While summer isn't known for extended periods of rain, there are the periodic showers and rainstorms that blanket the country throughout the season. Because many of us associate Summer with sunshine and rainbows, just remember that rainbows come after the rain. What I mean to say is that many of us can find ourselves under prepared when a sudden rain storm hits. Perhaps you forgot to check the weather, the weather reports showed no signs of rain, or you're unable to reschedule your planned trip and have to tough out several days of inclement weather. Not having any idea of what to do, or lacking the tools to keep yourself dry can quickly turn a smile into a frown, but should the clouds open up on your camp site, not all hope is lost!
Before we dive in, make sure you're packing these essential tools. If you're pulling right up to your campsite with your vehicle, consider packing extra materials such as tarps and extra towels.
• Knife or edged tool
• Fire starting tools and dry tinder
• Emergency Poncho
If the clouds have already opened up when you arrive to set up your campsite, time will be of the essence to keep as much water out of your tent as possible. While many people choose to leave their rainfly at home during the summer, you may find yourself regretting that decision when sudden rain comes. Being that rainfly's are very lightweight, leaving it at home can be more of a detriment than a benefit. After all, it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. When it comes to setting up, laying a tarp on the ground where you intend to set up your tent helps to reduce the build up of moisture, as well as providing an extra layer of separation between you and the wet ground. Lay your tent out, covering it with the rainfly or another tarp. This will help keep moisture out, allowing you to run your poles through while covering the mesh openings. Doing this as quickly as possible ensures the driest possible interior, but you'll likely still need to dry off the interior by wiping it down with some fresh towels. Allow it some time to dry before stacking your gear in if possible - tents with a vestibule will provide a huge benefit as it gives you an additional space to lay out items to dry while maintaining a dry sleeping quarters.
Another option, if the supplies allow, is to create a roof by stringing up a tarp outside the front of your tent. You'll need plenty of cordage to make this work, but it will provide the benefit of having an outdoor area that's protected from the rain. You can huddle in your tent, but in a group, an area like this will help give everyone some more personal space, rather than huddling in a tiny tent together. Items like the emergency poncho help to keep yourself dry, meaning you won't have to set your clothes up to dry after you're done with setup. It can also be repurposed into waterproofing your tent if your rainfly's resistance rating is lower than needed.
Unless you have a backpacking stove, you may have been relying on a grill or the firepit to cook your meals. During heavy rains it will be extremely difficult to get a fire going, but it's certainly possible to keep a fire going in light rain. The key to this is getting it started, and since most of the usable kindling and tinder you would traditionally gather is soaking wet, bringing some from home is always a good idea. Whether you use something like our firestarting ropes, which burn for a long time on their own, or bring something like dryer lint in a plastic bag, having dry tinder to start the fire will be the most important. A gas lighter will struggle to operate under rain, but our electric lighter is designed to function in all weather conditions. If your primary option fails, you should always have a backup option, such as a Ferro Rod, which also works in all weather conditions, and is less susceptible to failure.
If you're able to purchase firewood at the campsite that will make maintaining your fire significantly easier, but if you're relying on foraged sources you'll need to dry this out before it can be used. While the exteriors will be soaked, the interiors are generally dry. For small sticks, scrape off the bark with your knife, placing them near the fire to dry them quickly. Larger branches or logs should also have the bark removed, and then split to access the dry interior. Adding any wet material in your fire is a great way to suffocate it. Otherwise, a backpacking stove is usable within your tent, and since it takes up minimal space, may be a good option if inclement weather is expected.
Being stuck inside of your tent can certainly be a damper, but there are ways to make the most out of your trip, even in heavy rains. Assuming your tent is properly set up and protecting you from the wet, curling up in your sleeping bag with a good book while the rain falls in a crescendo around you is extremely relaxing. If you're in a group, playing word games from one another's tents, or card games within the same tent keeps everyone involved, and more importantly, distracted from the fact that your plans were changed.
Of course, rain doesn't have to stop you from doing everything, and that's where proper preparation comes in. Having an item as simple as a poncho allows you to continue hiking and exploring as you would have otherwise. As long as you have areas to dry your clothing, a little rain shouldn't entirely stop you from enjoying the outdoors. In the case of heavy rains and low visibility, staying inside is a safer bet than venturing out.