As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I love hiking and camping in the rain. The smell of rainfall is comforting. But enjoying a rainy day takes preparation. Visibility is limited, the ground is slippery, and the sky is dousing you relentlessly. With a little planning, you can be comfortable in the rain. I'm going to tell you how.
How to Stay Dry Hiking and Camping in the Rain
To stay dry hiking in the rain, you just need waterproof hiking gear and good judgment. The tips outlined in this guide work in even the stormiest conditions.
The benefits of hiking and camping in the rain
Nature is more beautiful. Light wavelengths interact with objects differently after a rainstorm. The result is a world with more vibrant colors.
The rain smells amazing. The familiar, earthy scent that fills your olfactory system is petrichor. It's an aerosol created by plant oils and soil bacteria.
Rainbows. The magical wonder of rainbows. Need I say more?
It’s great for fitness. Several studies have shown you burn more calories exercising in the rain.
It's quiet. Fewer people are on the trails, giving you undisturbed time with nature.
Photo opportunities. Rainy conditions are excellent for creative photography.
Clean air. There's growing researching showing rain has a cleansing effect on the air.
How to stay dry hiking in the rain
Waterproof Clothing Tips
A baseball cap or rain hat keeps the rain out of your face, improving visibility.
Layer appropriately. Wear moisture-wicking base and mid layers (e.g., wool, polyester, nylon), and a waterproof top layer. Tuck your base layer into your pants to avoid contact with rain.
Invest in a good waterproof jacket. The hem of your jacket should be below your waist. It should have tight wrist cuffs, to keep the rain out of your sleeves. The hood should be larger than your head. Keep the pockets zipped unless you’re retrieving something. Make sure the jacket can breathe, to avoid trapping moisture. For breathability, unzip the pit zips and the top of the chest zipper, and avoid tightening the waist.
If you need a down jacket, opt for a synthetic down, so it doesn't lose its insulation factor when it's wet.
If you wear glasses, consider contacts. Rain covers your glasses in raindrops and fog, making it difficult to see.
No cotton. It soaks up water like a sponge, slamming against your body and stealing your heat. It's cold, heavy, and difficult to manage.
Get boots made with a waterproof layer, like Gore-Tex, and deep lugs that can handle mud.
You can wear slip resistant or disposable gloves to keep your hands dry.
In heavy rain, gaiters protect your legs and feet. You can wear them over your pants, but they're more effective under waterproof pants.
Wear wool or waterproof socks if you're going into heavy rain longer than a day. Or you can cover your feet with plastic (ziplock) bags.
Trail runners are more breathable, making them easier to dry (on longer trips). Make sure you waterproof them.
Waterproof Gear Tips
Invest in a waterproof pack. Most packs come with a rain cover. Otherwise, you can buy an aftermarket cover or use a trash bag. To ensure waterproofing, you can line the inside of your pack with a trash or compactor bag. Pack the items you need most at the top of your pack and outside compartments. You want to minimize the number of times you open the pack.
Take advantage of dry bags. If you don't have any, use freezer ziplock bags.
You can bring an umbrella for shelter when you stop to rest or eat.
Use waterproof casings for your electronics and cameras.
Laminate your maps or buy waterproof maps.
Trekking poles make hiking easier on muddy surfaces when the ground is slippery. Not to mention crossing flooded rivers and creeks. Shorten the poles so your arms point down, allowing water to flow off of them.
Bring a headlamp and extra batteries. Cloud cover brings darkness and limited visibility.
More Tips to Stay Dry
Keep your arms pointed down to avoid water from trickling into your shirt and jacket sleeves. Refrain from holding your pack straps.
If you're miserable, consider your options. You can turn around, stop to eat or wait it out, make a detour, or change into dry clothes (if you brought extra).
How to stay dry camping in the rain
Waterproof Clothing Tips
Pack a designated set of sleeping clothes. Pack them in a dry bag or plastic bag to make sure they stay dry.
Dry your clothes overnight, in or under your sleeping bag. Alternatively, hang a string in your vestibule.
Waterproof Gear Tips
Consider bringing lightweight silnylon tarps. You can hang one between the trees for a roof. Or lay one on the ground. Tie a string underneath the tarp to dry your clothes.
Bring lights. They'll help you see in limited visibility, and they help brighten the mood.
Bring fire starters to help light damp wood. Look under tree canopies for dry kindling and fuelwood.
Pack a sponge to mop up water that collects in (or on) your tent. You can also use microfiber towels to wipe up the water around camp. A bandana works in a pinch.
If your tent floor is wet, put an extra sleeping pad down. If it's cold, slip your sleeping bag into a bivy sack for protection.
More Tips to Stay Dry
How to set up camp: find a flat campsite with no ditches. Make sure it isn't next to a river or lake, to avoid flooding. It's ideal if your tent faces the morning sun, so it dries faster. If it's windy, the door should face downwind.
If you're not under a tree canopy, use an extra tarp over the tent for protection. Hang the tarp before assembling your tent. In severe weather, put a tarp under the tent's footprint for extra ground protection. Keep the rainfly taught by tightening the guy lines every few hours, to avoid pooling water.
Get a tent that's easy to assemble and practice assembling it before your trip.
Keep your tent ventilated, or moisture from breathing will create condensation. Make sure nothing touches the walls of the tent. Contact allows water to seep through the material. If you're backpacking, consider keeping your tent in a dry sack to avoid saturating your gear. Dry your tent as soon as you get home to prevent mold.
A Word of Caution
Hiking in the rain is exhilarating, but there are dangers to consider. Flooding, storms, lightning, and hypothermia are serious conditions. Moreover, rain can dampen the noise you make. So if you're in bear country, you may need to amplify yourself to warn the wildlife. No matter how waterproof you are, safety comes first. Make sure you're aware of weather conditions before venturing out.
If you follow the tips in this guide, you can stay dry hiking and camping in the rain. A dry camper is a happy camper (and hiker). Being outside in the rain isn't for everyone. But it is for you, and that's something to celebrate.
How do you stay dry? Tell us in the comments.