Most hikers and backpackers prefer taking their walks in fair weather – the clear skies, warm gentle breeze, and sunshine. However, sometimes surprise storms and rainy forecasts challenge these trips making most outdoor lovers stay off the trail.
But guess what? Backpacking in the rain can still be fun if you are well prepared and have the right gear to keep you dry.
This is one of those rare moments where you get to sample all the popular trails you have been avoiding due to crowds, so if you go prepared you will have an enjoyable and memorable adventure, just a little muddier.
Mastering the ropes of hiking in the rain is a flair that requires constant practice. The more you do it, the more you get better.
Below are 10 tips for making hiking in wet weather more than just waterlogged memories. Whether you are encountering fat, cold raindrops, or just drizzles, these pointers will make sure you have an amazing day on the trail. So, zip into your rain pants and jackets, and let’s get this party started!
1. Know The Trail
Just like any outdoor trip, backpacking in the rain requires you to familiarize yourself with the surrounding terrain and trails. How steep is the land you intend to a walkthrough? Is it too inclined that even the slightest mud will make you slip and probably injure yourself? How accessible is the route you plan to take?
Sometimes, a heavy downpour can erode the terrain making it challenging for you to navigate the woods or even rendering your route completely impassable. To be safe, pick a route and trail that is on flat land. This will help you enjoy the hike more without worrying about sliding and injuring yourself.
We also recommend that you select a trail that has good coverage of woodland. Trees are known to provide additional shelter against rainfall and will help you keep dry throughout the walk. They also minimize damage to the terrain caused by heavy rain, so you are unlikely to fall.
Both new and experienced hikers and backpackers should take the time to research the ground they plan to take their adventure, especially during wet weather. Many hazards can present themselves during this time and the only way to stay safe is by making sure that you are adequately prepared.
2. Dress Warm
You know these people who say, “There is nothing like bad weather, only improper clothing”? Well, there are probably right! If you are going to be hiking in cold and wet weather, it is only fair that you dress up for it. You want to bring home good memories, not cold-borne illnesses.
For clothing, get something that retains heat and dries quickly when wet. Avoid denim clothing and cotton at all costs, as these get cold and heavy when soaked.
Pick a rain shell for the day. And since you will be active throughout the day, you won’t need something too heavy that can get you sweating. You only need something that will keep the water away from your skin. Both hardshell and softshell jackets will get the job done. These are lightweight, comfortable, and will give you the warmth and dryness you need to keep trekking.
If possible, get a jacket with a hoodie to keep your head warm too. Otherwise, bring a fleece hat or something warm to keep your head covered. The biggest percentage of heat lost from our bodies is through the head so keeping it protected from cold will help you to stay a little warmer.
If it is extremely cold, it would be nice to have your rain pants on. Invest in a pair that dries quickly and keeps you warm when you move.
You will need something for your feet too. The best hiking boots for cold weather are warm and comfortable enough to walk in. They don’t hold water in when they get wet and will dry quickly when the rain stops.
Once you are back to your tent, make sure to clean and dry your feet and if it is still raining in the morning, don’t put on your dry socks yet. Wear the wet ones and save the dry pair for when it stops raining and shoes are dry.
3. Have The Right Gear
Apart from bringing the appropriate clothing for the weather, it is also important to ensure that the equipment you intend to pack up is right for the day. For instance, ditch that summer tent and go for something that works best even in rainy weather. Four season tents, anyone?
Don’t forget your tarp, as you need something to keep the rainwater away from your tent when you sleep. Also, if you have been using your tent for a while and you figured it got some leaks, it’s better to fix these before you go. If you know how to waterproof a tent, then this should be a cakewalk.
You will also be documenting every moment you spend in the woods so get a camera that can withstand the weather. There are nice and cheap waterproof cameras in the market today so reserve your expensive phone for calls and SMS only.
4. Stay Safe
Even if your hiking ground is just a few minutes’ walks from your house, it is always important to have some safety equipment on board. The weather may get worse when you are out there and if you don’t have a strategy to stay safe, then things may get so ugly for you.
To start with, get acquainted with the weather charts. If there have been storms throughout the week, you will likely encounter some along the way so get prepared for them. Lightning is also a serious hazard, so familiarize yourself with lightning safety before heading out. Avoid isolated trees and open areas too, as these are prone to lightning strikes.
5. Don’t Go Alone
Never underestimate the power of a buddy system. Having a few friends going with you is the best way not only to have an enjoyable trip but also to stay safe on the trail. If you fall sick or aren’t able to proceed with the hike, you will have someone to keep an eye on you and care for you.
But if you really want to go alone, take the most obvious safety measure – inform someone where you are going and when they should expect you back. Also, have a few contacts you can reach out to in case you find yourself in danger.
6. Plan Your Navigation
If you will be hiking on a ground that you aren’t quite familiar with, you must know how you will find your way through the woods. Bring your GPS, compass, or anything else that can point you to your desired destination.
We don’t advocate the use of a paper map while backpacking in the rain because immediately you take it out of your pocket it’s going to get soaked, making information printed on it illegible. But this doesn’t mean that maps are completely useless in wet weather. If kept in a protector, a map can stay dry even in a heavy downpour and serve the purpose you seek.
Make sure you are familiar with how your navigation equipment works before the hike too. If you know how to navigate at night using the stars, even better because in the event your equipment fails, you still have something to show you the direction back home or to your tent.
7. Keep Inside From Outside
If you are going to be spending a few days in the woods, chances are good that you will be carrying some set-sensitive gear in your backpack. Think of stuff like sleeping bags, fresh clothes, and first aid kits, for instance – these things need to stay as far from rain as possible for them to be useful.
The easiest way to do this is to waterproof your pack. Get garbage bags, Ziplocs, and dry sacs and put all your sensitive gear there. These will not only keep rainwater at bay but also help you pack your backpack the right way and keep things organized on the trail.
But completely waterproof backpacks are by far the safest and best option because they will not let even a single drop of water in. Sure, they are a bit pricey but they can make the difference between a fun-filled hike and a disastrous one. And obviously, we all know what happens when a backpack gets wet, really – everything inside of it becomes drenched, doubling or even tripling the weight of the pack.
However, if you feel like a waterproof pack is too much of a cost, just get a separate backpack rain cover and add it to the setup. As long as it can keep things dry and your backpack can slip into it, you will be fine.
8. Bring Enough Food
Hiking in cold weather can be extremely energy-zapping as your body works extra hard to keep you warm. If you don’t have the means to compensate for the lost energy, you will feel miserable and may not even manage to continue with the rest of the adventure.
Bring high-calorie snacks and drinks to keep you going. If you can, take hot meals but this will only be possible if you have a hot pot dish that you can tote on the trail.
Even though cooking in the rain can be quite a hassle, feeding on something hot will help generate the warmth you need to keep walking. But don’t be tempted to cook inside the tent because the resulting fumes can be really toxic and you may even end up damaging the tent fabric.
Stay hydrated too. After you have started walking and your body begins getting warm, you will start sweating and even though you might not notice it, your body will lose a lot of water. That said, you will need to drink plenty of it to keep the bodily fluids balanced and your muscles working efficiently.
9. Select A Good Site For Your Tent
Investing in a good tent is essential but pitching it in a good site is equally important. Don’t be in a hurry to erect your shelter after a long day of hiking in the rain. Take your time to find a good spot if you don’t want to end up with a small river inside your tent.
Do your tent set up on a raised area and away from rivers. Even a dry riverbed can turn into a raging river from heavy rains, so pitch your shelter kilometers away from these. Water is also a good conductor of electricity and can attract lightning, so setting up your tent near a water body puts you at risk of strikes.
It would also help to practice setting up the tent ahead of time so that even if it is raining heavily, you can do it quickly without much rainwater entering inside the shelter.
10. Keep Morale Up!
Doing anything in the rain requires a strong heart. Now, you will be spending a good part of your day walking in fat drops of rain and muddy water so be ready to be challenged both physically and mentally.
The secret to successful hiking in wet weather is learning to love the rain and focusing on the positives. Keep your eyes and ears open to see what looks and sounds a little different.
In the rain, vegetation will look much greener, waterfalls will gush out more rapidly, and creeks will bubble louder. Make sure you never miss any of these moments. This is also the time to capture those beautiful misty scenes, so make use of every second. And if the sun does come out later, you may catch the rainbow!
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Backpacking in the rain doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. If planned properly, it can be the best and most fun way to spend your weekend.
Pick your trail wisely, have the right clothing so you can keep warm, keep things dry, stay safe, and eat and drink properly. Follow these simple tips and you will change the entire exercise from a heck no to a heck yeah!
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- Hiking In The Rain, wta.org