We’ve all been there: you’ve spent weeks planning an amazing hike. You’ve gathered all the gear; purchased the best snacks; scoped out your topo map of the terrain; gathered a group of equally-excited friends. Then you look at the weather. With 100% chance of rain, your hopes come crashing down as quickly as the pressure on the barometer. Do you really want to spend your weekend hiking in the rain? In a word: yes! Hiking in the rain has a bad rap for being less than ideal, but here is the thing -- you can still have a fun, successful trip. Rainy weather often clears way for the best sunsets. And, is there anything as sweet-smelling as that fresh scent of condensation sitting on the tree branches? I’d argue not. Hiking in the rain can still be a lot of fun as long as you prepare yourself with the proper gear and mindset. Here are a few tips that will help you enjoy that long rainy weekend on the trail.
Hiking in the Rain
What To Wear
If you plan on hiking in the rain, you will need to bring rainwear. Seems like a no-brainer, but not all rainwear is made equally. Carefully evaluate your waterproof jacket since all rainwear is different. Raingear can be waterproof, water-resistant, or waterproof-breathable, and each type serves a different purpose. If you know you’ll be hiking through some heavy rain, a water-resistant jacket won’t cut it. Likewise, there is a good chance you’ll want some breathability in that waterproof jacket if you are tackling an intense hike, so it is likely best to opt for a waterproof-breathable jacket. As for soft shells? They are comfortable and serve many purposes, but leave them behind for your rainy adventure. Soft shells tend to “wet out,” or completely soak through in super-moist conditions. If the rain is really pouring down, you may want to reach for your rain pants, too. Waterproof pants are similar to waterproof jackets, but most hikers tend to leave them as a last resort. That said, if you have a lot of climbing and/or know you will be hiking in gusty conditions, you will be thankful you brought them along. Finally, it’s not a bad idea to bring waterproof headwear, cap or at least have a waterproof jacket with a brimmed hood. Once you’ve been trekking through the rain for awhile, you will notice moisture rolling down your face and into your eyes (in addition to soaking your hair!) The ball cap or hood will not only cover your head, but it will keep the rain’s drip line away from your skin.
Prep Your Backpack
Many larger backpacks come with built-in rain covers that stash away in a pocket on the bottom. These can easily be pulled out and over your backpack to protect your gear in a rainstorm. If your backpack doesn’t come with one, don’t fret. You can easily buy one at any outdoor goods store. However, sometimes a pack cover doesn’t cut it. They can leave small sections of your pack exposed or even leak. If you are expecting hours of relentless rain, consider packing your gear into waterproof dry bags inside of your backpack, in addition to the pack cover. This will keep your arsenal of goods organized and protect everything from the moisture. If you aren’t sure of the forecast, here is a tip: always pack your topo map into a waterproof bag or laminate it. It doesn’t take much for a paper map to become soaked. An unreadable (or destroyed) map is not a good thing!
Choose Your Footwear Wisely
For many hikers, waterproof hiking boots are the way to go. They will keep your feet warm and dry, and you don’t have to worry about tromping through wet sections of trail. (Here are more reasons why.) However, what happens if you know that you will be hiking through deep puddles that may spill water over the top of your boots? All of a sudden, those waterproof boots are looking less appealing, since there is a good chance they will trap all that water alongside your feet! When this happens, I bring along a pair of gaiters. This keeps the water from pouring in through the top of your boots. As an added bonus, this keeps sloppy mud from sneaking in there, too.
Watch the Trail
Some of the best trails get slippery in picture-perfect weather, so it’s fair to assume these sketchy tracks should be off-limits in rainstorms. Pick your trails carefully so that you won’t have to be as concerned for your safety. In particular, avoid exposed ridge walks or slippery, moss-covered rocks that could lead to spillage. If you are really concerned about your footing, it’s not a bad idea to bring a pair of trekking poles. If you don’t use them, you can tuck them away in your pack. But, if things get slippery, they’re a nice option to have for additional balance. Additionally, keep an eye on the preservation of your chosen trail. So often, hikers come upon a splotchy mud pond in the middle of the path. Without thinking, they walk around the slop to avoid the mess and keep their gear clean. However, this is bad for the trail system since the trail will consistently widen as more people walk around the muck and cause erosion. Sure, it’s the messier option, but it is much better for the environment if you grin, bear it, and strut right on through that big ol’ mess of mud.
While hiking in the rain may not initially seem like the ideal conditions, don’t forget that you are getting the opportunity to see the world in a way that many others never will. Rain makes everything cleaner, fresher, and even greener. In fact, many parts of the country refer to rainstorms as “liquid sunshine” for all the goodness they bring to the environment. Stay positive and realize how fortunate you are to be out there in those beautiful surroundings. Besides, there is a good chance you will find yourself with a lot of solitude on those rainy trails!