Hiking in the rain is a bit like hiking in the winter. You have to change your mindset to truly enjoy it. But, it also shares the same perks: Fewer people and more solitude. You do need to prepare a little more than you would for a normal hike, though. Paying extra attention to the conditions around you and your own health is important too.
Hiking and backpacking in the rain can be enjoyable with the right attitude, gear, and preparation. To help you prep, we've outlined the extra gear and clothing you will need. You'll also find helpful tips to make your rainy day outing a pleasant one.
Featured Photo: Mist (Photo by Marco Pulidori)
For general gear, you will need:
- A rain cover for your pack. This is the first line of defense against water seeping in. Many packs come with a rain cover. Luckily, they are relatively inexpensive if yours does not have one included.
- Dry sacks for the items inside your pack. Think of this as added security. These are an especially good idea for heavy rains.
- Waterproof cases for electronics, such as your phone or camera. Many cases are available online. But, even a zippered sandwich bag is helpful.
- Hand warmers (optional)
- Blister care supplies, such as Moleskin. Soggy feet=more blisters. REI has a great article on blister care.
- A towel or rag to wipe your gear off. A small, compact microfiber towel will work.
- A tarp, for several reasons. 1) It provides extra protection for your tent. 2) They come in handy to make a dry place to cook. 3) Tarps can be set up quicker than a tent. This makes them a good emergency shelter.
As always, we can't stress layering enough. It may be tempting to leave the rain gear at home most of the time. But, now is not one of those times. For clothing and outerwear, consider bringing and wearing the following items.
- For base layers, choose wool, nylon, or polyester. These and other blends are designed to wick moisture away from your body. It's not wise to wear cotton while hiking under normal conditions. It's an absolute “no-no” in rainy weather! Cotton does not dry quickly, which can lead to hypothermia. This is especially true if wet cotton clothing next to your body is not changed soon.
- There is a time and a place for down. In the middle of a downpour is not one of them. Synthetic materials and even down hybrids are acceptable, though. For lighter rain, fleece jackets also repel water well.
- Rain poncho. No need to bring full rain gear along for a few small showers.
- Rain pants and jacket. Try to find something that is both waterproof and breathable. You don't want to get wet from the outside, but you also don't want to get wet from the inside either!
- Rain hat, to keep the rain off your face and glasses. Wide-brimmed hats work well. Opt for a baseball cap if you will still be using your rain jacket's hood.
- Appropriate footwear. This can vary. Waterproof shoes and boots are better suited for colder weather. Mesh, quick-drying shoes work better for warm weather since they dry quicker. (Make sure to also wear socks that dry quickly.) If you are expecting muddy inclines or slippery rocks, make sure your footwear has good traction. It's worth noting that boots will better keep your feet from getting wet and provide better ankle support.
- Extra socks
- Foot gaiters. Optional, but very handy at keeping muddy puddle water out of your shoes.
- Gloves (neoprene) to keep your hands warm. They're not waterproof, but will still insulate your hands, even when wet.
Having the right gear goes a long way in the enjoyability of any trip. Here are a few more suggestions to make your rainy weather trip even more pleasant and safe.
- No rain cover? Use a trash bag as one. You might also put a garbage bag inside of your pack before packing. This adds yet another layer of waterproofing.
- Even if you normally don't, bring your trekking poles. They can help out a lot on wet, mushy, slide-prone terrain.
- Renew your gear's waterproofing. This includes tent, outer rain gear, waterproof shoes/boots, etc.
- Bring easily accessible snacks and extra food to help stave hypothermia. Eat and drink as you go if you don't feel like stopping in the rain.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. I.e. listen for thunder, watch for lightning, find routes to higher ground, if needed.
- Pay attention to yourself as well. Signs of early hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion and drowsiness, slurred speech, memory loss, and the “dropsies”, or fumbling hands.
- Unclip your hipbelt before crossing over swift-moving streams. This makes it easier to get your pack off if you do fall in.
- Don't wait to change into your rain gear and change any wet clothes as soon as possible.
- If you're not enjoying yourself or conditions have become too unfavorable, there's no shame in turning around and going home.
- Change your destination to a rain-friendly one if you have to. Pick a place that's not going to have impossible/dangerous creek or river crossings. Skip the ones with big, sweeping views that you'll miss out on anyway. Find a trail that's not so steep you'll be scrambling across slippery rocks the majority of the time. Also, consider shortening your itinerary in case the weather gets worse than predicted.
- Try to open your backpack as little as possible.
- Keep wet gear in your tent's vestibule. No point in getting your nice, dry, cozy sleeping bag damp!
- Treat yourself to a nice, warm drink, whether it's a hot cup of cocoa or your favorite coffee.
- Seek appropriate shelter if lightning does start. Get off exposed peaks and ridges, below the treeline, and steer clear of open areas where you are the tallest object around.
- Accept the fact that, instead of being able to use rocks or trees to cross a waterway, you may have to walk straight through it. More reason to have the appropriate gear and extra, dry clothes!
- Pay attention to where you set up camp. Avoid depressions or lines where runoff may flow through the night. Also, look for hanging branches and dead trees. These pose hazards that could come down in windy conditions.
- Dry out yourself and gear whenever possible.
- Make sure you dry all your gear when you get home. Mold is quick and sneaky. Especially in dark, confined spaces.
- Be careful and take your time!
Do you enjoy hiking in the rain? What tips or essential gear would you add to our list?