I don't know about the weather where you're living, but here in the southeast the late winter and springtime have been full of rain and thunderstorms - a huge difference from the hot and dry weather we were experiencing last year. With wet weather in the forecast it can be very tempting to cancel your much-anticipated hiking trip, but it doesn't have to halt your plans! In fact, hiking in the rain can be enjoyable if you've got the right gear. Check out my advice for hitting the trail in the rain and how to enjoy your trip.
Invest in Some Contractor Bags
A box of contractor clean-up bags will be a wonderful investment for any backpacker. An unscented bag can be your pack liner. You simply slide it into your empty pack and load your gear as you normally would, twisting and tucking the top/extra plastic before closing up your pack. Pairing this with your pack cover will give you an extra layer of waterproof protection that can stand up to nearly any storm. It's important to double check that the box is UNSCENTED and heavy duty before leaving home.
Ditch the Waterproof Shoes
While this seems counter productive, I promise there's good advice here. Imagine you're wearing shorts and a Gortex hiking boot during a summer hike when a rainstorm breaks out. You've got your pack covered and your poncho or rain gear on. The rain will then run down your poncho or down your legs and directly inside of your boot. Even if the rain stops and you get a chance at camp to dry out your shoes, shoes that are waterproof will not only keep water from streams from getting inside, but it will also stop the condensation or water that got inside your boots from drying out. Consider going with a lightweight, breathable boot or, better yet, go ahead and make the switch to a pair of trail runners. Even if your feet get wet during the day, you can easily dry a pair of trail runners in dry conditions or even just from your own body heat.
Test Your Gear
If you haven't taken your gear out in the rain in a while, I highly recommend you check your gear at home first. That tent that hasn't been out in a year may not be as waterproofed as you remember. Set up your gear outdoors and spray it down with a garden hose. Inspect your gear for any seams that aren't sealed or any holes/leaks. Avoiding a surprise during that late-night thunderstorm could make all the difference in your trip.
Have The Right Equipment
While this one seems like a no-brainer, there are still things you can do to protect your gear inside your pack. Invest in some waterproof stuff sacks for your sleeping bag and your clothes. If you know your trip is expecting rain, make sure to bring an extra dry set of clothes to help avoid hypothermic conditions (because, yes, people can get hypothermia any time of year!). By lining your pack you're definitely helping keep clothes and sleeping equipment dry, but by adding protection and using a waterproof bag in addition to your pack cover you can be sure your camp clothes will be dry and keep you warm. Remember - hikers always say there is no such thing as bad weather, just gear that can't handle the weather!
Learn Lightning Safety
Thunderstorms are definitely a natural part of the weather system in many parts of the country and being prepared for lightning can not only be informative, it can help you stay safe. Know the warning signs of an impeding afternoon storm and limit your time above tree line in the summer months. Consider taking a Wilderness First Aid or First Responder course and learn the Lightening Ready protocols. Learning Lightening Ready Stance can greatly reduce your risk of being struck by lightening in the backcountry.
HAVE FUN With It!
While walking for miles in a downpour doesn't always sound like fun, it can definitely be fun. Play in the puddles, sing a song, or just power through the miles with a smile on your face. A positive attitude can make all the difference, especially if you're hiking with a group.
Have you ever had to hike or backpack in the rain? How did you keep your trip enjoyable despite the weather?