Tips for Hiking in the Rain
If you’re already a wet-weather hiking pro, check out the “5 Best Activities To Do Outside in the Rain” or "12 Tips for Trail Running in the Rain", ”Tips for Camping in the Rain” to enjoy a rainy day outside.
What are the benefits of hiking in the rain?
- No crowds: Until everyone else figures out how much fun it is to go hiking in the rain, you’ll have the trails practically to yourself.
- Pick up new skills: Slick conditions mean there will be new obstacles to overcome—leveling up your hiking ability and teaching you new outdoors skills.
- Unique sights and sounds: Between beautiful rainbows and unique birdsongs, rainy-day hiking offers sights and sounds you probably won’t experience on sunny days.
- Break out the camera: Rainy days offer unique lighting opportunities, and wildlife tends to make an appearance in between showers. You might even catch critters huddling together for shelter, offering a truly unique photo op.
- It smells amazing: There’s actually a scientific reason why the rain smells so good. “Petrichor” is a term that describes the odor created by chemical reactions that linger in the air after a fresh rainfall.
How do you stay dry when hiking in the rain?
- Invest in a high-quality rain jacket: It may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people skimp on quality when it comes to rain gear. Trust us, this is one area where it pays to invest in the best raincoat you can find. At the end of your rainy-day hike, you’ll thank us when you’re warm and dry.
- Leave the cotton at home: The coziness of cotton can be tempting to wear underneath your rain jacket, but the highly absorbent material has a tendency to stay wet for a long time. Instead, stick to moisture-wicking, quick-drying baselayers made from nylon, polyester, or other similar fabrics.
- Avoid natural down: Natural down does a fantastic job keeping you warm, but its performance features go out the window when it gets wet. If you want a jacket with insulation, opt for raincoats made with synthetic down as they tend to perform better when wet. (If you don’t know the difference, check out our quick-guide on Synthetic vs Natural Down.)
- Bring dry bags: A good set of dry bags will help keep your phone dry, as well as items like cameras, GPS devices, warm midlayers, snacks, and anything else that isn’t meant to mix with water.
- Wear waterproof footwear: When it’s really raining hard, water-resistant hiking shoes won’t quite cut it. Choose fully waterproof hiking footwear, preferably with technologies such as OutDry. (To understand the different footwear options, check out “Hiking Boots vs Hiking Shoes.”)
Is hiking in the rain safe?
Keep in mind that weather can change quickly, so it’s important to check forecasts before you go and monitor them throughout your hike. Watch for wind gusts, which can lead to falling branches and debris, and tell others where you’ll be hiking. (You should do this regardless of the weather.) It’s also a good idea to learn and practice basic survival skills in case your rainy-day hike turns into an extended stay in the wilderness. Finally, know when to call it quits. If Mother Nature is telling you to go home, listen to her.
Here are some potential hazards to keep on your radar:
- Slippery surfaces: When it’s raining, things like rocks, trails, leaves, wooden bridges, and moss can become slippery. This is another reason to wear high-quality hiking boots with excellent traction—ideally, those made specifically for the rain. If possible, opt for hiking footwear with Omni-Grip™ or other advanced traction technologies.
- Lightning: Rain can also mean lightning, so it’s essential to know what to do if you encounter it before going outside. The best thing to do is seek out a structure or find shelter indoors. But if you can’t do that, the next-best option is to get away from elevated areas—find the lowest area possible. And stay away from any bodies of water (rivers, lakes, etc.). You also want to avoid lone trees and other objects that can conduct electricity. For more information, read the CDC’s recommendations.
- Flash flooding: Flash floods can be dangerous due to how quickly they come on, often with no warning. Watch the weather reports as you hike, and never attempt to cross a creek or river when it’s actively flooding—the force of the current is stronger than it looks. If you encounter flooding, seek higher ground and follow the USDA’s advice.
- Rising water levels: In addition to presenting danger when crossing, rivers and creeks can potentially trap you somewhere if the water rises rapidly enough. Slot canyons in particular are notorious for surprising hikers and posing serious threats, so avoid these entirely if there is any chance of rain.
- Hypothermia: Staying warm and dry is your best defense against hypothermia. Wear high-performance rain gear and always dress in layers (ensuring that you have a moisture-wicking layer directly against your skin). Eat lots of carbs—both before and during your hike—and if you start getting cold, increase your cardio activity.
What gear do I need to hike in the rain?
- Rain pants: It’s not only your top half that needs to stay dry. Bring waterproof or water-resistant rain pants, along with a good hat, socks, gloves, and a balaclava.
- Trekking poles: These convenient trail accessories give you the surefootedness of a mountain goat. Trekking poles help you stay stable, especially in slippery conditions, and they’re also useful for testing water or ice depth. Trekking poles have a number of other benefits out on the trail.
- Flashlight or headlamp: Hiking in the rain can mean dense clouds and fog, which often make it hard to see. A flashlight or headlamp will help you see through any weather-related darkness or tree cover, and might be essential if you accidentally stay out too late.
- Towels and rags: Rainy weather often creates muddy trails, so having a rag handy will help clean the muck off your gear before the ride home. And having a warm towel to dry off with is nice too.
- Food and water: Hiking in the rain will make you hungry, so bring plenty of food and snacks, along with an ample water supply.
- Change of clothes: Although high-quality rain gear will help keep you dry, it’s still nice to have a full change of warm, dry clothes stashed in the car to step into before heading home. And don’t forget socks!