Quote by Robert Pursing
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Backpacking in Wet and Cold Weather—Basic Principles


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A person can get away with a lot when they are within a few miles of the trailhead, but what about longer multi-day trips in the wilderness where you will be hiking in continuous wet and cold weather? With this scenario in mind, consider the following principles.

   Learn through experience and a positive attitude that you can be reasonably comfortable hiking in continuous wet and cold weather; experiment a lot to develop your confidence.

   In wet and cold weather, plan on being always damp, if not plain wet, while traveling (from either perspiration or precipitation or both); expect to be dry only after camp is set up. If the sun comes out—celebrate!

   Each of us has a different level of cold tolerance which usually lowers with age. The lower the tolerance, the more the need for a working knowledge of the numerous techniques by which inclement weather can be dealt with effectively.

   Regarding other members of the party, know their tolerance for bad weather and their level of preparation for it.

   Clothing and insulation by themselves do not produce heat—bodies do; keep the body furnace stoked with hot drinks and lots of carbos.

   It is much easier to stay warm than it is to rewarm a body that has become chilled; keep your core warm.

   Body heat is generated and maintained in four primary ways in the wilderness: exercise, being in good physical condition to avoid getting overtired, consuming food rich in calories, and drinking lots of liquid to maximize blood circulation.

   Stop midday under shelter from the precipitation to rest and stoke the body fires.

   Use body heat as the primary tool to dry out damp clothing, especially before heading to bed; have a buddy help with wringing out wet clothes before attempting this body drying method.

   Religiously practice the principles of layering, adding and subtracting layers as needed to stay warm even while wet.

   Get lots of sleep in a warm and dry sleeping environment; use the principle of layering in your sleeping system to maintain comfortable temperatures.

   Hunker down if you get really wet and chilled; seriously consider going to lower elevations and using a big fire to get everybody dry and warm.

   Have a “Plan B” in mind in case you have to bail out or camp short of your destination because of inclement weather.

   Carry sufficient protection from the elements that is one “level” harsher than forecasted conditions; call that a safety margin. 

   The best way to deal with wet and cold weather is to avoid it; do a close analysis of weather patterns and forecasts before trips; develop a flexible frontcountry schedule in order to hike during the best predicted weather.

   If caught out in bad weather, learn to have fun and embrace the challenge; develop your skills and a positive attitude to go along with them.

The above principles and strategies indicate that this is a many faceted subject. They illustrate my best understanding. How do they fit with yours?


This article is excerpted from a much longer article available for downloading by clicking this link: Wet and Cold Weather Hiking Considered in Depth. Another article that is extremely important in this context: Understanding and Preventing Hypothermia.  

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