Almost without fail, new hikers prefer to hike only in good weather. Thoughts of a miserable sky, getting drenched through to the skin and slippery ground, all goes through your mind and easily puts you off heading out for a hike (and you end up opting for a blanket, munchies and Netflix instead!)
There are some good reasons to be cautious hiking in the rain but honestly it shouldn’t stop you from getting outside!
In fact, hiking in the rain can be fun and give you a new perspective to your favourite trail, where at the very least, you’ll notice more greenery and more wildlife. The smell and pattering sound of rain is soothing, nature’s colours are more saturated, the ambience is different and you’re more likely to have the trail to yourself with some divine solitude.
Hopefully we’ve convinced you to at least try a rainy day hike so let’s look at ways to ensure you have a great and relatively dry experience!
Check the Weather First
Checking ahead on the weather will give you an idea on how much rain to expect; you may luck out and end up with just an overcast sky and a light drizzle.
A bit of rain never hurt anyone but thunderstorms are a real threat to your safety. Your footing is more treacherous, big downpours can cause water to gush down trails, high winds can bring down branches, and lightning is deadly.
Mucho Respect for Mother Nature!
The point is, assess your own skill level and any danger when deciding whether or not to postpone a hike.
Choose the Right Trail
On rainy days, you won’t be able to see expansive views, so instead of heading for lookout, explore a trail through the forest or alongside a river and enjoy the relaxing sound of the rain.
Choose a trail that you’re familiar with. You’ll be confident knowing you can tackle it physically as you’ve done it before, you’ll be familiar with landmarks which will help keep your bearings, and you’ll already be familiar with the trail’s trickier spots.
Pick a short trail that you can do in a couple of hours or half-day. That way, if the weather turns really bad, you’re not too far from the car park. Also consider heading out in the morning; late afternoon in the rain often provides rather gloomy light, making your footing a little more treacherous.
Even if you’re on a familiar trail, having some safety measures can only help you feel more confident.
Satellite Communicator – This little handheld device has 2-way texting, SOS, and tracking capabilities. While these can be a tad expensive, if it gives you peace of mind then it’s not a bad idea.
Biodegradable Trail Tape – This tape is brightly coloured making it easy to spot. If you’re hiking on a trail that isn’t well-marked, tie pieces of tape to trees marking your trail – it’ll help lead you back on your return. Remember to untie the tape on your way back, stow it in your backpack and bin it when you get home.
Let Someone Know – Being prepared on a hike means always being prepared for an emergency. Even when the weather’s great, you should let someone know where you’re going and what time to expect you back. It’s even more essential on a rainy day hike when the risk of rolling an ankle could be somewhat higher.
Let Go of the End Goal – There’s a mindset we have when we hike, a determination that challenges us to reach our goal. But when the weather conditions get worse, it’s best to call it a day and head back. Instead of setting your sights on an end goal, take in the scenery. That way, if you end up having to turn around early, you’re content with what you did.
Gear List for Hiking in the Rain
Keeping you and your gear dry is the aim of the day. The more comfortable you are, the better you’ll enjoy yourself.
Most backpacks aren’t waterproof, so first check to see if your backpack has a built in rain cover – it’s normally tucked into a little zippered pocket at the top or bottom of the pack. If you do, great!
Not all pack covers work well and sometimes they allow rainwater to run down between your back and the pack itself, getting one side of your backpack wet. The cheapest solution is to use a rubbish bin bag to line the inside of your backpack with all your gear stowed inside the bag.
Dry bags are individual waterproof sacks you can use as secondary waterproofing for gear stowed away inside your backpack. They’re lightweight and durable, come in different sizes and have a roll-top closure which is wider at the top making them easier to get into.
Dry bags are useful for organising gear in your backpack. For example you could keep your first aid and personal medications in one, food or spare clothing and socks in another or to keep wet clothing separate from the rest of your gear.
If dry bags aren’t in your budget, you could easily get away with using smaller kitchen bin bags to separate your gear, rolling the top down in a similar manner to dry bags.
Zip Lock Bags
Your good old garden variety kitchen zip lock bags are handy to keep all your smaller items and electronics, like car keys, phones and portable charging banks, dry.
This also allows your store items that you want easy access to in the top of your pack, backpack pockets or jacket pockets.
You can even use a zip lock bag as a waterproof cover for your phone when you take photos. To keep your photos from coming out blurry, make sure your phone lens is super clean and use a brand new, crease-free zip lock bag pulled tight against your phone.
While zip lock bags are cheap, they’re not unfailingly waterproof or particularly durable, but they work in a pinch. We wouldn’t recommend using one that’s been stuffed in the bottom of your backpack – better to use a brand new one each time. However they work great if they’re inside a dry bag for extra waterproof security, particularly for electronics.
The tricky thing about hiking in the rain is that you start out cold, then as soon as you start hiking and exerting yourself, your body warms up.
This is why layering is so important. You can add or remove layers depending on how hot or cold your body feels.
Below is a great way to layer up, but try to stay away from cotton because it’s definitely not moisture wicking, takes ages to dry and can chafe against your skin.
- Long sleeved lightweight top
- Long sleeved heavy weight top
- Lightweight down/synthetic jacket
- Lightweight rain jacket
To keep dry, it’s important that you prevent rain from getting onto your clothing and saturating it.
Here are some rainy hike clothing tips.
Rain Jacket – Go with a rain jacket with a hood from a reputable outdoor brand. Rain jackets also provide a break from icy wind and the hood, when pulled up over a baseball cap, will help keep the rain out of your face.
Rain jackets aren’t super breathable, so it’s easy to feel sweaty underneath. Look for a jacket with ventilation like pit zips to help regulate your body heat, zippered outside pockets with protective flaps and internal pockets to store your phone. However, also look for one that zips right up under your chin to keep rain from trickling down the front of your neck and one long enough to cover your butt.
Remember, staying dry is easier than drying out after you’re wet. Don’t wait to throw on your rain jacket, or to take cover in a downpour.
Waterproof Hiking Boots – Not all hiking boots are waterproof and if you don’t have ones that are, you can always use waterproofing spray to protect your boots on rainy hikes.
Kiwi Waterproofing Sprays: This brand makes a lot of great spray-on coatings for synthetic materials.
Scotchguard Fabric Spray: A lot of people swear by this. Just spray it onto your boots.
Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof: This can work on synthetic or leather boots.
Gear Aid ReviveX Nubuck Suede and Fabric Waterproofing: Great for boots with a Gore-Tex or eVent lining
Gaiters – Even the best waterproof boots have their Achilles Heel – an open top. Often used for protection against snake bites during summer, gaiters also help keep your socks dry when hiking in wet conditions. This is essential to help prevent blisters. Gaiters are often made from waterproof or water-resistant material. If you have water resistant ones, you’ll want to regularly respray them with one of the waterproofing sprays we mentioned above.
Rain Hat – There are a few options for keeping the rain off your head. A waterproof wide brimmed rainhat, an Aussie stockman’s hat or a baseball cap.
Some stockman’s hats are often already water resistant which you can reinforce with a top up of waterproof spray. The wide brim will protect you from rain dripping down the back of your neck.
However most of us already have a baseball cap and the peak is great for keeping the rain off your face and glasses (if you wear them). The trick is to wear it under the hood of your rain jacket to help keep it dry.
Some people prefer a trekking umbrella like this one because they’re super breathable compared to a sweaty rain jacket and great for run-off. If you’re creative you can even fix the handle to your backpack strap and go hands-free! You can use a relatively sturdy everyday umbrella (which may only last a few hikes) or fork out for one made specifically for hiking.
Rain Pants – There are two ways you can go with this, rain pants that go over your hiking pants, or water resistant hiking trousers.
Rain pants are another clothing item that isn’t particularly breathable; they’re made of similar material to rain jackets, stopping wind and water. They’re much cheaper than water resistant hiking trousers, take up very little room in your pack and slip on easily over lower body active-wear; however they have little to no stretch in them.
Water resistant hiking trousers are durable and often made from material that gives, allowing good movement. They too have their downsides – admittedly more expensive, they won’t keep you dry in heavy rain and the water resistance fades after several washes (although this can easily be renewed with a waterproofing spray).
Wet Weather Tips
Keep your Feet Dry
We’re putting this tip first because we consider it our top priority! While we’ve already mentioned blisters (and we all know we can get them no matter the weather), hiking in the rain definitely increases your chances of getting them.
Don’t ignore wet socks or hot spots. If it’s possible to stop and redress hot spots with fresh tape or change into dry socks, do it before your feet get worse.
Bring Your Hiking Poles
TIP – Shorten the length of your hiking poles. If your hands are lower than your wrists, water is less likely to drip down into your sleeves.
Food and Water
Many people tend to not drink as much water when they hike in cooler weather. But we still sweat and lose water and electrolyte minerals. Even on wet, rainy days our bodies need plenty of water to continue to function properly and not dehydrate.
Cognitive and physical decline begin to show when we are as little as 2% dehydrated. So if you’re hiking, no matter the weather, it’s important to maintain your water intake.
Make sure you pack plenty of snacks remembering it’s better to have more than enough in case of an emergency.
Repack them into zip lock bags if the original packaging has a lot of air in it, to save space in your backpack (and to help keep leftovers dry or leave crumbs throughout your gear).
Don’t pack your snacks too deeply and always have some trail mix, dried fruit, or chocolate bars in your pockets. You’ll burn a lot of calories and it’s easier to replenish your energy without having to stop and dig food out of your pack.
Some other snack ideas:
- Beef jerky
- Fresh fruit like apples
- Energy bars
- Dry cereal like Nutrigrain
As always, please remember to leave no trace and pack out all snack materials (including nut shells, fruit peels, etc.).
Consider taking a thermos of coffee, tea or hot chocolate or even soup. Sometimes the only thing that will take off a chill is to warm yourself from the inside.
Thermoses like these are about the size of a water bottle and are more likely to fit in your backpack’s bottle holder.
Wet Weather Hiking Hacks
Pack a small Microfibre Towel
Microfibre towels are lightweight, compact and practical. They’re great for drying feet when you replace wet socks, wiping water from your glasses or phone lens, drying hands before you go fossicking in your backpack – their uses are many!
Wear Neoprene Gloves
If you’re out in really cold winter weather and your hands are so cold you can barely feel them, one trick is to wear neoprene gloves.
While they won’t keep your hands dry, neoprene insulates when wet, so your fingers will stay nice and toasty as you hike.
Keep Your Hands Warm With Little Hotties
Little Hotties are one-use hand warmers that offer 8 hours of warm hands, simply by shaking them for several minutes. Hikers use them for cold and rainy weather and especially for drying wet clothes.
Keep Your Camera Dry
Whether you use your phone or a DSLR, there are waterproof cases for both and they’ll help protect your gear from the humidity and still allow you to take photos.
Extra Safety Tips for Hiking in Wet Weather
Remember that staying dry is easier than drying out after you’re wet. Don’t wait to put on your rain jacket, or to take cover in a squall.
Keep monitoring the weather. We all know even the weather report doesn’t always get it right!
Keep an eye out for lightning. If you see any at all, take no chances and head back to your car.
Constantly self-assess. Add layers or grab a snack if you’re starting to feel a little cold. Pay attention to your feet. Check on your fatigue levels. If anything’s off, fix it or head home.
Let go of the end goal. If relentless rain is making things miserable or downright dangerous, turn around and call it a day.
Having a positive outlook and a sense of humour makes hiking in rainy conditions much more enjoyable.
But, don’t let a wet forecast stop you from being active and immersing yourself in nature. In fact, here in Perth, it’s one of the best times to hike!
With these tips, the right mindset, good preparation and quality rain gear you’ll have the opportunity to hike all year round.