Hiking in the Rain: Clothing, Gear and Tips
Springtime brings longer days and warmer temperatures, and, for many outdoor fans, it's the start of hiking season. Since spring can also bring rainy weather and muddy trails, you need some wet-weather gear to keep you safe and comfortable, in addition to your usual hiking essentials.
Clothing for Hiking in the Rain
Successful hiking starts with clothing and performance gear that's ready for the journey. In wet weather, specialty rainwear is a must. As you build your lineup of spring hiking clothes, here's a look at the key wet-weather pieces you'll need not just for spring, but any time you're hiking in the rain.
Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket
When considering the right clothes for hiking in spring weather (or anytime precipitation is possible) a waterproof hooded jacket tops the list for essential rainwear. You'll want a hiking rain jacket that:
- Is lightweight yet durable, and made of performance nylon or polyester that sheds rain and doesn't catch on branches or brush.
- Allows you to move freely, even when you're wearing a few layers underneath. (It's always best to layer your clothing, no matter the weather conditions.)
- Offers breathable design features like vents, underarm zippers and mesh panels, which allow body heat and steam to escape rather than collecting inside your jacket.
- Has a hood that can be cinched snugly and is roomy enough to allow you to wear a long-billed cap under it, to keep rain out of your face.
- Is bright and colorful enough to make you visible from a distance.
A waterproof poncho is a convenient alternative to a hooded rain jacket, especially for emergency or backup use—and many hiking rain ponchos pack down small enough to fit into a pocket. Reflective silver emergency ponchos are designed to shield you from wind and rain, and they can be seen from a great distance if you ever need rescuing.
Waterproof Hiking Pants
When choosing hiking rain pants, be sure that they:
- Are made of a water-shedding material that's both lightweight and durable.
- Have an adjustable elastic waistband plus an overall fit that's generous enough to wear over other layers.
- Feature long ankle zips so you can pull them on and off without removing your hiking boots or shoes.
- Offer deep, zippered pockets to keep small essentials conveniently close and secure.
Waterproof Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes
Why do experienced hikers fall in love with their faithful hiking footwear? Because keeping your feet dry and comfortable is job one. In wet conditions, waterproof hiking boots or shoes can be the difference between comfortably continuing your trek or cutting your hike short and trudging (or limping) back to the car. Nordstrom offers waterproof hiking boots and hiking shoes for women and men, and if you're not an experienced hiker, our Hiking Shoes Guide is a great place to start.
Specialty hiking socks are just as important as your hiking boots or shoes. Invest in some cushioned hiking socks that fit snugly and wick away moisture, which will help you avoid blisters. And always pack an extra pair or two in case your feet get wet, or you do feel a blister developing.
You might also consider waterproof gaiters, which attach to your hiking boot or shoe and extend up your lower leg. Gaiters provide extra protection against rain and snow while preventing debris such as rocks and twigs from getting inside your hiking boot or shoe.
Additional Hiking Rain Gear
A few more items will help keep you comfortable and safe when you are hiking in the rain:
- Trekking poles: These lightweight poles help you maintain your balance and footing, and are great for slippery mud, uneven ground and sloped terrain, as well as for crossing streams.
- Waterproof headlamp: In case you're caught on the trail after dusk, a headlamp helps you see the path ahead. Even in the daytime, headlamps are helpful in dark, dense woods.
- Waterproof gloves: In addition to keeping your hands warm and dry, gloves help you grip wet items like trekking poles and water bottles.
What to Bring in Your Pack
To be well-equipped for rain, be sure your backpack includes:
- Waterproof backpack cover: It's an extra layer of protection to keep everything in your backpack dry.
- Small waterproof cases or bags: These keep small essentials—such as cell phones, GPS devices and matches—dry.
- Large trash bags and zip-lock bags: Inexpensive and versatile, these items should always be in your pack.
- Footcare Kit: For the prevention and treatment of blisters, or to tend to a cracked toenail, a basic footcare kit is essential.
- Small towel: A super-absorbent camping towel can dry whatever gets wet and then be tightly wrung out.
- Easy snacks: In addition to plenty of water, always pack some nutritious, no-fuss food such as energy bars or trail mix.
- Extra clothing: Especially in rainy weather, you'll be glad to have extra lightweight layers and socks if needed.
More Tips for Hiking in the Rain
Keep in mind these additional tips to ensure that you have a great hike and avoid any mishaps:
- Do a final gear check: Before your hike, empty your backpack completely. Then, while consulting your checklist, carefully repack it.
- Check weather forecast and current conditions: Before and during your hike, keep a close eye on the weather, and keep in mind that mountain weather can change very suddenly.
- Check trail warnings and advisories: Be sure that trail conditions are safe by checking websites and other frequently updated sources. At the trailhead, read all posts about trail conditions.
- Be ready to choose a different trail: If the forecast is foreboding, be willing to adapt. You might switch to an all-weather trail that's closer to home, or an alternative trail at your destination that's shorter and safer.
- Think prevention: If there's any precipitation, put on your rain gear. Keep in mind that being in a light drizzle for a surprisingly short time can get you as soaked as a sudden downpour. And it's a lot easier to stay dry than to get dry on the trail.
- Be smart about lightning: Know how to avoid it, and what to do if it's nearby. (The American Hiking Society(1) has some great lightning-safety advice.)
Hiking is a rewarding experience, even when you're hiking in the rain. Just be sure you're cautious and keep in mind safety is always more important than speed. When hiking with a group, stick together and don't allow anyone to return to the trailhead alone while the rest of the group continues. And no matter how bad the weather gets, stay on the trail. Never attempt to find a shortcut back to the car—this is how hikers get lost.
Finally, remember that nature is ultimately in charge. Be willing to shorten or even cancel your hike if the weather is extreme. Some of the most memorable hiking adventures are the washouts that feature a snug picnic in the car with heavy rain drumming on the roof.
1. "Lightning Safety," American Hiking Society. Accessed February 28, 2022. https://americanhiking.org/resources/lightning-safety