Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

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jeremiahkim
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Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by jeremiahkim » Fri Aug 28, 2020 6:48 pm

Based on a several recent trip reports, it seems like a few of us, myself included, have had some big storms roll through this month while in the backcountry. I was curious to know what strategies/mental check-lists people have in keeping gear, clothing, and sleep systems dry in a prolonged storm.

And, should disaster strike (tent is completely soaked through, tent is compromised, conditions become dangerous), what's your gameplan?








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kpeter
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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by kpeter » Fri Aug 28, 2020 8:02 pm

Excellent questions. The times I have been soaked have always been when I did not see the warning signs of an approaching storm and set my tent up on a poor location. Usually when weather is threatening I am able to find well drained, sloped places. I will set up even in the middle of the day if necessary and wait out the storm, then take down the tent and hike on. This is easier to get used to during "monsoonal flow" when you know almost for a fact that it is going to storm every single afternoon.

I have learned from unfortunate experience not to set up at the bottom of a granite slab! Some of those wonderful-looking flat sandy areas in between granite slabs are in reality deposits of sand left amidst the granite by sluicing water.

This summer in the Trinity Alps my brother and I were forced to take the last two viable tent pads left at Summit Lake. It was ridiculously crowded there, and we did spend a lot of time looking for alternatives. It stormed, leaving a few inches of hail and a lot of water. The pad was red clay so it did not drain at all, and my tent wound up floating. I appreciated the tent design which had no seams in the "bathtub" portion, and no water entered the tent. Keeping your tent in good condition and well sealed definitely helps.

I always carry some clothes that will help me stay warm even if wet--fleece pants, gloves, and hat, and of course wool socks. Keeping those extremities warm is critical for survival.

I carry my clothes and my sleeping bag in waterproof stuff sacks, just in case the pack gets soaked, falls into a stream, etc. But then I don't use a pack liner, which might be an alternative. But if my tent leaked and my bag got soaked, all my spare clothes would nevertheless stay dry.

Those are my ideas.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by sekihiker » Fri Aug 28, 2020 8:14 pm

The two most important pieces of equipment I take are a pack cover and an umbrella, seen in use below.
Perhaps you think I'm trivializing stormy weather, but in my experience most storms last for a short time in the afternoon and evening. If you can get your gear [pack cover] and yourself [umbrella] to your camp relatively dry, you can often find a tree to sit under until the storm is over. Now that you are not a candidate for hypothermia, you can set up your tent and get your gear inside where it can stay dry. I've spent plenty of nights being pelted by rain but always there were breaks in the storm that allowed me to set up cover.
Image
For the entire short report on a wet trip, see: http://www.sierrahiker.com/Woodchuck2005/index.html
Last edited by sekihiker on Thu Sep 03, 2020 1:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by bobby49 » Fri Aug 28, 2020 8:19 pm

My backpack is made of cuben fiber, so it is totally waterproof. Nevertheless, the critical items like down sleeping bag, down inner jacket, etc, each go into cuben fiber stuff sacks, so I've never had those become compromised. I use a cuben fiber shelter rather than a tent with a bathtub floor, so I depend on a cuben fiber ground sheet (with tall edges) in the event that water flows underneath the shelter. Don't ask me how I know that works. I once made the mistake of setting up in a flat spot of bare ground, and the rain runoff was getting ready to flood me out. With a stick, I etched a shallow ditch to protect the shelter. Then after the rain ended, I filled in the ditch to cover over my work. I generally pitch the shelter either under a tree or else on the leeward side of a tree.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by wildhiker » Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:06 pm

A good tent with seams sealed on the rainfly and a "bathtub" floor (waterproof fabric runs up the sides a few inches with either no seams or very well sealed seams) is a big help, as long as you protect it from abrasion and punctures. I try to remove pointy sticks and rocks from where I plan to setup the tent and I use a plastic groundsheet for added abrasion & puncture resistance. The plastic sheet is slightly smaller than the bottom of the tent, so water running down the side won't just get trapped between the plastic and the tent floor. Hydrostatic pressure on that trapped water from your weight in the tent could force it through the fabric. Even with a good tent, as kpeter points out, you have to setup in a location that will drain! I found this out the hard way. In 2018, I pulled into a crowded Hamilton Lake in Sequoia Park and went looking for more solitude by climbing up the south slope from the outlet. I found a gently sloping sandy area among boulders and trees and setup my tent. About an hour later, a terrific thunderstorm hit with heavy rain and hail. I had my pack in the tent but had not pulled out everything yet. I decided to check my tent and so pulled on my raincoat and rain pants (I don't normally bring rain pants in the Sierra, but thunderstorms were in the forecast before I left so I threw them into the pack). To my horror, I saw that water was pooling up at the low back end of the tent! I tried to dig a ditch in the sand to drain the growing puddle, only to discover that my granite sand was actually a low area with a bedrock rib about 1 inch below the surface at the low end. I couldn't make a ditch that would drain. Finally, with the puddle now about 3 inches deep (but only covering the lower half of the tent due to the slope and my pack in the upper half), I started to bail water using a small plastic tub that I carry for washing. I spent the whole thunderstorm out in the rain, bailing water as it rapidly collected. When it was all over, I checked inside the tent and found that it was dry! The waterproofing was still intact, even though the tent was 8 years old.

Another example of having a well-maintained and protected tent "bathtub floor" was our experience car camping in the Florida Keys in March one year. The campsite had a slightly sloping crushed coral tent pad where we setup. About midnight, I woke to thunder and then pounding rain. After a while of this heavy rain, I began to think that my boots, left out under the tent fly "vestibule", would get wet from water bouncing off the ground and under the edge of the rainfly. I opened the door to bring the boots inside (this was our large 3-man car camping tent) and while feeling around for the boots, felt running water. Further checking showed that there was sheet flow across the entire ground surface, including under our tent! But the bathtub floor held up and we got no water in the tent. The next day, the park ranger said that the storm had dropped about 3 inches of rain in about 1.5 hours.

All my backpacking clothes are synthetic fabrics that dry quickly. I use fleece sweaters rather than a down sweater. I don't want to take a chance on a down sweater getting soaked and thus losing its insulative value. I do use a down bag, and like other posters, stuff it in a waterproof stuff sack before it goes into the pack. And I always carry some kind of waterproof pack cover.

If I know that storms are forecast, I take an extra 6 ft by 8 ft silnylon tarp with some cord and stakes in addition to my regular tent. I have set this up to wait out a storm or to provide a spacious covered cooking area in front of the tent.

Personally, I have never been in one of those rare all day storms that completely soaks everything. Paying attention to weather forecasts and being willing to cancel a trip if really bad weather is expected is part of my "survival strategy".

-Phil

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by John Doe » Sat Aug 29, 2020 8:25 am

Hefty garbage bag. If you wanna splurge take 2. Stuff goes in hefty bag, hefty bag goes in pack, everything is dry. It's a Ray Jardine trick.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by SSSdave » Sat Aug 29, 2020 9:40 am

Image

Good advice kpeter.

Indeed if one backpacks enough in the high country, one is likely to experience a few particularly dangerous storms that will make even the most hardened enthusiast worry about dangerous wet cold exposure. Especially in Mexican Monsoon conditions fed by remains of tropical hurricanes, storms can rage continuously day or night. One year in August, 11 inches of snow fell at one of the high 11k passes where a San Jose backpacker died as he tried to escape from the west side. Here are two recent year episodes.

https://www.davidsenesac.com/2015_Trip_ ... .html#jul9

https://www.davidsenesac.com/2017_Trip_ ... .html#aug5

The worst scenario is when a layer of the higher atmosphere is particularly moist but relatively static on a hot day when afternoon breezes from hot valley areas surrounding the range cause that expanding air to push breezes up all canyons. In some crest locations where such canyons surround all sides of peaks, those winds upon hitting the peaks are shooting upward on all sides that then pushes the moist upper layers higher causing massive expanding thunderstorm build ups that just sit in one place for hours since there are little upper winds to move them away. Among topography where that frequently occurs is above Red and White Mtn, and North Palisade and note there are more. When in such places, be careful and aware of forecasts.

A wise place to tent in thunderstorm weather may not be atop those level flat sandy spots. Look at the surrounding landscape using common sense as to where water in heavy rains might flow. It is better to camp atop slightly sloping well drained duff material below trees even if somewhat uneven. In timberline areas without trees that may need to be atop flat areas of granite with slight slopes. In any case one ought also be aware of lightning safety tent siting issues that is a whole additional subject I've commented on herein in years past. As noted in my second link above, my tent that usually seemed fine during storms failed because when strong hail pounds down on seams with even the tiniest pin holes, only a near new 3 season tent or 4 season tent is likely to prevent water being pushed through. Additionally even without pin holes, a cold layer of icy hail atop tent flys will cause condensation on inner walls that the pounding hail will then cause to fly off as mist that given a long enough storm will get every expose surface inside wet.

The new generation of 3-season ultra light tents have thinner bathtub floors that tend to develop pin holes with use that can be a problem if water gets under tents during storms. Any place inside a tent one is laying down atop has extra pressure on whatever is below. Worst are spots where one kneels. I always have a small rectangle of cheap tarp available for my vestibule for reducing bringing sand and grit into my tents, especially while removing boots. And when I take down tents, I always thoroughly shake out debris brought in. Using a damp t-shirt to wipe down the inside tent floors where one might kneel can can remove finer sand that is difficult to shake off due to static forces. It is wise to spend time before each summer sealing up such pin holes. To find such pin holes, from a shady location in calm conditions outdoors under the fly, look up at that tub bottom with the blue sky above and one will be able to notice not only pin holes but all thin spots one may then circle with a marker pen for later sealing.

Sometimes in storms one may need to bring gear inside a tent items that might normally be left in a pack with a rain cover. Additionally one may have wet rain clothes that need to be inside a tent. Bring along a few of those thin kitchen waste basket sized plastic bags that one can also put boots into. And one may need to use a spare cotton t-shirt for any water that does get inside a tent instead of letting your goose down sleeping bag soak such up. For drying out gear once the sun comes out after storms, a length of cord strung between trees in the sun in a breeze will more quickly dry clothes attached with safety pins.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by windknot » Sat Aug 29, 2020 9:57 am

I have no tips that the experienced folks here haven't already covered in very useful detail. But I've learned a few things about proper mitigation for my future trips. I've also learned from a few very poor decisions I've made on past trips.

My worst experience was when I was caught atop Italy Pass and a storm came in and it started to hail. Hard. There was no flat ground anywhere in the vicinity to wait it out, nor were there any boulders large enough to hide under (and certainly no trees). In retrospect I should have backtracked down to Granite Park and set up the tent there, but I was dumb and thought that would be wasted energy, so instead we pushed on ahead and stumbled over slick talus down to Jumble Lake instead. By the time we set up the tent we were soaked, our gear was soaked, and ground temps had dropped to near freezing, which made it hard to warm up even once inside the tent.

This would have been miserable enough if it were just me, but this was my wife's very first Sierra backpacking trip (after I had promised how beautiful and mild the summers are -- how ironic) and she gets cold and stays cold much quicker than I do. She got really cold in a hurry. I was worried about the very real risk of hypothermia, and so I did everything I could to get her body temperature up higher: piling on every bit of dry clothing we had, burrowing her into my 15 degree WM sleeping bag (thankfully mostly still dry), making her drink hot cocoa, and even sitting on her feet to help transfer body heat. Finally after a few hours of this she reported feeling better and fell asleep. The hail stopped around the same time, and for lack of anything better to do, I got out of the tent and spent an hour fly fishing for the tiny goldens in Jumble, questioning my life choices.
kpeter wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 8:02 pm
I have learned from unfortunate experience not to set up at the bottom of a granite slab! Some of those wonderful-looking flat sandy areas in between granite slabs are in reality deposits of sand left amidst the granite by sluicing water.
I learned this unfortunate lesson on my last trip, too. Alas, it was the only suitable tent pad in the area. A good reminder that I need to pay better attention to campsite selection.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by jeremiahkim » Sat Aug 29, 2020 10:28 am

+1 on the pack liner/garbage bag and stuff sacks. Incidentally, I feel much better about keeping my gear dry when on the move/in the pack. If it's passing weather, I can find a tree or rock with the peace of mind that my essentials are dry. On the other hand, once camp is set up, I find myself staring at the inside of my tent fretting about the saturation of the fly, seams, unseen pinholes, and pressure induced soakage that kpeter refers.

I will have to try that extra tarp idea out.
windknot wrote:
Sat Aug 29, 2020 9:57 am
In retrospect I should have backtracked down to Granite Park and set up the tent there, but I was dumb and thought that would be wasted energy, so instead we pushed on ahead and stumbled over slick talus down to Jumble Lake instead.
I think this is a key point. Knowing where inclement weather will make things dicey and having alternatives seems not only extremely prudent, but also giving you the confidence of making good decisions rather that reacting in the moment.

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Re: Managing a storm / staying dry at camp

Post by giantbrookie » Sat Aug 29, 2020 12:24 pm

As with others I have examined my tent sites very carefully for drainage ever since I had a bad experience in the 80s in Russian Wilderness when the bad choice of a campsite plus failure of waterproofing in an old tent floor resulted in an artesian spring on the floor of my tent. When in doubt I have done a bit of engineering-in-advance: I did that at Hortense Lake in advance of a big storm in 2018 and it may have been a difference maker. We still had so much water under the tent that the floor felt like a waterbed. Good thing that the waterproofing held.

One thing that is tricky is setting up during a storm. Whereas ideally we'd like to be set up before the rain or hail starts coming down this isn't always possible. This was the case during one day on my long 2019 trip and one day on the long trip this year. Most tents nowadays have a mesh ceiling, so you have to pitch really fast so that a relatively small amount of water gets in before the rainfly is up. This year and when we got caught on the 2019 trip it was in places with zero tree cover, but in 2018 at Brave Lake, it was really dumping but we were in a forested area. In that case I set up the tent under the shelter of a big tree so no water got in the top but I did not stake the tent down. I then moved the tent whole to where I wanted to put it. As heavy as it was raining that probably kept a lot of water from getting in during the pitching process. Similar to many folks my standard tent set up has another "safety factor" to raise the odds that the sleeping bag doesn't get soaked, which is the sleeping pad. I use a 2.5" Big Agnes pad, so even if I have a floor leak my bag is still above water (unless the drainage set up for my tent is really bad).

What happens if things get really soaked? This depends on how wet things are, but if things are too wet, this can be potentially dangerous (hypothermia potential) and it might be wise to simply pack out. This happened once when I was camped in Sabrina Basin. The day dawned clear and I left the rainfly off to dry off the condensation as my wife and I headed out on a dayhike. I reasoned that if weather threatened I could get back to camp in time to get the rain fly up. I badly underestimated how fast things clouded up and badly overestimated how fast my wife and I could fly over talus back to our tent. The interior of our tent, with our sleeping bags, was a little pond. We figured we had little choice but to pack out one day early, so that's what we did. Ever since that day I've left the rain fly up on my tent when I've left for a day hike.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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