Everybody loves hiking in moderate temperatures beneath a bright, sunny sky, right? But the weather won't always match up with our hiking schedule. Follow these tips for a much more comfortable and pleasant backcountry adventure—even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
As we all know, wet clothing conducts heat away from your body, making you colder. Staying as dry as possible while on the trail or in camp is key to staying warm in the backcountry when the weather turns wet—especially in temperatures below around 60° F and in wind, which swiftly chills your body.
1. Check the weather
Check weather reports before you travel, and learn to recognize warning signs of a potential downpour, such as thick, dark clouds that obscure the entire sky so completely that you can't see the sun. If you're aware of the weather patterns, you can prepare yourself properly before starting your hike, then properly evaluate when or whether to turn back on the trail.
Credits: Margot Podkova
2. Choose your clothes wisely
Dressing to hike in the rain is a lot like dressing for a winter hike. Here's an example of layers that keep you warm even if you do happen to get wet, starting closest to your skin and working out:
Base layer: If you’re hiking in colder weather, this might long thermal underwear tops and/or bottoms.
Warm, insulating layer: Do you have a fleece jacket? How about a comfy wool sweater? Both of these work great as a insulating layer that provides warmth if it gets chilly.
Waterproof/ wind-proof layer: This includes both rain/wind jackets and hiking or rain pants. The jacket will keep you warm and dry on windy ridges and rainy days, and the pants will keep you warm and protected from brush and mud.
Socks: Hiking-specific socks offer more cushioning and breathability than cotton tube socks and protect them from blisters (particularly important on long hikes).
Credits: Mike S
Note: Avoid cotton when hiking in the rain: it's a poor insulator when wet, making you feel colder and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Look for synthetic (like fleece) or wool materials instead, both of which are in abundance in thrift stores.
3. Wear waterproof shoes or hiking boots
If you're walking around in the rain without waterproof boots, your feet are going to get wet through - ditto for your pants legs if you're walking through wet vegetation. This isn't necessarily too bad as long as you have non-cotton layers on, but if you don't like getting wet (or are backpacking and will have to put those layers back on in the morning), wear waterproof pants.
Credits: Peter Stevens
4. Slow Down or Speed Up
Besides your clothing, your pace dictates whether you’ll overheat. If you’re sweating under a rain jacket on a long uphill climb, slow down for several minutes as you near the top, so that instead of perspiring, your body’s producing just enough heat to dry the jacket on the inside; you’ll be more comfortable when it doesn’t feel clammy. Similarly, 20 or 30 minutes before reaching camp, slow your pace to where you’re warm but not perspiring, to start drying your base layer and the inside of your jacket—which will make a difference in comfort and put you on the road to dry clothes once you’re in camp.
5. Keep a Dry Change of Clothes
Keep an extra set of base layers (T-shirt, long-sleeve top, bottoms) in a zip-lock plastic bag or waterproof stuff sack for changing into in camp and sleeping in. Don’t hike in that dry set of clothes.