In the Pacific Northwest, it rains. Frequently. It’s good for avoiding drought, powers our hydroelectric dams, and keeps everything green, so better to accept the rain than try to fight it. So if you bookmark a day on the calendar to hike and it’s raining, what’s a hiker to do?
Soldier on bravely! If you only hike on sunny days, you stand spend a lot of time cooped up indoors. Plus, rain keeps the crowds away as well! Preparedness can make or break you from being a soggy miserable mess, or dry and enjoying a beautiful misty mossy hike–so here’s my tips for hiking in the rain.
PICK YOUR TRAIL WISELY
If you haven’t yet committed to a trail, it might be time to look at the landscape. Coastal hikes are beautiful, but being on the sand for 10 miles provides zero cover, while a more woodsy hike (especially along a river) will shield you from more of the elements. I also use the Dark Sky app to see how heavy it will be raining in the area I intend to go–the difference between a drizzle and a downpour makes all the difference in the world.
COTTON IS ROTTEN
It’s an age-old adage when it comes to any activity where water could be involved–cotton is rotten. Cotton basically soaks up water like a sponge and takes hours to dry, freezing you in the process. I like to keep a nice sweatshirt in the car to put on after hiking, but it will only hinder you during.
RETHINK YOUR OUTER LAYER
When it comes to waterproof jacket materials, there is a bit of a catch-22. The hardcore waterproof rain jackets may be great for strolling through downtown in a downpour, but often these jackets allow for zero breathing, making you a sweaty panting mess while climbing up a hill. Also, hoods–great for keeping your hair dry, terrible for listening to your surroundings or letting your head breathe. I opt instead for a very lightweight running jacket from Brooks (similar to this one available now)–it has mesh panels in the back to allow airflow when sweating and raindrops seem to fly off of it, instead of beading like they do on my hardcore rain jacket. Jackets with pit zips are also useful here. My chosen jacket has no hood, so I wear a quick-drying hat with mesh that dries super fast to keep rain off my face. Tons of athletic companies are starting to make these feather-light hats, and I’m also seeing waterproof-material in trucker hats made by outdoor companies–these hats are great for summer too as they wick sweat and keep the sun out of your face. Right now I’m currently lusting after this Roga Cap from Oiselle with a pocket in it–perfect for tossing in your ID or a credit card!
YOU’RE STILL WEARING COTTON, AREN’T YOU?
Underneath your outer layer you’re probably hoping you can still wear something warm like a sweatshirt or long-sleeve t-shirt. Fight that urge. Even in layers you *think* will be shielded from rain, water can still creep down your back, or you might remove your outer layer if you get too warm. Your two best options for your base layer (closest to the skin) are a synthetic moisture-wicking material (think Dri-Fit, etc.) or merino wool, which might not wick the moisture as fast as synthetic, but will keep you warmer. Ditto for cotton underwear and socks–if your pants hold any water they *will* soak them up and you *will* get uncomfortable (and wet underwear could also be a risk for yeast infections for ladies). I keep a spare pair of wool socks in the car on rainy days to wear on the drive home to keep my tootsies warm.
WATCH YOUR FOOTING
Many hikes have wooden bridges (or logs) for you to cross. Tread carefully and try not to rely too much on your boots’ advertised grip. On downhills, lean forward so if you slip, you fall forward and your hands can save you rather than landing on your head or back. Hiking poles can also greatly help your footing, unless…
WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES
Even though we don’t get a ton of thunderstorms here, it’s always smart to prepare. Hiking poles are essentially lightning rods. If you hear thunder or see lightning, ditch ’em. Ditto for packs with a metal frame. Your instinct might be to seek shelter under a big, tall tree–don’t, that’s also a lightning rod. Water also attracts electricity, so try to move away from any sources of water as well. I get while hiking avoiding trees and water if difficult, and guess what? You also want to avoid high peaks. Your odds are much better being below the treeline. My hope wasn’t to scare you with this piece (I admit, I wear an underwire sports bra while hiking, which is a no-no for lightning as well), just educate you. However the depth of this subject (especially once you throw a tent into the mix) is far beyond my knowledge and expertise, so I encourage you to check out some FEMA resources here and here.
…in a rain cover, that is. My pack came with one (thanks again for the awesome customer service, Osprey!), but REI sells basic ones that work well if you don’t have one. If you don’t want to shell out the money for one, tons of avid hikers swear by garbage bags. If you are using a bigger pack, some also use a garbage bag as a liner inside the pack to keep things dry. I also like to keep plastic bags in the car for storing muddy shoes and wet clothes on the ride home (just don’t forget about wet clothes when you get home–air them out ASAP or be welcomed to Mildew City).
Again, rain happens. You might as well embrace it! Swirling mist, vibrant ferns, and tons of adventure await you! What are your favorite rainy-day hikes?