Hiking In The Rain – A Hillwalk Guide

May 25, 2017 by
Alex hiking in Connemara
POSTED BY May 25, 2017

Hiking in the rain is more than likely far from anyone’s idea of fun. From wet socks to slippy trails, hiking in the rain certainly doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable way to spend a day, or days, off. If you’re prepared, however, hiking in bad weather can be as enjoyable as hiking in good weather.

As anyone from Ireland will tell you, if you never go outside when it’s raining, you’ll spend the majority of your life indoors. The key to an enjoyable experience hiking in the rain is good preparation. The key to good preparation is practice.

Our advice?

Get out on the trail and start hiking in the rain!

Benefits Of Hiking In The Rain

As with hiking in general, there are certainly many benefits that come with hiking in the rain.

  • The trail will be empty.
    • If no one else likes to get outside and go for a hike in bad weather, you have freedom of the trail!
      Foolproof.
  • You’ll see greenery greener than usual.
    • The plants will be teeming with life from the downpour and drizzle, giving you the chance to see them in their fully-nourished glory.
  • Wildlife will be on full display.
    • Unlike humans, birds seem to love the rain. It brings insects up from the ground, providing a feeding-frenzy for the birds on the surface.
  • The ambiance.
    • There can be nothing better than the sound of raindrops, big or small, bouncing off leaves and trees on their way down to earth.
      That, coupled with the almost hypnotic sound of the rain bouncing off your hood, should be enough to make anyone want to go hiking in the rain.

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Hiking Gear For Rain

It’s all well and good to go hiking in the rain, but its very important to have the correct hiking gear for rain. Without this, your expedition is doomed to end in a sodden mess.

Backpack

Many backpacks claim to be waterproof, and this may well be the case.

However, there are many weak points on a backpack that allow water to seep in and soak your lovely dry socks.

Quick-access flaps, zips and pull-chords are the biggest culprits when it comes to allowing water into your dry equipment.

The best way to combat this is to waterproof your backpack yourself. You can do this by:

  • Getting a rain cover to fit your backpack.
    • In light drizzle, this is a good solution. A rain cover won’t last long in downpours and strong winds, however, and risks getting snagged and ripped off by shrubbery and undergrowth.
  • Waterproof internally.
    • Use a heavy-duty bin liner to line the inside of your backpack. This way you’re ensuring your equipment stays dry even if your backpack gets wet. It also eliminates the need to remove a rain cover when needing to take something out.
  • Use dry bags.
    • Dry bags are great for keeping important equipment dry inside your bag. It’s a more professional and sophisticated version of the aforementioned bin liner.
  • Zip-lock bags.
    • Zip-lock bags are great at keeping small items dry, such as food and other bits that might otherwise get lost at the bottom of your backpack.

Clothes

Clothes are what will keep you warm on the trail. Notice I didn’t use the word ‘dry’ – it’s inevitable that you’re going to get wet while hiking in the rain.

  • Don’t wear cotton or denim.
    • Cotton and denim are an absolute no when hiking, from top layer right down to underwear (although who’s heard of denim underwear?).
      These become heavy and cold when wet and can take days to dry off properly.
  • Get a good base layer.
    • A wool base layer and mid layer is a good idea, as it will feel warm when wet. This will prevent body heat from escaping.
    • While wool feels warm, synthetic and polyester are quick-drying and still give some warmth when wet. Some sort of wool/polyester base/mid layer combo is a good choice.
  • Invest in a good waterproof and windproof jacket.
    • One of the main ways to stay warm when hiking in bad weather is to eliminate wind-chill. A good top-layer jacket will help you do this, while its waterproof qualities will keep your layers dry underneath.
    • Ventilation zips in the sides of these jackets allow breathability so that your sweat doesn’t soak you from the inside.
    • Unzip these in warm rain, and zip them in cold rain.
  • Waterproof pants.
    • Many purpose-made hiking pants will have waterproof and quick-drying qualities, so waterproof pants aren’t overly important.
    • They’re handy to have in your backpack though, just in case of sudden torrential downpours.
  • Gaiters.
    • Gaiters wrap around your lower legs and keep your socks dry when hiking through high vegetation and wetlands.
  • Hiking Boots.
    • It’s very important to have sturdy hiking boots when hiking, however this changes a little when hiking in the rain.
    • Hiking boots are great at keeping rain and water out but if rain and water get in (which is going to happen), then it can be quite difficult to get it out.
    • Trail-running shoes, while not as waterproof as hiking boots, are breathable and quick-drying so these might be a good option. Just be sure to pack extra pairs of dry socks.

Overall you can never have too many layers or clothes packed in your backpack when hiking in the rain. Find the balance between weight and necessity that’s right for you.

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Gear

The gear that you bring with you is very much down to trial and error, and personal preference. It takes practice to get the ideal gear set-up that is right for you. Some important things to remember:

  • Keep your map dry
    • This can be done by investing in a waterproof map case, or even just a waterproof map.
  • Hiking poles
    • Even if you don’t usually use hiking poles, they can come in useful when hiking in the rain.
    • They can be used for stability on slippy ground, and even for gauging puddle and water depth.

Food

One of the best parts of hiking is breaking for a nice picnic. Hiking in bad weather puts a stop to this and forces you to eat on the move for two reasons:

  1. You’ll get too cold if you stop for long periods in the rain.
  2. No one likes to sit and eat in the rain.
  • Quick snacks
    • Bring quick snacks that you can eat on the go, such as energy bars and fruit. Try to avoid food that gets wet easily – no one likes soggy sandwiches!

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Choosing The Trail

Trail selection comes in to play a lot more when hiking in the rain. You should pick a route that isn’t too steep and perhaps with not too much wetland.

Well established routes, potentially looped walks, are a good bet. This can be added to or shortened based on how hardcore you are.

Attitude

Your attitude plays a big part in how good an experience hiking in the rain will be. If you go out with the mindset that it will be miserable, then it will be miserable.

The opposite is also true.

Weather

Check the weather forecast to make sure you’re not walking into a storm. If you would like to try hiking in the rain, light to moderate drizzle is a good place to start.

Keep an eye on the sky and clouds as these are often as good an indication of rain than anything.

Managing Your Body

People tend not to drink as much while hiking in the rain, but even on rainy days our bodies need about 2 litres of water to continue to function properly. Snack small and often throughout the day, instead of big snacks infrequently.

Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia, and how to treat it.

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