Rain makes a great hike

appalachian-trail-waterfallI love hiking in the rain, let me tell you why… First let me start by telling you that while on the trail one stretch of rain lasted 18 days. Some of those days the rain was long and hard. Other days it was light and short but for 18 days it rained.

Here is what I learned about hiking in the rain.

1. Attitude makes all the difference. At first I hated it and couldn’t wait for it to dry up and go away. Then I found myself looking for the good things about the rain. I can hear you now, “What can be good about rain?”

The rain makes the colors of the forest deeper and more vibrant , the greens are greener and the blacks blacker. Rain cools the temperature and the air is sweet, you can taste the air rather than breath it. I love it when it has been a really hot day and the rain soaks the ground and steam rises from the earth like a boiling tea pot.trail steam

2. Be prepared for rain. Not being prepared can make for a miserable and even dangerous hike.

How do you prepare, you ask? Have the right cloths. Synthetics, not cotton.

The really important thing to remember here is synthetics draw moisture away from your skin and help you stay warm. Wool works too but I don’t recommend wool due to the weight and how long it takes to dry out. The old timers out there are screaming at the screen “Wool is the best!!!” I do like wool for keeping warm even when wet but the problem with wool is that it fills up with water and then it is not as effective at keeping the surface of my skin dry. This is especially true of socks. during that 18 day stretch of rain I had both wool and synthetic socks. I found that if I did not stop and wring out my socks every couple of hours my feet would get pruned and start to blister. The synthetic socks did a better job keeping my feet dry. Wool also takes a really long time to dry out.

Side Note… How to dry out your socks when it is raining day after day. Here again synthetics are the hero. I found that if I put my socks under my fleece sweater on my shoulders or if I was napping I would put them on my chest under my fleece and the synthetic socks would dry in a couple of hours. Wool socks took too long to use this method.

During warm weather I find it easier to just get wet and dry out when it stops. Cold weather on the other hand can be life threatening. The problem with hiking in the rain in cold weather is two fold. First is getting wet from the rain coming down and second is getting wet from the sweat your body produces while hiking.

Proper clothing and outerwear can help with both of these if you have the right gear and or you use it properly. I use layering to regulate my body’s temperature and sweat production. The layer right next to your skin or base layer should be a synthetic thermal underwear(during cool or cold weather). Then a fleece(synthetic) sweater over your base layer and finally your outerwear.

What is outerwear? This can be many different things. This layer could be a $500 Gore-Tex Jacket (nope, not kidding $500) or it could be a $15 nylon wind breaker. The merits of these outerwear choices can be discussed in a different post. The proper use of these jackets is important. If you are getting hot and start to sweat a lot, then you need to unzip your pit zips if your jacket has them. You may also need to vent your main front zipper to let some heat escape. Whatever the options your jacket has for venting, use them to cool it down and not sweat so much that you get soaking wet. I have been soaking wet from sweat and then when I stopped found myself freezing my butt off and getting close to hypothermia. One last tip on this subject, when you are hiking and are about to take a break from hiking or stopping for the night you will want to zip up and batten down the hatches a few minutes before you stop. If you stop then zip up you may find your self with a chill and unable to get warm.

3. Rain can equal more wildlife. The wildlife will have a more difficult time hearing you coming and you can often time see them before they hear or smell you. You will have to be paying attention as they are often not moving and you can pass right by them if you are not observant. Bonus tip: If it looks like it might be getting ready to rain but you still hear birds chirping and being active then you still have some time to get to or make shelter. If you notice a significant silence in the forest (no birds) then you know the rain is about to start. There are other tell tale signs for coming of rain like curling of tree leaves and the thickness of the air but these are not as noticeable as the birds.

4. This point is sort of subjective but it is my blog so there you go. Rain makes things interesting and is memorable.  In other word I remember the sections hike with rain more than those without. I also feel like a real adventurer during these rainy hikes. After all most people are indoors, warm and comfy. They are not outdoors daring nature to smite them with wind and water.

Well there you go, this post is a rainy day reflection of what I learned those glorious 18 rainy days on the trail.

 

 

Flashlight Technology

This is a very large subject to cover in one post so I won’t. The technology changes in flashlights have been amazing. The LED bulbs are showing up every where from tail lights to flashlights. This is a good thing as these bulbs last longer and take less energy so batteries last longer. They are also much smaller, lighter and cooler. The LED has improved the headlamp too. Headlamps were bulky and sometimes too heavy to stay on your head. Now they are light and slim. If you are a backpacker this is a no brainer. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I chose not to carry a flashlight as it would save weight. Instead I used my Bic lighter for light. If I were to hike it again I would carry the very light Micro LED.
Photon X-Light Micro LED

What you need to know to buy a great tent!

This post is for those folks who are going to use their tent five or more times a year. Scouts buying personal gear, this is for you. Assess your needs.tents How many people is the tent going to sleep? In what kind of weather conditions will I be using this tent? Will I be carrying the tent and how far? I am going to say we are buying a two-man tent for camping and some short backpacking trips in the south. In this case we are looking at 3-season tents that will sleep two persons. The quality we are looking for in this case is good to very good but not the very top of the line as it is excessive for the situation and we will need to save what money we can to buy a sleeping bag in a later post. Look at the tent poles, the fiberglass pole tents are heavy and they break and wear out fast. This is also an indicator of the overall quality level of the tent. We want to avoid the fiberglass pole tents. The aluminum pole tents are the minimum. There are levels here as well such as the manufacturer of the aluminum pole, like Easton Company is the best aluminum pole maker and the cost is a little higher. The construction of the tent is important. Bathtub construction is where the floor seam is situated like a tub so that the floor seam is not on the ground but instead is lifted up to the side of the tent thus affording it protection from the elements. Full coverage rain-fly is where the rain-fly covers almost all the way down to the ground, overlapping the bathtub floor sea. This insures the occupants of the tent stay dry. The rain-fly should cover the door to the ground as well, not just over it. The tent stitching should be a lap-felled stitch and well finished with no unfinished edges to unravel. When the tent is pitched the fabric should be taut and smooth. Some tents use clips to attach the poles to the tent and others use fabric sleeves, there are debates about the differences but in 3-season tents these are unimportant and shouldn’t figure into the decision. Some tents have a vestibule, which is nice for storing your boots and gear out of the weather, but it is an absolute necessity. Name brand is not the most important but I do recommend you go with a recognized manufacturer. Now here is my opinion on brands, the manufactures that are makers of all things outdoor are not the best gear manufacturers usually. I am going to ruffle feathers here. For example, Colman Company, they make great general camping stuff but their tents usually lack the quality you are looking for in this case. Follow the above guidelines, and remember these are just guidelines. If you are not sure and want an opinion, leave me a comment and I will give you my two cents. Happy tent hunting!

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