How to… bushwalk in the rain
Before you grumble about a grey forecast, it’s worth remembering that giant pines, colourful wildflowers and grandiose canyons were all made possible by the relentless pitter patter of a billion raindrops.
If you adopt the proper attitude, you can learn to love bushwalking in the rain.
All trips should start with 10 Essentials. When rain is a distinct possibility, it’s also wise to adjust your gear list.
- Navigation: map, compass, GPS device, personal locator beacon (PLB) or satellite messenger
- Headlamp: plus extra batteries
- Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
- First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (and first aid knowledge)
- Knife: your choice if it's a handy pocket knife or something Rambo would carry
- Fire matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
- Shelter: If you're on tricky day walk you could go with a light emergency bivvy
- Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation. Know if there is a water source available
- Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation. Walking for three days, carry an extra day's worth
- Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation
Protecting Your Gear: Because seams aren’t 100% sealed and packs aren’t truly waterproof, especially in a downpour. In addition, all of the places that make gear accessible to you also provide a path for rain to seep in. Even zippers that are water resistant will let water sneak in eventually.
Added protection options for your pack include the following:
- Pack raincover: Some packs come with one, or you can buy a cover sized to fit your daypack.
- Lightweight dry sacks: You can use these inside your pack for your most vulnerable gear.
- Waterproof cases: Look for one that’s specially designed to fit your phone, camera or other favourite gadget.
- Ziplock plastic bags: These are inexpensive, though not unfailingly waterproof nor particularly durable.
- Rubbish bags: On a rainy day, some might call this the 11th Essential. You can use the scissors on your multi-tool to fashion a crude pack cover out of one. You can also use one to double-bag important items for added protection. And it’s always a good move to use one to carry out trash you find along the track.
Clothing tips for wet-weather bushwalking
- Avoid cotton if you can. This is key for next-to-skin layers because cotton holds water, including your sweat, and chills you. In a worst-case scenario, which can lead to hypothermia. Go with wicking materials that move moisture away from your skin. Wool, nylon and polyester are all preferrable to cotton in outdoor clothing.
- Go with synthetic insulation in your jacket. Standard down loses much of its insulating ability if you get it wet. Water-resistant down and hybrids that combine synthetic insulation and water-resistant down are your next best bet. If you’re hiking in milder weather, you can pack a lightweight fleece or soft-shell jacket instead.
- Evaluate your rainwear. Going with bright colours can help brighten your mood on a relentlessly grey day. In an emergency, bright colours also help search teams locate you.
- Renew your rainwear’s Durable Water Repellent (DWR). If you love your current rain gear, see if drops bead up and roll off. If not, renew its DWR coating to restore performance. It’s a good idea to renew your DWR coating at the beginning of every hiking season.
- Pack a rain cap. Even if your rain jacket has a brimmed hood, it does a poor job of keeping rain off your face or glasses.
- Evaluate your footwear. Waterproof boots and shoes keep feet drier initially, making them a good option for colder conditions. Renew the waterproofing at the beginning of each season, or if you notice large dark spots forming when you splosh across wet terrain. Mesh footwear works well in milder conditions, as mesh drains and dries more quickly if you land in a puddle or creek. With either option you need deep lug soles to deal with mud and superior traction to deal with slippery rocks and logs.
- Pack gaiters. They’ll shield your socks and the tops of your footwear.
Wet weather track hazards
- Slippery surfaces. Tread carefully on muddy slopes, slimy rocks and rain-slickened logs.
- Swollen creeks. Unbuckle your hipbelt before you cross, so you can easily get free of your pack if you slip and fall into a fast-moving current.
- Flash floods. If you’ll be in canyon country, check the forecasts ahead of time and keep an eye out for quickly accessible higher ground.
- Hypothermia. Watch for the “umbles”: mumbling, grumbling, stumbling and tumbling. Those are telltale signs that you need to stop, dry out and get some calories in you. And, in general, you need to eat and drink more often than you would in sunny weather. If rain discourages rest stops, drink and snack while you’re hiking.