Good rain gear makes outdoor time safer and more fun, especially in the late fall and winter. And there are many good options out there, including rain wraps that some hikers prefer to rain pants. (Erika Haugen-Goodman / Washington Trails Assocation)

Good rain gear makes outdoor time safer and more fun, especially in the late fall and winter. And there are many good options out there, including rain wraps that some hikers prefer to rain pants. (Erika Haugen-Goodman / Washington Trails Assocation)

How to stay dry while hiking in the rainy north woods

Plus other hiking safety tips as rain gives way to snow in the backcountry.

  • Sunday, October 31, 2021 9:16am
  • Life

By Washington Trails Association

There’s no reason to hang up those hiking boots when the air grows crisp and the leaves change color. In fact, late fall is the favorite season for many Northwest hikers.

Each season comes with its own precautions, however, and fall is an especially dynamic and unpredictable time to be outside. Rain and snow begin to fall, and the weather can change quickly. The days get shorter and the temperature drops.

With the right research, planning and gear, hikers can not only stay safe but they can keep their clothing and packs dry, so you’ll have a great time out on a late fall hike, discovering the unique beauty this season brings.

Pick up a pack cover

Covering your backpack with a pack cover is a great, inexpensive way to keep your bag from getting soaked — and to keep it light. (A wet bag plus wet gear equals a heavy pack!) Many newer backpacks come with a stowable pack cover, but you can also find separate covers for purchase at most outdoor gear retailers. You can also go the garbage bag route and use one as a waterproof shell for your backpack.

While pack covers usually do a good job of keeping off most water, your raincoat might funnel extra water onto your pack. Protecting items in your bag with an additional layer of waterproofing is always a sound strategy.

Dry bags are your friend

Investing in a dry bag or two is a great way to bundle items in your pack and ensure they stay dry, even if water manages to get inside your backpack. Having a few dry bags of varying sizes can help keep you organized as well. Dry bags are also reusable, so you can avoid single-use plastic.

But if you’re looking for a cheaper option, resealable bags and garbage bags work, too. If you can, try to reuse them on multiple trips. And consider using trash compactor bags, which hold up better over multiple uses.

Waterproof or quick-dry?

You’ll have to choose between the two. This one is going to come down to personal preference, how hard it’s raining and the length of your hike. There are typically two schools of thought when it comes to what to wear in the rain: get soaked but wear fast-drying gear, or try to stay as dry as possible. Here are a few things to consider:

■ Synthetic insulation will dry faster than down if it gets wet.

■ If you’re taking a shorter day hike or if you like to take breaks often, waterproof gear might be your best bet. Faster-drying items like running shoes and lightweight shorts and pants are great for faster hikers and runners, or when you’re backpacking (things can dry out overnight), but they’ll likely make you cold if you’re hiking slowly or taking frequent breaks.

■ Layer properly. If you overdress, you might end up wet from sweat rather than rain. The classic layering trio is a light base followed by mid-weight insulation, all topped with a rain shell. This setup lets you regulate your warmth while staying dry.

■ Pair your boots with gaiters for added protection. If it’s raining hard enough, water will run into your boots at the ankles. Gaiters make that less of an issue.

Consider the ride home

So you made it through the rain and mud, got back to the car and … uh oh. You’re now in for a two-hour ride in soaking clothes. Avoid that by throwing a towel and a change of clothes in the car for the ride home. You’ll thank yourself for your foresight.

Other things to pack

In addition to staying ahead of the rain with with waterproof boots, coats, pants and a pack cover, try these tips.

Always pack the 10 Essentials whenever you go for a hike. It doesn’t matter which season it is. With these 10 items, you’ll be prepared for a variety of conditions and circumstances. The essentials are a compass or GPS system, water, food, rain gear and insulation, fire starter, a first aid kit, tools, flashlight and batteries, sun protection and shelter.

Pack your 10 Essentials so you stay cozy in the late fall. Everyone has those little treats that add comfort to their outing. There’s nothing like stopping for a break on a brisk day and sipping some hot chocolate and crunching on some pumpkin spice trail mix.

Check the weather

Expect the unexpected. When it comes to fall weather, the only constant is change. Conditions can shift over the course of a day or even an hour, going from beautiful blue skies to a blizzard, and catching unsuspecting hikers off guard in the process. Plan for a variety of weather conditions, and you’ll be prepared no matter what comes your way.

Check forecasts. The Mountains Forecast website is a great resource for accurate conditions in the mountains, including snow levels and road conditions on mountain passes. To get the latest on avalanche conditions, consult the Northwest Avalanche Center. And, to gauge snow depth, check out a Washington snow map.

Rain returns. Rain creates wet trails, muddy conditions, and high water in creeks and rivers. Aside from bringing the right gear to stay dry, you’ll want to be extra careful treading over slippery surfaces and crossing creeks. Muddy conditions and puddles can create a mess, but they can also contribute to erosion and damage to ecosystems because hikers go off trail to avoid them. We encourage you to stay on the trail and splash right through those puddles, protecting delicate vegetation in the process.

Snow and ice. A dusting of snow can create beautiful effects on a landscape, but it’s good to know when that dusting turns dangerous. As snow starts to accumulate in the mountains, travel can become difficult, the trail can become completely hidden and the likelihood of avalanches increases. Bridges and hard surfaces may also ice over creating slipping hazards. Many popular summer trails become hot spots for avalanches in the winter, so don’t assume a familiar spot will be safe all year-round.

This article originally appeared in a winter issue of Washington Trails magazine. Washington Trails Association promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places. Learn more at

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