But what if it rains the whole weekend?
After looking at many a questionable forecast before a backpacking trip, I’ve taken the stance that if I waited for perfect weather, I’d never leave home. Plus, I live in Michigan, where the weather changes on a dime, so what is forecast and what actually happens are usually two different things. And, fall here is just too beautiful to miss, even if you’re experiencing it through some precipitation.
Several years ago, on my first major backingpacking trip, forty-some miles of the Pictured Rocks National Scenic Lakeshore along the North Country Scenic Trail, rain was forecast for all four days we planned to hike. It was mid-May, which is still cold in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, along Lake Superior, so this looked like perfect weather for hypothermia if I wasn’t careful. After freezing on an earlier trip in April, I was determined to do better, so I bought a 5 x 8 blue tarp at Walmart, thinking that I could set it up over my tent, or use it to create a gathering area out of the rain for our group of three. (At the time, I had no idea that such a thing as backpacking tarps existed.)
As luck would have it, it only rained lightly the very last night that we camped, and so the tarp never left my pack. It’s never been backpacking since, as I have learned that there are much better alternatives.
Later that fall, I was on a trip to the Jackpine hike-in campground at Ludington State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Again, rain was in the forecast. By this time, I had taken up hammock camping, so I had an Eno Pro-Fly tarp to keep my hammock dry, but I was inspired by a neighbor in the campsite next door who had a huge Kelty Noah’s Tarp set up to provide shelter over the picnic table, and then some. It was a great place to convene as a group, rather than everyone taking shelter by themselves in their backpacking tents. I resolved to purchase my own, for future group trips, and put it to use in that very same campground a few months later. But, its bulk and the large poles made it a hassle to take on longer mileage trips.
After purchasing a larger silnylon tarp for my hammock, I began to see the true beauty of its double duty–I had almost as much space as the Kelty tarp, and on a rainy day, I could hold off on setting up my hammock to give us a dry space to convene, or on a rainy morning, I could take care of my gear quickly to allow others to have their coffee in the dry space created after my hammock was packed up. On a trip along the NCT north of the Manistee River Trail, where we began hiking in a downpour, all of the hammock people set up their tarps when we picked a campsite, allowing the group to eat dinner together out of the rain. (In Michigan, where there are no grizzly bears, it is pretty common practice to eat near where you are sleeping, although if anyone had dropped food on the ground I probably would have relocated the tarp before sleeping, to avoid being awoken by mice or raccoons.)
Earlier this fall, on a trip to the Pigeon River State Forest, I brought along both my Eno Pro-Fly (for my hammock) and the silnylon tarp to use as a dedicated group shelter. Because we were backpacking a long enough distance that I wanted to keep my pack light, the Kelty Noah’s Tarp was not an option.
As I plan for a weekend trip to enjoy the fall colors in Northern Michigan, once again, rain is in the forecast. I have a group of eight, at last count, and we’re using a state forest campground as a base camp, and day hiking, so I’m thinking that the giant Kelty Noah’s Tarp is in order–it will be big enough to cover the picnic table, and still have room for a few camp chairs to fit underneath, as well. Even if it rains all evening, we will still be able to enjoy hot cocoa and each other’s company.