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Top Advice For Backpacking In The Rain

Backpacking in the rain is one of the worst experiences when out walking in nature but also it can be one of the best depending on the situation and if you are prepared correctly for the conditions.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

Although in this case, we could supplement “dance” with “hike.”

I’ll start quickly with one of my adventures of backpacking in the rain to show how quickly conditions can change and the need to be prepared. I have been into outdoor hiking for 25+ years now and have a lot of experience with it. If you want to jump straight to what gear is recommended to take then go to the next sections.

The absolute worst experience I had with rain was in Alaska when hiking in Denali National Park and a few other areas. The Denali trip shows how weather can change very fast in wilderness conditions, especially when in mountainous terrain.

It was a four-day backpacking trip into Denali National Park and the first two days were gloriously sunny with blue sky and great visibility.

Then a storm started brewing on the third day and by the afternoon heavy rain set in at night and the winds were so strong one of my hiking companion’s tents got blown to pieces and my tent had a pole break. And that was along with heavy rain which made the hike out the next day a nightmare.

I remember leaving on the bus out of Denali on that last day with a group of hikers trying to put a brave face on what was a terrible (but exciting) night.

Clothes For Backpacking In The Rain

Rain Jacket and Rain Trousers

backpacking in rain jacket
On a rainy misty day hiking on Thailand’s highest mountain with Black Diamond Fineline Jacket on.

The most obvious thing to talk about here first for backpacking in rain is waterproof rain trousers and rain jackets. They are the two most important items you need to take out hiking if you think there may be rain.

Even if you don’t think there will be rain, depending on where you are, the conditions can change and you should take rain gear just in case.

You need to carry rain gear especially if you are hiking in mountainous areas as mountain conditions can change fast, even if the weather forecast says otherwise.

I have used many different brands of rain gear for when out backpacking and many of those are outdated now so I will just give you my recommendations for what I use now and also a few other options that backpacking friends of mine use and recommend.

First of all, I should say that I pack light for hiking so my backpacking in rain gear is light and easy to pack away as a “just in case.” However, if you live in a heavy rain area and are often backpacking in rain then you may want to get a stronger (heavier) rain jacket and trousers for durability.

That being said the lightweight rain gear has lasted me well over the years.

For the past two years, I have used the Black Diamond Fineline Stretch Rain Shell Jacket and it’s been perfect for backpacking in rain.

I have been using Alpkit’s rain pants (a UK brand) for years now and love them.


backpacking in rain softshells
Wearing softshell gear hiking in Iceland where I encountered only some light rain on and off.

A good option against the rain, especially if only expecting a bit of light rain, is to use softshell hiking clothing.

They are not 100% waterproof clothing but water-resistant and a lot more breathable than regular waterproofs which makes them a good option if you’re out for a day hike and expecting just some light rain.

If you live in locations where it’s regularly rainy (hello Scottish Highlands) then the softshell gear is great if just going on day hikes.

I’ve been using the Mountain Equipment Ibex Pants (I’m wearing them in the picture above in Iceland) for several years now and they are still going well.

For a softshell jacket, I have been using the Montane Dyno XT Jacket (again I’m wearing it in the picture above.

Dry Out Your Gear

Whenever there is a lull in the rain and the sun pops out for a bit take a break from hiking even for a little bit and put wet items out to dry in the sun.

The chance to get gear dry should always be taken and don’t wait until camp time and hope it won’t be raining. If my gear is wet and the sun pops out mid-hike I will stop and take a rest and give the gear a chance to dry out.

Have Dry Camp Clothing

It’s always a good idea to have a top, bottoms, and socks, preferably lightweight ones, kept in your backpack dry that you can change into at the end of the day.

There’s nothing worse than a day soaked in rain getting chilly and then having no dry clothes to get warm and cozy in your sleeping bag with.

Washing Your Rain Gear

You wouldn’t think you needed to really wash rain gear but actually, it can be very beneficial to its longevity depending on the materials used. Layered clothing such as GORE-TEX definitely needs washing from time to time.

Washing away oils and dirt on your rain gear will help with restoring the water repellency of your gear.

A normal washing gel/powder can mess up the water resistance material of your rain gear (including softshells) so you must use a technical fabric cleaner that maintains the DWR (durable water repellant) of your material.

You should be able to find care instructions on the label of your rain gear or on the website of the manufacturer so check there for the specific recommendation for your individual pieces of rain gear.

Footwear For Backpacking In The Rain

Footwear for hiking can be a contentious subject, with those who swear by traditional-style hiking boots and those who prefer lightweight trail running shoes. I fall into the latter category.

I made the switch from boots to lightweight trail runners 15 years ago and never looked back. I do own a pair of hiking boots but they only come out in snowy winter conditions.

Trail runners will not keep your feet dry in prolonged wet conditions but they dry out faster than boots and are lighter for backpacking in rain or backpacking in general. Don’t just use any old running shoes though, you will want a pair of off-road shoes that are designed to be worn in trail conditions.

There are many good trail shoe companies although my favourite is Inov8 (UK brand) which specialises in trail and rock shoes.

Hiking boots can be excellent or a nightmare when it comes to rainy conditions. The main problem is that when they get wet it takes a long time to dry. Also, hiking boots are heavy on the feet.

However, in very cold rainy conditions boots will keep your feet dryer for longer than trail shoes.

Protecting Your Backpack From Rain

backpacking in rain backpack protection

Now that you have your clothing items for backpacking in the rain all sorted out you need to be prepared to keep your backpack and the important hiking gear inside it dry and safe.

There are generally two ways to do this.

  1. Use a waterproof cover for the outside of your backpack.
  2. Use a waterproof liner inside your backpack.

Some backpacks come supplied with a waterproof cover built-in at the bottom of the pack that you simply pull out and cover your backpack with when it starts to rain.

Otherwise, you can buy them separately to use, just make sure you get the right size for your backpack.

Note that some hiking backpacks are claimed to be waterproof so you may not need waterproof protection for it but I would still use a waterproof liner inside.

Another great precaution for your gear in the backpack is to put important items in dry bags inside the backpack for extra protection. I always keep my sleeping bag in a dry bag.

Try a Hiking Umbrella

Umbrellas can be a great thing to have when backpacking in the rain but they’re not for everyone and in windy conditions (looking at you Scottish Highlands) they are pretty much useless.

They do go a long way to helping you stay dry though and used in the right conditions are great to have. Just don’t use them in deep forests or high winds!

Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles are great to use when hiking anyway as they reduce stress on your knees (especially when going downhill) and give you something to “pull yourself along with.” I find myself hiking faster when using trekking poles.

But the other great advantage of them, and especially for when backpacking in rain, is that they offer stability as well. When it starts to pour and the terrain gets wet the chances are you are in for some slips and slides but trekking poles will help with keeping balance.

When hiking on rocky terrain, say when along a mountain ridge, and it’s rainy and slippery, trekking poles can literally be a lifesaver in helping you stay balanced. I would never go without them.

Have a read of my review on the Fizan trekking poles I currently use. They are an Italian brand and are excellent in the mountains and lightweight.

Camping In Rain

backpacking in rain shelter

Let’s get straight to the point here: camping in the rain sucks. The main rule of setting up the tent is the location for it.

The Shelter

You will want to find a higher-up area and if there are trees around camp underneath one as it will generally be a bit drier. Try and avoid camping in lower areas as rain can pour down on the ground from higher up leaving your tent in more water.

Any shelter can be made to work in the rain but there’s no getting around the fact that a tent is the most comfortable option.

I have used bivvy bags out in the rain and they are fine and get the job done, but it’s definitely more of a headache with keeping things dry, and getting up to piss in the night when it’s raining is a nightmare.

You could add a tarp to a bivvy setup which is the best option to be able to keep the rain off more but they are not that practical in mountainous areas where there may be strong wind and little natural shelter.

A bivvy bag and tarp in a forested area work great though.

Sleeping Bag

Keeping your sleeping bag dry is very important, especially if it has rained that means the temperature will generally be cooler and you may feel cold from backpacking in rain all day.

The absolute best way to do this is to use an airtight dry bag to pack it into and then put that inside your backpack with the pack liner also there.

Backpacking In The Rain

Stay happy and positive in the outdoors. That’s the one thing you will need above all the practical information above. Nature is nature and yeah it’s probably going to rain on you at some point when hiking (unless you live in the desert) but never let that put you off.

We go hiking to get into nature and backpacking in the rain is just a part of that. Just be prepared and get out and enjoy nature and the positivity that comes with that.

If all else fails after days and days of non-stop hiking in the rain then maybe try some Zen koans to get your mind off it!

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

For more backpacking information take a look at what I recommend as a gear guide for backpacking light.

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