Chances are, if you’re overnight hiking or especially long distance backpacking – you’re going to end up hiking and camping in the rain at some point sooner or later.
I’m not going to lie, sometimes, it’s going to totally suck and sometimes, it won’t be that bad after all. You can’t control the weather but you definitely can control how you prepare for it, what gear you pack and you’re attitude once you’re in it.
Keeping yourself, your clothes and your sleeping bag dry are key to staying safe and relatively comfortable while backpacking in the rain. I’ll share my best tips and gear recommendations to help keep you dry (and prevent hypothermia) on your next trip.
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Essential Rain Gear For Backpackers
A pack cover and/or pack liner. Many hikers will just use a pack cover OR a trash compactor bag to line the inside of their pack and that works well enough. Call me a weirdo, but I usually use both on backpacking trips, only because a trash bag lining the inside of my pack weighs virtually nothing and adds an extra layer of security to my pack cover.
Microfiber washcloth. I always pack a very small microfiber towel or washcloth when backpacking because it’s just too useful – you can use it to wash or dry just about anything from your body and hair to your glasses to your tent or other gear.
Waterproof stuff sack. If I’m in an area where bear canisters aren’t required, I do appreciate hanging my food in a waterproof stuff sack or keeping it in the large Loksak Opsak bags inside my Ursack so I don’t have any soggy surprises after an overnight storm. Some hikers also like to pack their clothes and sleeping bag in waterproof stuff sacks to make sure they stay dry – I’ve never had an issue though with things inside my pack getting wet when using a trash bag liner plus a pack cover.
Waterproof phone covering. Always be sure to protect your phone and other pertinent electronics, either with a Ziploc bag, a more durable reusable bag or a waterproof case.
Hiking umbrella. While I’ve never used one hiking, I know some hikers love rigging up an ultralight umbrella to their pack to create a little safe haven from being pounded by rain all day on the trail!
Best Layers For Backpacking In The Rain
Rain coat or poncho. You’re going to need some sort of water proof layer to keep your body mostly dry and honestly, this comes down to personal preference. After trying out both a good rain jacket and a giant poncho that goes over myself and my pack – I prefer a rain coat and pack cover combo instead of the big poncho. But some hikers love the poncho instead and they are usually cheaper than a good quality rain jacket.
Rain pants or gaiters. You definitely don’t need both of these at the same time, and may not even need either of them depending on the weather. If I know it’s going to very cold or rain frequently, I usually do pack rain pants to help keep my legs warm and dry. Gaiters are great if you know you’ll be hiking through thick mud or slushy snow.
Water resistant pants. I feel much better about leaving rain pants behind if I have water repellent pants to hike in, like these Kuhl Weekendr Tights. While not totally waterproof, they shed water and snow in light storms and dry quickly if they do get wet. I still pair them with a totally waterproof rain jacket, to make sure my core is always dry, and always make sure to pack a set of dry clothes to sleep in.
Baseball cap. Or other brimmed hat. I love wearing a baseball cap under my rain jacket hood to help keep the rain and hail off my face during storms.
Shoes. What you wear on your feet also comes down to personal preference, but when it comes to backpacking in the rain, I prefer breathable, quick drying hiking shoes over waterproof boots. But I do love my waterproof boots in the winter for snowshoeing or tromping through the cold snow.
Tips For Cooking In The Rain
Ultralight tarp or hammock rain fly. The safest and most comfortable way to cook in the rain is to carry an ultralight tarp, or if you hammock camp, use your rain fly as shelter while you cook.
Umbrella. I wouldn’t buy or carry an umbrella specifically for this purpose, but if you already use an umbrella while hiking and backpacking, it can also make a great shelter for you or your stove while cooking dinner.
Butt pad. I’m a huge fan of the butt pad or Foldable seat anyway – but especially when the ground is cold and wet, it provides a much better spot to sit on while waiting for or eating your food.
You really shouldn’t ever try to cook in your tent or tent vestibule! Using a stove in your tent or vestibule could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. If that isn’t enough to deter you, creating a dense cloud of food scent, and possibly even spilled food, in your tent is a sure fire way to attract bears and unwanted critters directly to your tent.
Another option is to pack some cold/no cook meal options that you can eat fairly quickly on your way to camp or before you hunker down in your tent for the night.
Extra Tips On Backpacking In The Rain
If you’re gear, clothes or sleeping bag does get wet, be sure to let them dry out as soon as you can to prevent mold, mildew and general hiker funk from settling in.
Carry hot hands hand warmers. I always carry one or two of these and throw them in my sleeping bag at night if I ever get chilled to the bone, like after a cold, windy, rainy day on the trail.
Watch out for slick rocks! They’ll get you every time. Use trekking poles and hiking shoes with good traction to help prevent slips and falls, but as always, taking your time and walking with intention will be your best bet here.
Never quit on a rainy day. Promise me you’ll never quit backpacking or quit a long distance hike on a rainy day (or week!) If being cold and soggy really has you beat down, take a rest day in town or somewhere warm and then get back out there once you and all your gear is clean and dry.
Let me know your must have piece of backpacking gear for rainy days in the comments below!
For more hiking and backpacking tips, check out:
- 6 Tips To Help You Choose The Best Backpacking Trail
- 35 Backpacking Tips And Tricks
- How To Pack A Tent In A Backpack (even when it’s wet!)
- 8 More Tips For Hiking In The Rain
About the author, Mallory Moskowitz:
After studying Recreation, Park & Tourism Management, Mallory spent several years teaching environmental education, guiding hikes, and leading backcountry trips. Her life-changing trek from Georgia to New York on the Appalachian Trail is what sparked the creation of Your Adventure Coach, to share backpacking tips and resources with as many new hikers as possible.