What I Learned While Not Sleeping All Night in a Rainstorm

Lying wide awake listening to the sound of rain drops pounding on my tent, I was beginning to freak out. As an experienced car camper, I wanted to make a run for the car and get out of this fierce rainstorm. Unfortunately, I was ten days into a 14-day backpacking trip and many miles from any vehicle or shelter.

I had a small titanium tea cup on the floor of my tent resting just above my head, it caught my eye as it began bobbing up and down like a boat on the water. Shocked to see it floating inside my tent, I jumped up and touched the bottom of my tent. It was like a waterbed. Two inches of water was running underneath my tent but luckily no water was inside the tent.

I began talking to myself to stay calm.

"You're still dry, you're warm and it can't rain all night."

"You're still dry, you're warm and it can't rain all night. It'll stop soon."

It didn't stop soon. It didn't stop for a long time. I laid there trying to figure out what I could do. I wondered what I was thinking going out on a two week backpacking trip and I wondered how it could possibly rain all night long.

I heard a bunch of commotion as Paul and Chris, my hiking buddies, yelled back and forth to each other. I could barely hear them but in the morning I realized that Chris' tent had collapsed due to the storm and his tent was filled with water.

Mud on tent A couple of inches of mud on the tent.

At some point I finally fell asleep. Our 5 a.m. alarm clock woke all of us up but we were in no shape to get any early morning hiking in, so we went back to sleep.

Eventually, we all had to get up and try to dry out our things so we could cover some miles and stay on track. We laid our sleeping bags, down jackets and backpacks in the sun. We talked to nearby campers who were also shocked at the intensity and length of this storm. Our neighbors had confirmed what I was thinking, it had literally rained all night long. In fact, it rained for 7.5 hours.

Dry out The morning after. Drying everything out.

I've thought a lot about that night. I've reflected on the decisions I made before the trip that impacted my safety that night and I've thought about what I wish I'd done differently. Before you head out on your own backpacking adventure, I recommend you consider the things I learned that night in the pouring rain:

  •  A free-standing tent is worth a little bit more weight- One of my thru-hiking partners had a tarp tent that relied on being tightly staked out. When the ground became totally saturated with water the wind blew the trekking pole down and everything he had got soaked. Meanwhile, I stayed totally dry inside my free-standing tent that kept its shape throughout the night.

  • Carefully select the best spot to pitch your tent- We got lucky. We had set up camp at the top of a mound. The water ran away from us for the most part. If we had set up in a low area or a flat spot at the bottom of a hill we would have been in much worse shape.

  • Sometimes you've just got to let go- We live in a world where we can control everything. We walk from an air conditioned car into an air conditioned building then complain about the heat. Sometimes you just can't stop the rain. And that is OK. Part of the fun of a long backpacking trip is to let go and take things as they come, good or bad.

  • Laughter makes everything better- After one of the worst nights sleep I've ever experienced, the first thing I said to the other two guys was a joke. We all cracked up and somehow I felt better about the situation.

  • You should always consider the safety of your electronics and fire starters- I left my backpack (with GPS and cell phone) under my vestibule for at least an hour of the rainstorm. Eventually, I realized it wasn't just going to just blow over so I pulled my backpack inside my tent. Also, we had a lighter stored inside a pot on top of a bear canister. The wind blew the top off of the pot and the lighter was soaking in a pot full of water. This wasn't our only lighter but if it was, we would have been in trouble.

We had no idea that this storm was going to amount to more than a sprinkle. You've got to be prepared for anything when you are backpacking for multiple days. After this experience, I will always be more careful picking my tent site, consider where my lighters and electronics are, carefully choose the outdoor gear I bring along and try to relax when things are out of my control.

That is what I learned while not sleeping all night in a rainstorm. What lessons have you learned through unpleasant experiences?
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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