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How To Stay Dry Hiking Outdoors

In the great outdoors, wet and cold are the enemies of adventure – stay dry with our hacks to help you conquer unpredictable spring weather

The first months of spring are the perfect time to get outside. Days get longer and warmer, mornings feel crisp and fresh, and nature sends forth a host of new life. But spring weather can be notoriously changeable, and getting cold and wet can ruin a great day out. Fortunately, a little preparation and outdoors know-how can help to keep the elements at bay.

The best way to be prepared for anything is to check the forecast before you set out

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1. Layer Up
Staying warm and dry starts from the inside out. Wear a wicking synthetic or merino wool baselayer next to the skin that will draw moisture away from the body if you start to sweat. Avoid cotton T-shirts since because cotton tends to absorb moisture and takes a long time to dry, chilling your skin and robbing you of body heat. Next, wear an insulating but breathable midlayer such as a polyester fleece to keep your core warm.

Take a look at Wolsey’s breathable Grey Heathered Twist Polo or Total Eclipse Raglan Polo for some inspiration. Top your base and midlayer combo off with a windproof and waterproof outer layer, or shell, to repel rain and cut wind chill. Take an extra insulating layer in your pack so that you can boost your body warmth if the mercury drops. Add or remove layers to regulate your temperature throughout the day.

2. Invest In Decent Waterproofs
Your outer layer or shell is effectively your armour against bad weather, repelling wind and rain. Modern jackets are waterproof, windproof and breathable. As climber Andy Kirkpatrick puts it: ‘These days we can buy 100% waterproof shells that weigh very little... Hoods are better, pockets are better and so are zips, cord pulls and every other component. As outdoor people we are spoilt for choice and although maybe they aren’t as breathable as an umbrella, they are a damned sight more practical’. Don’t forget bottom layers either – a pair of waterproof overtrousers is an invaluable bit of kit.

3. Protect Your Extremities
A hat and gloves are essential items in the great outdoors, as a considerable amount of body heat can be lost through the head and hands. It goes without saying that your feet are similarly important – so wear warm socks, such as Wolsey’s naturally breathable Rambler Socks, and waterproof boots or trail shoes. Carrying spare socks is also a good idea, in case the pair you’re wearing gets soaked through.

4. Keep Your Kit Dry
All those extra layers and other bits of kit are no good if they get wet. Few rucksacks are completely waterproof, so it’s worth carrying a rucksack raincover or putting your kit inside a drybag before it goes in your pack. Drybags are relatively cheap and available from all good outdoor shops, but in a pinch you can use a heavyweight rubble sack from a hardware store.

5. Shelter From The Storm
If you’re heading to the hills, a useful thing to carry in your pack is a bothy bag or storm shelter. This is a lightweight, portable shelter that you can climb into if the weather turns gnarly. They’re great in a genuine emergency, but also handy for taking cover during rest stops.

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6. Forearmed Is Forewarned
The best way to be prepared for anything is to check the forecast before you set out. No experienced hiker or mountaineer heads for the hills before looking at a few key sources. This includes the Met Office’s mountain weather forecast at Metoffice.gov.uk and the Mountain Weather Information Service at Mwis.org.uk, which cover all upland areas of the UK.

It’s important to remember that at higher level, the weather can be considerably more severe than at lower altitudes. As Geoff Monk, founder of MWIS, puts it: ‘Strange things happen to weather because the mountains are there’. For those venturing into the hills more frequently, learning how to read a synoptic weather chart is another useful skill that will help you to understand what’s heading your way.

7. Use Your Surroundings
Look at the landscape around you (as well as your map) to identify natural and man-made features that might offer cover in heavy weather. This includes caves, rocky outcrops and stone shelters, which are often marked on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps. Lines of trees or stone walls can also be useful screens from wind, hail and sleet. Also look at contour lines to identify valleys and other sheltered spots that offer more protection from the elements than exposed tops and ridges.

8. Look To The Skies
Clouds can be used to predict incoming weather. Look at their shape and movement to identify prevailing winds and weather fronts moving in. White, wispy cirrus clouds usually indicate fair weather, while sheets of cirrostratus usually mean rain will follow. Dark grey altostratus or nimbostratus almost always means wet weather, while towering cumulonimbus are classic storm clouds.

9. Sharpen Those Senses
Many experienced outdoorsmen and women can literally ‘feel’ when the weather turns. Your skin is sensitive to small changes, like a sudden chill in the air. This may indicate a drop in barometric pressure, which usually heralds a cloudy or rainy spell.

10. Plan An Escape Route
If you’re planning a walk, identify possible escape routes that you can take if the weather really gets too much. In upland areas, a bothy might offer a place of refuge – these have saved many a hillwalker and wild camper. Bothies looked after by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) are listed on their website at Mountainbothies.org.uk. And if all else fails, look out for the blue tankard symbol on the OS map and take shelter in the nearest pub!

Words: Matt Jones
Photos: Beinn an Lochainn © Gary Crawford, Kentmere Pike © Ellie Clewlow, Skiddaw, Cumbria © Sagesolar

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