Hiking and backpacking in the Northeast means that, sooner or later, you’re going to get rained on. So how do you stay dry in the rain? To help keep you a bit less wet than you might otherwise get, here are some simple tips and tricks, organized by type of gear.
Look for wrist cuffs that seal tightly. The goal is to minimize the amount of water that can infiltrate your outer layer, and the cuffs are a common source of leakage in heavy rain. Also remember to push any long sleeved base layers up away from the wrist. Otherwise water will wick up your sleeves as it trickles in under your jacket cuffs.
Make sure your pockets are fully zipped up to prevent water from entering!
Open your pit zips and keep the top of your main zipper open as much as conditions allow to vent internal moisture (a.k.a. your sweat). On the same note, don’t seal the waist of your jacket except in the heaviest downpours or cold conditions. Keeping it loose increases the amount of airflow inside your jacket and allows damp, sweaty air to more easily rise out of your neck hole and pit zips.
Look for a hood that fits snugly and securely, while allowing you full range of motion. Quick check: If you turn your head to the side, does the hood move with you (good) or do you find yourself looking into the inside of the hood (bad)?
Make sure your pants are long enough that they don’t pull up and expose your upper boot tops when you’re hiking or sitting.
Look for cuffs that zip open wide enough to easily accommodate your hiking boots. You’ll want to easily slip your rain pants on and off without having to futz with your footwear.
Invest in hiking footwear that features an integrated waterproof liner, such as Gore-Tex or an equivalent.
Waterproof gaiters that go over your footwear and rain pants aren’t that effective (rain almost always starts running underneath them from above) and are more hassle than they are worth.
A lightweight rain cover for your pack helps keep your gear dry and is a worthwhile investment. Be watchful for holes and tears—pack covers easily snag in the dense forests of the Northeast.
Use a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag as a liner inside your pack to protect your gear from moisture.
Stuff your sleeping bag inside of a garbage bag inside of your stuff sack. Place the garbage bag inside the stuff sack first before attempting to stuff your bag.
In wet conditions, moisture and/or condensation often will often appear under your sleeping pad and on the inside of tent walls. Place a garbage bag underneath your sleeping pad, especially under the tail, to prevent it from becoming a moisture wicker. And don’t let your bag touch the tent walls.
Avoid wearing damp or wet clothing inside your sleeping bag. Your clothing will dry over the course of the night, but most of the moisture will transfer into your sleeping bag and reduce its warmth.
Keep a set of dry, inside-the-tent-only socks, undies, and long underwear so that you always have something dry to change into after getting soaked in the rain. Store them separately in a large zip-lock bag to ensure they stay dry even if the inside of your pack starts to get wet.
Avoid cotton clothing! It soaks up a massive amount of water and takes a really long time to dry.
Avoid setting up your tent in a depression where water can collect underneath the tent floor.
Tension the rainfly so that it does not sag into the walls of the tent—a common source of leakage. You will likely need to re-tension the fly as it gets wet and sags, especially if it’s made out of silnylon.
Carry a sponge to easily mop out stray water in the tent and to wipe down your rainfly in the morning. A bandana is another (inferior) option.
Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.