Keeping yourself and your gear dry on a hike is essential for staying warm and comfortable. Here are a few pointers to keep the weather at bay.
Missed that glorious weather window and feel the urge to go outside anyway? Or did you start your hike in the sunshine and, thanks to Mother Nature’s notoriously changeable moods, get caught in a rainstorm? The Great Outdoors guides you through how to stay dry on a walk and how to prepare for hikes in wet weather – a particularly important skill for hiking in Britain’s unpredictable maritime climate, or mountains generally, where weather is often intrinsically volatile.
The seasoned adventurer may scoff. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, after all. Speaking of, here’s our guide to the best waterproof jackets. But, actually, the myriad ways to keep from getting completely drenched are plentiful and worth breaking down for those who are new to outdoors activities.
So, if you are searching for smart and cost-effective solutions to stay safe, comfortable, and dry, read on.
How to stay dry on a walk: The basics
- Use trusted forecasters such as Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) or Met Office Mountain Weather to seek weather windows
- Plan a walking route that has plenty of escape routes and backup options in case the weather turns
- Invest in good waterproof clothing
- Protect your belongings with waterproof or water-resistant backpack solutions
- Tuck away base layers and utilise protective features on outerwear
- Renew your Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating on your gear regularly
- Pack a spare set of dry clothing
- Consider carrying a microfibre towel
- Bonus tip: Need a sit down? Try a packable waterproof sitting pad to avoid getting an even wetter bottom!
How to stay dry on a walk: the gear
As a rule of thumb, your outerwear for the great outdoors should come with good waterproof or water-resistant functionality, dependent on the conditions.
While they can be costly, a good waterproof is undoubtedly the best defence in your outdoor arsenal against wet weather. Not only will they keep your head and chest dry – and thus warm – some come with peaked hoods that will protect your face as well as taped zips that will protect the contents of your pockets. In other words, they’re worth the investment. It’s also easy enough to learn how to look after your waterproof jacket and also how to repair waterproof jackets should the worst happen.
Any waterproof clothing for hiking needs to be both waterproof and breathable – you’ll be wearing it while you’re active, so the perspiration your body produces needs somewhere to go. A big plastic bag is technically waterproof, but practically useless for hiking – if you try wearing one on a vigorous walk you’ll rapidly overheat, start sweating, and end up wet anyway! So a good waterproof garment of any kind has to have the right balance between keeping the rain at bay and allowing your body to breathe.
The Great Outdoors‘ experts have put plenty of waterproof jackets through their paces including the women’s Arc’teryx Beta jacket and the Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell – both awarded our reviewers’ best buy accolades.
You can also check out the following buyers’ guides:
Testing notes: These jackets were tested extensively in all weathers and seasons by outdoor gear experts Lucy Wallace, David Lintern – with the help of his children Niah (aged 8) and Celyn (aged 5) – and Chris Townsend.
Most ‘softshell’ hiking trousers on the market are water-resistant, but not fully waterproof. There’s a big difference. The former is breathable, quick-drying, and in a light shower, water will bead off it. But, when the heavens open, they will quickly become drenched.
If you’re expecting anything more than light smatterings of rain, pack a pair of fully waterproof trousers to pop over your hiking trousers when the downpours arrive.
President of Ramblers Cymru Will Renwick, notably the first person to run all 189 of Wales’ mountains in one trip, tested the best waterproof overtrousers rigorously and shared his tips on what to look for when buying.
And no, we don’t mean wearable umbrellas! A hat with a brim is one of the more affordable rain protection solutions on this list. The bigger the brim, the more coverage you’ll get and you won’t have to suffer the rain pummelling your face. This is particularly important for glasses wearers. Take it from someone who has had a contact lens washed out in heavy rain; protecting your eyes on a soggy hike is important if you want to find your way home.
Waterproof caps are also available, but won’t stop water from running down your neck. Other specialist options on the market such as all-weather head gaiters, balaclavas, and storm caps might prove to be overkill for a simple day’s ramble.
It’s especially important to take care of your feet in wet weather as dampness will increase the likelihood of blisters. Many hiking shoes and boots come with fully waterproof Gore-tex or other waterproof membranes – these can be particularly useful for cold and wintry weather. Shoes without waterproof membranes tend to be more breathable – so can be a better bet in warm, summer weather – but will often come with a DWR coating that at least offers some protection from showers and soggy ground.
You can also slip on some waterproof socks, commonly designed with three protective layers made of either wool or nylon. If you don’t want to invest in this rather expensive hiking hosiery, the best advice is to simply avoid socks made with cotton, a material that tends to retain more water.
The Great Outdoors‘ experts have put the best hiking boots through their paces and given their honest reviews.
Good boots and socks might do the trick in a mild shower but even with fully waterproof footwear, water can still get over the top of your shoes, particularly in heavy rain.
A gaiter is, simply put, a fabric guard that covers the gap between the top of your boot and the bottom of your trouser leg. Initially designed to prevent debris from getting into your boot, some gaiters are also constructed with waterproof materials to help you stay dry. They generally come in three lengths – ankle, calf, and knee. Find the right fit, and they will help you wade through the worst weather. Gaiters are particularly useful in snowy and winter conditions.
Drybags and backpack covers
Now we’ve covered how to stay dry on a walk, what about your belongings? The all-important map, compass, first aid kit, and spare clothing you’ve carried in your pack deserve the same treatment. The good news is, it’s simple enough to give your backpack a protective boost.
You can opt to keep it external by investing in a waterproof backpack cover. Some backpacks come with one included. These can make accessing your backpack contents fiddly, though.
Alternatively, focus your attention internally. Dry bags offer a totally waterproof packing solution thanks to their roll-top designs. They can also help you to sort your gear if you’re carrying a large backpacking load by compartmentalising categories of gear into different bags (i.e. toiletries, cooking equipment, electronic items etc) makes life a lot easier when it comes to finding and using your stuff, as well keeping it all dry.
A single large dry bag can also be used to line your whole backpack. Liners and drybags come in various weights and durability. Check out our buyers’ guide to the best hiking backpacks for more.
When to be wary of wet weather
Rainy days on the hills can often result in spectacular conditions. Remember, with rain comes mist and moody mountains as well as that hopeful icon of hill photography, the rainbow. However, preparedness for the weather is a must for any walk, hike, or ramble – and rainy days are no exception.
In wet conditions, you should beware of low visibility, slippery trails underfoot, fast-flowing high water, and the almost-inevitable accompanying winds.
The following can help you feel more confident:
- Hiking poles can help you feel secure on softer or slippery ground
- Waterproof gloves with grips on the fingers can help you retain warmth and thus, some dexterity – it’s worth noting that scrambling is most secure with bare hands so if the conditions are particularly wet, only venture within your limits
- A well-fitted rucksack will help you stay stable rather than throw you off balance
- Pace yourself – don’t expect to be making the same progress as you would in dry conditions
- Wet weather can also sometimes be accompanied by thunderstorms – here are our tips for staying safe in thundery weather.
If you’re planning a backpacking trip for longer than a day and the sun gods are not shining upon you, read Chris Townsend’s expert advice on how to set up camp in the rain and keep gear dry.