you need to be extra vigilant when weather conditions, such as cool damp weather or high winds, can prematurely fatigue you or push you into a pre-hypothermic state. Under such conditions, it can make sense to stop, pitch your shelter, crawl into your sleeping bag and take the rest of the day off or until you warm up and recover.

But giving yourself permission to stop and manage the damp can become a problem if you set too aggressive distance goals for yourself and don’t factor in a little bit of extra time or supplies for an unscheduled stop. I suppose it’s ironic that many of us go backpacking to get off a fixed schedule, only to set too high goals that require hiking on one.

For longer trips, it makes sense to hedge your bets and budget in some unscheduled time to handle the increasingly dynamic conditions you might encounter. The only person keeping score of the miles you hike and the time it takes is you.



  1. Wow, this is a very “content dense” article, Philip. I certainly agree with you. Using every trick to stay dry, therefore warm, is one of those essential backcountry skills. There are thousands of pieces written about it. They range from purely scientific to purely anecdotal.
    A few days of constant rain and drizzle will affect the entire trip. Yet, few backpackers make any effort to stop and simply stay dry. Slogging over wet trails, through 6” deep puddles, or through wet areas flooded with 8” of water is difficult and not what I consider fun. Wet shoes, socks, are only the beginning. In the ADK’s, there is often no place to dry out. The dampness lingers. Often I find wet gear at every campsite for two days after a rainstorm despite emptying things every night.
    Thanks for bringing this up!

  2. Are those photos from one of the Bonds?

  3. Not enough blood or ripped cothing, but I do know that Joe has hiked down the West Bond slides to Hellgate and lived to regret it! People are always hiking down the Lincoln slide to get to Owls head and up the North Slide on Tripyramid, Adams Slide to get to Adams. Arrow Slide on Hancock Lots of slides have been turned into trails and others are just wild.

  4. Good article about something I’m all too guilty of doing. I finally get time to hike and that’s how I want to spend those days. After my last trip I’m realizing that I need to build in a little extra time for mid day resting and gear drying.

  5. DripDry and I had many issues with this on our last AT section hike. The couple of days of rain weren’t that bad, but we were in the clouds the rest of the time. There is no way to escape the dampness that just permeates everything when you are in that constant fog. And when you’ve only got a week to hike, it is hard to include down time in the schedule instead of miles. Ideally we would put in a zero day in the middle of the week not only to rest but to clean and dry things. Unfortunately, like on this trip, a convenient place to zero isn’t always there mid-hike. So instead, at the end we sealed our packs in garbage bags to make the ride home bearable and then thoroughly cleaned everything at home.

    • Smelled that bad huh? My damp socks can drop a moose at 25 yards after a few days!

      • RevLee is being polite. I don’t think my gear has EVER smelled that bad- even after weeks on the trail. Not sure why it was so bad on this trip. At one point I had a lot of my damp gear hanging inside my tarp to try to get it to “air out” without having it exposed to the mist. The smell was so overwhelming I almost had to sleep outside. After we got back I searched for ways to defunk my gear- what worked best for me was overnight soaking in a soluion of 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon hot water.

  6. If I have been slogging through wet or muddy terrian I usually make a point of stopping and airing the feet out and having a bite to eat.

  7. Great Subject, something I haven’t thought about in awhile because I just “Do things” from habit I guess. But I always bring two Hankerchiefs to be used from filtering water to Arm slings and wiping down the inside of the tent. Most of the time, just like my sleeping bag every two days I just naturally cut the hiking time down a bit and lay out all the gear and all my clothes, even if I did not wear them for they can suck up some moisture just sitting in the bag, in the sunshine especailly if I have a nice large granite rock surface to work with..Those rocks heat up real nice come about 1400 hrs. I also take the time to warm up the water in my Solar Shower if i carry one or am in a group where we share equipment. I also carry my Mini-Weather Station which I found at Walmart some years ago for under $19.00. It is about the size of a credit card and uses 1AAA Battery. It gives me both Military and Civilian time, Temperature in C&F and Humidity as well as the highs and lows for the past 24 hours. It is far more accurate than the built in gauge in my $350. do everything Watch, which I leave home now. The reason I carry this is because once, and one time only, at 12,700 ft. high Sierra’s in Bishop Basin just past Blue Lake, when I crashed for the night it was 73 degrees.When I woke up at 0400 to pay nature a visit I just popped out of my down bage and the tent, walked about 20 feet and was over taken by severe case of the Shakes so much so I could relieve myself. I got back into the tent and the bag and shivered for the next two hours even after eating some chocolate and sacraficing a water bottle. It was bad, I had the bottle in with me and the water was warm but I had to drink it in order to relieve myself or wet the bad and myself. The Temperature 21 degrees out…and those old fashioned Long Johns with mostly cotton in them were a bit damp..Took me two hours to stop shaking completely and that is when after I returned home I did an all out search for NON-Cotton hiking clothes and now carry a designated Urine bottle. I should have dried out those longjohns before I retired for the night but I was so tired after climbing up that mountain from Lake Zabrina that day….

    • I’m going to have ot look for one of those cards. I could use tsomething that size to read barometric pressure. As for a pee-bottle, I’ve found that the outer plastic bag on Packit Gourmet meals works awesome as a fold-up pee bag. Very space efficient, a big opening, stays closed, and folds up small when not in use.

  8. Easy – just do whatever DeCaprio does – he floated down a river with ice in it for a very long time and survived. Though the entire movie was more of a cartoon than anything else.

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