The thought that stands out the most in my head regarding planning to hike in the rain is Don’t over-think it! On the other hand, I am sooooo glad I was prepared.
What I learned
The weather in NC cannot be depended on. Every day the forecast changed, and then once I got on the trail, it continued to change some more. The night before I left, I packed according to the forecast, which said I’d have two days of rain, one snow day, and finish out with warm and sunny. Fine. I was happy to end with warm and sunny after my usual soaked and pruned. I was DETERMINED that I would keep my tent floor (the inside) dry, and that through some magical trail awakening, or hallucination, I would receive a vision of an organized way to pack up in the rain in such a way to keep my other stuff not only dry but free from mud splatter. I was damn confident this would happen. And without the help of a hallucinogenic.
Long weather-story short, every individual I met had a different weather report, and not one of them was correct. So, my big lesson I pass on to anyone who happens to think this is interesting enough to read is this: Just pack your rain coat no matter what, keep a sham cloth to help with drying things , and ALWAYS keep your bag lined with a trash bag or whatever you prefer, and stop worrying about what the weather report is. Oh, and never ever leave home without your puffy jacket. I truly think that if you have done each of these, you are pretty much prepared for all surprises the AT weather brings – at least for long enough to get you to a location that can provide more appropriate shelter if need be.
Over-thinking it wasted my time
The first night we had a big downpour, and since I never sleep well the first night, I got to watch rain water drip into my tent. It didn’t seem like a lot until I woke up to my clothes bag and most everything else sitting a puddle. Talk about a blow to the mood. Every item in my tent was wet. I don’t know if it was due to something I did wrong setting it up, but it has never leaked before. Rain was predicted again on our final evening and rather than chance another wet sleeping bag (bringing the synthetic bottom with the goose down top was an excellent choice), I slept in the shelter with the thru hikers. Another decision I shan’t make again unless dire emergency!
I was lucky to be positioned in the shelter between two people I felt comfortable sharing close quarters with. The snoring, however…. symphonic. OH, but not in a good way. More like in a way that would mean it was all the musicians’ first time using their instruments. Whatever the word is for that, that’s what I did not sleep through.
What I learned from this hike
None of the hiking occurred during the heavy rain parts. Only bouts of sprinkling that didn’t seem to penetrate anything but did leave the trail slick if one wasn’t paying attention. It was very nice to not hike in straight up rain, or a tropical storm (Nate, to be exact). Mentally I had stressed myself and probably others about expecting to hike in full on rain and/or snow. All week the weather forecast literally switched from rain, sunny, thunderstorms, and snow. Each day it was different.
I truly feel that if I spend my pre-hike time just making sure I have packed the main protective essentials: puffy jacket, rain jacket, backpack liner, a shammy, and a fleece if the temps are still more chilly than warm, I really don’t need to give the weather too much of my mental consideration.
The first night did drop down into the 20’s, and I was totally able to stay warm in my 30 degree half synthetic/half down sleeping bag (REI Flash) by wearing my puffy jacket to sleep in and my fuzzy warm sleep socks. In my 15 degree all goose down (800 fill), I probably wouldn’t have needed the puffy jacket, but would have kept it in my sleep bag anyway near my hips. For some reason, my butt gets cold at night while camping.
I am seriously considering adding a tarp (something super light as I really am at my weight limit) to hang over my tent on hikes where there is a chance of rain… so every hike. In the hot season, this will allow me to not put on the rain fly and still remain protected against any overnight showers that pass through. Plus, this seems like it would allow my tent and rain fly to stay dry, hence pack it up dry, as well as set it up under a shelter when needed.
Also, I discovered the URSACK!!!!!! (insert happy squeals). The rough description of this is that it is a food bag that cannot be ripped open by bears (it’s bullet proof), and has steel enforced rope, so you don’t have to hang it from a tree, you can just tie it to the tree. This will be a great relief for me, since I find it very difficult to find low enough limbs to hang a bag from when I am stealth camping. I also want to make a correction to an earlier blog post where I stated that all/most shelters have bear boxes or lines to hang your bags. This is not true. So far, I haven’t seen one bear box or line at a shelter in NC. I did see them at every GA shelter, and made the assumption this was at all the shelters in every state. Would be a good idea though…
I met some really neat hikers out this past 20 miles. All ages, different countries, different reasons. I felt encouraged by them all, and wish each of them a successful journey.
Here is a one minute video highlighting this hike: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f-5x-Cn5u8
A Review of My Gear:
Shoes: Keen Targhee II – These babies have had my back for nearly two years. I knew after this last hike, however, it is time to replace them. And I noticed a slight separation forming on one part of the sole and shoe.
Socks: Wig Wam all the way for me. It’s all I own. Note to self: Change them daily to avoid hot spots.
Pants: Columbia Women’s Plus Size Saturday Trail II – Love!! When it rained, my pants stayed dry. it literally beaded off. They were light weight and very soft on, and did not rip when I had to climb over a couple of fallen trees. Plus they fit my fat butt. Oh and the bonus is that they have a draw string at the ankles so I could didn’t have to roll them up and collect dirt. It also has a zipper to detach the bottom portion of the pants and make shorts. The zipper did feel a little tight around my leg when I sat, but over the course of the hike, the material stretched and I didn’t feel it at all.
Undies: Just cotton. Yea I know, not advisable, but I love my cotton undies, and I’m not a big sweater.
Bra/Support: I go back and forth with whether or not to wear one. I just used a nylon sports bra from Walmart that was fine. I prefer not to wear one, but if my shirt is too flimsy, I must.
Shirt: Moisture wicking long sleeve shirt from Dicks Sporting Goods. I believe it was also made by Columbia.
Base layer top: Moisture wicking synthetic wool. Haven’t been disappointed yet.
Puffy jacket: North Face, men’s (it’s the only one that fits my waist). Spend money on a good one!
Rain coat: Columbia
Hiking poles: Mountain Smith: I bought a mid range model, that locks by twisting the poles (you know, righty tighty, lefty loosey). These have been awesome for the past hikes, but finally gave out and one of the poles would not lock itself. For $40, I was happy with the two years worth of mileage I got from them. I’d buy them again.
Backpack: Osprey Atmost AG 50L – I’m very happy with this guy (also went with the men’s), but I really want to get a 60 or 65L pack so I can comfortably fit my 4 or 5 days worth of food in it. I have a weird anxiety thing about over cramming gear in a pack (I think that happened while in the Army). However, after listening to my hiking pard, Silver Fox, share her review of her brand new Osprey Aura 65 over Dueter and REI versions, which are far less expensive, I’m starting to wonder how much of a gimmick the “AG” (anti gravity) feature might be. She said she didn’t notice a difference in her REI backpack. Hmmmm…. might try that one out for $100 less. I do carry a grudge that my Atmos does not come with straps on the bottom to carry my accordion style sleep pad. Very disappointed, and reminded of that every time I rig it on.
Tent: Big Agnes UL Copper Spur 2 – (big sigh) I want to praise it, but my stuff got really wet! This is the first time there was leakage from overhead, and I don’t know if it was due to my error somehow, so I am not ready to criticize it yet. I’m just going to stay neutral, and point out that I just love how much space I have. I am def a fan of keeping my pack and shoes inside my tent at night, and I want to have enough space for a friend and/or dog to also join me. This has it all at 2lbs, 12 oz.
Gaiters: Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters These were fine, but it didn’t rain while I wore them, which is what I wanted to test out. However, if you are purchasing them to keep debris from getting into your shoe and protect against ticks at the ankle level, these did REALLY WELL. I wanted to see if they would reduce or slow down the amount of water that got in my boot while I was hiking – you know, it runs down the leg and into your sock, then next thing you know, it’s sloshy… ugh! Still, I am glad to have them.
PStyle: LOVE LOVE LOVE. An excellent addition to my gear.
Rain skirt: Haven’t heard anything negative about them, but I did not have the opportunity to wear mine. My Columbia pants kept the water out exceptionally well.
Aqua Mira water drops: Great stuff, just make sure to mix it well and not let it get onto your mouth piece of the water bottle.