BACKPACKING BASICS

Backpacking in the Rain: Tips for Defeating the Drizzle

person-hiking-in-the-rain
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

When you’re planning any outdoor adventure, one factor that’s probably on your mind is the weather. Naturally, we all hope for dry skies and warm sunshine, or powdery snow and calm winds. Most of us are probably not going to be eager for a rainstorm, though.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the showers tend to fall whether we perform rain rituals or not. Usually, weather phenomena are relatively predictable if you spend a lot of time outside or have great local meteorologists. Even so, preparations for a backpacking excursion aren’t done overnight, so you may not be anticipating rain weeks in advance.

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The great news is, backpacking in the rain can be an adventure in itself. Just because the skies open up doesn’t mean your fun is over. The key to having a good time is simply staying dry! In fact, these tips will help you avoid getting soaked and ease your anxieties about rainy backpacking so you can continue to enjoy yourself amidst dry skies, damp terrain, and downpours.

Pack the Right Gear

First, it’s important to know what gear you will need to pack to be able to comfortably backpack in the rain. Thanks to the evolution of outdoor trekking equipment, we have ways to waterproof pretty much anything these days including your body, your pack, your sleeping quarters, and your electronics (should you wish to maintain your connection to civilization).

gear-for-rainy-weather

The difference between water-resistant and waterproof lies in how dry the gear will actually keep you. While water-resistant clothing can keep you dry for a little while, it won’t be able to overcome heavy rains or prolonged exposure to precipitation.

If all you’re expecting to encounter is a damp mist in the early morning hours, outfitting yourself in water-resistant clothing will do the trick. If you’re anticipating rain during your backpacking expedition, though, you’ll want to make sure you have genuinely waterproof materials.

Keep Your Body Dry

A dry sleeping bag and tent won’t be much consolation if you get drenched to the core, so it’s a good idea to pack waterproof gear from your head to your toes. Since backpacking can be a strenuous, athletic sport, make sure your hardshell clothes are breathable with ventilation so you don’t get overheated or soaked with sweat.

Rain-Jacket-for-hiking

Avoid clothing made of cotton or down insulation because these won’t hold up well in wet climates. Synthetic insulation will be your friend because it can retain its shape and comfort pretty well when exposed to cold and rain.

Hat

There is no question whether backpacking is rugged, and what screams, “I’m intimidatingly rugged!” better than a wide-brimmed rain hat? It’s possible that some other items came to mind, but ignore those for a second. A wide-brimmed waterproof hat will keep your face and hair dry.

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Many are designed to lead rain water away from your face so you won’t be tormented by residual drip. And if you’re a glasses wearer, you know how annoying raindrops on your lenses can be. A rain hat will keep you from having to wipe your glasses down every few steps. A hiking umbrella can also come in handy for this purpose. Many of these are hands-free so you won’t have to occupy your arm to hold it.

Jacket

A good waterproof jacket is a must for any backpacker! While high-quality hardshell jackets can be pricey, the investment is well worth it if you plan on hiking or backpacking frequently in areas prone to dampness and rain. The best waterproof jackets for rainy backpacking will be durable without weighing too much.

When you go backpacking, you want to keep your pack as light as possible so it won’t weigh you down on your journey. Having a lightweight hardshell jacket will keep you dry, protected, and comfortable. Be aware of a jacket’s breathability as well.

Female Hiker in Rainy Weather Admiring the View

Backpacking is no lazy task so you’ll want a jacket that features pit zips and other ventilated areas to help prevent sweat buildup on the surface of your skin caused by body heat. If you’d rather not use a separate hat, make sure your jacket has a cozy waterproof hood to keep your head and face safe from rain and wind.

Pants

A jacket is wonderful but it will stop at your waist. You need a way to keep the bottom half of your body dry, too! That’s where waterproof and water-resistant pants come in. Hardshell pants will provide the most protection and breathability because they are made with materials that wick water away and feature several zippers for ventilation.

You might still get hot while wearing waterproof pants, though, so keep other options in mind. For damp climates that are temperate or warm, quick-drying backpacking pants may be just what you need. They are light and comfortable making them perfect for mildly misty, drizzly weather. As always, though, they won’t hold up against heavy rainfall.

Hiking-Pants-For-Men

It’s hard to dry quickly when the rain keeps coming! Depending on your desired backpacking spot, you can use your best judgment to predict the type of rainfall that you’ll be facing and pack accordingly.

Shoes

Rainproof shoes are absolutely essential for backpacking in the a rainy weather. I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than wearing wet socks and feeling them squish with every step. It’s a chilling thought. Not only is it grossly unpleasant, having prolonged wet feet can make you sick or cause you to develop a fungal infection. That is not the kind of flora you imagined encountering when you first set out.

Luckily, having the right backpacking shoes will help. This may sound counter-intuitive, but waterproof boots are not necessarily always the best choice for rainy backpacking adventures. Obviously, they won’t hurt, so if you prefer waterproof boots it’s totally fine to go in that direction. These work well in cold climates.

Boots-by-Waterfall

Keep in mind, though, that the waterproof lining of boots usually won’t encase the entire boot. Rainfall from above might be able to seep in through the top in this case, getting your feet pretty wet. Boots are also not very breathable so once they do get wet, they may stay wet for a while.

Different types of footwear are made with breathable mesh which dries easily and allows water to withdraw more quickly. Make sure to always wear appropriate socks so that your feet stay warm no matter what. And at night, let your feet breathe! Your feet will be kinder to you if you treat them well, so don’t suffocate them in wet socks while you sleep. Make sure you dry them completely and keep them warm and comfortable overnight.

Keep Your Stuff Dry

Alright, now you know how to keep yourself fairly dry. Next, understand how to protect your stuff. As a backpacker, you probably won’t have a whole heck of a lot of equipment with you. Still, there are several measures to take in order to ensure the items you have stuffed in your pack remain dry and safe from the elements.

Tent

When choosing a tent to sleep in, you should pick one that’s not going to get soaked through. Most tents are made with synthetic materials like polyester and nylon, so finding one that will keep water out isn’t difficult. Just make sure that while you are pitching your tent, you don’t let the interior get wet.

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If water pools up inside your tent, no amount of exterior waterproofing will remedy the situation. Also bring a tent footprint, a tarp-like sheet that adds an extra layer between you and the ground. Set the footprint up before assembling your tent so you are protected in all directions.

Canopy

The best way to keep your tent’s interior from getting soaked is by first setting up a vestibule or canopy in your desired campsite location. Once your canopy is set up, you can unpack your tent and pitch it without worrying about the falling rain. A canopy also comes in handy at nighttime when you are getting ready to hit the sack.

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If you take all of your wet clothes off and stuff them in your tent, water is just going to run off of the pile into your sleeping quarters. Hang your wet clothing under your canopy but outside your tent to allow it to dry while keeping your tent intact.

Rain Cover

Many backpacks are made from waterproof materials, but it’s best to be extra protective of your pack since it holds all the tools and equipment you’ve deemed necessary for your trek. Backpacks typically aren’t seam-taped so water can leak in at the seams as well as at the zippers if these are exposed to rain for a while.

backpack-with-a-raincover

To combat that, outfit your pack with a rain cover. Knowing the size of your pack will help you decide which rain cover will fit your specific pack. If you’re in a pinch, you can create a makeshift rain cover out of a poncho or trash bag. All you’d need to do is cover your entire pack with the poncho or bag and give yourself slits to pull the straps through.

Layered Bag

It is always wise to include smaller bags inside your pack. Even with the rain cover, you want to make totally sure you’re taking all the available precautions to keep your important gear safe. Keeping your sleeping bag and extra clothes in separate, sealable plastic bags will keep that stuff nice and dry even if the rain manages to soak the outside of your pack.

The more layers, the better. It won’t hurt to equip your pack with a liner as well. These extra layers will give you the most protection from the rain. A dry sleeping bag is a must, as are dry clothes, so be sure to be generous with your layering.

man-hiking-with-a-bag

Here’s a hint, Ziploc bags can come in handy if you don’t feel like buying the official gear. They will work perfectly provided they don’t have any holes or leaks.

Waterproof Electronics Cases

Picture this: The rain has really put a damper on your wildlife photography. You haven’t even had a chance to remove your camera from your pack due to all the rainfall. You had better be sure that camera is tucked away safely inside! Electronics are obviously quite vulnerable to damage from rain and water.

waterproof-electronic-case

It isn’t uncommon, however, to bring a few electronics with you on a backpacking trip. A fried cell-phone won’t be of use to anyone during an emergency. Pack waterproof cases for all the electronics in your bag and be certain they are sealed up tight!

Also a good idea: Always pay attention to where you open your pack! A rain cover won’t do much good if you unzip your bag and let the rainfall in. Try to plan ahead and consider everything you may need to use during your trek and keep it readily available at the top of your pack or in your jacket’s pockets. When you can, use an umbrella or another form of shelter when rifling through your pack.

Be Mindful of Your Needs

Staying dry isn’t your only goal when heading out on a rainy backpacking trip. You need to keep in mind that your body and mind need sustenance and rest as well! Ensuring these needs are met will give you the peace of mind needed to really enjoy your experience.

Setting Up Camp

So, you’ve packed your canopy, your tent, your rain cover, and all the waterproof gear your pack can handle. Now it’s time to decide where to set up your campsite. If it has been raining, there is no escaping a wet ground. Your main concern should be finding a spot that is not obviously flooded.

camping-tent-and-rocks

You absolutely do not want to set up your tent in a spot that is likely to experience strong moving water after too much rainfall. Not only can this be extremely dangerous if a flash flood occurs while you’re asleep, but it can also destroy all of your belongings or send them rushing away from you, carried by the cruel current, never to be seen again.

Don’t set up near a creek or river that can easily rise to dangerous levels during heavy rainfall. In case an emergency arises, make sure you have an escape route by surveying the surrounding area for high ground. You can never be too careful when braving Mother Nature’s domain.

Stay Hydrated

During a rainstorm, the last thing you may want to think about is more water. Well, you have to anyway. Rain or shine, backpacking can be intense exercise and you have to always keep yourself hydrated. You might not notice how much you’re sweating if your jacket has pit zips, but you will probably actually sweat more while backpacking in rainy conditions since the water will make your clothes and pack heavier, weighing you down.

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Keeping a water bottle with you on your journey will keep you from becoming dehydrated and sluggish. Backpackers typically take fewer breaks while hiking in the rain, so don’t let yourself become too exhausted.

Fuel with Food

In the same vein as keeping hydrated, your body also needs good trail food to remain energized. When you eat, your body can convert calories to energy and produce body heat which will keep you warm in colder conditions. Good trail foods include jerky, nuts, and dehydrated fruits.

cooking-food-on-stove

When you’re planning site meals, understand that cooking with heat may not be the easiest thing during a downpour. If you’re safe under a canopy, you might not have any trouble lighting a gas stove, but if the rain and wind are coming at you from the side, it may not be worth it to try and fight to keep the flame alive. Plan meals that you can throw together without heat that offer plenty of protein and fat to keep your body warm and sustained.

Stay Warm

Hypothermia occurs when your body starts losing heat more quickly than it can create heat. Many people associate hypothermia with freezing temperatures or submersion in frigid water, but it can actually occur in mild temperatures as well. Avoid this by always making sure you have enough layers to stay warm and insulated during cool, rainy weather. Synthetic insulation is best in rainy weather because it won’t fail even if it gets damp.

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When you can help it, change out of wet clothes immediately and into dry, warm clothing. And, be mindful of early signs of hypothermia which include shivering, drowsiness, slurred speech, stumbling, confusion, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and nausea.

Make sure you and your party are prepared should any of these symptoms arise. If a party member begins to show signs, get them out of the rain and under shelter, strip off their wet clothes, and cover them with warm clothes and layers of blankets. Focus on areas where heat escapes the body including the head, torso, and feet.

Give Your Feet Extra Love

Now that we’ve talked about the proper footwear to utilize while backpacking in wet conditions, it’s time to discuss the care your feet or going to require when you’re off the trails. Your feet most likely won’t stay perfectly dry the entire time you’re backpacking.

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Whether they sweat or get soaked through, drying them completely every night will help stave off nasty infections and cracked skin. Pack lotion with lots of moisturizing properties and rub your feet with it at night. This will keep your skin nourished and healthy. Rubbing your feet will also ease the soreness that they might have acquired whilst out navigating the trails!

Use Tools

Rainfall can cause slippery terrain so be careful when backpacking in muddy areas. A trekking pole can really help you remain upright during hikes in wet conditions. Even with trekking poles and well-tractioned footwear, though, move cautiously and watch where you’re going to avoid slips and falls!

Know When You’re Beaten

It’s okay to throw in the towel, so to speak when the weather gets too bad. If the rain is coming down with such force that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, why not hang out in your tent for the day? Your feet and body can use the extra rest time to recover from soreness and stiffness.

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The rain won’t last forever, so don’t worry if the weather keeps you from going as far as you’d originally planned. Eventually, those downpours will let up and you’ll be able to get right back to it with fresh invigoration. There’s something beautiful about the forest and mountains after heavy rains, anyway. Enjoy the magnificent greenery.

Backpacking Isn’t Just for Fair Weather

A positive attitude can get you far in life, and in the backpacking circles, it’s no different. If you can prepare yourself ahead of time for a rainy journey, there is no reason for you to not enjoy yourself completely. Taking all of these measures will ensure that you can have a great outdoor experience in the rain or shine.

So have you experienced backpacking in a rainy weather before? Any other tips that you can share? Let us know in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell McCarty
Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.

  • Nancy King

    A small shovel is always a useful item to bring along, raining or not. I’m using the SOG Entrenching Tool F08-N. It’s lightweight, and the tri-fold design makes it ideal for packing. It’s such a versatile tool and I have found many uses for it at the campsites we’ve used.

  • Scott Hamman

    I am so happy I had my Camelbak Rain Cover with me the other day when I was hiking through some rainy weather. When the downpour finally stopped, I took the cover off and everything inside was dry. This cover is definitely worth having!

  • Russell McCarty

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Nancy! That’s certainly useful. Is it lightweight and easy to carry along?

  • Russell McCarty

    Wow, that’s great to hear Scott. Who would want their clothes and other essentials wet, right? I’m glad you’ve been using your backpack cover – it certainly makes a lot of difference.

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