Sometimes you have no choice but to hike in the rain. Maybe you got caught in an unexpected storm or maybe you live in a wet climate. Whatever the case, if you prepare properly, hiking in the rain doesn’t have to be miserable. In fact, on rainy days the trails are less crowded, the air is fresh, and the atmosphere is uniquely beautiful. This guide outlines 21 tips for hiking in the rain to help you stay dry and safe on the trail.
Table of Contents
This guide is divided into 5 sections:
- Clothing- choosing clothing, rain jackets, layering, and footwear and foot care
- Gear- gear to pack, protecting your gear from rain, and drying wet gear out
- Hiking safety- choosing a trail, weather, staying warm, trail conditions, and avoiding lightning
- Camping- choosing a site and camping gear
- Food and drink- staying well fed and hydrated in rainy weather
Choose the Right Clothing for Hiking in the Rain
Some clothes perform better in the rain than others. When selecting your clothing for hiking in the rain, you’ll want to pay special attention the material and waterproffness of each item. A few tips for dressing for a rainy hike include:
- Avoid cotton clothing- The main problem with cotton is that it loses its insulation qualities when it gets wet. Cotton also doesn’t breathe and takes forever to dry. It holds moisture which chills you as well. This is such a common problem that search and rescue workers start by removing all of your cotton clothing if you are showing signs of hypothermia. A common saying in hiking is ‘cotton kills.’ Leave the cotton t-shirts, hoodies, socks, and underwear at home and wear synthetic or wool items instead.
- Pack a waterproof rain jacket or poncho- This is your main defense against the rain. If your torso gets wet, you’ll be cold and miserable. Make sure your jacket is watertight.
- Make sure your rain gear is still waterproof- Most waterproof clothing is treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating. This is a chemical that makes water bead up and roll off rather than absorb into the fabric. Over time, the coating wears off until the garment needs to be re-treated. You can apply a DWR treatment yourself at home. I like Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent.
- Use synthetics or wool for insulation- Rainy days are often a bit chilly. You’ll probably want to wear a sweater under your rain jacket to keep you warm. Wool and synthetics like polyester are your best bet. These materials are quick-drying and breathable. They also still provide some insulation if they get wet, unlike cotton. Merino wool and fleece are excellent options. To help you decide, check out my wool vs fleece pros and cons list. You can also buy rain jackets with built-in insulation if you prefer.
- Avoid down insulation- Down keeps you warm by trapping air in small pockets between the fibers. Your body heat warms the air pockets. This trapped heat keeps you warm. Down loses its insulation qualities when it gets wet because moisture causes down to lose its loft so there is nowhere for the warm air to accumulate. Down also takes a long time to dry after it gets wet. Instead, you should use synthetic insulation. These high tech materials can provide insulation even when wet. There are also water resistant treated down and hybrid down synthetic options available that are designed for wet weather use.
- Pack a change of clothes- It’s important to always have dry clothes to change into. Socks are particularly important. If you’re just day hiking, you might want to leave your dry clothes in your vehicle. When you return, you can change before driving home.
Tip: Choose brightly colored clothing. It will prevent you from being mistaken for a deer if you’re hiking in an are where people hunt. Bright colors also make it easier for someone to find you if you get lost or injured during your hike. Some hikers also feel depressed on cloudy days. Bright colors can lighten up your day a bit.
Pack a Good Rain Jacket or Poncho
While hiking in the rain, you get wet in two ways. First is the rain. That one is obvious. To stay dry, you’ll need a waterproof outer layer, like a rain jacket or poncho that prevents rain from penetrating through to your lower layers and getting you wet.
The second way you can get wet is from your sweat. The problem is that waterproof clothing often doesn’t breathe very well. After all, it is designed to prevent water from passing through. The material traps your sweat inside and accumulates until you eventually wet out.
The solution is to choose a rain jacket or poncho that is both waterproof and breathable. You want to keep the rain out and at the same time you want your sweat to be able to vent out and evaporate away. Modern materials and designs can achieve this balance.
Waterproof breathable materials prevent liquid water from passing through but allow water vapor to vent out. They achieve this with tiny pores that are smaller than water droplets but larger than water vapor molecules. Rain stays out and your sweat vents away. Gore-Tex is one of the more popular waterproof breathable materials.
Your rain jacket should also have vents that you can unzip to allow for more ventilation. Underarm vents are a particularly nice feature because sweat tends to accumulate there. Some rain jackets have vents on the sleeves and sides as well. The more ventilation, the better.
Size is another important consideration. Choose a rain jacket that is large enough that you have space to wear a couple of warm layers underneath. It should be tight enough that it won’t get caught on tree branches as you hike through narrow trails.
I like the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket. It’s one of the lightest rain jackets on the market at just 5.5 ounces. The jacket is made of waterproof and breathable Pertex Shield fabric.
Many hikers choose to wear a poncho for rain protection instead of a rain jacket because they are more breathable by design. Ponchos are much more open so more fresh air can pass through and sweat can vent. They also protect more of your body than a rain jacket because they are longer. As an added bonus, ponchos cover your pack so you don’t need a separate pack cover. This cuts some weight.
Check out my rain jacket vs poncho pros and cons list to help you decide which type of rain gear is better for you.
Use Rain Pants or a Rain Skirt
If it’s really wet, you may want to protect the lower half of your body from the rain as well. Rain pants are waterproof pants that you wear over your hiking pants, base layer, or shorts to keep your pants dry. You can also wear them on their own. By keeping your legs dry, you can prevent thigh chafing. Rain pants can also help to keep your socks and boots dry.
When choosing a pair of rain pants, the most important consideration is comfort. Make sure the pants allow for a full range of motion. You don’t want to feel resistance or stretching when you take a big step over a rock or log. This slows you down and wastes energy. Rain pants should fit somewhat loose. They should also fit over your hiking pants.
One nice rain pants feature to look for is zippers on the bottom of the legs. These allow you to get the pants on and off without having to remove your boots. One problem with rain pants is that they make a loud and annoying sound when your legs rub together.
A rain skirt is an ultralight alternative to rain pants that allows for more breathability. They are basically a waterproof piece of cloth that wraps around your waist and hangs down to your ankles. The drawbacks are that rain skirts offer a bit less protection and aren’t quite as warm.
Dress in Layers
In order to stay warm and dry while hiking in the rain, you need to dress strategically. The best solution is to dress in layers. This way, you can add and remove clothing as you need to regulate your body temperature so you don’t sweat too much. The ideal layering system for hiking in rainy weather includes 3 layers:
- Base layer- You wear this layer directly against your skin. It should be sweat-wicking and quick drying. If you’re hiking in cold rainy weather, merino wool or synthetic thermal long underwear work well. They also trap heat to keep you warm, even when they get damp. You can also wear a base layer under your hiking pants for extra lower body warmth. If you’re hiking in warm weather, a synthetic t-shirt and underwear work fine for a base layer.
- Mid layer- This is your main insulation layer that keeps your core warm. You’ll remove this layer when you get too hot and start to sweat. A fleece jacket or wool sweater makes a perfect mid-layer because both materials dry quickly.
- Waterproof outer shell- This layer protects you from the rain and wind. This includes your rain jacket and pants or poncho. Some rain jackets have a built-in lining for extra warmth.
Tip: Remember that it’s always easier to stay dry than to get dry after you’ve gotten wet. When you start feeling a few raindrops fall, put on your rain jacket. If you wait, your shirt will get wet and it may take days to dry.
Take Care of Your Feet
Your feet take a beating when hiking in the rain. When your feet get wet, blisters develop more easily. Blisters are caused by the combination of moisture from sweat and rain and friction from your feet rubbing against your shoes. Fungal growth like athlete’s foot is also more likely when your feet are wet. If you hike with wet feet for an extended period of time, you could develop trench foot. This serious condition can lead to pain, swelling, and eventually tissue death.
A few tips to help you keep your feet healthy while hiking in the rain include:
- Tape up any spots where blisters or hot spots are likely to develop- Use athletic tape or moleskin to cover any parts of your feet that rub against your boots. The tape protects your feet from friction from rubbing on the shoes. Exactly where you tape depends on your feet and footwear. Common problem spots include the toes, heel, and sides of your feet. If blisters begin to develop, be sure to clean your feet, let them dry out, and tape up the blister so it doesn’t get any worse. For tape, I like BSN Medical Leukotape P.
- Let your feet air out once in a while- If your socks and shoes are wet and there is no way to dry them off, you can really save your feet by stopping for a few minutes to let them air out. Just find a comfortable place to sit and remove your socks and boots. You can also dry your feet off with a towel if they are soaked. I like to take my boots and socks off while I eat lunch.
- Put on dry socks- Throughout the day, sweat makes your socks wet. A simple fix is to swap them out for a fresh dry pair once in a while. Of course, if you boots are wet, your fresh socks will instantly get wet. Keep this in mind so you can properly ration your fresh socks. You should also make sure you’re using quality socks that are made from a quick-drying material like merino wool or a synthetic material. Avoid cotton socks.
Choose the Right Footwear for Hiking in the Rain
When it comes to choosing your footwear, the main decisions you’ll have to make is waterproof vs non-waterproof, hiking boots vs trail runners, and high top vs low top. Which you choose comes down to the length of your hike, the temperature, and personal preference.
For day hiking, waterproof hiking boots are an excellent choice. They can keep the water out and keep your feet dry for most of the day. Even in extremely wet conditions.
To ensure that your boots stay waterproof, you’ll want to renew the waterproof coating at the beginning of every season or when you see dark wet spots forming on your boots where they are getting saturated with water. This Kiwi Boot Waterproofer would work well.
The problem with waterproof boots is that water eventually makes its way in. Maybe you stepped in a deep puddle or maybe your boots just had a small leak. Whatever the case, when waterproof boots get wet, they take days to dry out. The reason is that the waterproof coating greatly reduces breathability. It also prevents sweat from venting away. Your feet tend to stay wet once they get wet. For this reason, waterproof boots aren’t the best choice for multi-day hikes or thru-hikes.
Instead, many long-distance hikers prefer non-waterproof breathable mesh hiking boots or trail runners when hiking in the rain. Mesh allows water to drain out. It also offers much better ventilation. This is great for foot health. Non-waterproof boots dry out much faster. Many boots come in both waterproof and non-waterproof versions.
High top boots are a good choice for hiking in the rain for two reasons. First, the provide extra ankle support. This can help to prevent your ankles from twisting if you step on a slippery log or rock. High top boots also keep water out better than low top.
Another footwear option to consider is hiking sandals. Hiking sandals allow your feet to breathe because they are open. This can help to reduce problems with blisters and athlete’s foot. Sandals also eliminate the need for socks. For more info, check out my guide to hiking in sandals.
Gear to Pack While Hiking in the Rain
The following items improve comfort and safety while hiking in the rain. Most are optional but highly recommended.
- Trekking Poles- Rain makes the trail slippery. When rocks and logs get wet, even the best hiking boots can slide around. It’s easy to fall and injure yourself. Trekking poles greatly improve your stability and traction by giving you two additional contact points with the ground. They help you maintain balance while walking over slippery rocks, logs, roots, and crossing water. Trekking poles can also help you gauge the depth of streams and muddy patches. For more info, check out my guide: Do I Need Trekking Poles?
- Gaiters- When you splash through puddles and walk by wet brush, your socks, pants, and boots get wet and muddy. Gaiters prevent this by sealing off the tops of your boots so water can’t enter. They also help to keep your pants and boots clean. I use these Unigear Leg Gaiters. Check out my full review here. For more info, check out my guide: What are Gaiters, Do you Need Them, and How to Choose.
- Headlamp- On rainy days the clouds block out the sun, making it darker than usual. In the evenings it gets dark earlier and in the mornings it stays dark later. A headlamp can help you see during these times.
- Towel or bandana- These work great for wiping down wet gear, wiping away condensation in your tent, and drying your body off. I always pack a synthetic camp towel like the Rainleaf Microfiber Towel. It absorbs a lot of water and dries fast. You can also pack a simple cotton towel or bandana.
- Rain hat- Your jackets’ hood can only do so much. A wide-brimmed rain hat can keep the rain off of your face and glasses. Baseball caps work well. Wear your rain hat under your jacket’s hood for extra protection and warmth.
- Gloves- When your hands get wet, they get cold. There’s nothing worse than packing up a wet tent with numb hands. If you’re using trekking poles, you’re also more likely to develop blisters on your hands when they’re wet. A lightweight pair of neoprene gloves can greatly improve your comfort. Neoprene is an interesting material because it doesn’t keep your hands dry but it insulates very well when wet. I like these NeopSkin Water Gloves.
- Umbrella- This is a bit of a controversial piece of hiking gear. Some hikers love umbrellas and others hate them. Personally, I love them. Umbrellas allow you to take your rain jacket off so your clothes can breathe and your sweat can vent away. You can mount your umbrella on your pack for hands-free use. The only drawback is that umbrellas can catch on branches and brush while hiking narrow trails. I like the Six Moon Designs Base Silver Shadow Ultralight Umbrella. It weighs just 8.9 ounces (252g) and features a reflective surface so it can be used as a sun or rain umbrella.
Use Waterproof Covers and Bags to Keep Your Gear Dry
If you end up getting caught in an all-day downpour, the interior of your hiking backpack will get wet. There is really no avoiding it. On most backpacks, the seems aren’t sealed and the zippers aren’t completely waterproof.
A few ways to protect your pack and gear from the rain include:
- Use a waterproof backpack cover- Some packs include a rain cover and sometimes you need to buy one separately. These work like rain jackets for your backpack. They are made of durable waterproof materials like silicon-coated nylon or polyester. They usually attach with elastic around the edges and a couple of straps with velcro or buckles to hold them in place. Make sure you choose a rain cover that matches the size of your pack.
- Line the inside of your backpack with a trash compactor bag- This a popular trick in the ultralight community. Simply open the bag and put it in your empty backpack like you’re replacing the trash bag in a trash can. Pack all of your gear in the bag then twist the top closed. These lightweight bags are completely waterproof and help to keep your gear dry. Because they are so thin, they don’t reduce the volume of your backpack.
- Use dry sacks to protect sensitive items- These can keep your gear dry, even if they are completely submerged underwater. They work great for protecting items that are the most important like your sleeping bag or camera.
- Store electronics in waterproof cases- Look for a waterproof case that is specifically designed for your specific phone, GPS, camera, etc to keep it dry.
- Ziploc bags- These offer a cheap waterproof solution. I like to pack my toiletries, as well as some food items in these plastic baggies to keep them dry. You probably don’t want to trust these for valuable or essential gear because they can easily tear.
Lay Your Clothes, Tent, and Sleeping Bag out to Dry When You Have the Opportunity
If you’re on a multi-day hike in the rain, you will get wet. There is no avoiding it. You slowly track water into your tent. Your clothing slowly becomes saturated with sweat and rain. Every night, your sleeping bag gets a bit more damp from condensation. Your gear doesn’t dry because the humidity is so high when it rains.
The solution is to lay all of your wet gear out to dry whenever you have the opportunity. Even during a heavy storm, you can expect the clouds to break every day or two. When the opportunity arises, stop and dry everything out the best you can. If you don’t, your sleeping bag and clothes can slowly soak through until they lose all of their insulation properties.
While hiking the Wonderland Trail, I encountered six days of rain. It was almost constant. By day three my tent was saturated and my sleeping bag was getting so damp that I was experiencing cold spots where the down was beginning to clump.
While hiking through a boulder patch on the side of a mountain, I noticed that the rain was subsiding and the clouds were clearing. I took that opportunity to lay my gear out to dry right there and then. I unpacked my sleeping bag and tent and held them up in the wind to help them dry. There was a 20 minute window before the rain returned. They didn’t dry completely but enough that I could sleep comfortably for the next couple of nights.
Staying Safe Hiking in the Rain
Hiking in the rain isn’t particularly dangerous but there are a few risks to be aware of and prepare for. In this section, I’ll outline a few tips to help keep you safe if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Chose the Right Trail
Some trails are better suited for rainy day hikes than others. For example, you probably won’t want to hike to a summit because you won’t be able to enjoy the view due to the clouds. You may not want to hike through a wide open area because there is no protection from the elements. Save those hikes for a sunny and clear day.
When it’s raining, consider hiking trails that take you through forested areas. The trees offer some protection from the rain so you won’t get quite as wet. The sound of the rain hitting the leaves is pleasant and relaxing as well. Trails alongside a body of water like a river or lake can also be nice on rainy days. These trails are ideal because they don’t offer expansive views so you’re not missing out on anything.
While selecting a trail, consider the elevation gain as well. You may want to avoid steep trails because they often become slippery and treacherous during a heavy rainstorm. Look for flatter trails instead. You should also consider any water crossings. During heavy rain, creeks can swell and become dangerous.
Check the Weather Forecast Often
The weather can change unexpectedly. Particularly in the mountains. You might wake up to a sunny and calm day. By early afternoon, a violent and dangerous storm can blow in. You should check the weather before you hit the trail and throughout your hike. Ideally, daily.
One of the best sources for weather information in the United States is the National Weather Service. On this website, you can search for the weather forecast of a specific area by typing in the name of a nearby geographic feature like a park, mountain, or lake. You can also search by latitude and longitude coordinates.
If you know that you won’t have access to the internet for a few days, you can look at satellite images here to get an idea of what weather systems are nearby. Any storms within 300-500 miles could be moving your way in the next 24 hours depending on the direction they are moving. In the US, storms tend to move from West to East. Of course, that isn’t always the case.
If you’re on a multi-day hike, a great source of weather information is park rangers. They get the latest forecasts daily. Just drop in a ranger station and ask around. You can also ask fellow hikers that you meet on the trail.
Look Out for Trail Hazards Caused by Rain
A heavy rainstorm can cause some dangerous hiking conditions. It’s important to know what the risks are so you can avoid them. A few dangers include:
- Slippery surfaces- This is the most common danger you’ll face while hiking in the rain. Rocks, brush, roots, and logs become extremely slippery when wet. You should also tread carefully on slippery muddy slopes. If you step wrong, your legs can come right out from under you. Even if you have deep lugged soles on your hiking boots. The best solution is to slow down and take each step carefully. Make sure you have your footing before taking a step on a potentially slippery surface. Trekking poles also help greatly. They add two additional contact points with the ground. They can also dig in to muddy and rocky surfaces to improve your traction.
- Flash floods- If you’re hiking in a canyon, check the weather forecast for flood warnings. If you get caught in a heavy rainstorm, look for high ground you can access if the need arises.
- Mud or rock slides- Heavy rain can cause hillsides to wash away. This is a natural part of erosion. Rockslides are common when temperatures are around freezing. Water fills the spaces between rocks and the fractures in rocks. When the water freezes, it expands and pushes the rocks around slightly. When a rock gives way, it can tumble down a hill and bring more rocks with it. The same happens with mud. Every once in a while, rock and mudslides kill hikers.
- Swollen creeks- A creek or river that is normally shallow and calm enough to ford can become dangerously deep and fast-moving during a rainstorm. Before attempting to cross, look for a more shallow or calmer section. Use your trekking poles to stabilize yourself and test the depth before stepping. Unbuckle your backpack’s hip belt and chest strap so you can get free of it if you fall in. If it looks too risky, just turn back or look for an alternative route.
- Snow and ice- If you gain enough elevation, the rain can turn to snow. This presents a whole new set of challenges. One of the more dangerous is losing track of the trail. Just a couple of inches of fresh show can completely hide the trail. Of course, snow and ice also make the trail more slippery and treacherous. For more info on hiking in the snow, check out my guide: Winter Hiking Tips.
Stay Warm and Dry to Prevent Hypothermia
The risk of hypothermia increases while it’s raining. When clothes get wet, they don’t provide as much insulation as they do when they’re dry. The reason is that moisture reduces loft. Fibers clump together when they become wet so fewer air pockets exist in the garment to trap warm air and keep you warm.
Your body temperature can drop quickly when your clothes get wet. Mild hypothermia starts when your body temperature drops below 95° F. Early-stage symptoms of hypothermia are often called the ‘umbles.’ They include stumbling, mumbling, grumbling, and fumbling. In other words, you may experience shivering, slurred speech, and loss of coordination when hypothermia starts to set in.
If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, the best course of action is to take off your wet clothing, dry your body off, and put dry clothing on. Put on all of your insulating layers, a hat, extra socks, gloves, etc. to warm your body up and increase your core temperature.
You should also have something to eat and drink. Food digestion helps to increase your body temperature. Drinking a hot beverage also helps greatly. While it’s cold outside, you’ll also have to eat more calories because your body burns more energy to keep itself warm. If you’re feeling cold, eat while you hike so your body doesn’t cool off too much.
Hypothermia is an even greater danger at night. If your down sleeping bag or quilt gets wet, it loses loft. Water causes the down insulation to clump together so there are fewer air pockets to trap warm air. A wet sleeping bag could put you in a life and death situation. Be very careful to keep your sleeping bag and warm clothing as dry as possible.
Tip: Use a synthetic sleeping bag when you expect wet weather. Synthetic materials still provide some warmth when wet.
If There is Lightning, Find Shelter
Before heading out, you should check the weather forecast to see if there is a chance of lightning. If there is, you might want to stay home or seek shelter until the storm passes.
The best shelter is indoors. Look for an enclosed building like a ranger station, store, visitor’s center, restaurant, etc. where you can wait out the storm. Vehicles also work. Open structures like trail shelters are not safe.
If there are no buildings nearby, look for a low spot in the area. A valley or depression is ideal. If you’re on a mountain, descend. The reason this works is because lighting tends to strike where it has the fastest route to the ground. If you’re in a low spot, chances are the lightning will hit a tree or large rock instead of you.
Avoid standing under isolated trees or high spots in the terrain. These are the most likely places for lighting to strike. Most people who are injured by lightning weren’t struck directly. They were standing near an object that was struck.
If you’re carrying metal trekking poles or a metal framed backpack, stash them at least 100 feet away from you. If you’re hiking in a group, try to move 100 feet away from one another.
Set a Reasonable Hiking Goal
When it’s raining, you can’t cover as much ground or hike as quickly as you can on a clear day. The slippery ground makes you take things a bit slower. You may encounter some obstacles that take more time to navigate, like swollen streams for example. If you’re used to hiking at 3 miles per hour, you may only be able to maintain a pace of 2 mph in the rain.
Hiking in the rain also takes a bit more energy because your body needs to produce extra heat to keep you warm. You may tire out more quickly. If you usually hike 15 miles in a day, you might only be able to make it 10 miles in the rain.
For these reasons, it’s important to set reasonable goals when it’s raining. Choose a shorter trail or turn around when it’s getting too late. If you’re on a multi day hike, give yourself some extra time in case you have some slow rainy days. Try not to push yourself to finish. You can end up rushing or making a mistake and injuring yourself.
If the Weather Gets Too Bad, You Can Bail
There is no shame in calling it a day and heading home if a storm makes the hike miserable or dangerous. After all, you’re out there to enjoy yourself. If you’re not, you might as well call it quits. If you feel that the weather is getting dangerous, it’s best to just leave. The trail isn’t going anywhere. You can always return another time to complete the hike when the weather is better.
Camping in the Rain
If you’re on a multi-day hike, you may end up having to camp in the rain. This adds a whole nother level of difficulty to camping. You have to take some additional precautions to keep yourself and your gear dry. Falling asleep to the relaxing pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the roof of your tent is worth the hassle. In this section, I’ll explain how to stay dry while camping in the rain.
Choose an Appropriate Shelter for Rainy Weather
In order to stay dry, you’ll want to make sure that your shelter is completely waterproof so you don’t end up getting soaked during the night. The best and most waterproof shelter option for camping in the rain is a double-wall tent with a bathtub floor. Tents offer rain protection from all sides, even the floor. During a heavy storm, you won’t have to worry about water splashing or blowing in from the sides. The rainfly or tent walls will protect you.
Double-wall tents are preferable in the rain because they offer better breathability than single wall tents. You need this because condensation is a major problem in wet weather. The bathtub floor keeps water out if the ground becomes saturated or water flows through your campsite.
For additional water protection, you can also pitch a tarp over your tent. This also gives you more dry space to move around in. It also works great if your tent has some leaks. For more info on tarps, check out my tarp vs tent guide.
Another shelter option to consider is a hammock and tarp combo. This setup keeps you off the wet ground so you don’t have to worry about water seeping in. Of course, your tarp has to cover you from the sides so water doesn’t blow into your hammock. For more info, check out my hammock vs tent guide.
One shelter you’ll want to avoid in wet weather is a bivy sack. These small shelters suffer from condensation problems. It’s also just miserable being trapped in such a small place when it’s wet out.
Tips for Selecting a Campsite in the Rain
Almost as important as your shelter itself is your campsite selection. If you pick the wrong site, you might wake up in a puddle. A few tips to pick a dry site include:
- Choose an elevated site- Camp on higher ground. Water will run downhill away from your site. Don’t camp in a depression where water can accumulate. You don’t want to wake up in a puddle.
- Look around for signs of water- For example, maybe you see a muddy trench where water obviously flows. Don’t pitch your tent on top of it because it will probably fill with water when it rains.
- Don’t camp near a river, stream, or lake- During a heavy storm, the water level can rise. You don’t want to wake up underwater.
- Camp at lower elevations- Sometimes you can escape the rain completely by descending a couple thousand feet. It rains much less at lower elevations. The reason is that it’s warmer so the air can hold more moisture. It will be more humid but less rainy.
- Camp under the canopy- Tree cover can protect you from rain. Whether or not this works depends on the type of trees in the region.
Tip: Use a pee bottle when camping in the rain. Getting up in the night during a rainstorm to go to the bathroom is a hassle. You have to put on your boots and rain gear or you’ll get wet. Instead, just go to the bathroom in a bottle. This way, you’ll stay warm and dry. Alternatively, try not to drink anything a couple of hours before bed so you don’t have to go in the night.
Take Precautions to Reduce Condensation and Keep the Inside of your Tent Dry
Your gear and clothing don’t just get wet outside in the rain. They can also get wet inside of your tent. The main culprit is condensation.
This natural process occurs when warm, moist air contacts a cold surface. Your body heat and breath heat the air inside of your tent. The outside air cools the tent fabric. When the warm air touches the cold tent, you get condensation. During the night, water droplets collect on the inside walls and ceiling of the tent until it becomes saturated. If it gets bad enough, water starts to drip down on you and your gear.
The rain makes condensation worse in two ways. First, there is more moisture in the air to condense. When it rains, humidity is usually at or around 100%. Second, you track more moisture into your tent when it’s rainy, which can condense.
There are three ways to reduce condensation:
- Choose the right campsite- You want to choose a campsite with low humidity, if possible. Look for sites under trees, on high ground, and away from bodies of water.
- Maximize ventilation- Stake out your tent taught and open up your tent windows so moisture can vent away instead of condensing.
- Minimize the moisture that you bring into your tent- Leave wet gear outside under the vestibule. Be careful when pitching your tent so the inside doesn’t get too wet.
For more info, check out my guide to reducing condensation in your tent.
Food and Drinks for Hiking in the Rain
When it’s raining, you may want to eat and drink a bit differently than you would on a clear day. This section outlines how to stay well fed and well hydrated in wet weather.
Pack Foods and Snacks that are Easy to Prepare and Eat on the Move
When it’s raining, you’re not going to want to take the time to set up your stove and wait around for water to boil. When it’s really pouring, you probably won’t even want to take the time to put together a peanut butter sandwich.
If you’re expecting rain, try to pack foods that are ready to eat. Ideally, foods that you can eat while you hike. Examples include beef jerky, trail mix, energy bars, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, fresh fruits, granola bars, candy, etc.
This is important for both your comfort and health. If all of your food is difficult or time-consuming to prepare, you probably won’t eat enough. If you have to stop to cook a meal, you’ll get cold. When it’s raining, consider leaving the stove at home and going no cook.
Drink Plenty of Liquids to Stay hydrated
Drinking cold water on a rainy day isn’t too appealing. On top of that, you’re not getting as hot and sweaty as you are on warm sunny days so you might not feel the need to drink as much. For these reasons, it’s easy to get dehydrated while hiking in the rain. Be sure to drink plenty of water anyway. Even if you have to force yourself to take a big drink every couple of miles.
I like to hike with a thermos and make myself a hot coffee or tea to sip on a cold and rainy day. It adds a bit of weight but it’s worth it. As an added benefit the warm drink helps me stay warm.
You can also add flavors to your water to make it more appealing. Just add some water flavoring powder or drops, shake your bottle up and your water will taste much more exciting.
A Few More Rainy Day Hiking Tips
- Take it slow- Drying out your gear and navigating slippery surfaces slows you down considerably. You probably won’t be able to hike as many miles per day while it’s raining as you can while it’s dry. Keep this in mind when planning your hike.
- Take short breaks- When you’re wet, you lose body heat quickly. You’ll get cold fast when you stop to take a break. It might hard to get warmed back up again if you stop too long. To avoid getting cold, limit your rest brakes to just a few minutes. Eat and drink while you’re hiking. If you need to take a long break, try to do it when you’re just about to start up an incline. That way, you warm up quickly when you start hiking again.
- Treat yourself- You can only spend so much time out in the rain before you start feeling miserable. After a long day in the rain, treat yourself to a hot meal and a couple of drinks. If you’re through-hiking, treat yourself to a hotel room. Take an extra rest day if you need it.
- Take a minute to reassess your situation frequently- If you feel cold, put on another layer. If the rain picks up, try to take cover until it slows down. If your feet hurt, let them rest or dry them off. When hiking in a group, make sure everyone is doing alright.
- Don’t let the rain stop you from going on a hike- If you’re not prepared, hiking in the rain is miserable. If you have the right gear, it can be an awesome experience. The fresh air, lack of crowds, and the calming sound of rain make for a great hiking experience.
My Experience Hiking in the Rain
Having grown up hiking in Washington State, I’ve experienced my fair share of rainy days. The most memorable storm I’ve endured happened while hiking the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier. My buddy and I planned our hike for late in the season to improve our chances of getting permits. We ended up going exactly one week too late.
A few days before our start date, we checked the 10 day forecast and saw rain every single day. We looked at some satellite images and saw that a massive storm covered the entire northwest region. It was too late to reschedule so we proceeded with the trip anyway.
The weather held out for most of the first day. Shortly after we reached camp, the rain started. It continued raining pretty much non-stop for the next six days. Sometimes it rained hard. Sometimes there was just a mist. It never really let up.
Every day, our gear grew slightly wetter. By the end of our hike, we were pretty much soaked through. Luckily, our sleeping bags stayed just dry enough that they would loft and keep us warm. We weren’t prepared for almost a week straight of rain. We felt pretty miserable at times.
After returning home, I had to reevaluate my gear. I increased the rain protection for my gear. Particularly my sleeping bag. I also upgraded some of my hiking clothes to faster drying options. Also, I started carrying an ultralight umbrella. These days, I feel much more prepared when the sky opens up.
Final Thoughts About Hiking in the Rain
Rainy days offer an incredible atmosphere for hiking. The freshness of the air lets you breathe easy. The sound of the rain on the trees has a calming effect. As an added bonus, the trails are much less crowded.
At the same time, the rain presents its own unique set of challenges that you have to overcome. It’s cold, messy, and sometimes dangerous. Hopefully, this guide helps you stay safe and dry while hiking in the rain.
Do you have experience hiking in the rain? Share your tips and stories in the comments below!