There was a saying in my family when I was a kid: “Rain doesn’t make you miserable. It just makes you wet.” I grew up camping in the northeast US and Canada’s maritime provinces, where summer rainstorms were about as common as bug bites. Family camping trips involved some inevitable liquid sunshine and some memorable downpours. And this was the age of army-surplus tents, not Gore-Tex and lightweight sil-nylon tarps.
The implication, of course, is that if you’re miserable, it’s because you’re making yourself that way by just moaning about the rain and huddling in the tent waiting for it to stop. We’ve all had a camping trip or two ruined that way. Here are some time-honored ways to have a good time when it rains on your weekend in the tent.
1. Go For a Hike
Most of the time, hiking in the rain is plenty pleasant. Put on some good raingear, fill a thermos of hot chocolate, and hit the trail. Your internal furnace will keep you plenty warm, and if you pick a hike that keeps you under the trees, you’ll stay a lot drier than you think. And you’ll have most of the trail to yourself, and you’ll get to see nature at it’s wet, lush best.
2. Become a Tarpologist
Become an expert at rigging tarps in creative places. Tarp wizardry gives you dry places to relax and hang out: notably a dry kitchen and a hangout spot around the fire. Now instead of huddling in your tents, the whole group can comfortably gather. Some of my most memorable camping trips center not on rugged adventures but the good times laughing around the fire while a storm raged.
3. Channel Your Inner Foodie
If rain puts the kibosh on other things, use that tarp-protected kitchen to show off your chef skills. Ditch the quick bowl of oatmeal before hitting the trail and cook a full breakfast. Make complex dinners that can engage the kids in chopping, mixing, and helping out. Have cooking contests and mixed-drink one-upmanship.
As Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Disappearing into a good book is one of the great pleasures of camping, even when the weather’s fine. If you finish yours, share. On one wet winter night, we simply all piled into the same tent and took turns reading aloud.
5. Play Games
Bring a set of cards or some compact games. Two friends once made a chessboard out of a piece of paper and used pebbles for the pieces. It was tough to keep track of which was a bishop and what was a pawn, but it was still fun. Other friends put on all their raingear and made an “unofficial” miniature golf course with a stick for a club and a practice golf ball that got ruthlessly competitive. You could hear them trash-talking a mile away.
6. Watch Wildlife
You might be put off by the rain, but wildlife still has to make a living. Put on your raingear and wake up for the morning bird chorus, or go sit quietly by the river at sundown and see what animals come out for their nightly rounds. If you’ve mastered tip #2, you can even set up a tarp there so you can stay nice and dry while you sit and watch.