There’s not much that can ruin a trip to the mountains, but rain and water sure can dampen the mood. Within minutes, a heavy rain can leave you shivering with wet soaks and aching feet. Morale can drop quickly and your lively, upbeat pace can slow to crawl. However, water doesn’t have to spoil a warm and comfortable night at camp. Contributor Sammy Spence explains the benefits of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down in the ongoing struggle to stay high and dry.

carrying down sleeping bagHopping into my sleeping bag, I looked up at the sky. There were hardly any stars to be seen, hidden beneath a thick blanket of fog. Then I realized I shouldn’t be able to see any stars, foggy or not, because I was supposed to be under the tarp. And I was. There was simply a gaping hole about the size of an Eggo waffle right above my head, creating my own personal planetarium. 

As a Wilderness Therapy Field Guide, the responsibilities of my job are endless. My number-one priority is to keep my kiddos safe. This is an all-day and all-night job. My kids sleep in tents, but for safety concerns, my co-staff and I sleep under a tarp settled between their tents. These tarps are well-worn, falling apart in places, littered with holes forming nonexistent constellations from sparks that danced into the air and landed softly during bonfire therapy sessions with students.

stay high and dry with nikwax hydrophobic down I’ve always had a Therm-a-Rest sleep system, but before I invested in a bivvy, I slept in a plastic sack that the kids liked to call a canoe. In reality it was a large piece of plastic that was tied together on either end to make what looked like a giant candy wrapper. I would get into my “canoe” at night, in hopes of staying dry if and when it rained.

The hole above my head caused me to do some further assessing of my current sleep situation. We were on a slight slope, my candy wrapper and I on the low end, the ground rising back up a couple of inches above me. After my calculated observations, the conclusion was obvious. My kids had created a bad-sleep-choice taco and I was the meat of it. If it rained, the water would meet me in the middle, coming in from either side.

backpacking to higher. dryer groundBefore I take my kids out on expeditions, I always make a note of the predicted weather forecast. Along with notes of in-coming weather, I also make a list of gear needs, an itinerary of where we are going to camp, and any behavioral and medical concerns to be aware of. These chicken-scratched records are important, but they aren’t plans. They are a preparation tool that allows me to think and act more quickly.

reading by the campfire

Though I had noted we weren’t predicted for rain that night, the skies opened furiously, oblivious to my hand-scribbled hopes. The hole above my head became a small waterfall, splashing against the plastic of my improvised bivvy. The situation was anything but high and dry. Quickly, I wrapped myself tighter, while silently praying the rain would stop and that I wouldn’t float away on my sleeping pad.

As someone who spends 100+ days a year sleeping beneath the pines, I’ve certainly learned a lot about the importance of keeping down dry if you want to stay warm. When down feathers are dry they keep you super toasty.  However, when untreated down gets wet, the feathers lose their light and airy properties and start to bunch together. This makes your down feathers useless as an insulator. The bunching of feathers creates gaps that allow your body heat to escape quickly, creating a possibly dangerous situation if conditions are bad.  Without the right gear and prolonged exposure to cool temperatures, the body becomes at risk for hypothermia. Staying warm and dry isn’t just a comfort factor; it’s a matter of safety when you are deep in the backcountry.

When my watch went off at 6 a.m. I awoke to a small pond surrounding my sleeping pad. I was sitting in a pool of water, all trapped inside the plastic of my ‘canoe’. Immediately, I thought of my down sleeping bag. It was wet, but I was warm. My feet were cozy. I was actually completely dry.

sunrise on backpacking trip

My Therm-a-Rest sleeping bag uses Nikwax Hydrophobic Down. This is down treated with a high performance water-repellant finish that keeps it  40% drier than untreated down in similar circumstances. Their technology essentially provides each individual feather with its own personal rain jacket. This flexible membrane coats the feathers, making them water-resistant, helping them stay lofted to keep you warm. This treatment cuts down the drying time of my sleeping bag too, returning the feathers back to their original airy state, keeping me warmer and drying sooner than untreated down would have. Unlike other similar treatments, Nikwax® Hydrophobic Down is a water-based technology that’s Flourocarbon-free (a.k.a. PFO’s, PFOA’s or PFC’s) making it safe for us and the environment we love.

backpacking with dog in wet weather

Though many opt for synthetic filling to fight perspiration, condensation, and precipitation, I am a firm believer in down. Down is the warmest sleeping bag fill per-ounce and packs down the smallest. Having enough space in my backpack to carry all that I need is important. I carry a pack more than half of my day, so I prioritize investing in gear that not only does its job well but is also lightweight.

I can’t predict the weather, the outcome of a day’s hike, or what will happen when you give twelve angst-y teenagers a backpack and hike them up a mountain, but I can equip myself with the right tools to keep me alert and prepared.

cooking at camp

As outdoor adventurers, limit pushers, tree climbers, pow hunters and summit hikers, we know we can’t plan for everything that happens when we’re outdoors. We  can only prepare for the unexpected. When we leave control behind and let the sweet chaos of the adventure take over, we get the opportunity to find a heightened awareness for nature and all aspects of its wild and unpredictable beauty. Good gear allows us to be a little braver and hit the trail no matter the weather forecast and Therm-a-Rest sleeping bags have the technology to provide us with easier dreaming.

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Updated. Originally Published February 15, 2018.