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How to Car Camp in the Rain

The best time to visit the woods north of Seattle is all the time.

Our famous rainfall and misty treelines are all the more magnificent when experienced in real life, the senses fully engaged.

If you don’t mind getting refreshingly damp, the Pacific Northwest offers many opportunities in the “shoulder season”— easier parking, less-crowded trailheads, and scenic vistas: foggy alpine lakes, the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, and marble green-grey oceans. All of these are located within close proximity (driving distance) to one another.

Here are some basics for the first-time car camper during the less-than-sunny months.

Know your tarp

The single most important item to have when camping in the drizzly Northwest is the basic blue tarp. Carry one with you at all times with several bungee cords and you can keep rainfall out of your campfire. You can also wrap up your food and hang it in a tree to avoid sniffing bears. Or you can set it down on the ground and put your sleeping bag on it to avoid a supersaturated wakeup call.

The simplicity and versatility of the basic tarp make this one piece of equipment absolutely essential for any form of outdoor recreation.

Get a permit/park wisely

Part of the fun of car camping is the spontaneity. But you do have to be careful where you pull off the road. State and national parks require permits. The last thing you want while you’re sleeping in the back seat is for a ranger to knock on your window at 2 a.m.

If you venture out of the vehicle to hike during the day, be sure to bring your valuables. Unfortunately, potential thieves know that trailheads are a great place to break into unmanned vehicles. Your stuff may not even be safe in the trunk. If you have any valuables, just pack them with you when you hit the trail.

Waterproof matches are your friend.

Ditto for dry wood.

Even champion Eagle Scouts need dry materials when starting a fire in the woods. Be sure to pack in dry combustibles. If it’s raining hard in the forests north of Seattle it will be impossible to find appropriate tinder for your cookout. Waterproof matches are your friends. Pack them in a sealable Ziplock bag and even bring a sheaf or two of wrinkled newspaper to get your dry blazes cooking.

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Wool socks/ water-wicking materials

Wool socks, those marvelously low tech byproducts of nature, are perfectly designed for our climate. They can hold about a third of their weight in moisture before feeling “wet.” For this reason, and their insulating properties, wool socks are the gold standard for hikers, campers, and anyone who ventures outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. If it’s not raining, a wool sweater will breathe comfortably as you perspire on the trails.

The advent of high tech water-wicking materials has been a boon to outdoors enthusiasts in our neck of the woods. Goretex and similar synthetic materials, waxed canvas, and other water-wicking fabrics can be a literal lifesaver in the backwoods.

Laminated maps/Rite in the Rain notebooks

The omnipresent atmospheric moisture in and near the Cascade Mountains and the Salish Sea has a way of permeating everything. For this reason, it pays to invest in some durable, non-digital goods when going off the grid.

Consider packing a laminated paper map. There’s no guarantee in the backcountry that your phone’s GPS will work. An old-school paper map and a compass can truly save your bacon.

If you like to get out into the wilds to gain and capture inspiration from your surroundings, consider capturing it with locally-produced Rite in the Rain brand notebooks, made in Tacoma. Rite in the Rain (slogan: “Defying Mother Nature”) has been around since 1919, making products that repel moisture.


The one thing you can expect when heading into the wilds any time of year is the unexpected. It pays to be flexible, pack in an emergency raincoat, and approach any minor setback with a sense of humor and a healthy can-do attitude.

The most important asset, then, in the backwoods? An expansive spirit.

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