A rainy day doesn't need to keep you off the trail. With the proper preparation and gear hiking in the rain can be just as enjoyable as a clear day, just a little muddier. When it's raining you'll have popular trails, that you usually avoid because of the crowds, all to yourself. CloudLine is based in Seattle so we have spent many days testing hiking socks in the rain and over the years we've discovered 11 tricks that make sure we have a great day on the trail rain or shine.
Choosing a trail for hiking in the rain is the first step to a successful rainy adventure. Finding a trail that is under a canopy of trees will shield you from some of the rain. Look for hikes that are well within your fitness level, If you end up getting soaked you'll be able to hoof it to camp or back to the trailhead. Lastly, consider a trail that ends at a waterfall, lake, or other attraction that doesn't depend on clear skies to enjoy the view.
Pro-Tip: Check sites like alltrails.com for recent hiker reports that mention trail conditions.
Check the weather and if you can, plan your hike around the worst of the rain. We are fans of the app Dark Sky because it provides a detailed hourly breakdown of forecasted weather and even has an animated doppler radar that lets you see incoming storms. In the example above, we would try and plan our hike so we would have camp set up or be back at the trailhead before 4 pm when it's forecast to drizzle.
They say, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing" and it's never truer than in the rain. Use the layer system and add or remove items as needed to stay warm without over-heating. If you can, wait for breaks in the rain to switch layers or change quickly to keep yourself dry. Choose layers made from performance materials such as merino wool and synthetic polyester blends, and avoid materials like cotton and down that don't perform well when wet. It is also a great idea to pack an extra pair of hiking socks, just in case your shoes get wet.
Pro-Tip: Keep extra layers in a roll-top dry sack to be sure you have something warm and dry to put on in camp.
If you plan on hiking in the rain, you'll be thankful to have the proper rain gear. This includes a waterproof and breathable jacket, pants, and footwear. Choose a jacket and pants made from Goretex, eVent or similar materials that are designed to keep rain out while allowing moisture from sweat to escape. Vents or pit zips are also a plus, as you can open them up to cool off. When it's not raining we prefer wearing breathable trail runners with no waterproof lining, but when it's pouring we wear waterproof boots to keep our feet dry and blister free.
Even if you have your extra clothing in a dry sack, adding a pack cover to your setup is a good idea. Otherwise, your pack can begin to soak up the rain and become heavier as you hike.
Pro-Tip: Don't have a pack cover? Grab a plastic garbage sack big enough to slip your pack into. Cut small holes where your pack straps need to feed through and you've got a DIY pack cover.
We know bringing an umbrella hiking or backpacking sounds odd, but don't knock it till you try it. Hiking in the rain while wearing pants and a jacket can turn you into a sweaty mess in a hurry, especially in warm months. You can ease up your pace to cool off or you can ditch the pants and jacket for an umbrella. With an ultra light hiking umbrella, you'll be able to hike faster and avoid the muggy sauna of your rain gear.
Recommended Gear: Sea to Summit's Ultra-Sil Trekking Umbrella.
Even after the rain passes, wet brush on narrow trails can quickly soak your clothing. It can be smart to keep your rain pants on to avoid wet socks until things dry off or the trail widens.
Pro-Tip: In warm months ditch your rain pants for a pair of gaiters to protect your socks and shoes from dew while staying cool.
A tarp is one of our favorite items. Whether you bring a cheap blue tarp of an ultralight silnylon tarp, in the rain you will be glad you have it in your pack. A tarp will give you a dry spot to sit while taking a lunch break, keep your camp dry, provide emergency shelter and more.
Fire is number 6 on the updated 10 Essentials List, so you've probably got a lighter, waterproof matches and fire starter in your pack. But getting a fire started in the rain when everything is wet can be challenging, so we always like to bring extra fire starter just in case.
Pro-Tip: Make your own rainproof firestarter with cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly.
If you are backpacking or camping in the rain pay attention to where you pitch your tent. On a recent trip, it started pouring just as we went to bed, and in the middle of the night we woke up to our friend cursing loudly because water had leaked into his tent. He had to move in the middle of the storm and in the morning we snapped this picture of the puddle where his tent had been.
While down is the preferred material for winter trips, synthetic is hands down the way to go for rainy backpacking trips. A quality synthetic sleeping bag retains most of its warmth when wet, so you won't have to worry as much about getting your bag wet from brushing against tent walls. But our favorite reason to bring a synthetic sleeping bag is the fact you can climb in wearing clothes that are damp from the rain and you'll soon be warm and dry, something you could never do with a down sleeping bag.
What do you do if you are soaked to the bone and freezing when you get to camp? Boil a pot of water and pour it into your Nalgene water bottle to create a makeshift heat pack. If you have an extra pair of hiking socks you can slide a pair over the bottle so you won't burn yourself. Get in your sleeping bag with the bottle and you'll be warm and toasty in no time flat.
Austin lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains.
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