Coping with wind and rain

  • Threatening rain
  • Rains or wind at lunch time
  • Severe storms
  • Choosing a campsite
  • Erecting tents
  • Getting a fire started
  • Breaking camp in rain or snow
  • Keeping warm in wet conditions

Keeping warm and comfortable is one of the main occupations of bushwalkers and ski tourers. When the temperature drops below their personal comfort level due to the wind, precipitation or lack of sunshine, experienced walkers and skiers can quickly adjust their clothing to minimise discomfort. They know what to pack, where to find it, and when to put it on. For less experienced group members, it is not so obvious. As a leader or a more experienced party member, your guidance in clothing and camping matters could be of utmost importance to the well-being and safety of the whole party.

It is important to know what to do and how to use available equipment and material to cope with adverse conditions. Taking the correct equipment is vitally important for safety and making the best of adverse conditions. These issues are covered in Chapter 13 (Camping in snow or slush), Chapter 26 (Advising on clothing and equipment) and Appendix 1 (Clothing and equipment lists).

Threatening rain

Waterproof outer clothing should be packed near the top of packs and put on before rain hits. If there are significant breaks between showers it is worthwhile removing waterproof gear to minimise condensation build up. In wet scrub the first person in line will usually become drenched. With a beginner group it is preferable that this be the leader, or the strongest group member. Overpants will help significantly in these conditions.

Rain or wind at lunchtime

In persistent rain it may be useful to erect a tent or flysheet for shelter, as protected from wind as possible. Continuing strong wind, even without rain, can be demoralising and associated windchill dangerous. Choose a lunch spot to give maximum natural shelter or erect a windbreak with a tent or flysheet.

Severe storms

If the weather is so bad that it is dangerous to continue, you should find a sheltered spot as quickly as possible. Consider pitching a tent for everyone to shelter in. Ensure everyone is warm and dry, and then wait for an improvement in the weather. If improvement is delayed it is usually better to make camp in a reasonably sheltered position than continue to maintain a set schedule.

Choosing a campsite

Shelter from wind is usually the most important factor in your choice of site, whether in extremes of weather, snow or showers. Consider possible changes in wind direction and try to avoid wind funnel situations. Check drainage and possible puddles and water flows in case of heavy rain. Beware of overhanging branches of large trees. If the site is open to morning sun, the tents will dry more quickly if the weather improves.

Erecting tents

You should consider waiting for rain to pass before erecting tents. If this is unlikely, try to keep the inner tent dry by erecting the fly first or getting others to hold the fly over the inner tent while it is being pitched. Tents which can be pitched with fly and inner together, or with fly first, are very useful in these situations. Dry snow is less of a problem than rain as it can be brushed off easily, but ensure that the doors are zipped closed to keep the inside of the tent snow free and prevent puddles developing. Dome-type tents must be firmly held by hand until they are securely pegged down. Close or cover your pack to keep the contents dry while setting up camp. Try to pitch tents so the prevailing and expected winds do not blow into the door.

Getting a fire started

Starting a stove will be easier, but if you need a fire for warmth, cooking or morale, begin by collecting dry fuel in a plastic bag or groundsheet (assuming it is still raining). Choose a reasonably dry and sheltered site. Hold a fly, groundsheet or jacket over the site while one person prepares and lights the kindling. Lighting a candle stub in the base of the fire can provide a steady heat source to dry out kindling and help establish the fire. The candle is left in the middle of the fire, and the wax provides additional fuel. Shelter the fire until it is well established. At night, dry out some handfuls of twigs over the fire and store them in a dry place for use as kindling in the morning.

Breaking camp in rain or snow

If you have to break camp in the rain, pack as much gear as possible into packs while inside the tent. If possible, take down the inner tent first. Take down the outer tent or fly, place it in a waterproof bag before putting it in or on the pack. If the weather is very bad you should stay in the tents until an improvement occurs. It is better to be late, or even hungry, than to risk hypothermia or becoming lost in very bad weather.

Keeping warm in wet conditions

Beginners often wear too much under their rainproof gear. This results in increased perspiration and condensation, and all clothing worn becoming wet. Windchill on wet clothing can be serious, so people should be encouraged to maintain a comfortable balance of warmth. Use the layer principle with undergarments of polypropylene or chlorofibre to wick away the moisture from the skin, followed by a light jumper or a woollen shirt, then a heavier woollen or fibrepile jacket with zippers, and finally a wind- and rainproof outer shell. It is particularly important that your head be kept warm and dry.

Seize any opportunity to dry wet clothing or gear. A brief burst of sunshine can make a great difference. Be very wary of beginners drying clothes around a fire as natural fibres can be ruined by scorching and most synthetic fibres burn readily. Boots are often ruined in this way, and in general, should not be dried with applied external heat.

If tents are secure and the occupants warm, they will stay much drier by cooking on stoves in the vestibule or just outside the tent, or by having an uncooked meal. Consider having a cooked lunch or a breakfast instead of the traditional evening meal. Morale will be boosted if you, the leader, visit each tent with a cheerful greeting. If someone does have to leave the warmth of the tent, instead of removing dry warm socks, slip a plastic bag onto each foot and then put on the wet boots. It will take less time and their feet will still be warm when they return.