Let’s face it; rain can ruin a hike if you’re not prepared. It can even lead to hypothermia. But the forest has a unique feel when it rains, and the prepared hiker can enjoy the beautiful things nature offers when the precipitation falls. So here are eight tips on how to be ready to hike in stormy conditions and like it!
- Watch the weather forecast. Hiking in the rain can be fun, but hiking in deadly thunderstorms not so much. If the forecast calls for a high probability of heavy thunderstorms, consider safety and postpone your hike. Remember, mountains create their own weather. So what starts as a sunny day may turn into a cloudy afternoon with rain showers. As cool air from the lowlands moves up the mountainside, and as the day progresses, the air gets warmed, and the moisture condenses, forming rain clouds. This air pattern is a reason why it rains in the mid-afternoon in most mountainous areas. The mountaineer adage is on by ten off by two. Meaning summit by 10 AM and get off by 2 PM. Being on a high exposed peak in heavy rain is not recommended.
- Bring the proper gear. Some kind of rainwear is needed. The question is, what kind? Let’s start with our heads. Any headcover will do during the summer months, but packing a lightweight beanie may help keep you warm. Many hikers buy waterproof-breathable equipment only to find out that these items, although protect against the rain, will leave you wet due to trapping body moisture. If you purchase a waterproof-breathable item, look for jackets with pit zips, venting pockets, and name-brand materials. Some pants may have venting options also. For decades, hikers have used ponchos for rain protection. They may be an option in light rain conditions. Boots with good traction are essential. A boot with a level of waterproofness is a good choice. However, like waterproof-breathable jackets or pants, you’ll sweat in them. Wet feet make for an unpleasant hike. Also, when wearing non-waterproof materials on our feet, we may tend to walk around standing water, thus widening the trail. If you’re inclined, using gators can help keep your feet dry by keeping water out of your boots. What is easy to step on in dry conditions becomes dangerous when slick. Use trekking poles to help with balance. Wearing a quick-drying base and mid-layers is essential. Polypro materials will outperform cotton. Lastly, bring a change of clothes or two. No matter what you do you will get wet when it rains in the backcountry, you may want to swap out some damp clothing for some dry warm replacements.
- Bring ample food. Being wet in the backcountry challenges our body’s heat regulation. It requires more energy to stay warm in the rain, even in summer. Feeding our body and maintaining ample energy will help our internal thermoregulatory engine keep us warm.
- Bring something warm to drink. If you know, there is a chance you’ll be hiking in the rain; bringing warm drinks such as tea or hot cocoa will help your body, mind, and soul.
- Bring shelter. Sometimes you’ll need a break during extended rain. Bringing a small tarp can provide temporary protection to get out of a downpour. Using a tarp will allow you to rest in a dry spot, change clothes if needed, eat some food or make some warm drinks. Also, it’s simply lovely watching the forest during the rain, but doing it under a shelter makes it more comfortable.
- Use garbage bags or zip-locks. Bag everything. Make sure all your items in your pack are packed and protected against getting soaked. Do this even if no rain is forecasted. Take one bag and use it as a pack cover to keep your backpack dry. If you’re in the market for a backpack, look for one with a rain cover built-in.
- Bring fire-starting supplies. Face it; you may get chilled enough that you need to create a fire for warmth. Remember, this is part of the 10-essentials. So not only carry the supplies but learn how to get a fire going in wet environments!
- Always bring your 10-essentials!
With some planning and bringing the right supplies, you can hike safely in the backcountry. But, who knows, you may start looking for rainy days and have the forest to yourself!
Backwoods wanderer with a passion for backpacking, hiking, kayaking, and exploring the wilds of the Catskills and Adirondacks in New York. A Catskill 3500 Club Member and Adirondack Forty-Sixer. Climbed Mount Rainier. Professionally an Exercise Physiologist.