Hiking is about being out there in nature and enjoying the world, but it’s also about the challenge from a physical perspective. But at the same time, hiking is not all about being out there in picture perfect conditions, which leaves many wondering if it’s safe to hike in the rain.
Hiking in the rain is safe, as long as you properly prepare yourself for it. Hiking in the rain does present dangers, namely slippery conditions and the potential for the terrain to change very quickly. You also must make sure you bring and wear the right gear for hiking safely in the rain.
Testing yourself by hiking even when the sun isn’t shining, and those dark clouds have swept over, can be enthralling in its own right. But hiking in less than perfect conditions may be scary for some, so let’s see if we can help ease those fears when it comes to hiking in the rain.
Table of Contents
Hiking in the rain can be just as fun as hiking in the sunshine, and the added challenge can add to the enjoyment. Trails are also usually quieter when it’s wet, as most people prefer to avoid subpar conditions. This can make hiking in the rain, if you prepare properly, very rewarding.
But for many, hiking in the rain doesn’t sound like fun, as the idea of being out in the elements isn’t as appealing as being indoors by a cozy fire drinking hot coffee or tea. But as I said at the outset, it’s a challenge, and trying to overcome a challenge can indeed be fun! However, there are also a number of other benefits that come with hiking in more inclement weather.
The truth is that hiking in the rain comes with a number of very clear benefits, one of which is a sense of solitude. It’s fair to say that a lot of hikers are not too keen on going out when the conditions are tough and it’s raining cats and dogs. They will be quick to postpone until the weather is brighter, and conditions are more on their side.
But doing that means you then have the ability to take advantage of one of the key benefits of hiking in the rain, which is that you often have trials pretty much to yourself. Trails are pretty quick to empty when the weather is bad, so if you prefer to hike either alone or in a small group, then this is the time to do it.
Even the more popular trails will be quieter when the weather is not so good. So, it’s up to you to take advantage of this. But perhaps the main benefit is that rain appears to heighten your senses. When your senses are heightened, primarily your sense of smell and hearing, it’s almost as if nature becomes “more alive.”
See Things Differently
It all means you might be able to see things in a brand new way, even if you have been on the same hiking trail on a number of occasions. The colors can appear to be much more vibrant. The smells may be different. You might encounter the trail like never before! But is hiking in the rain actually safe?
Hiking in the rain is safe, but it’s not without its dangers. You need to ensure you bring and wear the appropriate gear for hiking in the rain, as not only can the ground be very slippery and the terrain quite treacherous, but you’re also far more susceptible to extreme cold, which brings its own dangers.
The Key Dangers
Thankfully, being correctly prepared can reduce those risks. But you need to understand where the potential problems or dangers can be, to then counteract them as best you can. The main safety issues concern:
- Wearing and bringing the wrong gear
- Poor planning
- Tackling conditions outside your experience
You need to have the correct gear to hike safely in the rain. Also, having the right supplies with you for your hike is also key. Planning your route in advance is something you should always do no matter the weather, but it becomes even more important when the weather is poor.
Tell People Where You Are
Letting people know where you will be hiking also makes sense, as is telling them when they should expect you to return. That way, they will know when something may have gone wrong, because cell phone signals may not exist on your trail.
But with all these things in mind, you can do certain things to make your hike that bit safer. However, for me, the most important factor has to be your gear, so now I’ll take you through how to pack correctly for hiking when you know the weather is not at its best.
I mentioned how being correctly prepared reduces the risks, so how do you prepare for going out into the elements and facing whatever nature throws at you? Well, I’m going to take you through the gear you should pack shortly, but before that, let’s talk about planning. You should always plan your hike in advance, rain or shine. However, it does become more important when it’s raining.
Research The Trail
First, do your research on the hiking trail you will be following. Are there any reports online of what the underfoot conditions are like? Do people mention any particularly marshy or boggy areas you need to contend with? Do areas become flooded, making it difficult to pass?
Even experienced hikers will generally not enjoy the thought of wading through marshy ground and being up to their ankles in mud. It’s messy and it’s draining. Anything that can exhaust you faster on a hike can lead to you making mistakes later on, and you want to avoid that.
Know Your Route
Know your route. Know any problem areas. Know how you will deal with them. It’s as simple as that! It’s like the old mantra “fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” and the problem here is you could easily be dealing with running into physical difficulties. Mother nature can be cruel at times, and you need to give respect to a trail.
The gear you pack is the most crucial step you will take when preparing for going out into less than favorable weather conditions. The gear you have with you can make the difference between it being an enjoyable experience, or one that is horrific.
Of course, having completely waterproof outer garments is key. However, that’s obvious, and I want to focus on some items that may not have come into your thoughts. Think about your pack. It has seams, and it will carry important items, so protecting that from the rain is crucial. Look at taking a rain cover for your pack with you. It can fold up into your bag, ready to be taken out when required.
Also, carry a lightweight dry sack with you. This is used to protect your most valuable and fragile items in your back. It gives an added layer of protection from the elements. These dry sacks can fold up into almost nothing, so they don’t take up a lot of space.
You may also want to buy waterproof cases for items such as your cell phone. These cases are light, but highly effective.
But there’s more to think about than just your pack. Instead, consider investing in some trekking poles. They can give you some additional confidence in your footing when the ground feels slippery or is covered in mud. Preventing yourself from falling makes sense!
Other Important Gear
Other important gear for hiking in the rain includes:
- A good quality rain jacket complete with insulation
- Hiking gaiters
- A rain hat
- Some spare dry clothes
By incorporating all of those things into your pack, you should be in a position to tackle the elements with ease.
Taking your dog out with you on a hike is commonplace, and it’s easy to see why, when you realize how much your dog loves it as well. So, what changes do you need to make when it’s raining and you still have your dog by your side?
The rain is highly unlikely to affect your dog. However, do make sure they are nice and healthy, since it will be more draining for them, just as it will be for you. Keep that in mind, so they do not end up exhausted and you still have some distance left to hike.
Generally speaking, all you need is to have a dry towel for when you have finished your hike, and have water available for them to drink. Also, if your dog tends to react to things like other dogs and people, then they will love the trail being emptier.
However, do keep a close eye on them when conditions get harder. If it looks dangerous, then put them back on their leash, rather than allowing them to roam free. If it’s particularly wet, consider getting a jacket for them to ensure they don’t get too cold, and possibly dog boots to give their feet extra grip.
Hiking with kids in the rain can become quite tricky. Some may argue it’s tougher than hiking with your dog. This is all due to the potential dangers that can come with poorer underfoot conditions. However, all is not lost. But you need to think about their own gear and make sure they are prepared.
While waterproof outer garments and proper footwear are important, so are waterproof gloves. Kids will put their hands anywhere, and their fingers will get cold quite quickly. Also, look at reducing the length of the hike.
Poorer conditions require more energy, and their little legs could struggle. Just remember, they will also tend to want to jump into puddles, and I do recommend having a spare set of dry clothes for them to change into.
While it’s impossible to keep yourself completely dry, having the correct gear at your disposal can at least mean your inner core is not only dry, but completely warm. However, avoid using something that makes you sweat excessively.
Sweating is designed to cool you down, and in cold, wet conditions, this can happen pretty quickly. Cheaper rain jackets, without any form of inner lining, will make your body sweat. That sort of thing makes you feel cold and miserable. Also, your ability to enjoy your hike will diminish.
But for keeping dry, I would also recommend using the layering approach where possible. Having something with you that can cope with a light shower, which can then be replaced by a heavier jacket or waterproof trousers if the rain gets heavier, makes sense.
And then there are gaiters. I always look at wearing them when I’m not walking on a gravel trail. They stop the bottom of your trousers getting wet, while also protecting your ankles. It’s amazing how they also help your shoes, but more on that later!
So, the key here is to protect your belongings by making them waterproof and use the best quality jackets you can afford to stop additional sweating without sacrificing weather protection.
You should take more water than normal during a rainy hike. Ideally, bring at least 500 ml of water per hour of hiking, rather than measuring it by mile. This is because it normally takes longer to hike in the rain, and while you might not feel like drinking as much, you still need to.
Knowing what supplies you need to have at your disposal while hiking is important, but things do change when you know you will be faced with poorer conditions. For this, you must remember that the hike will take longer to complete, as you have to take longer negotiating tricky terrain, and that changes how much water you need to carry with you.
We have mentioned the importance of having the correct gear on several occasions, but it’s not simply a case of buying it, and then that’s it. What you need to do is to understand how to correctly care for your gear, and how to protect it from the rain.
For outer garments, such as your jacket, these will tend to come with a protective covering that makes them waterproof. After all, you want your jacket to repel the rain, rather than absorbing it into the material. However, materials can lose their waterproofing ability over time.
So, I suggest buying a water repellent spray, and the entire process is known as re-proofing. If you are a regular hiker, then it’s advisable to re-proof every four months or so. The same process can often be applied to your waterproof trousers. However, that does depend on your brand, as some materials won’t require it or respond well to it. Double check if this is the case before you buy.
Finally, remember to use a waterproof cover for your pack. Some brands do advise you to also re-proof your pack, and it’s certainly something to consider. This is the last line of defense before your gear inside gets wet, so ensure your pack is as waterproof and watertight as possible.
Your shoes will have to deal with a lot when hiking in the rain, thanks to those suboptimal underfoot conditions. You may have to walk through some ground that is partly submerged, and that means your shoes are going to get wet.
So, dealing with your shoes is important, and the first thing I would recommend is waterproofing them. Apply some waterproofing spray, and then leave it to rest for a few minutes. After that, wipe away any excess liquid and let your shoes dry completely before using them. This alone should make a significant difference in keeping your feet warm and dry.
But using gaiters can also make a difference. They rest over the top of your shoes, so it does reduce the volume of water hitting them. Finally, I also recommend checking over your shoes before you head out. Check the soles and the stitching. Try to see if there’s any damage, as water will get into any hole with absolute ease.
So, what happens when you know it’s going to be poor weather conditions, but you still want to get out for that fresh air and stretch your legs? Well, it then comes down to selecting the correct trails, and we have several tips that will make doing so a bit easier.
I highly recommend sticking to known paths where there’s solid footing. Gravel paths that are relatively flat are best. Gravel reduces the chances of slipping and falling, especially when there is some sort of incline to tackle.
It’s also best to avoid hiking something that involves a summit. The odds of having a wonderful view from the top of a mountain are against you in the rain, so it’s pointless using that energy when you cannot get the reward you deserve. Instead, choose a relatively flat, solid trail that will give you constant rewards as you hike!
On occasion, there may come a time when you need to face up to the very real possibility of postponing a hiking trip. It’s a difficult thing to do, as you will probably be pretty pumped for getting out there, but there are moments where this is the only sensible decision to make.
First, be sensible with your fitness levels. Keep in mind that hikes in the rain are usually slightly tougher and therefore use up more energy. If you are concerned about your fitness and it’s raining quite heavily, then postponing it may be the safer option.
The other point is focused on the trail itself. This is where doing your research and knowing what conditions may have been like recently plays a role. If you are fully aware of a particular hike and the way in which it becomes tougher in the rain, pushing it past your ability, then cancel it. You must always be sensible with hiking, as failing to do so is where you run into problems.
Sometimes It’s Just Too Wet
Finally, if it has been raining for some time, and conditions are getting worse, then it could be time to accept that Mother Nature has won. Do remember that the trail will always be there, so missing out on it on this particular day does not mean you will never be able to walk it again.
How Long Should You Wait Before Hiking After Rain?
You should generally wait around 30 minutes to an hour before hiking after rain. If the trail you plan to hike crosses or goes alongside water, you may need to wait longer depending on how much rainfall there was, and you may also need to consider the possibility of landslides.
Finally, if there has been a lot of rain, how long should you wait before you set out on a hike? If the rain has been torrential, and you are hiking a flat area, then the general advice is to wait around an hour before heading out. This is to reduce the chances of being caught in some sort of flash flood.
Rivers And Streams
But how long you should wait changes if you plan to hike in areas where you would be crossing rivers or streams. In that case, it is safer to wait several hours, or even a couple of days. It can take this long for rain to travel downstream, so while the river may not be high while it’s raining, it can actually end up rising afterwards, as water from the mountains drains into it.
Also, if it has been raining almost continuously for a few weeks, then wait for several days in case of a landslide. Once again, this does depend on the area, but continual rain will destabilize the ground, and it can take some days for it to reach the point where a landslide may occur.
But generally speaking, if you hike a well-known path, which is flat and relatively safe, then your main concern is to keep yourself safe. As long as you have good footwear and the correct gear, then waiting just a short period of time (30 minutes to an hour) will usually suffice.
Hiking in the rain is safe if you prepare properly, bring the right gear with you, and understand all of the risks involved. Hiking during rain usually means the trails are quieter, and it can be a very pleasant experience. However, understanding when it is just too wet is also key to staying safe.