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keeping things dry
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Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 10:48:00 MST Print View

So, I've been very lucky for my backpacking trips---I've never hiked in all day rain and set up camp at the end of the day. Day hikes, yes, but not backpacking. Even my hike on the Wonderland Trail this summer only had 1 day of rain, and it was more of a drizzly mist, that quit when we got to camp.

I use a pack cover, and have most everything in Sea-to-Summit sil-nylon sacks. My pack is a Six Moon Designs Traveler, which is a front panel loader (which I love). Thus, a pack liner as I read about really wouldn't be very convenient. I have read Jim Woods' article on Keeping Critical Gear Dry, and he says that my sil-nylon stuff sacks really aren't up to the task of keeping things dry, at least for immersion. Are Cuben fiber bags any better? He hasn't updated his article since 2006, and cuben fiber isn't mentioned. I have a MLD cuben fiber stuff sack for my down sleeping bag and my down jacket. I find that I have to be really, really careful how I roll the top down, or it would be easy for water to seep its way in.

Any other tips on keeping things dry? The other thing that concerns me is tent set-up; our tent is an REI Quarter Dome T-2 Plus, which has enough room for us and our gear inside, but is largely mesh. I'm not sure the rain-fly could be set up, then the tent erected beneath, and all that mesh obviously would get quite wet in a down-pour. Also, when hiking in National Parks that don't allow fires, what do you do to dry stuff out if you get wet?

I do all of my hiking in Washington and Oregon, so at some point I'm sure I'll need to know about these things! I have had one brush with hypothermia on a day-hike, and I didn't like it at all. All my insulation stuff is down, however, so keeping it dry is key.

Michael Fogarty
(mfog1) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 11:05:40 MST Print View

I use these:

I stuff my down quit into a sil-nylon stuff-sack and then place it into this plastic bag. I also place my extra clothing, base-layers, socks, etc in a stuff-sack and into this same plastic bag as well. Twist it closed and tuck the top down against the pack, to help it stay closed-off. I use a sil rain-cover too, and have hiked in many an all day rain, and have yet to get my primary gear wet. (bag & clothing)

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 11:43:19 MST Print View

Rain is the main reason I prefer floorless shelters. You can set them up, climb in, remove wet rain gear, and then take your time unpacking on a dry groundsheet. I've never been able to get into a regular tent in a downpour without a lot of water coming inside with me. A large vestibule helps. Or even a small tarp set up over the entrance. Some tents can be set up from inside, but I'm pretty sure that's impossible with your tent. Maybe the fly could lay on top or be pitched like a tarp first? Not sure if that's a workable idea, though.

As far as keeping your stuff dry in your pack, the panel loader does make a liner tough, but I agree with Michael that a partial liner would work. Your current set up will probably be OK for rain, but won't help you if you slip crossing a stream. Liners combined with sil stuff sacks/dry bags have never failed me. I personally don't like pack covers, but they do let you set your pack down and keep it out of the mud. Every one I ever used collected water in the bottom. Dry bags work. Do 3+ rolls, and with a partial pack liner just for your sleeping bag/crucial stuff you should be pretty accident-proof. I think it's pretty easy to keep stuff dry in a pack. It's when it comes out that the water gets it. Even in your tent, keep unused stuff in a waterproof place because floor leaks, windblown rain and mist, etc can sneak in. With 2 or 3 days of heavy constant rain, your stuff will get wet or at least damp. Just minimize it and stay warm.

C g
(cgraf) - M

Locale: So Cal
"keeping things dry" on 11/10/2010 11:44:37 MST Print View

I recently just relocated to the SoCal area in late August but for the last 8 years lived in WA and hiked predominately in the Olympics.
During summer I used solely a 2mm trash compactor bag as a pack liner...during the wet season I used the compactor bag in conjunction with SeaToSummit Ultra Sil Dry Stuff Sacks (one for sleeping bag/quilt; one for clothing).
I took a pretty nice dunking once with this last system during a continuous downpour in the Bogachiel river basin and all down material and clothing garments stayed dry.
I'm not sure about the newer model quarter dome....but the older quarter dome (2007 model) could be set up with rain fly attached.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 11:58:20 MST Print View

>he says that my sil-nylon stuff sacks really aren't up to the task of keeping things dry, at least for immersion. Are Cuben fiber bags any better?

Cuben fiber itself really is 100% waterproof while silnylon is not. If you had sewn stuff sacks, then you have to worry about the seams, but you have some MLD ones which are bonded.

Are you using the Dry Bags or Stuff Sacks? There's a difference in waterproofness. If you're using the Dry Bags, then as long as you roll them down properly, you should not have any issues in the real world.

>I'm not sure the rain-fly could be set up, then the tent erected beneath, and all that mesh obviously would get quite wet in a down-pour.

It doesn't appear that this tent can be set up fly first, but I'm not sure. You could either try to wait out the rain provided you have sufficient rain gear, or you could put the fly on the ground, climb underneath, and do your best to erect the tent under the fly.

>Also, when hiking in National Parks that don't allow fires, what do you do to dry stuff out if you get wet?

1. Hang the stuff to dry when the rain stops (but this can take forever, depending on humidity, heat, and wind).
2. Wear it! This will most likely dry your stuff out the fastest.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
dry down on 11/10/2010 12:18:29 MST Print View

go synthetic for jackets in the PNW ... or make sure that not all of your down gets soaked at once

i was once trying to decide between a down and synth layer ... so i took an old down jacket and soaked it in the rain ... the entire week had almost no sun so i wasnt able to dry it naturally

needless to day ... i went with synthetic


If your bag does become wet far from home everything might not be lost. In most cases your bag only becomes damp, or one specific area wets out. Here are some tips on how to dry the bag.

* The more heat in the bag the faster the down will dry.

* Manipulate the wet down, breaking it up so it's no longer stuck together. This down may have shifted in the baffle, so move it around so that it covers a wide area. Doing this will get the down working again with its efficiency increasing as it dries itself.

* Place clothing on top of the bag to boost the wet down to speed up the process and consider wearing nothing in the bag so your hot skin can help to dry the inner.

* Use the sun to dry the bag. A bag with a dark inner will absorb a lot of heat even if it's cold and dry surprisingly quickly (put it on some rocks, on the top of your tent or even off your pack when on the move). Every five minutes shake the bag up to move the dry and wet around. The inside of a tent can get very warm in the sun so consider hanging the bag open in an erect tent all day.

* Remember to try and air out the bag whenever possible.

* The wind can also be a good ally in drying your bag as it helps shake the down around and unclump.

* If you get only a small area wet then use your stove to dry the area, moving the down around as you do so (you'll see it steam).

* Remember not to get it wet next time.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
drying stuff on the trail on 11/10/2010 12:57:38 MST Print View

The one day on the Wonderland trail that we had to cope with wet, the only thing that got really wet---were my boyfriend's supposedly water proof boots. Walking through wet brush and water rolling down off the rain pants completely soaked them through. Luckily, the next day dawned sunny, and putting the boots on a rock in the sun, and backing them with a piece of foil to help focus the heat got them thoroughly dried out in 6 hours. It was on one of our shortest days, so we were able to mooch around in camp long enough to get it taken care of.

After that, we decided that having those portable hand-warmer packets would be good--could have slipped a pair of those inside the boots and speeded up the process. I used to carry a pair in my emergency supplies, but he pooh-poohed the idea. Now he's a convert.

Wearing wet clothes to dry them--isn't that how hypothermia gets started anyway? A damp article of clothing, I could see that, under an insulating layer, but completely soaked doesn't sound like a good idea. Maybe if you aren't moving, and thus getting sweaty? But then, you aren't generating as much heat?

Someone has suggested somewhere stuffing wet clothes into the sleeping bag to help dry them at night. That seems like it would be asking the down bag to get all wet.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
wet clothes on 11/10/2010 13:03:24 MST Print View

dianne ... the above advice from andy supposes that you are in temps hopefully where you wont get hypothermia by having some wet bag next to yr skin ... and hopefull the entire bag isnt soaked ... i personally would consider it a last resort

you have to remember that your unsupported out in the mountains ... you got 2 choices

1. dry out your bag anyway you can ... and maybe die

2. dont dry out your bag .. and definitely die

if you are in cold temps ... id consider bringing at least one nalgene bottle despite what everyone says about them being heavy ... you can fill it up with boiling water ... wrap your socks around it and use it to help dry out clothing or yr bag

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
bag on 11/10/2010 13:28:28 MST Print View

heavy duty black contractor bag as pack liner, your gear will never get wet. Ditch the cover.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 13:46:46 MST Print View

Bring both a cover and a liner. Suck up the extra 2.5oz for treks in the mountains.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 15:10:01 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 05/04/2015 00:07:37 MDT.

Richard Bolt
(richardbolt) - F

Locale: California
Getting a down bag soaked through on 11/10/2010 15:20:34 MST Print View

One trip we camped on a saddle bordering the Gardens of Allah and Eden on the (for us) aptly named Satan Saddle. Not that the saddle is like the old serpent to look at, just that it was there I was learned a valuable lesson: one must at any cost, with a down sleeping bag, keep it from getting soaked; lest ye be miserable.

Our tent pitch was a bit loose and iffy, but the bathtub floor was in top shape, unfortunately for us. It was a weighty Macpac Olympus Expedition tent. Forecast on the mountain radio was for a big storm the next day beginning about midday but we planned to be moving by then. Unfortunately I awoke about half five, having dreamt I was being held under by a big wave after crashing a surfboard, to find the storm had come early and our tent was very leaky (I blame our lazy pitch in the snow). We were flooded on the inside with enough water to require bailing the tent out with our plates like it was a sinking boat all the while more water kept coming in. After 36 hours stuck in the tent the storm passed and we could move on. My sleeping bag spent the entire rest of the trip (at least four or five more days) in my pack. I froze each night till we left the ice plateau, but at least my puffy jacket was synthetic or it would have been a lot more serious and I also do have to thank one of my trip mates for keeping me from completely freezing at night. Unfortunately I just had the lower side of the ledge we had hacked out, so I bore the brunt of the water depth. You know things are bad when you're trying to sleep in your rain gear and your pack is now your sleeping bag and you're wishing your pack came up past your thighs.

There was a lot more epic-ness to this trip, and some of the lessons I learnt from that one ten day trip will stick with me forever. Soon after returning, I bought a synthetic sleeping bag and a decent bivvy bag for those summer trips on the West Coast. I believe that bivvy bag has on two separate occasions either saved my life or at least prevented something equally miserable from happening.

So anyway, I believe a bivvy bag can come in handy to keep your down bag dry while it's being used (even if you have a decent shelter), while the pack liner/dry bag is a great choice to keep it dry while you hike in the rain and cross the rivers.

Edited by richardbolt on 11/10/2010 15:23:46 MST.

Ike Mouser
(isaac.mouser) - F
Liner issues on 11/10/2010 15:24:56 MST Print View

Hey Mike,

If your having trouble getting water in your liner bag, lean over it when you open it and open it under a tree for extra protection. Rain generally falls straight down, if thats the case just lean over it, im assuming you already have some kind of rain protection on. If its not straight down, adjust accordingly. I also leave about 6 extra inchs of length for the contractor bag so that i can just undo the rubber band and slip my hand in, i dont open the whole thing. I can usually feel around to find what i need. Hope that helps.

Edited by isaac.mouser on 11/10/2010 15:30:56 MST.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 15:27:58 MST Print View

A couple of comments on Diane's post:

First of all, stuff sacks are different from dry bags in that the closure on stuff sacks isn't waterproof. Dump a full stuff sack into your bathtub (put a towel in it) and you'll see what I mean. There is no way you can get that drawcord closure tight enough!

Second, the Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil dry bags that got such a bad rap in Jim Woods' excellent 2006 article and also in a BPL review at about the same time have improved. I bought a small one the summer of 2008 and tested it by turning it inside out and putting water in it (same test as in Jim Woods' article). It worked fine, no leakage either at the seams or through pores in the fabric!

In the meantime, I was very unhappy using trash compactor bags as pack liners. First of all, my original box of trash compactor bags was gone and I could not find a brand that wasn't scented. I was concerned about the scent in bear country. I also found the scent repugnant. Second, I was getting sick and tired of shoving small items down into a small cavities in my pack and having them pop right back out at me thanks to the slippery plastic liner. Your mileage may vary, of course, and, if you want to use plastic bags, I also recommend contractor bags instead of trash compactor bags to avoid the scent issue.

Since I wanted to dispense with the slippery plastic liner, I bought two more Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil dry bags, one for my sleeping bag and one for my carried clothing. I of course tested them before using and continue to test them yearly. Later that summer I slipped and fell during a difficult stream ford. When I crawled out and emptied out my pack, I found several inches of water in the bottom of the pack where my sleeping bag in its dry bag was. Not a drop of water got into my sleeping bag!

I recently bought Cuben fiber dry bags for my sleeping bag and carried clothing. They are about half the weight of the Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil dry bags. However, Cuben is more sensitive to abrasion. I therefore plan to handle the Cuben dry bags very carefully and also to check them frequently for possible holes (a good idea with anything you rely on to keep out water).

I also use a pack cover, because I use my pack as a pillow and want to keep the outside of the pack dry. I don't count on it to keep the contents of my pack dry, though--in addition to my little soaking in the stream, I have had rain water run down between the pack and me and soak the back of the pack. I carry my tent in one of the outside pockets (it also could go at the top of the pack, but needs something waterproof around it so it won't get the inside of the pack wet). That way when I stop for the night and it's raining, I can set up the tent while the rest of my pack stays dry. Once the tent is up, the pack goes inside (I remove the cover in the vestibule), I sit in the doorway to remove my rain jacket and then unpack the pack inside the tent. I do this in reverse when packing up in the morning--everything is packed inside the tent, the pack cover goes back on. The pack goes outside while I wipe the tent floor. I then get into my rain jacket in the doorway and back out. I then take down the tent, pack it and then hit the trail.

If it's not too cold or windy, synthetic fabrics will dry on your body really fast while you are moving. In fact, if it's relatively warm, I'll leave off the rain jacket while I'm hiking and just get wet. When the rain stops, my base layer top (which I wear as a hiking shirt) and supplex nylon pants will dry in about 10 minutes while I'm moving. I actually get no wetter than I would while sweating inside the rain jacket! Of course, when I stop, on goes the rain jacket with an insulating layer underneath. If the clothes are wet at bedtime, they go in my sleeping bag but inside a plastic ziplock bag. They will still be wet in the morning, but at least they'll be warm! EDIT, LATER: Please note this is for relatively warm weather--say mid 50's F and above!

BPL has several excellent articles on coping with wet, cold rain conditions. I strongly recommend you read them!

Edited by hikinggranny on 11/10/2010 21:57:29 MST.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
sil-nylon dry sacks on 11/10/2010 16:03:10 MST Print View

I'm glad to hear you say that the Sea-to-Summit Ultrasil-nylon dry sacks have improved. That's what I have my clothes in, although now that I think on it I'm not sure I get 3 full rolls on the top--might have to check that. I've found that for space logistics inside the Traveler, having my clothes in 1 long dry sack is not as efficient as breaking clothes into 2 smaller dry sacks anyway. It just seems to be easier to stuff things in that way.

Honestly, the one time I did have a brush with hypothermia, it was because 1) I didn't eat enough on the trail, and thus didn't have enough fuel to stay warm, and 2) I didn't utilize the gear that I had. When it happened, it was in the rain, at about 50F, and not even particularly exposed, or windy. I just flat out didn't pay enough attention, so it was a good lesson. Doesn't have to be really extreme conditions for it to sneak up on you.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 18:26:51 MST Print View

Mike W, which roll top dry bags do you like?

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Re: keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 21:55:11 MST Print View

Great thread. Keeping things dry (and getting things back to being dry) is one of the biggest challenges/skills there is.

Yeah the Quarterdome T2 can not be set up fly first. With this tent my basic rain setup strategy is to get the pole set all snapped together, unfold the fly and have it ready and then quickly setup the inner/poles and toss the fly on as quick as you can. Some rain will get on the inner, so once it's setup I wipe it out with a bandana before I move in.

Another technique is to set it up in a more protected spot (ie. under a large tree) and then move it to your desired camp spot.

Cuben sacks are great for waterproofness, unlike silnylon. The only time they can leak is if they are a light variant of cuben and they've got a lot of hard use (ie. a few years), then they can have tiny pinholes but even with these they won't really leak unless they are submerged or sitting in water for a long period. MountainFitter (and MLD I think) make some really nice dry bag style cuben sacks out of a heavier weight of cuben and they are bonded. I bet these sacks would last decades of hard use without leaking.

As mentioned, in truly sloppy conditions body heat is really the only way to dry stuff. Here's what I do:

1) Sleeping Bag
I keep in it in a cuben roll top dry sack and never get it wet. It never leaves the protection of my tent unless it's in its dry sack. If it got soaked, I would be in a lot of trouble. If the conditions were cold enough, I would not camp and continue to hike until I was out. In warmer condition I may be able to hang dry the bag. I also carry enough other insulation (down pants, down jacket) that I could probably survive a night without it in cold-ish conditions. Bringing insulating clothes to supplement your sleeping bag avoids you having all your eggs in one basket.

2) Shirts
I use very lightweight synthetic hiking tee shirts (ie GoLite DriMove Lite) at 2-3oz for a top. In all but the coldest conditions I can dry these in 30min-2 hrs by wearing them. Often I read at night sitting up in my tent while they dry. If it's really cold and I'm cold then I won't do this.

3) Socks/Feet
Lightweight synthetic socks can be dried by wearing them in your sleeping bag for 2-4 hours. This works well in warm conditions, but if it's really cold out and your feet are cold then they will dry really slowly and it's not worth it. This is a 2-3 season practice....definitely not for winter. In the winter I bring enough dry socks for each day....ideally combined with GoreTex socks, not shoes, to keep them dry-ish.

4) Underwear
I use quick drying synthetic boxer briefs and unless they are soaked, they dry fairly quickly once I stop hiking/sweating so they are usually dry long before I go to bed. If they are soaked with sweat, I'd probably wash them since they're wet anyways, and then probably put them on to dry if I need them, or just put them in a bag to dry at a later date.

5) Down Insulation
I try to very hard to keep it dry. Usually I'm only wearing it in camp. If it does get wet then I try to hang dry it if the weather is nice. If not, I'm stuck either in my sleeping bag or hiking (which keeps me warm).

Edited by dandydan on 11/10/2010 21:59:18 MST.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
keeping things dry on 11/10/2010 22:00:14 MST Print View


Edited by skopeo on 05/04/2015 00:09:10 MDT.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: keeping things dry on 11/11/2010 11:07:03 MST Print View

A system of dry bags is the most foolproof way to ensure dry gear. (Drawstring bags don't seal; you want rolltop dry bags.)

Depending on season & sleeping bag (if it's winter I have a bigger bag & jacket, so use two sacks instead of one) I use one dry sack for sleeping bag & clothes. I use a second smaller one for miscellany & that last layer that comes off in the morning. And I use one for food. Regardless of what the weather does, or if I end up in a river, or under a waterfall, or all-day multi-day rain... my stuff stays dry.

I find it's also easy to segregate things this way. The rain gear always lives near the top of the pack, outside dry sacks. I can easily get into whatever I need without "endangering" anything else. I also find that it's easier to pack efficiently & organize in this way, in contrast to a pack liner.

It also helps, of course, to pack in the order you'll need things. W/a panel load, perhaps not as big of a deal... but going thru the top, if the things I need are accessible I can leave other stuff in the pack.

In terms of drying things, I have what I call my "work clothes." My baselayer top & shorts or pants, & a rotating pair of socks. If it's pouring rain all day, I just get out of that stuff & into my warmer (& dry) midlayers, insulation, & toss on my rain gear. (Actually, I rarely use rain pants so they're dry for camp; I'll be warm enough on the trail anyway.) I leave the wet stuff for a refreshing morning reacquaintance; if the rain has stopped, my body heat will probably dry the clothes in about a half hour. Otherwise, synthetic or merino will pretty much stay wet in those 100% humidity/all day rain situations.

Practice setting up your tent, & have it packed in a compartmentalized way. Pack your poles separately; pull them out & assemble before pulling your tent out. Get out your stakes & have them at the ready. Set up your tent quickly, toss the fly over... & it won't get too wet. Should be able to dry it easily w/a small bit of pack towel.

Quickest way to warm yourself is from the inside. Heat up some water & down some tea/soup/whatever. Perhaps fire up the stove & change into dry stuff while the water's coming to a boil.

Sunny Waller
(dancer) - M

Locale: Southeast USA
Keeping things dry on 11/11/2010 13:49:06 MST Print View

I also keep my sleeping bag in a seperate Dry Bag and then my clothing and other stuff in a 2nd Dry Bag. I put those inside a Gossamer Gear pack liner which is a clear plastic bag that is smaller than a trash compactor bag. I do not use a pack cover but I am only a weekend warrior and my backpacks do not absorb much water when it rains. Recently I have switched from Sea to Summit Dry Sacs to Cuben Fiber Dry Bags. I have a MLD dry sac for my sleeping bag. I have 3 Cuben Fiber Dry Bags from Mountain Fitter. One is for my clothes. One is a large heavy duty pack liner and the 3rd is a custom order sized to fit my iphone.