Dealing with wet gear on a backpacking trip can be a serious challenge, but there’s nothing worse than trying to dry a wet tent. Sometimes you need to pick your battles and load everything up wet, but it’s usually better to wait it out dry everything before heading on. Obviously, the best way to deal with wet tents/gear is to let it dry, but that’s easier said than done. That leads to a very important question. How do you dry a backpacking tent on the trail?
Leaving the tent setup for a bit in the morning sun is the best option on long backpacking trips. It doesn’t matter how wet the tent gets, most will dry within 30 minutes with a gentle breeze and the morning sun. I recommend leaving the tent up and setting out everything that needs to dry while going through your morning routine. If the tents still damp, you can always set it out during your lunch break.
On longer backpacking trips, you can usually find a time to dry out all your gear. Spend an hour in the morning drying everything out while you’re eating breakfast and going through the morning routine. Using the bathroom, brushing your teeth, making breakfast, and washing off should give you more than enough time. You can always make up time throughout the day by cutting out breaks or shortening your hike.
Problems start to arise on short weekend trips when you’re under a time crunch. You have to reach your destination by the end of the day or you won’t make it home on time. Using a large dry bag and finding creative times to dry your gear can make a huge difference. In the rest of this article I’ll go over a few of the ways I’ve found to dry out my gear.
How Do You Dry a Tent For Backpacking?
It probably sounds obvious, but the best way to deal with a wet tent is to give it enough time to dry. It sounds simple, but backpackers tend to get stuck in a routine. They plan out their departure/arrival times and get obsessed with sticking to a strict schedule.
We’ve all fallen into the trap of getting obsessed with mileage goals, and sticking to our trip plan without room for delays. Planning out your trip is a great idea, but don’t be afraid to adjust your plans. Shaving a mile off your hike or cutting out a break is more than enough time to dry a tent that’s completely soaked.
That’s great on longer trips where you can make up time, but it can be a challenge on weekend trips. If you don’t reach your daily hiking goals, you might miss a scheduled shuttle or get have problems getting home in time. These are the times where you need to use your time wisely and get creative on your breaks.
Can You Put A Wet Tent In Your Pack?
There are lots of times where it may be necessary to put a wet tent in your pack. I recommend bring along an oversized dry bag to separate your wet and dry gear. Some people recommend compression stuff sacks, but that can cause premature damage to your tent.
I recommend picking up a cheap 20-30 Liter dry bag on Amazon. They’re all basically the same so pick up whichever one is cheapest. Osprey’s 20 Liter Dry Sack is a lightweight option if you’re trying to cut a few oz from your pack weight.
Trash compactor bags (my favorite) are another great option and they double as a pack liner. Stuff a few compactor bags in a ziplock and leave them in your pack in case of an emergency. Compactor bags are surprisingly durable and resistant to punctures. I’ve used a compactor bag as a pack liner on long backpacking trips and they looked perfect at the end of the trip.
Take A Gear Drying Break
Don’t be afraid to take a gear drying break later in the day. I like to plan my breaks to get as much done as possible so it doesn’t affect my arrival time. This usually means drying out my gear while I stop to eat lunch and cutting out one of my short breaks.
This is especially important when conditions aren’t ideal to dry out your gear in the morning. Trying to dry out a tent on a cold/cloudy morning is a recipe for failure. It might be enough to dry morning dew, but a rain soaked tent will still be damp to the touch.
How do you plan a gear drying break? First you need to separate all your gear into two categories. Your tent and all the rest of your wet gear needs to go in a dry bag. This keeps your clothes pack and everything else dry and makes it easier to set out wet gear during your break.
I like to bring a microfiber towel to wipe off pots/pans, tent poles, stakes, etc. before placing them in my pack. You don’t want to get to setup camp and realize your sleeping bag and clothes are soaked. Trying to sleep in a wet sleeping bag isn’t fun!
Find an open, sunny spot to set out all your gear so it can dry in the sun. Check the inside of your pack to see if it’s wet and don’t forget to turn your dry bag inside out to dry. Open cliff faces and fields are the perfect spot. Remember that rocks radiate heat so open rock faces are the perfect spot for drying gear. All it takes is sunlight and a gentle breeze. It shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes to dry out a tent on a sunny day.
Just make sure you weigh everything down with heavy rocks. You don’t want the wind to pick up your tent and blow it away. Once everything’s dry pack everything up in a hurry and get on your way.
Sometimes There’s No Way To Avoid a Wet Tent
It really sucks, but there are times where there’s nothing you can do to avoid a wet tent. The weather doesn’t cooperate and you end up hiking in the rain all day. Those are the days when you trudge on and ask yourself why you ever got into this hobby.
Trying to dry a tent on a cloudy rainy day is next to impossible. Cut your losses, use pack liners (trash compactor bags are your friend) and dry bags so the important stuff doesn’t get wet. Hopefully you have lots of room in your dry bag to store your wet gear at the end of the day.
Waiting for the sun to come out seems like a great idea, but good luck trying to find a dry place to setup. Sometimes you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and suck it up. Try to keep the important stuff dry and plan on sleeping in a wet tent. Try to center your sleeping so it doesn’t rub up against the tent walls and wipe down the floor with a camping towel.
Packing Up A Wet Tent Before Heading Home
Try to avoid packing up a wet tent before heading home. Packing up everything wet and getting on the trail early is tempting after a long backpacking trip. Take an extra 30 minutes to dry everything in the morning so you don’t have to deal with it when you get home.
That’s not always possible on rainy days, but make sure you get all your wet gear out of your pack and set it up to dry immediately after getting home. We all want to flop down on the couch and unwind after hiking all week, but you need to get on top of your gear. A few days in a wet pack can lead to mold/mildew problems and quickly ruin your gear.