A little rain never hurt anyone, so don’t despair if your hike gets interrupted by some showers. Hiking in the rain can be an enjoyable experience under the right circumstances, and one of the best ways to ensure that you won’t be stopped by a little sprinkle is by being prepared for rain before it begins to fall. Whether you are caught in a sudden downpour, live somewhere where rain is common, or purposefully set out to view nature during a storm, you can do so safely and without getting soaked, cold, and uncomfortable.
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about safely and successfully hiking in the rain.
Rain-Proof Clothing & Layers
Like having the proper gear, knowing how to dress for rain hiking is a vital component of staying safe and comfortable on the trail. Rain can penetrate deep into non-waterproofed clothing, weighing you down and chilling you to the bone, but with the proper layering, you can stay mostly dry. Of course, if you plan to be hiking in the rain, you should expect to get wet at least a little wet, but if you plan ahead and pack the right clothes, you can still enjoy the experience.
A rain jacket is an absolute must when hiking in the rain since your torso will bear the brunt of the rain as you make your way along the trail. Keeping your arms, shoulders, chest, and back dry can help you to combat symptoms of hypothermia, protect you from excessive heat loss, and prevent you from simply being uncomfortable. For hiking, a rain jacket should be lightweight, flexible, durable, and breathable to prevent sweat from accumulating under your layers. Your rain jacket should be your outermost layer, protecting everything underneath from rain and wind.
Note: Before you go out and buy any old rain jacket, consider first what waterproofing rating you’ll need to keep you dry. If you live in a particularly rainy area like Seattle, you may want to choose an option with a rating of 20,000 millimeters or above. If you only hike in the rain “on accident”, a jacket with a rating of 1,500-5,000 millimeters may be plenty. You should also check our complete guide to choosing the right rain jacket for hiking.
Rain pants, like a rain jacket, can help to keep your thermal layers dry, enabling you to stay warm even during a serious storm. Rain pants in particular can be extremely warm and insulating, and while this may help to keep you extra toasty, it can also be a hindrance to your overall comfort. Rain pants can make you hot and sweaty, leaving you damp under your clothes even if the rain doesn’t manage to penetrate. Because of this, rain pants need to not only be highly resistant to water but also need to provide enough breathability to prevent excessive sweating or chafing. Check out our guide to buying rain pants for more details on this.
A thermal layer goes under your outerwear (jackets, rain pants, etc.), providing an extra layer of insulation to keep heat in and cold out. While thermal layers are specifically intended to increase heat retention, thermal clothing should also be breathable and allow for venting of extra heat as a result of vigorous hiking. A great example of a thermal jacket that does exactly this is the Patagonia Thermal Airshed Jacket, which helps keep you warm and toasty in the coldest temperatures without causing you to sweat. Wearing a thermal layer can also help you to stay warm if water penetrates your outer shell.
Wicking layers are designed to be worn as a base layer and help to wick away moisture like sweat and humidity. Wicking layers help to reduce chafing, regulate body temperature, and add just a little extra protection from the elements. Wearing a wicking layer under your thermal and waterproof layers will help you to stay dry all the way through, and help to quickly wick away moisture from stray drops that find their way into your clothing. Wicking layers are typically made from synthetic materials or merino wool, but you’ll want to avoid cotton since this has a reputation for becoming waterlogged and causing chafing.
No matter the weather, footwear is super important when it comes to hiking since the right shoe can make or break the success and comfort of your trek. Rain boots may seem like the most logical solution to keeping your feet dry, but in truth, rain boots provide little in the way of traction or support. Instead, we suggest investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots like the Vasque Talus XT GTX Waterproof Boots, or Salomon Quest 4d 3 GTX Waterproof Boots that we’ve put to the test in real-world applications. Wearing waterproof boots isn’t just about keeping your feet dry and warm, it can also help to reduce the risk of chafing or blistering on the trail.
Gaiters protect your ankles and the tops of your boots from water, acting as miniature rain jackets to shield your lower legs. Wearing gaiters over your waterproof boots is a good way to add extra protection without wearing a full rain pant, and can help close the gap between your pants and your socks, providing additional protection from wind and rain.
Waterproof or water-resistant gloves may not be necessary for all hikers, but if you are traveling many hours in the rain, you’ll want to protect your hands and fingers. With prolonged exposure to moisture, your hands can become wrinkly, sensitive, cold, and stiff, making it hard to hold things and uncomfortable to move. If you are using hiking poles, gloves are an especially helpful piece of clothing to bring with you.
Socks are your base layer to keep your feet warm and dry and should fit comfortably without bunching or slipping in your shoes. Like thermal and wicking layers, your hiking socks should be made from synthetic materials and not cotton, since cotton is highly absorbent and can cause chafing or blisters. It is almost always recommended to bring a spare pair of socks in case one pair gets wet.
Gear for Hiking In the Rain
Preparation is the key to success for any hiking adventure, and hiking in the rain is no different. Before you set out on a soggy trek, it is important to load up with the appropriate gear to help you safely complete your journey. To take simple day-hikes and hike short trails, prepare with this essential rain hiking gear:
Waterproof Backpacks Or Waterproof Compartments
A backpack is an important piece of gear for any hiking trip, whether you are planning to enjoy just a few hours outside, or backpacking for multiple days and nights. A good hiking backpack includes plenty of space for everything you need, is lightweight, comfortable to carry, and includes extra features like weatherproofing. If you plan to hike in heavy rain, a waterproof backpack will be your best friend and can mean the difference between keeping your extra gear nice and dry and destroying everything on your back.
Many backpackers don’t utilize waterproof backpacks and opt instead for backpacks fitted with a rain fly / rain cover (explained below). This is extremely effective and a great option. In addition, hikers will bring dry bag compression sacks, like the ones from Sea To Summit to keep gear dry.
Waterproof backpacks come in a wide range of sizes and price points, so no matter what your budget may be you can certainly find an option that will work for you. Here are three packs we recommend at three different price points:
- Geckobrands Waterproof Dry Bag – $29.99 – Buy On Amazon
- Diamond Candy Waterproof Hiking Pack – $46.99 – Buy On Amazon
- Sea To Summit Hydraulic Dry Pack – $169.99 – $269.95 – Buy On Amazon
These are only a few options that serve as examples. There are hundreds of other quality options out there.
Pack Rain Covers
Some waterproof backpacks aren’t actually waterproof, and instead would be more accurately called water-resistant. Because of this, they won’t ward off heavy rainfall forever, and will eventually become wet and allow moisture to enter your pack and possibly ruin your belongings. A backpack rain cover is like a little rain-jacket for your pack, and easily be kept tucked in your pack until you need it making it a super convenient way to waterproof your bag. Some waterproof and water-resistant backpacks come with custom rain covers, but plenty of generic options exist that fit standard backpacks so you can transform any bag into a waterproof pack.
Ziplock Bags & Internal Protection
Ziplock and similar sealable plastic bags and containers are excellent for protecting important or sensitive items from water damage since they provide a waterproof barrier in addition to your backpack. Carrying a few extra ziplock bags can come in handy during a sudden rainfall to protect items like your phone, map, money and credit cards, or other important items you may wish to keep extra protected from moisture.
Compression sacks that function as dry bags are also favorites among hikers. You can use these sacks to compress clothing, but also store anything that needs to remain dry. Here is an example.
Rain creates wet, slippery trails, which can be hazardous even if you are extremely careful and surefooted. Shifting ground, muddy earth, slippery rocks, and everything else that comes with a heavy downpour can cause you to slip and fall, an experience that isn’t any fun even if you come away unscathed. A pair of high-quality, durable hiking poles will give you extra traction, and improved balance, reducing your chances of slipping while hiking in the rain. Hiking poles can be used to test ground ahead of you, used for extra leverage, or simply used to support some of your weight as you navigate through rough, slippery terrain.
Even a light sprinkling of rain can significantly reduce visibility, which is why we recommend carrying a headlamp with you whenever you are hiking in the rain. A high-quality hiking headlamp will fit comfortably on your head, be lightweight, and have enough power to cut through darkness, fog, and rain. Headlamps that can produce a spotlight (as opposed to a wash) are the best for this task since you’ll want that strong beam of light to create a path in front of you. Even if you know the trail you are hiking, carrying a headlamp in case of sudden rainfall or if you don’t reach the end before dark can help you avoid accidentally wandering off the path. Here are three hiking headlamps we recommend:
- Petzl Tikkina Headlamp – See On REI
- Black Diamond Revolt 350 Headlamp – See On Amazon
- ACEBEAM H30 Headlamp – See On Amazon
Carrying a synthetic multi-towel can come in handy on many occasions, not least when you need to dry something off in a jiffy. Small, lightweight, and made from quick-dry synthetic material, multi-towels can be used to dry off gear, yourself, picnic tables, or anything else that may need a quick wipe. Small, handheld towels like a simple Swedish Dishcloth are perfect for drying off small items or wiping down tables, whereas larger towels – like these multi-towels from REI – are better suited for jobs like drying your hair, clothes, or even your canine hiking companion.
Hand & Foot Warmers
Disposable hand and foot warmers are an easy way to keep your extremities warm during a cold, rain-soaked hike, and thanks to their small size and lightweight, carrying a few in your pack is easy. Hand and foot warmers like the well-known Hot Hands heat packs can be found in most local convenience stores or can be purchased in bulk online. Getting wet can make you cold, and if you’ve ever tried to complete a long hike with freezing toes, you know just how difficult it can be. Crack open a hand or foot warmer, activate it, and slip it into your shoes or gloves and your fingers/toes will be toasty warm in a matter of minutes.
Gear for Backpacking In the Rain
If you are backpacking for multiple days and nights, you’ll need to prepare just a little more than the average hiker in the event of rain. While many of the same rules apply, there are some extra pieces of gear you may find useful on the trail if you find yourself enduring hours of downpour.
Waterproof Map Case
Every backpacker knows the importance of carrying a map since technology can be unreliable out in the wilderness. In the event of rain, however, a paper map can easily become damaged, meaning you’ll either be forced to keep it tucked in your bag at all times or risk damage to check directions. To solve this issue, consider investing in a waterproof map case that allows you to view the map without letting it come in contact with any water.
Better yet, invest in a map that is already water resistant or waterproof of the area you will be in. If your phone is your only map (not recommended) be sure to have a waterproof phone case, or a waterproof bag for your phone.
If you are backpacking in the rain, there is almost nothing you can do to keep your shoes completely dry, which is why you may wish to just embrace the wetness. A pair of breathable, lightweight trail runners will serve you well on a multi-day backpacking trip and will be able to dry out quickly overnight unlike hiking boots, which may stay soggy for days. The footwear you choose is really based off of your preference, but heavily guided by the terrain you’ll be hiking in.
Durable Waterproof Tent Or Hammock Setup
If you are backpacking, you’ll need to find a place to camp overnight, and if it happens to still be raining, you had better pack a durable waterproof tent to keep you dry while you sleep. While most standard tents are designed for at least moderate water resistance, some are better than others at repelling rain and remaining dry themselves. If you are in the market for a good backpacking tent, check out our picks for the best of 2021 in our guide to budget backpacking tents. We also recommend having a tent footprint for wet situations. It helps reduce condensation and keep you more dry during rainy times.
There are also avid hammock campers in which having a proper hammock setup with tarp is essential to staying dry. You can read our complete guide to hammock camping for more information on this.
Hazards of Hiking In the Rain: What To Look Out For
A hike in the rain can be a ton of fun, but as with any outdoor activity, there are a few hazards you’ll want to watch out for. With the right information and a healthy respect for the elements, you can have a fun, successful, exciting hike in any weather condition.
Chafing can happen for several reasons, but a common culprit is moisture. When your clothes get wet, they stick to your skin and cause friction, adding to the rubbing that creates chafing and creating a painful, red, sticky situation under your clothes. Natural fibers like cotton are particularly absorbent and can become extremely rough when wet, possibly causing serious damage to your skin. To avoid chafing, wear appropriate clothing, protect yourself from moisture, and turn back if you begin to experience chafing.
Hypothermia occurs when the body experiences a drastic drop in temperature and can result from being caught in a heavy downpour or from hiking for hours in wet clothing. Wearing appropriate layers will help to retain heat and keep cold and moisture out, but if you find yourself becoming uncomfortably cold, be sure to find a place to get warm and dry as soon as possible.
Slips & Falls
Rain-soaked earth can shift, move, and slide underfoot, increasing your chances of slipping and falling. Additionally, wet rocks, branches, roots, and mud can be slippery even when stationary, so it is important to use caution when walking, to take things slow, and to use aids like hiking poles when necessary.
8 Tips for Successful Hiking in the Rain
Want to make your hike as successful as possible, no matter how much rain falls from the sky? Follow these simple tips to make the experience fun, safe, and dry:
1. Check the Weather
You should always check the weather before a hike, but if you suspect rain, you may want to double-check. No, rain shouldn’t stop your plans, but knowing what to expect will help you to avoid feeling unprepared.
2. Share Your Location…Better Yet, Bring a Buddy!
Another rule that applies to all hiking trips, you should always let someone know before you take a hike in the rain (or anywhere). Letting someone know where you are going can be a literal lifesaver in the event you fall, get lost, or have some kind of emergency. Better yet, bringing a hiking buddy with you can help you stay extra safe even on the most remote trails.
3. Bring A Warm Beverage
A warm beverage in the middle of a chilly, rainy hike can restore some of the pep in your step, and keep you fueled to complete your trek even during a downpour. Packing a warm drink like coffee, hot chocolate, tea, or even a warm broth in a thermos is a fun way to warm up and have a little snack during your hike.
4. Over-Prepare Your Gear
You can never be too prepared for rain when it comes to your gear, so be sure to invest plenty of time before your hike getting everything ready. Put all important items (phone, wallet, etc.) in plastic bags, make all rain gear easy to grab at a moment’s notice, and set yourself up to feel confident in the rain rather than needing to scramble to prep your gear once it begins.
5. Make Essentials Easy to Access
Keeping your backpack closed is one of the easiest ways to keep your gear and personal items dry, which is why it is important to make essential items easy to access on the trail. Packing important items like a compass, your map, snacks, or your water in outside pockets or your jacket will help you to avoid unnecessarily opening your bag and exposing the contents to water.
Layering is how you keep rain, cold, and wind at bay, so be sure to wear at least two or three layers when you head out to hike in the rain. If it isn’t raining, but you think it might, pack extra layers in an easy-to-access pocket so you can layer up when the time comes.
7. Be Positive!
The key to enjoying any hike is being positive, so if you find yourself in the rain, embrace the experience! Being positive and enjoying the unique opportunity to see nature differently. Hiking in the rain can reveal more greenery and foliage, bring out local wildlife, and wash away dirt and grime to show you more details of the wilderness. If you approach the experience with a positive attitude, you may find that you enjoy hiking in the rain more than hiking while dry!
8. Know Your Limits
If you are struggling to complete a hike, find the terrain extra challenging when wet, or feel apprehensive about taking on a particularly hard area of the trail in the rain, it is more than okay to turn around and head home. Knowing your limits is as important, if not more important, than pushing yourself to new heights, so don’t be afraid to call it a day and try again another time.
Hiking In the Rain FAQs
If you have never purposefully hiked in the rain, you may have a few questions before you give it a go. Luckily, you aren’t alone in wondering about the possibilities of rainy hiking, and there are plenty of frequently asked questions on the subject. Here are just three of the most frequently asked questions about hiking in the rain:
Is it dangerous to hike in the rain?
No! Hiking in the rain is not inherently dangerous, but as with anything done outdoors, the situation can become dangerous in the wrong circumstances. Light rain and regular showers don’t pose much threat, and can’t do much more than breaking a few branches or flattening some flowers. Larger storms with strong winds and thunder and lightning can be far more tumultuous and could create unsafe conditions. In general, trust your instincts, take things slow, and watch your footing.
Be especially careful regarding river crossings or areas where flash flooding is possible. If you are hiking in an area where flash flooding is possible, or where you have to cross rivers, it is essential to take extra caution.
Are there any benefits to hiking in the rain?
Yes! Hiking in the rain can show you the world in an entirely new way, and can even reveal pieces of nature that you never knew existed. Greenery and vegetation become more lush and vibrant in the rain, opening their leaves to accept water. Wildlife may become more visible or might be less frightened of the sound of footsteps allowing you to get a clear view of them in their natural habitat. Rivers and waterfalls become larger, and the crowds on the trail subside. In all, hiking in the rain can reveal a whole new side of your favorite trails.
When should you turn back?
In many cases, hiking in the rain poses no problem to completing the trail, but some circumstances might tell you it’s time to turn back. Extreme thunder and lightning are one such example, since lightning strikes can fell trees or cause damage to the environment which could be hazardous to your safety. Similarly, if the downpour becomes torrential, it can create mudslides, shifting rock, and other footing hazards. If you sense that the path ahead is unsafe, turn back and go home.
If you are hiking above treeline, the danger of lightning is of greater concern. Be aware, and avoid being above treeline if rain is accompanies by heavy winds or lightning.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about