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What To Do If Your Down Jacket Gets Wet While Backpacking


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Dyana Allard



When it comes to backpacking or any outdoor adventure, having the right gear is essential. One item that often finds its way into many backpacks is a down jacket. Known for its unparalleled warmth-to-weight ratio, a down jacket is a staple for anyone venturing into cooler climates. However, it’s not uncommon for these jackets to encounter moisture, either from rain, snow, or sweat. Knowing what to do when your down jacket gets wet can make all the difference in your comfort and safety while backpacking.


In this article, we will explore the potential problems that can arise when a down jacket gets wet, as well as precautions you can take before your trip to minimize the risk. We’ll also discuss what to do immediately if your down jacket does get wet while on the trail, and provide some drying options when backpacking. Finally, we’ll share some tips to help prevent your down jacket from getting wet in the first place.


Whether you’re planning a multi-day backpacking trip through the mountains or simply enjoying a day hike, it’s crucial to be prepared for various weather conditions. This includes understanding how to handle a wet down jacket, as improper care can lead to loss of insulation, discomfort, and even potential health risks. So let’s dive into the world of down jackets and find out what you can do if your precious insulation layer gets wet while backpacking.


Understanding Down Jackets

Before we delve into what to do if your down jacket gets wet, let’s first explore what makes these jackets so popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts. Down jackets are insulated garments filled with soft plumes found beneath the feathers of ducks or geese. The down clusters create small air pockets that trap heat, providing excellent insulation and warmth.


One of the main advantages of down jackets is their exceptional warmth-to-weight ratio. They are incredibly lightweight compared to synthetic alternatives while still offering superior insulation. The compressibility of down also makes it easy to pack into a small space, ideal for backpacking or traveling.


However, it’s important to note that down jackets are not inherently waterproof. The insulation can lose its effectiveness when it becomes wet. The feathers clump together, reducing the air pockets and diminishing the jacket’s ability to trap heat. This can lead to discomfort and, in extreme cases, even hypothermia.


Many down jackets are treated with a water-repellent coating, such as DWR (Durable Water Repellent). This treatment helps the jacket repel light moisture, like drizzling rain or snowflakes, for a short period of time. However, it is not a foolproof solution, and prolonged exposure to moisture can still compromise the jacket’s insulation.


Understanding the limitations of down jackets in wet conditions is crucial for those venturing into unpredictable weather. Being aware of the potential problems that can arise will enable you to take the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of your down jacket getting wet while backpacking.


Why Getting a Down Jacket Wet is a Problem

While down jackets are known for their excellent insulation properties, they become significantly less effective when wet. Here are some reasons why getting a down jacket wet can pose a problem:

  • Loss of insulation: When a down jacket gets wet, the feathers clump together, reducing the loft and trapping less warm air. The wet feathers lose their ability to provide effective insulation, leaving you susceptible to the cold.
  • Prolonged drying time: Down jackets take a long time to dry when soaked. The natural feathers retain moisture and can become a breeding ground for mold and mildew. In a backpacking scenario, where access to heating or drying facilities might be limited, this can be particularly troublesome.
  • Added weight: Wet down jackets can become heavy, which can be uncomfortable and burdensome when backpacking. The added weight can also strain your body and impact your overall endurance and mobility on the trail.
  • Increased odor: Damp down jackets can develop a musty odor due to the presence of moisture. This can make your jacket less pleasant to wear and potentially attract unwanted attention from wildlife.
  • Potential health risks: Wearing a wet down jacket can lead to hypothermia, a dangerous condition where your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia can have serious consequences and must be treated as a medical emergency.

Given these potential issues, it is essential to take proactive measures to prevent your down jacket from getting wet and to know what to do if it does become damp or soaked while on your backpacking adventure. Being prepared will ensure that you can maintain the functionality and durability of your down jacket, allowing you to enjoy your outdoor experience in comfort and safety.


Precautions to Take Before Your Backpacking Trip

Before embarking on your backpacking trip, there are several precautions you can take to minimize the risk of your down jacket getting wet. Here are some key steps to consider:

  • Choose a water-resistant or waterproof jacket: When purchasing a down jacket, opt for one with a water-resistant or waterproof shell. This outer layer will help repel moisture and provide an extra layer of protection against light rain or snow.
  • Apply a DWR treatment: If your down jacket doesn’t already have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, consider applying one yourself. A DWR treatment helps water bead up and roll off the surface of the jacket, keeping it drier for longer. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying the treatment.
  • Check the weather forecast: Before your trip, check the weather forecast for the area you will be backpacking in. This will give you a sense of what conditions to expect and help you plan accordingly. If rain or snow is in the forecast, you can pack additional waterproof layers or adjust your itinerary to avoid inclement weather.
  • Use a rain cover or dry bag: Use a rain cover for your backpack or pack your down jacket in a waterproof dry bag. This will provide an extra layer of protection against moisture and prevent water from seeping into your gear.
  • Store the jacket properly: When not in use, store your down jacket in a dry and well-ventilated place. Avoid leaving it in a compressed state for extended periods, as this can affect its loft and insulation properties.

By implementing these precautions, you can significantly reduce the chances of your down jacket getting wet while backpacking. However, it’s important to remember that even with these measures, there is still a possibility that your jacket may encounter moisture. In the event that your down jacket does get wet, it’s crucial to know what steps to take to mitigate the damage and restore its functionality as quickly as possible.


What to Do Immediately If Your Down Jacket Gets Wet

If you find yourself in a situation where your down jacket gets wet while backpacking, it’s essential to take immediate action to minimize the damage and restore its insulation. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Shake off excess moisture: Start by gently shaking your jacket to remove any excess water. This will help prevent further saturation and speed up the drying process.
  2. Wring out excess water: If your down jacket is soaked, you can carefully squeeze out the excess water. Be gentle to avoid damaging the delicate down feathers, as excessive squeezing or wringing can cause clumping and reduce the jacket’s insulation.
  3. Use a towel to absorb moisture: Grab a clean absorbent towel or cloth and gently press it against the wet areas of your jacket. Pat dry rather than rubbing to avoid damaging the down clusters. Repeat this step with a dry towel until no more moisture is being absorbed.
  4. Find shelter and proper ventilation: Seek shelter from rain or snow and find an area with good airflow to facilitate the drying process. Hang your jacket on a clothesline or over a tree branch, making sure it is not in direct sunlight. Avoid placing it near a heat source, as excessive heat can damage the feathers.
  5. Periodically fluff the jacket: While drying, gently fluff the down clusters to help restore their loft. This can be done by squeezing and releasing small sections of the jacket or gently shaking it. Fluffing will help the insulation regain its ability to trap warm air and restore its loftiness.
  6. Rotate and air dry: Periodically rotate the jacket to ensure even drying. If possible, leave it hanging overnight or until fully dry. This may take several hours or even a full day, depending on the extent of the dampness, humidity, and airflow.

It’s important to note that drying a down jacket in the wilderness can be challenging, especially if the weather conditions are unfavorable. In these situations, it may be necessary to continue wearing a slightly damp jacket until an opportunity for proper drying arises. However, do your best to keep your body warm and avoid further exposure to moisture or cold temperatures.


By following these immediate steps, you can minimize the negative effects of moisture on your down jacket, restore its insulation, and continue to enjoy your backpacking adventure in comfort.


Drying Options When Backpacking

When backpacking, finding suitable drying options for your wet down jacket can be challenging, especially in remote areas with limited resources. However, there are a few techniques and strategies you can employ to aid in drying your jacket while on the trail:

  • Hanging it in a well-ventilated area: If the weather permits and you have access to a sheltered area with good airflow, simply hang your jacket on a clothesline or over a tree branch. This will allow it to air dry naturally.
  • Utilizing body heat: In colder conditions, you can wear your damp down jacket while hiking. Your body heat will aid in evaporating the moisture. This method can be effective, especially if you continue to generate heat through physical activity.
  • Using a campfire: If you’re camping and have a safe, controlled campfire, you can carefully hang your jacket near the fire to take advantage of the warmth. Be cautious not to place it too close to avoid scorching or damaging the jacket.
  • Using a portable camping stove: In the absence of a campfire, you can use a portable camping stove to generate heat. Hang your jacket near the stove, ensuring a safe distance to avoid direct contact with the flame or heat source.
  • Using a camping or travel towel: Consider carrying a highly absorbent camping or travel towel designed for quick drying. Use it to blot and absorb excess moisture from your jacket. These towels are lightweight and compact, making them convenient for backpacking.
  • Using a dry bag with moisture-absorbing packets: Another option is to place your damp down jacket in a waterproof dry bag along with moisture-absorbing packets. These packets, such as silica gel or desiccant bags, can help absorb excess moisture and speed up the drying process.

Always prioritize safety when drying your down jacket while backpacking. Avoid placing it too close to open flames, heat sources, or any equipment that could potentially damage the jacket. Additionally, be mindful of the environmental impact and follow Leave No Trace principles by respecting natural spaces and minimizing your impact.


Remember, drying a down jacket in the outdoors can take time, so exercise patience and allow for sufficient drying time. It’s better to have a slightly damp jacket than to risk damaging it or compromising your comfort and safety by wearing a wet one.


Tips for Preventing Your Down Jacket from Getting Wet

While knowing how to handle a wet down jacket is important, prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to help you minimize the risk of your down jacket getting wet while backpacking:

  1. Pack a waterproof shell: Invest in a high-quality waterproof or water-resistant shell to layer over your down jacket. This additional protection will help repel moisture and keep your jacket dry during light rain or snow.
  2. Wear a rainproof hat or hood: Opt for a jacket with a reliable hood or carry a rainproof hat to shield your head and neck from rain or snow. A wet head can lead to moisture seeping down into your jacket.
  3. Apply seam sealant: Check the seams of your down jacket and apply seam sealant if necessary. This will help reinforce the waterproofing and prevent water from seeping through the stitching.
  4. Be mindful of backpack strap positioning: When wearing your backpack, ensure that the shoulder straps are adjusted properly and not digging into your jacket. This can cause friction on the fabric and compromise its water repellency.
  5. Choose proper layering: Layer your clothing strategically to prevent excessive sweating, as moisture from sweat can affect the insulation of your down jacket. Opt for moisture-wicking base layers and breathable mid-layers to regulate your body temperature.
  6. Stay vigilant in wet conditions: Keep an eye on the weather forecast and be prepared for changing conditions. If rain or snow is expected, adjust your plans accordingly, such as seeking shelter or rescheduling outdoor activities.
  7. Take breaks under cover: If you encounter rain or snow during your trek, take regular breaks under cover to allow your down jacket to dry if it gets slightly damp. This can be as simple as finding a tree canopy or using a tarp or rainfly as a makeshift shelter.
  8. Be cautious around water sources: When near lakes, rivers, or streams, be mindful of your proximity to these water sources. Accidents can happen, and a quick slip or fall can leave your down jacket soaked.
  9. Use a backpack rain cover: Invest in a rain cover for your backpack to protect not only your gear but also your down jacket if it’s attached to the pack. This will help keep both the jacket and your belongings dry.
  10. Consider ponchos or umbrellas: If the weather forecast predicts light rain, consider carrying a lightweight poncho or small umbrella to provide quick and easy protection for both you and your down jacket.

By incorporating these preventive measures into your backpacking routine, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of your down jacket getting wet. Remember, even if your jacket is water-resistant, it’s essential to be cautious and take proactive steps to protect it from moisture to ensure optimal performance and durability.



Ensuring the well-being of your down jacket while backpacking is crucial for your comfort and safety in cold and damp conditions. While down jackets are excellent insulators, they can lose their effectiveness when wet. By understanding the potential problems that arise from a wet down jacket and taking the necessary precautions, you can significantly minimize the risk of encountering this issue on your adventures.


In this article, we discussed the importance of understanding down jackets and why getting them wet is problematic. We explored the precautions you can take before your backpacking trip, including choosing water-resistant jackets, applying DWR treatments, and checking weather forecasts.


In the event that your down jacket does get wet while backpacking, we provided immediate steps to mitigate the damage and expedite the drying process. These steps include shaking off excess moisture, wringing out water, using towels to absorb moisture, finding shelter and proper ventilation, periodically fluffing the jacket, and allowing ample time for air drying.


Moreover, we discussed drying options when backpacking, such as utilizing body heat, campfires, portable stoves, and moisture-absorbing packets. We also highlighted key tips for preventing your down jacket from getting wet, such as wearing waterproof shells, mindful layering, and staying cautious in wet conditions.


Remember, taking proper care of your down jacket will extend its lifespan and ensure its optimal performance. Always follow manufacturer guidelines regarding care and maintenance. By being proactive and prepared, you can enjoy your backpacking trips with confidence, knowing that your down jacket will provide you with the warmth and comfort you need, even in challenging weather conditions.