While it’s not a particularly scary situation, if left unchecked, wearing wet clothes in cold weather will inevitably lead to sickness and potentially even death. For every hiker and camper it’s important to know how to dry off clothing quickly and efficiently, even in the middle of a blizzard.
How to Dry Clothes Under Normal Circumstances
If you do get damp while outside, take note of the weather. If it’s still raining, your best bet is to keep any extra clothing you have in a dry location (such as a waterproof backpack). Keep it safe—and dry—until you can reach a dry area. There, you can change out of your wet clothes, hang them up, and put on your safely stored, dry clothes.
If you hang up your wet clothes to dry, remember:
- They dry better when they’re spread out flat.
- They dry best in environments with low humidity.
- The warmer the temperature, the faster they’ll dry.
Chances are that if you’re in a winter survival scenario, it will be nearly impossible to create this ideal situation without getting creative. So you have to adapt and overcome. If you need to dry your clothes outside, hang them up to keep them off cold surfaces. They will eventually dry. If it’s windy, they will dry fairly quickly, regardless of the humidity. However, if it’s below freezing, the clothing will freeze before it dries.
One alternative is to dry your clothes using your own body heat. But this only works if the clothes aren’t soaking wet. If they are, you have to squeeze them dry as much as possible, and then hang them up until they’re reasonably damp. Then you can place the damp items close to your body or inside your sleeping bag while you rest, so that the heat you emit can do its job. This method works well for small items like gloves and socks.
However, when using your body heat to dry your clothes, you must keep in mind that doing this actually increases the risk of cold-weather injuries to your body. Placing too many items, whether it’s a few large items or a bunch of smaller ones, close to your body to dry will lower your body temperature. It will be hard for you to sleep if your body shivers through the night.
If you’re fortunate enough to carry hand warmers with you, you can always place these inside the gear when you’re not wearing it—or even if you are. Set a few of these hand warmers inside your sleeping bag, and you have yourself a nice toasty bed that will simultaneously dry off your items.
Still, the best ways to dry off your clothing in cold weather often involve some sort of fire/heat source. If you are able to light a campfire and hang your clothing near the heat source, they’ll typically dry off within a reasonable amount of time. Remember to keep them close enough to feel the heat, but far enough away to avoid setting them on fire. If they start smoking or steaming, then they’re definitely too close to the heat source. In this case, move them away and watch how they react. You should barely see the evaporation/steam, as this matches the normal pace of drying and avoids damaging your gear. Remember that synthetic fibers can catch fire pretty quickly, so try to keep them away from your fire.
Pro Tip: Drying leather gear by the campfire is acceptable, but keep in mind that leather dries better at room temperature.
How to Dry Clothes in Emergency Situations
While the aforementioned methods are usually the best ways to dry off clothing in a cold climate, they aren’t the only ones. There are other, more rudimentary drying procedures that can help you out in an emergency or when you simply have no other means available.
- Rolling a wet piece of clothing into a dry one
- Spinning and squeezing
- Makeshift drying poles
The first method is fairly simple. You take a wet article of clothing and roll it into a dry piece of cloth that you don’t intend to use for a while. The dry cloth will absorb some of the moisture from the wet clothes, which in turn makes it easier to dry both.
The second method relies on using the same techniques as a washing machine. By spinning your wet clothing after squeezing out the water as much as possible, you’ll actually relieve it of moisture. Once it’s merely damp, you simply lay or hang it up and let it finish drying off.
The third method involves a creative use of poles or walking sticks as makeshift clothes hangers. You should try placing them perpendicular to the ground and let them act like a drying rack. If you’re really lucky and find some usable branches, you could even make a rudimentary drying rack by placing two Y-shaped sticks in the ground and a large, straight one in the middle of both. It would look similar to this:
Pro Tip: Recognizing that certain types of clothes will dry faster than others and knowing what to wear is almost as important as knowing these methods. Synthetic fibers will always dry faster than natural ones, but keep in mind that the thickness also affects drying speeds, regardless of the material. So wear as much synthetic fabric as possible if you’re going on a winter camping trip or hike.
Old man winter can be a mean grump sometimes, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the season to the fullest. After all, the key to survival is preparation. And there are plenty of methods available to stay safe and relatively warm. The best way to stay safe is to keep your clothes dry, stay out of the rain, and avoid sweating too much. If you can’t avoid getting wet, then all of the methods described above will do reasonably well at helping you dry your clothes.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.