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A Hiker’s Guide to Keeping Your Spirits Up When the Weather’s Got You Way Down

Before we begin, a quick definition: For the purposes of this article, “bad weather” shall encompass wet, cold, dark, dismal days.

Like most people, I prefer to be inside on bad weather days. I do not generally look forward to going to sleep in a tent knowing that my own breath will rain down on me in the morning as the condensation collects on the tent walls. Despite not loving bad weather, as I reflected on 2023 I realized that some of my favorite backpacking trips last year involved quite a few days in the worst possible conditions. These were days of layering up only to delayer a few minutes later; days of trekking in such driving rain that I got soaked all the way through; days of being so desperate for a little extra warmth that I cuddled a rehydrating backpacking meal so enthusiastically that it exploded all over the inside of my jacket.

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Image courtesy of Fjällräven

Something magical seems to happen when you make it through a day like this with your hiking buddies—you emerge stronger, both individually and as friends. You realize that you’re stronger than you thought you were, and that a positive attitude is one of the best tools you can bring on your trip. 

I’ve written a lot about my experiences hiking the Fjällräven Classic, which I’ve now done in Sweden, Germany, and Chile. This is because I think they’re fantastic testing grounds for pushing your outdoor skills under the supervision of a skilled team who’s looking out for you and making sure you get to camp OK. On each of these trips, I was surrounded by people I had never met or had only hiked with once before, and on each one we were faced with at least one day of bad weather. In Sweden the winds got so high that we had to camp well below our original target. In Germany we experienced a torrential downpour and the resultant muddy trails. In Chilean Patagonia the cold and driving rain were so miserable that we were given an option to take a bus and a ferry to the campsite—I took it, along with most of the rest of the group, and was very grateful to have the option.

I’ve had my fair share of miserable, complaining days out on the trail. What I’ve learned through these experiences is that being patient and positive is the best thing you can do to be a great hiking buddy. You can’t control the weather, but you can control the way you respond to it—and you’d be surprised how little it takes to improve or deflate a whole group mood.

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Whenever possible, make it easier.

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Image courtesy of Fjällräven

In 2022, I divested from the sufferfest, and this paid dividends in 2023. Gone are my days of leaning into miserable conditions for the sake of “building character.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t push yourself. What I’m saying is that if you think it’s “cheating” to take a bus or a ferry or a shorter trail when the weather is bad, the only one who’s losing is you.

There is no international trekking society that gives out awards for Most Miles Completed in Adverse Conditions. If you’re hiking for a view that you can’t see because there’s a mile-thick cloud in the way, and you’re not enjoying the journey, turn around. The best way to keep your group happy is to read the mood and adapt the route to suit everyone’s needs whenever possible. The mountains aren’t going anywhere.

Be honest about how you feel, but remember there’s a difference between “facts” and “complaints.”

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Image courtesy of Fjällräven

Remember, you’re all in this together. So, be the morale you want to see. Before you start to share a sentence like “This sucks, I’m so cold!” count a few sturdy inhales and exhales and seriously consider your tone. Don’t downplay safety issues if you think you might be on the verge of hypothermia or frostbite. However,  if you’re just plain uncomfortable and unhappy, do your best to check your tone and keep the ranting to yourself. Or, have everyone join in together on a collective—but short and time-limited—rant, where everyone can say exactly what they’re thinking and feeling without fear of judgment, before promptly buttoning up the discomfort conversation and moving on to happier thoughts.

Strike up conversations about anything that does not involve the weather.

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Image courtesy of Fjällräven

What book are you reading right now? Want to hear a crazy science fact I learned recently? Did you know that comets smell like rotten eggs? How’s your new puppy/baby/partner/neighbor/school/car/backpack/fancy insulated water bottle? Which Era are you? What would be your first decree if you were appointed king/queen/dictator of the world? Distract your friends with questions about anything that is not about things that fall from the sky. The sillier, the better.

Encourage everyone to be honest about their needs.

If you’re hiking with friends you don’t know very well, it can be hard to guess when someone’s doing completely fine vs. when they’re desperately trying to hide that they’re struggling. By being honest about how you feel—what’s cold, what hurts, when you’re tired, hungry, or thirsty—you can create a safer space for your hiking buddies to be honest, too. The only thing worse than suffering in bad weather is thinking you’re suffering alone.

When in doubt, do a little dance.

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Image courtesy of Fjällräven

Introducing a little bit of silliness can do a lot to ease tension when everyone’s in a bad mood because they’re cold or uncomfortable. It can also help you warm up more quickly, so that the weather feels, at least temporarily, a little less miserable.

Practically any dance moves will do, and perhaps the sillier, the better. Teaching your friends the “hypothermia dance” is also a great way to get everyone laughing over sloppy footwork while they get their heart rate up.

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