How to handle drizzle and downpours when you're on the trail
Everybody loves to go hiking when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, but even the most experienced backpackers might find their spirits dampened by a long, soggy day on the trail. If you're planning a hike, it's best to proceed with one undeniable fact in mind: You can't control the weather. The good news is, a little rain doesn't have to ruin your day. Here's how you can get through a rainy hike with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Preparing for a hike means not only getting in shape and gathering all the right gear, but also being prepared mentally. Whether you're planning a short day-hike or a month-long backpacking trip, you need to be ready for anything, especially when it comes to the weather. If you approach your hiking trip with a willingness to enjoy yourself no matter what the skies bring, then you probably will. Any experienced hiker will tell you that your state of mind is just as important as the gear in your pack.
Protect your gear
Gathering the supplies you need for a hike is a big job in itself, so you'll want to make sure all the stuff in your pack stays dry. That's easier said than done when you're in the midst of a downpour, but it is possible. These days, most hiking backpacks come with a built-in rain cover that you can pull over your entire pack to keep its contents dry. If your backpack doesn't have a cover, you can purchase one separately. You'll be glad you did.
Another option is to line the inside of your backpack with an extra waterproof layer, such as a plastic garbage bag, and pack all your stuff inside the bag. If you have particularly sensitive items in your pack, like your phone or other electronics, it's a good idea to keep them inside their own, smaller, dry bag.
Dress for success
Here's something to keep in mind about waterproof clothing: there's actually no such thing. If you're hiking through an all-day soaker, you're eventually going to get wet no matter what you're wearing. But a good waterproof layer will keep you dry during a light to moderate rain and also helps you stay warm even when it's really tipping it down outside.
Dressing in layers is your best bet to keep warm and dry. Wear a light, breathable layer next to your skin, topped by an insulating layer, then a waterproof outer layer. Wool is good for insulation, and synthetic materials are best for the innermost layer. Whatever you do, avoid wearing cotton. It soaks up water easily, is slow to dry and robs your body of precious heat when wet.
Choose your shoes
If you hike in heavy boots, you might regret it when it starts to pour. Quality hiking boots can be reasonably waterproof, but there's a trade-off. When hiking boots do get wet, it can take them days to fully dry out, especially if they're made of leather. Lightweight hiking shoes, like trail runners, may be a bit more susceptible to water than boots, but they will dry out much more quickly once wet. Wearing gaiters over your shoes will also help keep your feet dry.
Walking off into the woods carries some inherent risks, which are compounded when you add wet weather into the mix. Consider a few tips to stay safe and dry on the trail:
- Plan ahead: Check the forecast in advance so you know what to expect. Always carry a trail map and compass, along with extra emergency supplies and food in case you find yourself stuck somewhere.
- Carry extra clothes: If you're hiking overnight, carry a spare set of dry clothes – especially socks – that you can change into when you get to camp.
- Watch your step: Rain makes the trail more slippery, especially if you're hiking in a rocky area. Stay alert, wear shoes with good grip and consider carrying a set of trekking poles for extra stability.
- Watch the sky: Rain can change from a light shower to an all-out thunderstorm in the blink of an eye, and you don't want to be on the exposed summit of a mountain when that happens. If a storm threatens, it's always better to seek shelter than press on and risk injury, or worse.