Hiking and rain don’t mix that well together, especially if you aren’t prepared for all the potential hazards and don’t have the right gear. In this article, we’ll talk about all the dangers that you should look out for when hiking after rain, and give you tips on how you should prepare for hiking after rain.
Dangers of Hiking After Rain
On some trails hiking right after rain or even while it’s still raining, is completely safe if you come prepared. Think of flat, wooded areas or plains. The worst that can happen there is you might slip and sprain your ankle or get dangerously cold if you didn’t bring any waterproof gear and spare clothes.
But some hiking trails should be avoided altogether if it has rained recently, due to various hazards that we’ll list below. Usually, the most dangerous trails after rain are located in the desert or in the mountains.
1. Overflowing Rivers and Creeks
Some trails require river crossings and if they’re located near mountains, they can overflow very quickly. You have to be wary of this because you might get trapped for several hours or even days on the mountain if the river crossing becomes too dangerous. If the trail goes along a wash in the mountains, be on the lookout for any potential rain clouds further up the mountain because a completely dry wash can turn into a fast-flowing river very quickly.
If it’s been raining for a while, usually a few weeks, then some trails become very dangerous due to potential landslides. These can be very devastating because usually, they happen out of nowhere, even if it hasn’t been raining for a few days. But the thing about landslides is that they usually happen in the same location, so make sure to do some research about the trail that you’ll be hiking, and double-check if there’s any risk for landslides.
In early spring, similar to regular snow, rain can also trigger avalanches. These usually happen in the same location, so do your research and find out if there are any avalanche warnings on the trail that you’ll be hiking.
4. Slippery Ground
If you’re hiking in somewhat flat woodlands, then the worst thing that can happen from you slipping on slippery roots and mud is you spraining your ankle. But if you’ll be hiking in the mountains, you have to be extra careful because slipping on a wet rock could result in you falling several hundred meters. One way to prepare for this is by using trekking poles or ice axes in combination with hiking footwear that has a good grip on wet surfaces. If there could be a potential blizzard, then packing a pair of microspikes would also be a smart idea.
When hiking right after a thunderstorm, lightning can still happen even if it looks like the storm has already passed. This is especially true in the mountains because lightning is much more frequent there. So when hiking after raining, keep a distance from any trees out in the open or any large metal objects (such as chains, which are set up on dangerous trekking trails to have something to hold on to.) If a thunderstorm has recently passed and you’re up in the mountains, keep an eye out on the hair all over your body – if they start standing up on their own, it means that lightning could strike at any moment.
6. Sudden Weather Changes
If it has rained recently, chances are that the bad weather might come back again rather quickly, especially if you’re up at a higher altitude, where things can change in a matter of minutes.
7. Flash Floods
If you’re out in a desert that’s near a mountain range, or you’re at the bottom of a plain, chances are that sudden, large amounts of rain could start a flash flood. So if you’re hiking in an area that is known for flash flooding, watch out for the weather forecast, and know the fastest way out if you become trapped.
Although hypothermia can be avoided with the right gear, if you aren’t prepared for the rain, it’s probably the most dangerous and most frequent threat that comes from hiking in the rain. When hiking in the rain, you need to achieve two things with your gear. First, you need to stay dry and warm while you’re hiking. And second, you need to make sure that your most critical gear stays dry and bring spare dry clothes just in case. As a last resort, make sure that your first aid kit comes with an emergency blanket, which can be very handy if all of your gear accidentally gets wet.
Is Hiking In the Rain Safe?
If you come prepared, then usually hiking in the rain is safe. First of all, you need to bring the right gear to avoid getting serious hypothermia. And secondly, you need to make sure that the trail that you’ll be hiking doesn’t pose any serious threats when it’s raining (landslides, slippery hills, avalanches, lightning, flash floods, overflowing river crossings, e.t.c.) If you take into account all the tips mentioned above, hiking after rain or even while it’s still raining should be completely safe.
How Long Should You Wait Before Hiking After Rain?
The amount of time that you should wait to resume or start your hike after rain depends on various factors, such as your gear, the conditions on the trail, and the weather forecast.
If you’re hiking in somewhat flat woodlands, assuming that you have the correct gear, you don’t need to wait any amount of time before resuming your hike. In these areas, the only real risks are hypothermia, which can be avoided with waterproof gear, and slippery ground, which can be avoided with good hiking footwear and trekking poles.
2. Flat Areas
In the desert and in the plains, you need to watch out for flash floods, so wait at least one hour before resuming your hike after it has finished raining.
The mountains are more tricky. Usually, rocky, more mature mountains higher in altitude are safer to hike after raining because they drain much more quickly. But still, you have to watch out for various factors until you can resume your hike
- Overflowing rivers, creeks, and washes. Wait several hours after heavy rain to make sure that all the river crossings are doable and aren’t overflowing anymore.
- Avalanches. These can happen at any time, so watch out for any avalanche warnings in the area.
- Landslides. Landslides can happen days after it has finished raining, and usually happen in the wet season, so watch out for any landslide warnings from local authorities.
- Lightning and sudden weather changes. Watch out for the weather forecast and resume your hike only once the weather forecast doesn’t show any potential storms in the area.
- Slippery ground. The ground can still be slippery days after it has finished raining, so always be very careful on where you’re placing your step and avoid dangerous trails where a small slip could end up with you falling a long distance.
What Gear Do You Need When Hiking After Rain?
- Use Synthetic over Down. For the insulation in your jacket and sleeping bag, always choose synthetic insulation over down if you know it will be raining. Although down is lighter, it loses all of its insulation properties once it gets wet. Synthetic insulation will still keep you warm, even if it accidentally gets soaked in rain.
- Avoid Cotton. For your clothing, always choose other materials over cotton, such as synthetic, wool, and other moisture-wicking fabrics. Cotton soaks up a lot of water and gets much heavier while losing its insulating properties, which is why cotton usually doesn’t belong in hiking.
- Keep your sleeping bag, sleeping mat, electronics, and tent dry. Make sure to keep your most important gear dry, and you can do that with several techniques. If you don’t have the necessary gear, just use one, or preferably two large garbage bags to store your most important gear inside your backpack. You could also use zip lock bags. But if you can, invest in a waterproof pack liner or several dry sacks, as they’ll last a long time and they’re easier to open, close, and organize.
- Get a rain cover for your backpack. Theoretically, if you use a waterproof pack liner, you don’t need a rain cover. But if you want to add an extra layer of security, get a rain cover for your backpack. They aren’t fully waterproof, but they keep most of the rain out.
- Get a waterproof rain jacket. If you have the budget, invest in a good, fully waterproof, rain jacket. If not, bring a cheap single-use plastic raincoat, which should do just fine.
- Get waterproof pants. If it isn’t too cold, you could skip bringing waterproof pants and shoes, and just get a waterproof rain jacket. In the summer, I definitely prefer this route because you’ll dry pretty quickly just by walking anyway. But if it’s too cold, you should get waterproof pants to avoid getting hypothermia.
- Make sure your shoes are waterproof. Again, if it’s warm, maybe it’s a better idea to get breathable shoes that dry quickly. But in the autumn and winter, it’s probably a better idea to get waterproof shoes, because your feet get cold the quickest and also take the longest to heat back up. Warm, insulated, waterproof boots are a must if you’re hiking in just above or below freezing temperatures, otherwise, you might get hypothermia.
- Invest in Gaiters. When hiking after large amounts of rain, when the grass is still wet, gaiters are a lifesaver. They keep your upper shoes and lower trousers dry while walking in wet grass. They’re also great if you’re hiking in wet areas where there could be snakes, as they can’t bite through the thick gaiter’s fabric.
- Get moisture-wicking gloves. If you’ll be hiking in long periods of rain, keeping your fingers warm is very important for keeping your overall body temperature nice and warm. That’s where synthetic gloves with waterproof coating, or even taped seams, come into play. They’ll still keep your fingers warm even if they get wet.
- Bring dry clothes. We already mentioned that you should always keep your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, your tent, and your electronics dry by keeping them in dry sacks or pack liners. But in addition to that, you should also bring some dry clothing to change into at the end of the day. Usually, a thermal top, thermal pants, and a pair of dry wool socks are more than enough to keep you nice and warm at night.
- Invest in Trekking poles. If you’ll be hiking after rain, chances are that the ground will be very slippery. Trekking poles will help you keep your balance, and will allow you to take wider and longer steps when avoiding mud and puddles.
- Remember to bring blister supplies. If your feet get wet when hiking after rain, you might get some new blisters, as they form much more easily when your feet and socks are wet. So remember to bring some Leukotape to treat all the new blisters.
If You Know What You’re Doing, Hiking In the Rain Is Fun
From my own experience, hiking in the rain is a really rewarding experience but only if you’re prepared for the rain and you’re avoiding dangerous routes. All the new smells that pop up as soon as the rain stops, sitting under a tree in a heavy rainstorm, and just embracing the rain, in general, is something that you’ll look back at with a smile on your face. Especially if you know that you’ll still be warm and dry even after the rain stops. So my advice would be to not be afraid of the rain, and rather prepare for it by bringing the right gear and knowing what you’re doing.