Hiking during or after a rainstorm can be treacherous. The combination of wet, muddy ground and slippery rocks can easily lead to a fall. However, with a little extra caution, you can safely hike in the rain. In this blog post, we will discuss is it ok to hike in the rain and ways you can manage your thru-hike during or after heavy rainfall.
Yes, you can hike in the rain and afterward. What you do need to do though is to be cautious about falls, slips, and the most dangerous issue, loss of core body heat. Thru-hikers can’t just wait out rainfall, you are on a clock and need to continue travel even in poor weather.
There are many considerations for you when you look to thru-hike, the most common is that there will be poor weather on your trek. No matter when you leave you will encounter rain and this can cause many to consider elongated town days, sometimes even to the point of quitting.
Exploring the Trail While Raining
Many may have worries about being out on the trail when the rain comes but they miss out on much of the splendor as the rain brings out a different trail than when it is sunny or hot.
Is It Safe to Hike While It’s Raining?
In most circumstances, you should be safe but also understand the chances to have slips and falls will increase with mud and slick wet rocks and roots running throughout the trail.
In addition, you don’t want to be out on the trail walking in water with lightning strikes coming or happening as one could hit near you and you would get a huge shock that has been known to knock people out and also kill them.
Is It Fun to Hike in the Rain?
Personally, I love the rain, more a part of growing up in Washington state was rain. If you didn’t do things in the rain then you more than likely never got to do anything but 1-2 weeks in the year.
I’ve done plenty of hikes in the Cascades with 5 days of straight rain which some may not find “fun” but you get to see and hear much more nature which I do find enjoyable for the minor cost of being wet.
I’d Rather Be Hiking In The Rain, Than Sitting Inside At A Desk On A Sunny Day. – Unknown
The most difficult part for most isn’t in having fun, it is that the rain kills their positivity, keeping your mind on the trail and the beautiful experience of it is VITAL to not quitting in the bad weather.
Maintaining a Positive Attitude in the Rain
The hardest part of consistent rainfall, like you end up seeing on the Appalachian Trail, is keeping the positive vibes going as many start with them but they allow the trail to basically beat it out of them.
This is why I wanted to talk real quick about some of the actual huge positives or benefits to hiking in the rain, knowing these and keeping them in the forefront of your brain may help you when the rains come.
Benefits Of Hiking In The Rain
Let’s go over some reasons why hiking in the rain is a truly unique experience that is eye-opening in many ways, here are a few:
Less Traffic (More Solitude)
A huge benefit is that the rain drives off many day hikers, section hikers, and even many thru-hikers will work to find a way to town and a warm room and bed instead.
This allows you to have the trail more to yourself and not have the issues of people on day hikes coming up behind you or crossing your path as often except the diehards.
Forest Vibrance (Color Explosion)
When rain falls it brings out so much more vibrant colors in nature than is normally seen, it is amazing how much deeper everything looks.
For those with waterproof cameras this can add some amazing depth to shots you won’t get in broad sunlight.
Variety of Wildlife
There are many birds and other animals which will come out as the water brings out worms and other feasts for them, you are more likely to see movement and activity with the rain as well.
Many hikers may find this is one of the most exciting benefits, getting to see animals in a way that they would not normally.
There is a distinct smell in the air after rain, this is called petrichor and is one of my favorite smells, I didn’t realize until I moved from Washington that this wasn’t everywhere as often as I experienced.
It is a combination of minerals from rocks that get released when water comes into contact with them, it is truly amazing and some people want to hike specifically to get this scent.
Rain Clears the Air
One nice thing about rain is that it is able to clear the air and make it fresh, this is amazing for those with allergies as everything is washed clean.
This is one of my favorite things about rain outdoors, compared to hot or dry days where there is a lot of pollen you can get into your nose and mouth which leads to sinus problems.
Waterfalls in Full Glory
With the rain comes water movement and this leads to seeing waterfalls in full steam ahead mode which are just amazing, they are more powerful and have more water flowing over them.
This can make them far more photogenic or with a waterproof camera like this GoPro, an amazing timelapse, or similar. that can bring it to life for you later on.
Managing Your Body Health
Your main concerns for you will be in keeping core body heat up to ensure no issues occur with hypothermia, in addition, you don’t want to get trench foot from your feet being waterlogged for too long.
This means learning when it is appropriate to shelter early and get your feet and body into dry clothing is important also.
Feet Need Dry Time
One major issue for a thru-hiker is keeping feet clean and dry, your feet are going to take you over all the miles and if you fail to properly care for them they will derail a hike faster than most other issues or injuries.
You will be wet, they will get pruned at times, but knowing when you are at your limit is something you need to learn, sometimes this means stopping for a bit and getting them out of the wet and confined area in shoes to dry out and breathe.
If you get a bad issue like trench foot on the trail you may be done for your entire thru-hike due to your inability to allow yourself a few extra breaks to allow your feet to recover properly, don’t do this to yourself!
Some ways listed to help stop trench foot developing are given which align well to a thru-hiker:
- Wear thick wool socks for warmth
- Change socks 2 or more times a day and massage your feet
- Clean feet and allow to dry completely
- Limit water exposure whenever possible
- Never sleep in wet socks or shoes, always in dry socks
- Attend to tingling sensations immediately
- Use an antiperspirant or foot powder for your feet
- Stay hydrated!
So make sure to take care of those feet, they are vital on a successful long-distance hike and are one of the fastest ways to derail a thru-hike with issues, especially when starting early like late winter and early spring or late fall.
Regardless of your choice to use a trail shelter or your own shelter, when it is raining out consistently and you have been trekking for hours in it you need to know when to shelter up, preferably long before night hits.
You want to get to a shelter while your blood is still pumping good and maintaining body heat, get your shelter up, and then change out of the wet clothing while drying off.
Change Out of Wet Clothing
This is when you would use your camp towel, or a ShamWow like I carry, to dry off your body as much as possible while moving into dry clothes and socks to help maintain the heat as your body slows heat generation.
This will help you contain as much heat as possible as you move into a cold night, this is key for thru-hikers as you want to be hiking the next day again without issue or problem.
Understand Symptoms of Hypothermia
If you know you will be out in cold and wet environments it is good to understand hypothermia better so you can spot signs early and adapt as needed, I am by no means a good source on this and refer you over to this excellent information on CDC.gov.
Natural Dangers of Hiking During and After Rain
As to natural dangers, they exist and aren’t something you can prepare for entirely, but is good to know when certain weather is coming to be more knowledgeable as a thru-hiker.
From overflowing to flooding and lightning there are things you want to be very aware of during and after rain to maintain your safety.
Overflowing Rivers and Creeks
For trails without bridges over creeks, streams, and rivers a rainstorm can make them much more powerful and dangerous to cross without proper gear.
Before attempting a crossing you should survey the area, if it is beyond your experience level then consider an alternate route until water is lower or find another safer way over.
If you find yourself at an overflowing river that is not safe to cross and all other options are exhausted, then do not attempt this, wait until later if possible and maybe for other thru-hikers to at a minimum run a safety line to.
On some trails landslides can be issues if there are steep hillsides as they can wash out the trail and markings, making it hard to navigate.
In these cases do not continue if the trail is too dangerous, turn back and find an alternate route that is safe for you to hike on.
One huge concern for anyone out hiking in a rainstorm is when they pair up with a lightning storm, which is as deadly as it is unpredictable.
If you are caught in an open area with no shelter and/or hear thunder, then immediately start moving to the nearest shelter even if that is a long-distance away.
Do not lay down on the ground, do not touch metal objects, and stay away from water bodies. If you are unable to avoid it then grab and lay down your asspad and stand on it with the balls of your feet to get yourself as far from the ground as possible and as small a target as possible.
Sudden Weather Changes
This happens a lot on trails like the Continental Divide, the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and many other trails.
It is vital you pay attention to weather reports and conditions if you plan on thru-hiking as sudden changes can be very dangerous especially if unprepared.
When it is sunny and you see those deep dark clouds out on the horizon, start making your way to a safe shelter even if that is a few miles away, you do not want to be out in an open area when the storm hits.
This is another huge danger that can come with little to no warning. If you are in a low-lying area or near water sources like creeks and rivers, be on the lookout for rising water levels that could mean a flash flood is coming.
Move to higher ground when possible as these can catch you unaware and pull you downstream in their flow with ease.
This is very much limited to snowfall areas with high mountains surrounding the trail, avalanches are incredibly powerful and dangerous to be caught in, so is very important to know what is going on around you.
If you planning to hike near a mountain area that is known for avalanches and/or heavy snowfall is predicted then it can be a good idea to avoid the area until after the storm is over or wait at camp until safe enough.
On trails like the PCT, people have been known to flip flop when the conditions in the Sierra’s are poor and avalanches can come out of nowhere. Don’t be stupid, if it is that high a level of treacherousness then you need to do the smart thing.
What to Wear Hiking in the Rain
There is some key gear to think about when you are going to be hiking in the rain and this is why thru-hikers need such a balanced set of gear they carry with them so that they can handle each change in weather effectively.
Most will have owned a rain jacket in their life but over sustained rain most will tend to wet through, so you are going to want to find a solid performing jacket but understand that they can only stop so much rainfall from getting in.
The two biggest ones I see mentioned are the Zpacks Vertice and the Enlightened Equipment VISP. Both of these are top-tier gear and can last you through a whole thru-hike, I am saving up for the VISP for my Ouachita Trail thru-hike this June.
I would advise against FroggToggs as your permanent gear choice and more like a temporary solution they are easy to tear in woods leaving you without any rain protection.
Similar to jackets, waterproof pants can help to keep your legs dry for a length of time but they will wet out also, most will choose either no rain pants and just get wet, something like the Zpacks Vertice rain pants, or choose a kilt to protect their upper leg area but sacrifice the lower legs to the water gods.
This is to help keep your core warm as rain gear can protect you from the rainfall but they don’t lend any heat so you will grow cold over time from the rain sapping your heat if your bare skin is all you have underneath.
This can be something like a fleece or down jacket, a wind shirt is also another choice for this layer. The base layer needs to help keep your core body temperature up during the rainfall and this makes it an important gear decision and clothing layers can help.
Gaiters help make sure you don’t get water and mud into your shoes which is a huge pain, they can also help to keep snow from building up in the top of your shoe if you are thru-hiking during winter.
Depending on what time of year you hike will determine what gaiters you need, most hikers choose the Dirty Girl Gaiters as they are versatile and can be used in all seasons.
To maintain your body control you will want to have your trekking poles out and in use, they can help with stability on slippery surfaces and is an important safety measure while hiking in wet conditions.
Make sure to have your trekking poles with you always when thru-hiking, it is one of those gear items that are so beneficial you will regret not having them if something bad does happen.
Waterproof Rain Cover or Backpack Liner
You want to have a backpack liner inside your pack, this helps protect the most valuable warm gear that needs to be dry. Rain covers kind of work but rain can still frequently get in around the sides or drip in slowly from the top, a nylaflume bag or trash compactor bag is a lifesaver in big-time downpours.
Final Thoughts on Thru-Hiking in Rain
Hiking is a great activity no matter the weather, but is it ok to thru-hike in rain? The answer is yes and you will get a more unique view of nature by heading out into the rain!
Additionally, you can use some of these safety precautions while hiking in heavy rains that will help protect you from injury or illness. Enjoy the process and learn to find the bright points of why rain makes your hike more special instead of a hindrance.