Hiking In The Rain — How To Properly Prepare

11 min read

Clouds loom overhead and darken the earth. A chill wisps through the air. It's no matter — you've just gotta go hiking in the rain.

For the avid hiker, the urge to hit the trails isn't easily suppressed, not even by a little drizzle or, if you've really got the hiking bug, heavy showers.

While most people would rather curl up in a blanket and grasp a fresh cup of hot chocolate to warm their palms, you'd rather be out on the trails. But should you go hiking when it's raining?

Hiking when it's raining and wet outside puts a new filter over the environment. There's a new sense of well-being. The fresh aroma of wet soil and trees pleases the senses.

Needless to say, it's delightful.

Don't go rushing out the door yet! There are some important things to keep in mind when going on your rainy adventure.

Is It Safe To Hike In The Rain?

Just like hiking in hot weather, hiking when it's raining poses some new challenges that wouldn't otherwise be faced under normal weather conditions.

The soil is softened and creeks can quickly overflow.

A pleasant journey can turn chaotic pretty quickly. Because of this, you need to be prepared for your rainy day hike.

It's always good to know what you'll be up against. So let's take a look at some things to keep in mind before you go hiking in the rain.

Dangers of hiking in the rain:

  • Landslide risk: heavy rain softens the soil and makes that once-fortified cliffside weaker. Due to the weakened soil holding up more weight from the added water, gravel and rocks can dislodge and cause the rest of the land to come plowing downhill. This is dangerous to hikers traveling through valleys and lower elevated paths.
  • Flash floods: excess rain can cause reservoirs and creeks to overflow at a rapid rate. Flash floods occur very fast and often without notice, hence the name. Venturing through a nearby creek puts you at risk for getting swept away in a flash flood. Put special attention on the volume of the flowing water. If you hear a crescendo or rushing water, get out of there. Though, the best way to avoid flash floods is to keep a safe distance between you and the body of water.
  • Slipping: needless to say, certain rocks and surfaces can be deceptively slippery in the rain, even if you're sporting footwear with a good grip. It'd be wise to take your time navigating uphill and downhill terrain. Do your best to avoid having to navigate over rocks or through creek beds. But let's say you've just got to get over that creek bed. Take it very, very slow. Bring some hiking poles to help your stability. Or just be safe and don't do it at all.
  • Lightning: you definitely don't want to be at the end of a simmering bolt. When mother nature cracks her whip and sounds thunder, you'd better take cover. Believe it or not, getting struck by lightning during a hike does happen. And it doesn't require you to be in an open field, brandishing a 6-foot sword overhead.
  • Weak trails: you don't need to be at the bottom of a hillside to fall victim to landslides. Traveling on narrow, elevated paths also puts you at risk for creating a landslide and tumbling downhill.

Now that you understand the risks of hiking when it's raining, let's take a look at some ways to properly prepare yourself.

How To Prepare

Some folks don't mind getting a little wet during a hike. In fact, it can be a pleasing cool-off when you're being especially active.

However, you still want to make sure your body temperature isn't too low, and you definitely don't want to feel soggy and bogged down during a hike — you want to at least enjoy the outing.

Avoiding Hypothermia is our #1 priority here. Make sure you're aware of the signs of hypothermia if you're out exploring in a particularly cold climate.

The key to wearing the right clothes in the rain is to bring something that's water-resistant but still allows some good airflow and "breathability". There are a lot of rain jackets and other hiking attire specifically designed for this.

Warm socks are obvious, too. On the other hand, your socks aren't going to matter if your pants are getting drenched. Consider some good boots with plenty of grip and pants that are water-resistant.

What to wear for hiking in the rain:

  • Don't wear denim or cotton: Aside from discomfort, denim and cotton absorb a ton of moisture and can take a long time to dry. Wearing cotton on a rainy day hike is a surefire way to bog yourself down and shoot a spine-chilling breeze through your body.
  • Avoid trail runners: Trail-runner shoes are a great, lightweight choice for hiking during dry seasons, but they're lousy if you're going to be dealing with mud and water. They're usually vented and made of lightweight material, which isn't ideal for your footwear during a rainy day.
  • Layer up: Be sure to layer up on your clothes. Even if you overdo it, it's a lot better to have to remove clothing rather than not bring enough. Stick to warm fabrics like wool, and waterproof jackets and pants.
  • Put on a waterproof jacket: Your choice of jacket is the difference between having a fun adventure and having a miserable one. Don't pick a jacket that absorbs a ton of moisture. Go with a waterproof jacket that has great breathability. This waterproof hiking jacket is a great choice. Not only does it have great breathability, but it's kept me warm and dry on particularly cold days. It's been a game-changer when hiking in the rain, for sure. For the gals, here's a good choice.
  • Wear waterproof hiking pants: Just like your jacket of choice, picking the best pants for hiking in the rain is crucial. Stick with a pant that is polyester and nylon. Water-resistant pants are a plus. My go-to for the best waterproof hiking pants are these pants from Columbia. They're lightweight and will keep your legs warm. What's cool, too, is they are adjustable near the ankle. This is perfect for keeping your socks dry. For the ladies reading this, here's a good pick for you!
  • Strap on some gaiters: A lot of pants designed for rain will have adjustable ankle straps. However, sometimes we end up wearing trousers that don't have this feature. If you're navigating through wet vegetation and don't have the right amount of coverage from your pants, these gaiters are a smart choice for keeping your socks dry. They can also be used in the snow, too.
  • Cover your head with a waterproof hat: Regular hiking hats aren't usually made to deal with rain. If you're using a hat that isn't waterproof, it's going to soak up a lot of moisture. Always opt for a waterproof hiking hat instead of a regular hiking hat. If you want to keep your noggin dry, go with this waterproof hiking hat.
  • Wear waterproof hiking boots: A good waterproof hiking boot will not only keep your feet dry, but it'll also keep 'em warm, too. Unlike wearing vented footwear for warm days, we want to try to preserve our body heat and energy. Another thing to keep in mind is grip. You don't want to navigate a slippery landscape with minimal grip on your footwear. With all of these points considered, my favorite choice for rainy-day hikes is these waterproof hiking boots. They're stable, provide great grip, and keep my feet toasty and dry.

Choose The Right Trail

Rainfall brings several unique challenges: mud and unstable soil. If you're hiking in the heat, you don't need to always need to worry about a trail or ridge's integrity.

Hiking in the rain, though, changes things a bit. Soil gets softer, weaker, and crumbles easier. Simply put, narrow trails on steep hillsides are more prone to landslides during the rainy seasons.

Make sure the trail you're taking is bigger and more fortified.

If you plan on exploring near creeks or rivers, be aware of rocks. Though solid, they're deceptively slippery and unforgiving. Always make sure you test the grip on your shoes and get your balance right first before going over any wet rocks.

Also, trails with some trees are great if you don't want to constantly be showered down on. If you're near riverbeds or creeks, be mindful of the water level as they can swell pretty quick during a heavy downpour.

hiking in the rain

Pack The Right Items

Just because you're wet and surrounded by water doesn't mean you don't need extra hydration! Be sure to bring the right amount of water and snacks for your hike.

Just like activity in extreme heat, hiking in the rain and cold can wear you down pretty quick. It's always a good idea to mind your energy levels. So take the extra measure to keep yourself hydrated and fueled.

Bring a waterproof backpack. If you don't have a waterproof backpack, get some large ziplock bags and place your water-sensitive items in them. If you're planning on a longer hike, be sure to bring extra clothing items, too.

What items should you pack for hiking in the rain:

  • Snacks for hiking: The type of snacks you bring for a hike won't really change based on the weather. A good rule of thumb is to know what snacks are best for a day hike and pack accordingly.
  • Plenty of fluids: Just because you're wet and cold doesn't mean you're not going to lose fluids. Be sure to bring the right amount of water for your hike.
  • Ziplock bags for water-sensitive items: Though some cell phones have waterproofing these days, other items like GPS might not. Bring ziplock bags to store items you want to keep dry.
  • Waterproof backpack: Waterproof backpacks will keep your gear dry and help insulate temperature. The cool thing with waterproof backpacks is they're usable in just about any weather. If you want to keep your items dry with a lightweight backpack, go with this waterproof backpack. It weighs a little over 2lbs and can be used in several different weather conditions.
  • Extra socks: Always bring some extra socks. It's easy to misjudge the depth of a puddle or creek, and your feet are still going to sweat, especially if you're hiking for a long time.
  • Foam mat (optional): Foam mats, like Yoga mats, are great for unrolling when you need to take a rest. It may come in handy and keep you dry during a seated rest, depending on the amount of moisture.

Check The Weather

Well, of course, it's going to rain! But rain isn't a static state. Rainfall can vary in intensity within an instant.

It's wise to check the forecast ahead of time so you're prepared for what mother nature intends to dish out against you on the trail.

Another important thing that nobody talks about when going for a rainy-day hike: lightning. Look, there's no intent to scare you but people get struck by lightning more than you think.

How to avoid lightning when hiking:

  • Check the weather for lightning storms.
  • Check the horizon frequently for large cloud clusters and formations.
  • Hike in lower-elevated, sheltered areas.
  • Don't hike in wide-open, elevated plains.
  • Listen for thunder.
  • Look for lightning flashes.
  • A cool trick to remember: if you see lightning, count the seconds until the thunder roars. Divide that number by 5 to determine the distance in miles.
  • If you hear thunder less than thirty (30) seconds after the lightning flash, take shelter and hold up a while (hope you packed that extra gear mentioned earlier).

If Possible, Bring A Partner

During the rainy season, there are fewer people out visiting national parks (we can't all be as savage as you are!). This means you will likely encounter fewer people if you're hiking in the rain.

To be safe, have a friend come with you. While going alone can be peaceful and fun, your safety should be your number one priority.

If you're unable to convince one of your more sensible friends to go get soaked on a trail, be sure to follow the aforementioned points in this article.

Pick safe trails, bring the right items, and be mindful of your surroundings and the weather.

Things To Remember For Hiking During Rain

Respect Your Mother

This should go without saying but it's worth noting here in its own topic. Mother nature — the universe, really — is unforgiving.

The weather and terrain conditions don't care if you're just passing through. Things can change in an instant. If you see any reason for worry, back down and be safe.

Remember: you can always hike another day. As with physical activity in any weather, always make smart choices and call it quits if you have to.