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.

Backpacking in Wet and Cold Weather—Basic Principles