You buy all the right gear, plan your trip for weeks, and you find the perfect campsite. Then BOOM you get blasted by an unexpected windstorm. We’ve all been there!
Setup camp only to realize you never even considered the wind. For some reason people always seem to underestimate the wind. I’ve waited out a lot of horrible weather, but there’s nothing like getting blasted with unbridled wind.
Before I started getting serious about backpacking I never even thought about the wind. It wasn’t until I got caught in a serious storm that I realized the error in my ways.
First the doors on my tent popped off, then all the poles collapsed. Canvas smacking me in the face was a real wake up call. I needed to seriously reconsider where I setup camp in the future.
Camping in Strong Wind
You can feel the ground beneath your feet, water always runs downhill, but wind still remains a mystery. Unless you’re a meteorologist you probably don’t understand the secrets behind wind.
Honestly, you don’t need to understand the science behind wind as long as you follow a few simple tips.
- Setup camp along windbreaks that naturally stop the wind. Look for boulders, hedges, clumps of trees(alive or dead) that will block out the wind. Just keep an eye out for dead branches that could fall and land on your tent.
- In the evenings wind almost always races down valleys and through waterways as the cold weather pushes in. Try to avoid these wind tunnels that seem like perfect campsites during the heat of the day.
- Figure out which way the wind usually blows and setup camp alongside the sharpest edge of a hillside. The hill should protect you from those strong gusts.
- Remember that most North American wind gusts come from the west. So if there’s no clear indication setup camp facing towards the sunrise in the East.
Reading The Wind
There’s so much science that goes into predicting the wind that it’s better left to the professionals. So what should a wind battered hiker do on the trail? Don’t worry it’s not that hard to read the wind and develop a few forecasting strategies.
Wind Usually Comes From The West
In the Northern Hemisphere the wind almost always comes from the west. Westward wind is usually a good sign indicating predictable weather. You can usually expect stable weather patterns.
Wind coming from the east is usually a bad sign. Easterly winds indicate a low-pressure system, bringing in instability and precipitation. You don’t want to be without shelter when the winds blowing from the east.
Watch For Sudden Swings
Sudden swings in wind intensity/direction almost always indicate a change in weather. As warm air rises the cool air forces it’s way in bringing along stormy weather.
Wind Speed Increases With Elevation
Just about every hiker will eventually experience this. At higher altitudes wind speed is going to increase. However, you probably don’t notice how this impacts your body.
What Should feel like a small change in speed feels huge across your entire body. Simply doubling the wind speed from 10-20mph quadruples the force on your body. you can only imagine how awful that will feel at higher speeds.
If you’re planning to hike at high elevation remember that wind speed will always be stronger than down below.
Keep an Eye On The Treeline
As you start to reach the top of the tree line wind will start to pick up. If you’re going above the treeline you won’t have as many windbreaks. This is going to make the wind feel even stronger.
Make sure you remember to bring along windproof clothing like a rain jacket and pants or nylon pullover. I’m a huge fan of the North Face Lineup of Jackets. They’re just sturdy enough to handle high winds without feeling uncomfortable.
You Might Not Be Able to Hike in High Winds
Wind is really roaring you might not even be able to finish your hike and setup camp. When the wind really picks up you might even need to hunch over or crawl on the ground. Getting your center of gravity low will reduce the stress on your body.
Carrying gear can be difficult on a sunny day, but when the winds are howling it’s next to impossible. Getting down on all fours will make you more stable. Wind at ground level is going to be less forceful and easier to handle.
Plus there’s going to be less surface area for the wind to slam into. This is the main reason why low profile tents are going to be more wind resistant. Tents with steep sides aren’t your best choice at high altitude.
Choose a Tent Designed For High Wind
Some tents are designed for casual camping, while others are designed for mountaineering. For Instance, check out this Black Diamond Tent, it’s low profile design is perfect for mountaineering(too bad it’s so expensive). It’s such a basic design, but it’s built to withstand some of the roughest places on earth.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to find a tent that will withstand high winds. The budget friendly ALPS Mountaineering Extreme Tent was designed to withstand strong winds. Check out the slanted profile, that makes it capable of withstanding 50+mph wind.
Windproof Camp Sites
Where you pitch your tent is absolutely critical on windy peaks. When setting up camp you want to setup with the long side parallel to the anticipated wind direction(Going into The Wind) Then stake down your tent as tightly using all your available Guyline attachments.
Common Guyline Mistakes
- No Guylines: Camping without guylines isn’t a smart idea in windy terrain. Without guylines your tent won’t be able to handle heavy wind. Your tent poles will snap in 30+ mph winds.
- High Guylines: Attaching your guylines too high will bend your poles at the bottom. They’re going to break just below the guy attachment.
- Perfect Height: Attach your Guylines between 1/3-2/3 of the way up your tent. This will allow the perfect amount of bend above and below your lines.