Guide To Hiking In The Rain: Clothing And Gear Tips

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As a hiker, you’re going to deal with a lot of rain. There’s no avoiding it, at some point you’ll get drenched. You can either let this inconvenience ruin your hike or be prepared from the jump. We’re going to cover the clothing and gear required for hiking in the rain and their necessary features to make the wet weather an enjoyable experience.

What To Wear For A Wet Weather Hike

Protection from the elements starts with your clothing. Here are some of the necessities to have while hiking in the rain:

Waterproof Rain Jacket

One of the most important pieces of rain gear is a quality rain jacket. This will protect your upper body and keep your core warm. Some criteria for me when picking a jacket:

Waterproof: Get a waterproof jacket that’s also windproof. Eliminating the wind chill in the rain will allow you to stay warm.

3-In-1 Jacket: These are a great option for hikers. They have the outer layer (usually Gore-Tex) for waterproofing, but also have a removable insulating layer and windproof layer to give full coverage. The insulating layer keeps you warm in colder weather, but if you’re in warm rain remove it to stay cool.

Versatile/Lightweight/Breathable: Easy to find in a 3-in-1 jacket. They make it easy to layer or un-layer depending on the weather you’re in. Get a lightweight one to keep your overall weight down. And even though they’re waterproof, get a jacket that is breathable. Many have zippered armpits to help air out your body when you want.

Removable Hood: I also like hiking rain jackets with this feature. Hoods are great to keep the elements off your head, but it just seems to get in the way in warmer weather.

Pockets: Only get a jacket if it has waterproof pockets. The zippers will keep any water from reaching whatever you’re storing in there.

Waterproof Hiking Pants

Hiking in the rain requires a good pair of bottoms. Warmer, summer rain makes shorts an option, but a good pair of purpose made hiking pants are my first choice for any wet weather.

Waterproof: Not a complete necessity for hiking pants. Purpose made ones are water resistant and wind resistant which will keep you dry in the rain. I honestly avoid the waterproof pants because they can be loud and cumbersome. I feel like I’m wearing a bulky pair of snow pants.

Comfort: Try on several pairs and find something that fits you well. Get the right length that will go over your boot tops and a waistband that won’t slide down.

Pockets: Make sure there are plenty of button or zippered pockets to hold items that you need quick access to.

Durable: Obviously, your rain pants need to be water and wind resistant, but make sure they can handle a beating. They should be able to handle some scuffs and scrapes.

It may be smart to carry waterproof hiking pants with you just in case the weather gets really bad. Then, that awkward bulkiness might not be the worst thing.

Waterproof Hiking Boots

You won’t go far in the rain without a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes. I consider a few things necessary when buying boots, especially if you plan on hiking in the rain.

Waterproof: Getting the obvious one out of the way first. If you plan on doing anything off paved roads, get yourself waterproof hiking boots. Once your socks get soggy, there’s no going back.

Ankle support: I like having a shoe that give me extra ankle support. Once you get into rougher terrain, it becomes much easier to roll some ankles. Throw in mud and slick rocks and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Comfort: Your shoes will arguably do the most work of all your hiking gear, so get some that fit your feet well. Try different pairs on, get a feel for what you like.

Lightweight: The rain automatically adds weight to you. Imagine owning heavy boots and being coated in sludgy, heavy mud. You’ve added a lot of unnecessary weight to your legs. Get some lightweight boots that are sturdy enough to deal with the elements and you’ll thank yourself. Every pound matters on long hauls.

One final note on boots- each model has a different break-in time frame so make sure your boots are broke-in before you take them on longer hikes.

Gaiters

Gaiters are great to pair with non-waterproof hiking pants. They are waterproof and will protect the top of your hiking boots from mud and water. These are a vital piece of rain gear that will keep your socks and feet dry.

Insulating Layer

An insulating layer is great for colder weather. If you’ve got a waterproof top layer jacket, the insulating layer beneath will keep your core warm. Do everything you can to keep it dry though.

This layer becomes unnecessary in the warmer months. A base layer and waterproof layer should be plenty for this scenario in the rain.

I like to get a 3-in-1 jacket which includes this layer. When it’s warm I just unzip it and leave it behind.

Thermal/Wool Base Layer (If it’s cold)

Thermal or wool long johns are one of the most important layers for cold, rainy weather. These are going to keep your body heat and be the first line of insulation from the elements. Though not waterproof, they are required for all cold weather hiking.

Clothing Tips For Hiking In The Rain

Avoid Wearing Too Many Layers

Layering for a hike is an overlooked topic. Wear too many and you could sweat through, too few and you’ll freeze. A lot of it is knowing your body.

Remember, it’s always easier to remove layers than add them later. It’s also easier to keep clothing dry than drying them out after the fact!

Warmer Weather: I usually have a base layer (t-shirt, sometimes long johns, etc.) as well as my outer waterproof layer.

Cold rain: Because I don’t want to freeze I’ll have all layers of my 3-in-1 ( i.e. insulated layer) and a thermal layer underneath. If it’s really cold, I’ll have an additional layer under my waterproof clothes.

More Notes On Layering:

  • Don’t wear cotton layers in the rain. Cotton holds moisture and will make for a rain soaked day.
  • Do wear synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon for your base layers. Their moisture wicking and quick dry properties will keep you dry.
  • Wool layers are also recommended because wool keeps you warm even when wet. Wool socks and base layers are a must during the rainy season.

Keep A Spare Set Of Dry Clothes

Bring another set of clothes in your pack. It’s essential to have something dry to change into. If it’s a day hike, you’ll be able to change before getting in the car. If you’re backpacking, you’d hate to sit there in wet clothes all the time.

Bring The Right Gear For Wet Weather Hiking

Use Trekking Poles

Hiking poles are a great tool for hiking in the rain. When the ground is slick and you’re on a muddy trail, stability is extremely important. Your poles will give you more points of contact, which in turn keeps you upright.

If you don’t have trekking poles, a walking/hiking stick is useful too.

Have A Waterproof Rain Cover For Your Pack

Hiking backpacks aren’t fully waterproof. Water can makes its way into the seams and zippers, so it’s important to have a rain shell for it (waterproof cover). Get a lightweight one to cover your pack and keep all the important stuff dry.

Pack A Tarp

A tarp is one of the most versatile hiking/camping tools out there. If you’ve got the room for a lightweight, waterproof one I recommend having it with you. When backpacking, a tarp can be used to create all sorts of simple survival shelters or be a rain cover for your tent. Keep one handy on longer hikes.

Hiking Rain Gear Tips

Waterproof Your Well Used Gear

A lot of us have had our hiking rain gear for some time now and it may not perform as well as it should. Well-worn gear starts to absorb sweat, dirt and other materials that impact its ability to keep us dry. Instead of beading up water, it does what’s called “wetting out.” this is when water now absorbs into the material.

This doesn’t mean you need new gear! A simple wash and reapplication of DWR (durable water repellent) will make your gear perform as new. View our step-by-step guide on how to do this. Before hiking in the rain, make sure your gear is performing at its best.

If You’re Overnighting On The Trails, Pick The Right Spot

Extended backpacking trips are a lot of fun, but in rainy weather you have to pick the right spot to set up camp. Here’s some guidelines:

  • Set up in a place that won’t pool runoff water. Stay in a protected area with trees, but don’t pick the lowest or highest ground. Find the right median.
  • If the land is sloped at all, sleep with your head uphill.
  • Stay several hundred feet from any body of water.
  • When you break camp, take everything with you. Don’t leave anything that will negatively impact the environment.

Pack Waterproof Bags

I consider trash bags and zip lock bags important pieces of rain gear. Trash bags can be used to protect your larger gear from the rain or hold your wet gear after the hike. Or they can be used as a makeshift tarp. Sometimes you have to be resourceful.

Zip locks are going to keep all your small gear and important stuff dry inside your pack (wallet, phone, etc.). They’re also a great little product to keep things organized.

Safety Risks For Rainy Day Hikes

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when your body temp drops below 95F. This can prevent your heart, nervous system and other organs from working normally.

Some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Shivering is going to be the first sign that your body temp is dropping
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Mumbling or confusion

If you or someone in your group is showing signs of hypothermia, here’s some general tips:

  • Get them to a dry, warm area.
  • Get them into dry clothes. Wet clothes will prevent their body from warming up.
  • Use blankets to get their body temp back up, but avoid any direct heat.
  • Be easy on their body as sudden, jarring movements can cause issues with their heartbeat.

Above all, if you suspect someone if suffering from hypothermia, do what you can to get them safely warmed up and contact medical professionals immediately.

Lightning

Thunderstorms are awe inspiring, but not something us hikers want to get stuck in. Those cracks of lightning instantly make us wish for good weather. It’s certainly a spectacle as it streaks across the sky, but you really need to be prepared with a plan if you get caught in a storm.

Hiking in the rain can be loads of fun, but you need to be in tune with the weather forecast and understand how to process the info. Weather is not an exact science, but there have been countless books written and studies done to understand it better.

Do your own research about how to handle a storm but here’s some basic guidelines if you find yourself caught in a storm:

  • Avoid high ground; peaks, hills, anything that puts you higher in the air.
  • Avoid lone standing objects; tree in a field, light post, telephone pole.
  • Ditch anything metal on your person during the storm.
  • Seek shelter like a ranger station if one is near.
  • Avoid bodies of water.

Flash Floods

It’s extremely vital to understand the dangers of flash flooding especially in canyon areas. These floods are a real threat during heavy rain. Even if it’s not raining in your area, there may be heavy storms upstream of you that will cause a rapid rise in water levels.

One time we were in Utah, a guide group was almost swept away by a flash flood due to a storm up canyon of them. They had to scale the canyon walls to escape. A lot of these places have threat level warnings so pay attention to them before you get on the trails.

Landslides

Pretty self explanatory here, landslides are a dangerous natural disaster where the land slides down a slope. It’s an avalanche of debris and mud that takes out everything in its path. These are only going to be a threat in sloping terrain where the debris can run downhill. Just be aware in these areas that heavy rainfall can soften the ground enough for large portions of it to give way.

Watch Out For Slippery Rocks,Trees, and Other Trail Hazards

Landslides are only prevalent in certain terrain, but there are some hazards no hiker can escape. Hiking in the rain exposes all of us to the typical slick rocks, fallen trees and slippery trails. These can easily lead to rolled ankles and other sprained joints.

Going down on a wet trail will also cover you in mud which will make it more difficult to stay dry. Once clothes soak through you won’t get them dry again. A good pair of hiking boots and trekking poles will go a long way in preventing a fall in the wet conditions.

Other Tips For Your Rainy Day Hike

Prepare For Bad Weather

Weather is tough to predict, meteorologists get it wrong all the time. The best we can do as hikers is to prepare for what’s in the forecast. If there’s a hint of rain, then we’re going to have our rain gear. Don’t get caught unprepared out there.

In warmer weather, there’s the possibility of pop-up storms. Could be a perfectly sunny day and next thing you know there’s a storm cell on the horizon. We can’t fully predict what it’s going to do out there, but always check before you go. And if you’re able, check it while you’re out there. Having up to date information can be life saving.

Do Your Trail Research

Another good planning step to have on every hike is trail research. It’s important to have an idea of what the trails are like.

Do you have steep elevation changes? These might be more difficult to navigate if they’re wet and muddy.

Are there shelter options like ranger posts in the area if the weather gets really bad (Don’t recommend hiking with forecasted t-storms but in case one pops up)?

Does the trail take us into any deep canyons? We want to check the flash flood threat levels and avoid those sections if there’s higher likelihood.

Hiking in the rain is a lot of fun, but picking the right trail for the day is vital. Do the research on your options because you may end up fighting a losing battle.

You Still Need To Stay Hydrated

it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, our bodies need water to function. Even in cold, wet weather we’re losing vital fluids to keep our body functioning properly. We have to still take in enough water and other electrolytes to avoid dehydration.

Continue carrying your water bottle and hydration pack (if this is something you have) and get the required fluids you need.

Don’t Forget Your Trail Mix

Our bodies need nutrients to fuel us during hikes, so I always have some kind of snacks packed with me. When it’s raining and slippery though, it can be a pain in the butt to go through the process of stopping and eating.

Keep it simple with the snacks when you’re hiking in the rain. And make them easy to get to so you don’t need to mess around inside your pack too long.

Some easy snacks to take on a rainy hike:

  • Trail mix (I have a few different ways I make it myself)
  • Jerky
  • Protein bars
  • Trail sausage (Slice this up beforehand to make for easy eating)

The key is bringing easily packable food that doesn’t require utensils.

Know When It’s Time To Postpone Your Hike

None of us ever want to cancel a hike. You don’t necessarily have to do that, but there are times a postponement may be necessary. We can fight Mother Nature all we want but she will always win. Some things are just too much to overcome.

There could be a number of factors that arise before or during a hike that may force us to make the call.

  • A steady, light rain has turned into a torrential, heavy rain.
  • Weather forecast has continued to worsen.
  • Bad weather upstream of your location, leading to high probability of flash floods.
  • Not being properly equipped for the weather you’re currently in.

These are just a few things that could lead you to postponement, but the important thing is to evaluate the situation you’re in.

An important note on this is to have your own risk assessment. My tolerance will be different that yours, so take mental notes on what you will and won’t hike in, then stick to it. As you become more experienced, the more things you’ll be comfortable hiking in. Risk management is what keeps us safe while allowing us to push the boundaries of our comfort zone (Don’t hike in a t-storm though, seriously).

Hiking In The Rain Is What You Make It

The rain can put a damper on everything if you let it. When you’re in the rain, you have to be less focused on the final result and more on the moment. If you have an end spot already decided, the hike will feel like a miserable slog.

Instead, take in every cool sight you see and be happy with where you end. You’ll see a lot more than you would’ve ever thought, enjoy it more and consider the hike a success. Also, there are almost never crowded trails in the rain!

Conclusion

We will leave you with this: your clothing and gear are the first line of defense against the rain and other elements. Hiking in the rain can be one of the most rewarding adventures, but you have to arrive prepared. Use this guide to get the necessities so that the rain never ruins another one of your hikes.