How do I dress for unpredictable weather?

When on a camping trip, you can never be certain of the weather. Unless it’s winter. It’s cold in the winter. But in the spring, summer, and fall, the weather can fluctuate from hot to cold, and from dry to wet in a matter of hours. Keeping your body dry and at a comfortable temperature can be extremely challenging, especially on trips where you may spend long hours travelling without a tent set up.

Staying Dry:

There are a few options when it comes to staying dry. The first is to avoid getting wet in the first place. To do this, you can use tarps, ponchos, rain jackets, and even garbage bags to limit the amount of water that hits our bodies. These systems are never a bad idea, but as you’ve probably discovered, they never keep you fully dry. This is especially true in cases when you’re on the move and can’t put up tarps or tents. Trying to keep the rain off of you is a good first step, but it is crucial that if you DO get wet, that you are able to dry quickly. This is where the type of clothing you wear becomes very important.

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The worst thing you can wear on a camping trip is cotton. Although cotton is probably the most common fabric in your wardrobe, it traps water and sweat and stays wet for a very long time. If nighttime is cold, this can lead to some very uncomfortable sleeps.

A far better option is polyester. Although the thought of wearing plastic on a camping trip seems a bit…unnatural, polyester comes in a lot of different shapes, sizes, and textures, and does an excellent job of drying quickly. So, if your rain gear fails and you get wet, you’re guaranteed to dry off quick.

For those who don’t like the thought of polyester, wool is an even better option, although the material is far less versatile and a bit more expensive than polyester.

Keeping your body at a comfortable temperature:

In Ontario, temperatures can fluctuate substantially between night and day, and even throughout the day. Packing light clothes leaves you vulnerable to the cold, and packing heavy clothes makes it impossible to enjoy a warm day. Packing everything is not an option either, due to space and weight limitations.

The best way to dress for the unknown is to wear layers. Layering clothing traps warm air between the layers, and is remarkably good at keeping you warm. Shedding those layers allows you to quickly adjust to rising temperatures. This is good not only for when temperatures go up outside, but also when you work up a sweat hiking or paddling, and need to quickly cool down.

This is especially true on winter camping trips, where you’ll be doing strenuous activities like ice climbing or cross-country skiing. When your body heats up it sweats, trapping moisture that can become a problem when you stop and cool back down. Shedding layers can avoid this problem, and adding them back keeps you warm once you stop moving. It sounds simple, but it can mean the different between a good night sleep and a night spent shivering in your sleeping bag.