by Diane Spicer
Rainy day hiking can be a predicament if you're on a rainy multi-day backpacking trip.
Or you can make a conscious choice to enjoy a rain hike on a soggy day.
Either way, you need to know how to stay dry when everything around you is wet.
As a veteran of some of the wettest hiking in the northern hemisphere (Washington State, western Canada, Alaska), I've got some strategies for how to stay dry on a wet hike.
Let's break them into two steps, both of which you control:
1. What to wear to stay dry on a hike
2. What to do to avoid becoming a sponge on the trail
When you step into the shower or a swimming pool, your goal is to get wet.
But when you step onto a dripping wet, muddy hiking trail, you're hoping your footwear and clothing will meet the challenge of resisting, repelling, or excluding moisture from your body.
This is no trivial matter.
Your body heat and well being are going to be challenged by the wet conditions.
That's why you need the best rain gear.
But know this: there are several things working against moisture resistant hiking gear:
In addition, you will be generating heat and sweating (like the delicate flower that you are) as you hike, regardless of how cool the day might be.
What to do?
Make smart choices!
There are 3 levels of moisture resistance built into hiking gear:
Read more about the differences here.
Some examples of matching your hiking rain gear to your plans:
If you are doing a short day hike with plenty of opportunity to turn back when you get too wet, or can duck under tree cover if it begins to pour, you don't need waterproof hiking clothing - unless you want it.
If your rainy day hiking plans involve lots of mileage in open terrain, whether on a day hike or backpacking trip, you would be wise to invest in high quality waterproof hiking gear.
I'm here to deliver the sad news that no matter what you have on your feet, eventually they will get wet during rainy day hiking.
So be realistic.
Consider not only how long a pair of hiking boots or trail shoes will keep your feet dry, but how long they will take to dry out again.
This becomes absolutely crucial on a backpacking trip in cool or downright cold wet conditions.
You will have to trust the boot manufacturer's technical specifications about which boots are water repellent -vs- water proof.
Tips for dry feet on a wet day:
It's silly to get your head and neck wet, yet I see hikers all the time who hike in the rain without protection.
Think of all of the body heat they freely give to the universe!
And how they're courting a disaster called hypothermia.
But you're smarter than that.
Here's how to avoid getting chilled:
For more details on jackets for women which perform well on a hike, go here.
Most of your vital organs are housed within your torso, so your body devotes a lot of resources to keeping them at a constant temperature:
Keep that strategy going by choosing layers which wick your sweat away from your skin while preventing contact with outside cold moisture.
To see which layers I choose, read this.
I'll bet you've already thought about hiking vests!
The final step you can take to keep yourself as dry as possible while hiking in the rain is to keep your legs dry.
Hiking gaiters will help keep your lower legs dry.
Waterproof hiking pants will deal with the run off created from your hiking jacket and backpack, as well as shield you from blowing rain or wet vegetation.
Here's where it makes good sense to spend a little money for your comfort and safety in wet hiking conditions.
My all time favorite hiking rain pants are these.
And don't overlook the power of duct tape to patch up the butt when you eventually snag them on something stronger than they are :)
One way to avoid rainy day hiking is to build flexibility into your hiking itinerary.
a day hike, that means having a Plan B if it starts dumping rain: an
alternate hike with plenty of dense tree cover, for instance.
For backpackers, scheduling at least one, if not more zero days, rest days, rain days (whatever you want to call them) is the best way to deprive Mother Nature of the chance to get you soaked.
During the rainy season (whatever that is in the region you plan to hike), use trails with shelters for taking a break, or for camping.
Here's an example from Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior:
There are some hikers who can handle being cold and soggy, day after day.
And there are some hikers who become bitter and hostile (and woe to you if you're stuck in a tent with one).
If you're a beginner hiker, I recommend that you allow yourself one good soaking hike to determine which category you fall into, and then go from there.
No shame in hiking only in sunny, dry conditions!
But if rain jazzes you up, Pacific Northwest hiking is definitely for you!
Might as well share all of it with you!
There are some things that will annoy you that cannot be avoided when you hike in the rain.
And that can make rainy day hiking miserable.
If you wear glasses, they will fog up and collect moisture. It will be harder to see through them.
Your nose will start to run and drip.
Sweat will run down your neck and back if you're hiking hard. "Raining on the inside" does not feel that great but is survivable.
Once your socks get wet, your toes will squish and may even slide around inside your boots.
Your electronic navigation and communication devices may not work if they get wet.
Now you know the discomforts of hiking in the rain!
Knowing that discomfort is just part of the fun, make a plan for what you're going to do when taking one more step on the trail is NO FUN AT ALL.
Because sooner or later, you're going to asking yourself why the -bleep- you're hiking in the rain.
Here are some tricks to try.
Can you stop for a break without getting even wetter?
Can you turn around and get back to a drier, warmer space in a timely manner?
Should you press on a bit further to reach a campsite or shelter marked on the map?
Do you have dry clothing inside your pack that would make you feel more comfortable?
Can you provide your own shelter?
Because there is a highly personal learning curve to hiking in the rain, I recommend keeping notes in a (wait for it...) waterproof hiking journal.
Record what you did right, which rain gear performed well, which food kept your furnace stoked.
Also make notes on what needs to be abandoned, improved, or tweaked.
It's the best way possible to gain entry into that elite group of hikers who love, love, love rainy day hiking.
Or to arm yourself against the onslaught of Mother Nature's precipitation.
Either way, you're on the trail and loving life!
There's something magical about the earthy, vegetal odors during a rainy day hike.
Animals behave differently when it rains.
Chances are good that you will have amazing trail encounters that wouldn't be possible on a dry day.
On the flip side, human trail traffic tends to drop to almost nothing during a rainy spell, so you'll have all of the glory of rainy day hiking to yourself.
With these tips on what to wear on a rain hike & how to stay dry during rainy day hiking, you won't have to stay indoors when it starts to rain.
You will be a Puddle Stomping Hiker Extraordinaire!
More self care hiking tips you can use here
Rainy Day Hiking Tips
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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