Keeping Moisture Out and Letting It Out. One of the most perplexing problems for Backpackers
(Scouts are no exception) is keeping things dry--both themselves and their gear. There is no one
solution to this dilemma and you should not think to this problem as a single dimensional one.
Rather, approach it as a multidimensional task and attack it on several planes at once. You must
have multiple, redundant moisture barriers. Described below is ďa systemĒ of steps you can take
to keep things dry. For example, the combination of properly fitted pack cover, water
resistant pack fabric, and waterproof zip-lock bags provide good assurance against moisture spoiling
hike in the rain outweigh the added weight of a few plastic bags. Besides, dry gear is a lot
lighter to carry than that which is water soaked. You can be comfortable for a long time under
adverse conditions with just a water diverting canopy (dining fly, tent fly, or poncho), and a dry
sleeping bag to keep you warm and cozy. Without it you are miserable before very long and possibly
at risk of hypothermia.
Things to consider about moisture (getting wet) while backpacking:
Water resistant pack fabric. Quality packs will have some kind of coating to make the bag
moisture resistant, but don't count on it keeping everything dry by itself. Few packs totally
waterproof, at least not at the seams and compartment openings, so a pack cover is a necessity.
Further, the best assurance of dry food, clothes and sleeping bag is to pack them in zip-locked
bags or "goose necked" plastic bags.
Pack cover. Your pack cover is one of those essential pieces of gear. It should always be
readily accessible. Nylon coated ones are available in most outdoor equipment stores. In an
emergency, even a heavy garbage bag can be fashioned into one.
Hang your pack under a cover. Water will run off. A pack on the ground may accumulate water.
Below are photos of a completely waterproof way of hanging a pack or bear bag using a garbage bag,
two feet of cord and a "bulb" end with a hole. The first one shows three types of "bulbs"; a plastic
lid with a hole; a complimentary hotel shampoo bottle with a lengthwise hole (attached to pack); and
an roll tape core. After the bulb is attached to the pack, the bag is placed over the bulb and pack
and a rope is placed around the bag below the bulb (where it won't slip), then hung from a tree.
Because nothing passes through the bag itself, there is no hole for water to get in. For an added
measure of protection, use a long bag and tie the bottom shut.
Bear bag. Hanging the bear bag under a plastic cover can help keep contents dry. Contents
that might be damaged should already be in water proof bags and the redundant layers will help.
It will also discourage rodents from coming down the rope to the bag.
Ground cloth. A ground cloth under your tent does two things: (1) it provides a moisture
barrier between the cold ground and your warm body and (2) it smoothes out any imperfections
in the ground under your tent and helps protect your tent floor from jagged rocks and sticks. Here
too, a military-type poncho is useful. It can be folded out nicely as a ground cloth for at two
person rectangular tent (5'x7').
Sleeping pad. It acts as a moisture barrier, but also elevates you above any moisture that
seep into your tent. Self-inflatable pads are convenient and very comfortable but can be heavy,
especially the full-length ones (2-3 lbs.). Closed-cell pads are light weight (10-16 oz.)
and cost about one-quarter of what a self-inflatable one costs, however, they are bulky. Some
newer closed-cell designs fold like an accordion. In spite of the weight and cost, I still
prefer the self inflating variety; nothing beats a good night sleep after along day on the trail.
Avoid the low ground. Consider the terrain around your tent. Be careful not to set up over
an indentation because water will accumulate there and standing water is likely to penetrate your
tent before water that is running off. Setting up on a slight "knob" results in water running away
from your tent. Also, be careful not to camp too near streams that could rise in a flash flood or
where the valley is narrow but drains a large area. Although you want to avoid low ground, you may
also want to avoid the tops of bald hills when there is the possibility of lightening striking.
Full-coverage tent fly. The tent fly puts a barrier between your sleeping compartment and the
rain. Water will "bead" and runs off a properly coated and placed fly. This process is interrupted
only when a "wick" is provided to draw the moisture through the minute fabric holes of the fly
("seam sealer" or "taped seams" is to block water from coming in around the bigger holes made when
the fly was stitched together). An object pressing against the inner wall of the fly provides the
"wick" to draw moisture in. A partial ("umbrella") fly leaves a single wall between you and your
gear and the rain. Anything touching the wall will provide the wick to draw in moisture. Full-fly
construction puts a full barrier between you and your gear and the wet fly. The full coverage fly
also helps drop the water off a little way from the tent (which somewhat keeps it from running back
under the tent). Full-coverage flies come in two general types of construction; one, like our
Eurekaís, use a tent pole attached to the fly across the top to create an "awning" over the door and
rear window (for ventilation) and the other stakes the fly directly to the ground all around to
create a covered vestibule (storage area) in front of the door. Full coverage usually costs a few
extra ounces in weight but if you plan on a wet outing (or even if you donít) this is one of those
really nice things to have.
Dining fly. A military-type poncho (with corner grommets) used in lean-to style provides an
excellent dining fly (a small polyethylene tarp works well too but can add a little more weight to
your load). Either way it is an optional item to take with you, but one which comes in handy for
shelter when you need to wait out a flash downpour. During a persistent rain, this may be your
only place to meet, prepare, and eat food. But don't even think about using your stove under a
backpacking dining fly (e.g., nylon poncho); all fire sources should be kept well outside the edges
of the fly.
Synthetic-fill sleeping bag. Don't take chances with keeping your sleeping bag dry. Use a
synthetic-fill bags so that you can recover quickly if it gets wet. This is more in the category
of "getting the moisture out" once it is in. Synthetic fill tends to dry quicker, retain some
insulating properties even when wet, and retain less water weight than down or cotton fill.