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One of the biggest challenges when hiking in winter can be keeping your gear dry. Sweat, condensation, rain and breathing all add moisture to your environment so how do you go about keeping your gear as dry as possible.
Sweat is produced from you body trying to cool itself, so the easiest way is not to sweat in the first place. This is not always practical when hiking up hills laden with a pack. The first tip here is to follow the layering principle, this process enables you moderate your temperature while you hike.
You also sweat overnight when using a sleeping bag that is to warm for the conditions you are in. In a down sleeping bag this sweat adds moisture to the down inside you bag lowering its effectiveness. A simple way is to unzip your bag to regulate your temperature and prevent the build up of moisture. Also whilst sleeping breathe out of your bag, that means that even if fully zipped up and drawn in your mouth should be positioned in the opening so the moisture in your breath is not blown into your bag. When you can, turn you sleeping bag inside out and lay it in the sun to dry the bag.
When I arrive at camp one of the first things I do is to change into a dry set of clothes that has been set aside specifically for sleeping and place the damp clothes either out to dry if its sunny or into a waterproof dry bag such as the Sea to Summit Ultra-sil drysack ready to place into the bottom of my sleeping bag to prevent from them from freezing overnight. This way I can wear them again the next day without freezing.
The simple act of breathing can lead to moisture building up on the inside your tent, which if your not careful can be shaken onto your sleeping bag and other possessions. The first step is to ensure you have plenty of ventilation in your tent to allow this moisture to escape, open the vents of your tent and position the tent when setting up to make the most of the prevailing winds. If possible position the tent under the cover of trees or something similar (look out for dead wood overhead first) this gives you some additional shelter from the cold and dew point.
I always take a sponge to soak up the condensation that does form on the tent inner overnight.
Rain, Snow and Precipitation in general.
Firstly, the easiest way not to get into trouble with the elements is not to be exposed to them, if you don’t have the gear to manage do not go out.
A waterproof shell is your best friend, both pants and a jacket will keep the worst of the elements off of you. Your gear will need some protection too, there’s no point arriving dry only to pull out a wet tent and sleeping bag. So use a pack liner, yes rain covers are good but should not replace a pack liner inside your pack. You can use both if you wish, I will carry a pack liner if I am using a bivvy bag, that way I can cover the harness of my pack overnight.
When setting up camp look at the prevailing winds and set up your tent so that snow, rain or anything in between is not going to be blown into the tent each time you open the door. Make sure the tent is tight and not sagging this prevents the fly from touching the inner and transferring moisture.
There you have it, a few basic tips that should keep you drier on your next outing. remember if in doubt turn back and have a beer at the pub.