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You have a hike planned, but now the forecast is calling for rain. How can you prepare so that you can still enjoy your hiking trip?
When it’s raining, gear yourself up with some sweat-wicking bottom layers, warm mid-layers, and a light, waterproof outer layer. Options like synthetics and Merino wool are often recommended to balance out your temperature and keep yourself from ending up soaked with either rain or sweat.
The good news is a little rain doesn’t have to ruin your trip. With the right preparations, you can still have a great time out in nature.
Read on and you’ll learn what to consider when planning your rainy hike, what clothes to wear, and what to do if that light rain turns into a vicious thunderstorm.
What To Wear When Hiking In The Rain
Dedicated hikers know that they typically need to have a wide array of clothing options for hiking in any weather.
While many hikers may decide to give the hobby a rest when the weather becomes extreme, as a hiker, you need to expect rain every now and then.
That said, even rain can be discouraging, irritating, and even dangerous if you aren’t prepared for it.
Consider the clothing options I’ve listed below to keep your hike in the good memory category instead of the horrible experience category.
Layers For Hiking In the Rain
Dressing in layers (or at least having layers available) is the way to go no matter when or where you’re hiking. It’s wise to expect that the weather and temperature are going to change at some point during your adventure. When it does, it’s best to be prepared.
The rules are no different when it comes to hiking in the rain. Here are some guidelines as to what clothing options you might pick for your layers when you’re planning to hike in wet weather.
Base layers are important no matter what weather you’re hiking in, though they may not be as necessary in warm, dry weather. These layers likely won’t be the ones keeping the rain off of you, but they will be doing a lot of work regardless.
Do you need a base layer in the summer? Check out our article, here, for a full discussion.
When you’re all bundled up for your outdoor adventure, things are likely to get sweaty. Base layers are important for sweat control, and they give you a little bit of insulation. The one key feature you’ll want to think about with base layers is exactly how much you think you’ll be sweating.
Sooner or later, your base layers are going to soak through. Depending on the materials, how long that takes can really vary. With even the toughest base layers, you might want to bring extras if you’re going on a multi-day hike. Wet base layers can actually become more dangerous than the rain in some cases.
Overall, experienced hikers tend to suggest using polyester or wool base layers.
Polyester base layers are great if the temperature isn’t going to be too bad or if you’re on a shorter hike. They might not absorb sweat quite as well as wool, but the commonly accepted idea is that they also dry more quickly and help to keep you cooler overall.
On the other hand, wool is ideal for wet, cold temperatures where you’ll need to place more of a focus on staying warm. It won’t dry as quickly, but it is also capable of wicking up more sweat.
I’ve done a lot of research on base layers and their science as well as the materials people choose to use–find out more, here
What you choose to wear between your base layer and your outer layers is largely between you and the temperature outside. It might range from a simple t-shirt and light shorts or pants to something a bit thicker for the colder temperatures. In some cases, folks might choose to skip the middle layer altogether.
I would recommend that you at least bring a middle layer option with you on your hike, even if you don’t think you’ll need to wear it. Temperatures can fluctuate throughout the day and what might be comfortable at noon might leave you miserable by the evening.
You don’t have to get crazy with the middle layer either unless you know you’re going out into extremely cold temperatures. A nice zip-up fleece can be more than enough to fight away the cold.
You might think you can just throw on a coat and be ready to go, but things can get a little more complicated when you’re hiking in the rain. A coat that works perfectly well for taking walks or running errands might not be ideal when you’re working up a sweat in the wilderness.
This is another area where you’ll really want to think about the weather conditions besides the rain. In some areas, rain and cold might go hand in hand. In others, the rain might be the only thing stopping you from running around in shorts and a tank top.
Unless the temperature has really started to drop, many hikers prefer using just a light jacket. Often, these jackets are made to keep the rain off of them rather than having much of a focus on warmth. Lightweight jackets or shells like the Rab Kinetic rain jacket from REI.
My personal favorite rain jacket is the one I own. It’s simple in its features, but has some essentials–it has vents so you can regulate your body temperature, and it has a hood with a draw string as well as a face cover to keep you warm during really cold weather. You can find my favorite jacket here on Amazon, or here at Dick’s Sporting Goods:
Being lightweight means these jackets can also easily be packed up into your bag if there are points where you don’t need to worry about the rain. Additionally, you can always opt to put on warmer mid-layers underneath a light jacket if you do have concerns about the temperature. See my picture above– I have warm mid-layers here, but the outer waterproof shell is enough to keep the cold air out and I can stay warm with no issues.
One option for keeping the rain off your bottom half is to wear rain pants (see some on Amazon). They are essentially waterproof, which makes them great for situations where staying dry is paramount.
Be careful of rain pants, though–when I tried to wear them in 50-60 degree weather, they were far too hot and I sweat a ton. You’ll have to find the balance and layers where you can wear them without excessive sweating.
Rain on your head might not be the biggest deal, but it feels a lot colder when your head is soaking wet from the cold rain. If it’s warm outside, it’s still annoying to get rain in your eyes.
If you aren’t dealing with the cold, the hood of a water-resistant jacket can work just fine. If you want to go a step farther, many hikers enjoy the added benefits of a rain hat. A rain hat (REI) with a nice, wide brim can be your best friend whether you’re dealing with rain or sunshine.
In situations where you do want some extra warmth, you can pair either of those options up with a nice beanie. Just keep an eye on how much it might cause your head to sweat.
Nobody likes wet feet on a hike. It’s uncomfortable, cold, and can even lead to more blisters if you aren’t careful. Luckily, there are a couple of different routes you can take to keep your feet from getting too irritated or cold.
One path is to try to avoid letting water into your shoes at all.
Those who are newer to hiking might immediately think of rain boots. After all, they’re made for the rain right? While that is true, rain boots aren’t typically made for hiking–they lack the support and flexibility.
You can use rain gaiters (like these on Amazon) to help you keep the water out from your ankles and shins, and they will cover the heel collar of your boots or shoes.
In combination with waterproof snow boots or hiking boots, this is your best bet for keeping snow and rain out of your boots to keep your feet dry. In extreme conditions, these precautions are worth it.
The other path is to let your feet get wet, but learn how to dry them, quickly
When you’re hiking in the summer, you may be facing temperatures from 40F to 100F (depending on if you’re in the mountains). Trying to prevent water from getting into your boots or shoes may not be worth it at all, especially if you’re hiking in an all-day downpour.
I’ve been there before, and I had a lot of waterproof gear. It was warm, humid, and raining all day, and all my waterproof gear didn’t matter at all because of condensation.
Any waterproof measure can backfire because it can make you sweat too much. Sweaty feet can soak your feet just as well as rain can.
What about waterproof hiking boots? The problem with waterproof hiking boots or waterproof hiking shoes is that once water gets in, it’s a lot harder for the boots/shoes to dry out. The general hiking community consensus is to opt for non-waterproof hiking boots or shoes so that your shoes will dry faster out of the water, at least in Summer conditions.
So, instead of opting for waterproof foot gear, the other option is to bring multiple pairs of socks (learn more in our article here about how many socks to take with you on a hiking trip), and to bring shoes that will dry quickly–e.g. non-waterproof.
Gloves are optional when it comes to hiking in the rain. If the temperature is warm enough without them, wet hands aren’t really the end of the world.
That said, you might want them if it’s colder outside or if you intend on using trekking poles on your hike. Naturally, you’ll want to go for something that is at least water-resistant, but also breathable. Hands can get pretty darn sweaty, and then you aren’t really solving the problem so much as finding a different way to end up with wet hands.
Choosing the right clothing is very important when you’re going to be hiking in the rain, but it’s not the only thing you should consider.
Rain can change various aspects of the hiking experience, from the trail conditions to the steps you need to take to protect yourself and your supplies.
Here are just a few extras you might want to bring along when you’re hiking in the rain:
- An umbrella. Umbrellas might not be ideal for a challenging trail, but they can be nice during the flatter areas to aid in keeping you dry.
- A poncho. Some hikers absolutely swear by using a poncho. Whether it’s a simple plastic poncho or something more durable, it’s worth considering for rainy hikes. Ponchos are large mostly flat pieces of rain gear that have arm and head holes.
- Rain protection for your backpack. If you’re hiking for longer periods of time, your backpack might end up soaking through. Add some rain protection to your pack to keep everything inside safe and dry. Many modern backpacks have a rain bag that can be draped over the entire backpack.
- Hiking poles. Trails can become less stable in the rain. To keep your stability, hiking poles can be a great tool. This is especially crucial when trying to walk on rocks across a muddy trail. Wet rocks are very slippery and having hiking poles can make a huge difference.
- First aid. First aid should come along on a hike in any weather, but blister protection in particular is important when you’re going to be in the rain. Wet feet are an ideal place for blisters to pop up. Moleskin is underrated–it’s amazing at blister management.
- A multi-purpose cloth. You never know when you might need to wipe something down.
- Extra clothes. At the very least, an extra set of base layers and some extra socks can really go a long way to keep you safe (and comfortable).
What Should I Look For In Rain Gear?
Hiking in the rain is about more than just keeping the rain from soaking you. Although that is the starting point, there are a few more concepts to consider. Forgetting things like sweat and temperature can result in getting just as wet as if you had brought no rain gear.
Make sure to consider these variables when figuring out what to wear on your hike:
- Ventilation. If you worry too much about about not letting the rain in, you might forget that you do need to let some air in to stay cool. Choosing clothing with enough ventilation will help to keep your temperature regulated and avoid keeping your sweat trapped in your clothing. There is such a thing as being too waterproof. Sweat needs to escape in order to stay dry.
- Condensation. Even with water-resistant materials, water can condensate on many surfaces. Even if you’re using a hiking umbrella, water will condense on it surface and drip down on you… essentially defeating the purpose of the umbrella. Keep an eye on any water coming through the material and maybe give the umbrella a good shake here and there to keep too much water from settling onto it.
- Temperature. In some areas, it may not really be cold at all while it’s raining. If the temperature outside is still warm, you may not need to focus as much on avoiding getting wet. It makes sense to plan ways to keep yourself comfortable, but the rain won’t be dangerous in otherwise warm conditions.
- Weather Changes. There’s always a chance that the weather could change (for better or worse). Make sure that you at least have some extra layers and tools with you just in case you need them. Better safe than sorry!
How To Keep Shoes Dry When Hiking In The Rain
There are few things that can dampen a fun hike like wet feet. Whether it’s from the rain itself or by stepping in puddles, many hikers just hate the feeling of water seeping into their shoes.
So, what can you do to keep your feet from getting wet? Keep in mind that even if you’re perfectly protected from the water outside of your shoes, you still run the risk of sweat building up inside of them.
Here are a few ideas to combat shoe wetness from any source:
- Waterproof yous shoes or boots. Remember, waterproofing your shoes/boots keeps sweat in. It’s not a bad option if that’s your goal, but just remember there are consequences for that. Products like Nikwax Fabric & Leather can help keep wetness out of your shoes to begin with.
- Choose quality socks. Not only should your socks work to keep water out, but they should soak up moisture coming from your feet as well. Many hikers recommend using Merino socks for this purpose.
- Make sure your footwear is in good shape. Before you head out onto the trail, check over your chosen shoes and socks to make sure there aren’t any holes or other issues that might allow water in more easily.
- Try using gaiters. There are a variety of gaiters out there for all kinds of shoes. For example, rain Gaiters (here on REI, and here on Amazon) are great for keeping water from entering your shoes from above (such as from the rain).
- Let your feet (and shoes) dry out. At the end of the day (or during breaks), take your shoes off and let both your shoes and feet get some air. Try to let them dry out as much as you can before you get going again.
Hiking During A Thunderstorm
So you’re planning a hike and notice that the weather forecast is calling for a thunderstorm here and there. You don’t want to cancel your entire trip for an hour or two of storms, but is it too dangerous to be out in that kind of weather?
I wrote an in-depth article about camping in a thunderstorm and give you a better idea on the statistics behind getting struck by lightning as well as how you can be as safe as possible. Make sure to check it out.
It’s a fair question, and there’s no denying that the safest thing you can do is stay home. However, weather can be unpredictable and it’s impossible to know if a thunderstorm will come, exactly.
With the help of the American Hiking Society website, I’ve put together some tips to help keep you safe while you’re hiking in a storm:
- Find shelter. The best thing you can do to protect yourself in a storm is to find shelter. Ideally, this would mean getting inside of a building or RV. If that isn’t an option, safe caves and clusters of trees are also good places to ride out the storm.
- Stay away from sparse terrain. If there are only two trees in an area with you, your chances of being struck are much higher than if you’re in a lush forest. Use trees to avoid being a convenient target.
- Get low. Another way to reduce the risk of being struck by lightning is to stay low to the ground. Crouch and keep your head down, but don’t lay down. Check the American Hiking Society website for more information on the best position you can take in a storm.
- Lowlands are your friend. Plan your higher-elevation trips for the days with nice weather. It’s better to be in a valley or other low-lying area when there is risk of a storm. Be careful, though, valleys can be flooded depending on where you are.
- Take it seriously. While being struck by lightning is rare, all it takes is one instance. Choose safety first so that you can live to go on many more hikes in the future.