As an outdoor hobbyist, you probably feel as though you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. If she doesn’t cooperate and provide good weather conditions, you must often cancel or reschedule your plans.
But this needn’t be the case for hikers (or adventurous backpackers). In fact, hiking in poor weather – specifically rain – can actually be a blast, and more hikers should try it.
There are a litany of reasons hikes in the rain can be a worthwhile activity, but we’ll discuss six of the most notable reasons you should head out during downpours below.
6 Reasons You Should Try Hiking in the Rain
Many of you probably saw the title above and simply nodded in approval. But for those who need a gentle push, here are six of the best reasons to lace ‘em up and hit the trail when it rains (just be sure your hiking boots are broken in first).
1. The trails aren’t crowded when it rains.
Plenty of social butterflies undoubtedly enjoy hiking, but a not-insignificant percentage of hikers and campers enjoy these activities due to the solitude they provide.
And for those who fall into this camp, there is simply nothing better than hiking in the rain. Chances are, you’ll encounter few other souls and have the trail to yourself, given the challenges the rain presents.
And here’s the really cool thing: You know that so-awesome-it’s-always-crowded trail you love but avoid because of the insane number of people there at all times? I guarantee you’ll have much more elbow room during the rain. You’ll still pass a few other hardy souls who remain undaunted by the weather, but you won’t have to deal with the traffic you’d see on a sunny day.
2. Interesting wildlife sightings abound during rainy day hikes.
There are a lot of reasons people hit the trail. Exercise, solitude, reflection, a simple love for the outdoors – whatever.
But I am a wildlife guy through and through. I really enjoy trees and all of the things I mentioned earlier, but I want to see critters. Usually, little scaley or slimy ones, and my favorites are always snakes.
Now, the question of whether snakes are more active in the rain or not is complicated. But many frogs and salamanders absolutely, positively become more active in the rain. And birds do a lot of cool things too. For that matter, rodents and other small critters are often forced to move about because of heavy rain (and the flooding it often causes).
Of course, the opposite is also true: A lot of animals will lay low during rainy weather and try to keep dry. But whether or not you’ll have the opportunity to see more animals in the rain (in terms of sheer numbers), you’ll undoubtedly have the chance to see species and behaviors you don’t normally have the opportunity to enjoy.
3. Hiking in the rain is a great way to beat the heat.
A rainy day in August often provides a magnificent break from the oppressive heat that’s been making you irritable since right after Independence Day.
Look, I am more comfortable in hot weather than the average Jo or Joanne is. I’ve lived in the southern U.S. my entire life and will gladly take a 90-degree day to a 35-degree day. And don’t even try to get me to leave my
blanket-lined cocoon home if the temps are in the 20s.
But I still get cranky when the weather is crazy hot for an extended period.
So, when the skies open and drop that sweet, sweet rain during the dog days of summer, grab your boots and get outside. This time of year, you’ll get wet from being outdoors rain or shine – but rainwater feels much better on your skin than sweat, so you may as well head out.
4. Bugs aren’t a big problem during rainy weather hikes.
Some insects, arachnids and other invertebrates that fall under the “bug” label will still be active during the rain, but most bugs (especially the flying ones) become fairly sedentary in rainy weather. Instead of flying around looking for meals and mates, they seek out sheltered spots to wait out the storm.
And this includes mosquitos — the most irritating bugs that plague hikers.
Ultimately, this means you’ll be at lower risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases, as well as simply enjoying your trek without being drained vampire-style by biting bugs.
But it is still important to wear a good bug repellent, as ticks may remain active during wet weather. So, practice good tick safety, but get out and enjoy rainy hikes for the mosquito respite they provide.
5. Hiking in a downpour provides an opportunity to test your rain gear.
Lots of outdoor adventures – most notably camping trips – will require you to prepare for rainy weather. Even if the forecast looks pleasant and sunny, you’ll always need to be prepared for inclement weather for the duration of your trip.
But in addition to bringing along appropriate rain gear, you’ll also want to test your garments and equipment when the stakes aren’t as high as they’ll be 10 miles deep in the backcountry without any easy way to take shelter. You’ll want to know, for example, whether your raincoat’s zipper keeps the rain out or if your phone’s waterproof cover is going to really keep your phone dry.
And the best way to carry out these tests is by taking short, controlled hikes in the rain. This way, you get to put your gear through its paces, while still being able to hit the eject button and scamper back inside relatively easily if things go wrong.
In fact, while we’re really focusing on hiking here, it is also a good idea to pitch your tent in the backyard once or twice when rain is imminent. This will allow you to test for leaks and seepage before your entire trip depends on it.
6. Rainy weather simply offers a different outdoor experience.
We’ve already covered several tangible reasons to consider going for a hike the next time it rains, but there’s one more important reason to get out in the rain: It simply offers a different kind of hiking experience.
So many outdoor enthusiasts limit their hikes to days in which the weather is beautiful. But that precludes you from enjoying all that Mother Nature has in store. Rain transforms the forest (or whatever habitat you’re exploring) in myriad ways, which we can’t fully characterize.
You’ll have the chance to enjoy new sights and sounds, the trail will feel different under your feet, and the tree branches you grip for balance will feel different than they do when hiking in sunny weather. And these different experiences are part of the overall joy of hiking.
After all, it’d probably get boring if the great outdoors offered the same experience all the time, right? So take the chance to see the world in a different way – grab your poncho and get outside the next time it rains.
Gear You Need to Hike in the Rain
We’ve covered rain gear for hiking in depth elsewhere, so we won’t recreate the wheel here. However, there are a few things you’ll want to have on hand when hiking in the rain that go above and beyond your typical hiking gear.
- A Raincoat or Poncho: This sounds obvious but hiking newbies may think that an umbrella is preferable to raingear. To be clear, it is not. Not only will an umbrella prove unreasonably unwieldy on the trail, but it will tie up one of your hands, which is never ideal. Instead, opt for a high-quality raincoat or poncho (and consider adding a pair of rain-proof pants if you are heading out in a real downpour).
- Waterproof Hiking Boots: Volumes could be written about the word “waterproof” as it relates to hiking boots. Some “waterproof” hiking boots with rubber coatings (sometimes called snow boots) will keep your feet completely 100% dry, whereas other hiking boots bearing the “waterproof” label won’t even slow the water down while it’s enroute to your tootsies. You can certainly hike in boots that still allow your feet to get wet but do yourself a favor and select the most waterproof models your budget allows.
- Wool or Synthetic Garments: Most rainy hikes will either take place in the summer or in locations in which the temperatures are still pretty mild. But wet clothes can quickly represent a hypothermia risk – even when the temperatures are relatively high. This means that you’ll want to wear wool or synthetic fibers rather than cotton; the former retain their heat-retention properties when wet, while the latter does not.
- A Small Travel Towel: An overlooked but morale-saving bit of gear, a travel towel will often prove very helpful when you need dry fingers to operate your phone or simply need to wipe the dripping water away from your face. Just be sure to get a true “travel towel,” which will absorb a significant percentage of its weight in water, while still being quite compact and easy to carry when folded.
- A Plastic Bag or Dry Bag: You may not mind getting wet, and hopefully, you’ll be wearing clothes that can endure the moisture a rainy-day hike provides. But you’ll likely have a few things on your person that need to stay dry – like your phone and potentially a wallet. A small dry bag makes this very easy to accomplish, but a resealable plastic bag will even work in a pinch. In fact, I carry a few extra plastic bags in my day pack at all times, just in case.
There’s one more thing you may want to consider bringing along when hiking in the rain: a set of dry clothes and a towel left in your car. Even the most dedicated rainy day hikers among us will eventually become waterlogged and long to dry off, and a spare set of dry clothes and a towel will make all the difference in a pleasant ride home and one that leaves you uncomfortable and wondering whether you ever want to go hiking in the rain again.
It doesn’t cost you anything to throw a backup set of clothes and a towel in the car, and it’s honestly a pretty good idea to do so anyway. If you really want to go overboard, add a pair of comfy slip on shoes to the mix as well.
Obviously, hiking in the rain isn’t everyone’s jam. For that matter, it doesn’t always seem appealing to those who do occasionally like to throw on a poncho and hit the trail.
I am generally very pro-rainy hikes, as I love opportunities to see interesting wildlife and I like to be on the trails when everyone else is bundled up at home. For that matter, I often deliberately grab my dog and hit the trails when it rains, as she’s a bit reactive when the trails are crowded with people and other four-footers (she has a great raincoat, so she doesn’t mind rainy weather too much).
But all of that said, there are definitely times in which I’d rather sit indoors and stay dry. And that’s OK!
I wholeheartedly encourage outdoor enthusiasts to at least try hiking in the rain, but that doesn’t mean you’ll love it. And even if you do, it doesn’t mean you’ll always enjoy doing so.
What are your thoughts on hiking in the rain? Is it something you usually enjoy or do storm clouds cause you to cancel your plans? Are there any other good reasons to go hiking in the rain I’ve neglected to mention?
Sound off in the comments below!