As much as you hope and pray to the weather gods, there’s a high chance that you’ll eventually get caught out in the rain.
But you don’t have to let the dampness get you down.
Knowing how to stay dry and comfortable in bad weather is an important trail skill and can be the make or break on a backpacking trip.
If you’ve got the right hiking gear and a positive mindset, hiking in the rain can actually be fun and you might even get the trails all to yourself.
Below we’ve pulled together our top tips for an enjoyable hike – come rain, wind or shine. Use these and you’ll have an adventure to remember!
Choose the right trail for the conditions
Choosing the best route and destination is the first step in having a successful hike. If the weather has closed in then the chances are that a summit hike won’t be too rewarding in terms of views.
Instead consider a forest trail, which will also provide some cover, or one that runs alongside a river, to a waterfall or a lake, where more water is a great thing.
Steep paths heighten your risk of slipping and are best avoided. Similarly, pick a shorter trail that can be completed within a few hours so that if the weather conditions further deteriorate you’re not too far from the trailhead.
If your chosen trail goes through narrow gorges, canyons or valleys at risk of flash flooding then pull the pin and turn around. The downpour might be miles away but there’s a good chance you’ll cross the path of water from it.
On which note, investigate whether the area is prone to mudslides or if you might need to cross streams that could have become dangerous.
Where possible, stick to a straightforward option where the path will remain obvious even if the views are skewed. Heavy rain can often make us lose our bearings and being wet and lost isn’t a great combo.
Wear the right clothes
Even the most high-tech gear won’t be able to keep you bone dry in a thunderstorm. That said, having the right gear helps to keep you drier and warmer for longer.
The best kit for hiking in the rain is waterproof, lightweight, portable (in that it packs down small) and breathable.
The exact kind of gear you need will depend on the season – as a light summer rain in warmer temperatures will be a completely different ballgame to a wet winter’s day on which you’ll need to prevent heat loss.
Breathability is important in both summer and winter to minimise perspiration getting trapped on your skin, which will make you feel damp and clammy and can even lead to hypothermia in cold conditions.
With waterproof clothing you get what you pay for. Splash out on a decent jacket with Gore-Tex technology, taped seams, wrist cuffs, zipper flaps, a fully-adjustable hood and a rain-shedding brim to keep water running away from your face and body.
Even when there is no rain in the forecast, carry some form of rain gear just to be safe.
Hard shells keep the rain off but don’t necessarily regulate the temperature underneath. Wear plenty of layers that you can remove (or put back on) as the conditions change.
Base or mid-weight leggings and long sleeves are the best option underneath shells. They are comfortable, don’t impair range of movement but also provide full skin coverage to keep the jacket off your skin.
Polyester, nylon and wool layers are generally quick-drying, moisture-wicking, lightweight and insulating. Cotton, on the other hand, holds moisture and takes forever to dry out.
Keep your feet dry (as much as possible)
Once again, you might not make it to camp without a bit of moisture sneaking into your boots but investing in decent footwear will make any trek infinitely more enjoyable.
Nearly all good quality hiking boots are waterproof to some extent and some are built to be fully submergible. Waterproof gaiters are an ideal addition to your kit and can be worn over boots to stop water getting into the boot mouth.
Carry a couple of spare pairs of socks so that you can switch them out at regular intervals – doing so will help to prevent blisters.
Damp skin is far more susceptible to blisters so tend to any developing hotspots before they take a turn for the worse.
Durable boots with a good tread on the bottom will also support your ankles and prevent slipping.
Pack your poles
Speaking of slipping, plenty of trails can turn into a mudslide in heavy rain. Be prepared by incorporating a hiking pole (or pair of them) into your repertoire.
Hiking poles enable you to keep your balance on uphills, downhills and when walking over wet rocks.
Even on flat ground, they might be the difference between staying upright or taking a tumble into the dirt.
Waterproof your backpack
Keeping your feet and body dry is a great start, but there’s not much point if your food, sleeping bag and spare clothes are all sodden.
The majority of hiking backpacks are water-resistant but not waterproof – meaning that they’ll withstand a short, light shower but sustained rain won’t be good news.
If you see the words weather-resistant, or water-resistant, then you should treat yourself to a rain cover.
If you want to play it safe, you can also buy a bag liner. Rain covers can become dislodged as you walk or you might find that mud and water are flicked up onto the underside of your bag from your feet.
A bag liner is a light waterproof bag that slips into the backpack before loading it up. In a pinch you can even use a standard heavy-duty rubbish bag or bin liner.
For smaller essential items (phone, cash, GPS, headphones, book, toilet paper, etc.), consider a waterproof stuff sack, roll bag or just a basic ziplock bag.
When we’re cold our bodies burn up to four times as many calories just to carry out the same tasks.
When hiking in wet conditions we focus on keeping our kit (and ourselves) dry and work on reaching our destination as quickly as possible.
However, it is important to take on adequate food and hydration to keep energy levels up, stay warm and regulate temperature.
Whether it’s a timely hot drink, thermos flask of soup, protein bar or slab of chocolate, remember to take a break to eat and drink.
Be smart with pitching your tent
So you’ve made it to your destination and the pressure is on to get your tent up and get out of the rain.
But before you just throw it down anywhere, remember that stormy and rainy conditions can dramatically alter campsite safety.
Avoid pitching on dips in the ground or at the bottom of a slope where rain could create a puddle around or under your tent. Where possible, set up camp on a raised piece of ground.
Look out for small puddles when setting up, if a pool is already forming then it’s probably set to grow.
If you’ve got the time and energy, consider digging a little drainage trench so water doesn’t accrue around your spot.
Tarps are also a powerful tool to keep you comfortable at camp.
A decent tarp and para-cord can help create a dry cooking and eating area, a dry clothes-line or a shelter under which you can set up your tent without letting a single drop of rain into your sacred dry space.
Set up the tarp on arriving in camp then pitch your tent underneath it before moving it to your chosen site.
Dry out any wet gear
Start hanging out your damp kit ASAP. It’s the last thing you feel like doing after a long day on the trails but you’ll thank yourself later.
This is particularly important on multi-day hikes when you have limited clothing.
Dry your gear in your tent’s vestibule but not within your sleeping compartment where they might drip on your sleeping bag and dry clothes. Just ensure sure there is ventilation in your tent to minimise condensation.
As soon as the sun comes out spread your wet gear over any available surface (chairs, branches, a car roof or doors, clothes lines, etc.) to get as much of it dry as possible before you set off again.
Even if it doesn’t seem wet, assume that everything is damp and hang it up. Getting air to your sleeping bag, tent, rain fly, clothing and bag will stop things going mouldy.
And if you’re not camping out overnight then lucky you! To make your journey home a bit more comfortable, stash dry clothes and a stack of towels in your car ahead of time.
Maintain a positive attitude
Try and keep the spirit up within your group.
If you’re prepared to laugh your way through a rainstorm and have an up-for-anything spirit, you’ll have fun no matter what and end up with plenty of stories from your adventure.
Live in the moment and look for the positives – whether that’s listening to the raindrops running down the sides of your tent, waking up to an atmospheric mist or watching the way animals come out to play in the rain.
With fewer people on the track, you can better take in all that nature has to offer.
And a final note
Check the local weather forecast before setting off.
There is a big difference between hiking in the rain and hiking in a wild thunderstorm or cyclone.
Know the limitations of your gear and your own or the group’s abilities. Never set off if there are extreme weather warnings and always exercise common sense.
Richard is a keen day-distance walker and lives close to the South Dorset Ridgeway and South West Coast Path.
Bucket list walks include: