The best way to deal with wet gear and clothing during a backpacking trip is to dry it. It sounds simple, but we’re often so obsessed with a daily trip plan or mileage goals that we don’t build in any time to attend to basic housekeeping chores. The problem is accentuated on short duration or weekend trips where you have to reach a certain destination by a certain time to meet a shuttle driver or get back to the real world. That can curtail maintenance or rest stops during the day where you can lie back and watch the clouds drift by, take in a great view, and spread your gear out to dry in the sun.
On longer backpacking trips, regularly performing these “household chores” of drying gear, washing socks, rinsing your clothes, airing your feet, brushing your teeth, and washing off your grunge become even more important, so your health and safety aren’t compromised. Building them into an ongoing routine is the less glamorous side of long distance backpacking, but an essential element nonetheless.
Drying Tents and Shelters
There’s nothing worse than having to pack up a wet tent or tarp in the morning (except putting on wet socks). Rain, internal condensation, or a heavy morning dew are often the culprits and frequently unavoidable. If your campsite has morning sun and a good breeze, it can be worthwhile to delay your morning start by letting your shelter dry before you pack up and go. Most lightweight tents and tarps dry surprisingly fast in these conditions, often in less than 30 minutes.
If conditions are not ideal for gear drying or you’re eager to be on your way, it’s worth taking a gear drying break later in the day when you stop for a snack or to admire a view. But first, you need to pack up your gear and separate it from the gear and clothing you need to keep dry.
If I’m backpacking with a tent, I usually carry a large dry bag that I can stuff a wet tent into, along with wet rain gear, socks, and other items, so it doesn’t make the other dry gear and clothing inside my pack wet. It’s important to get a dry bag that is really watertight and won’t leak. I use a 20L Seal-line Blockerlite Dry Sack (2.1 oz) which is super durable and lightweight. If your backpack has a large enough front stuff pocket (open at the top), that can also be a good place to stuff a wet tent in the morning. It probably won’t dry in that pocket, but it won’t make the rest of your gear wet.
Open ledges and mountain summits make excellent places to dry tents because the rock radiates absorbed heat, but any area in full sunlight will do. Open areas exposed to wind will also help accelerate the drying process. Make sure that you anchor tents or tarps well with heavy objects, rocks, or by tying them to trees or shrubs so they don’t blow away. Dry and pack away.
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