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How to Keep Your Gear Dry on Wet Days

Fall signals the return of rain in the Pacific Northwest, and there are few things more discouraging than pulling wet gear out of your bag when you get to your destination. These tips will help you keep your gear and clothing dry so you can hike in comfort year-round.

Fall signals the return of rain in the Pacific Northwest, and there are few things more discouraging than pulling wet gear out of your bag when you get to your destination. These tips will help you keep your gear and clothing dry so you can hike in comfort year-round.

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 individual 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!

Rainy day hike. Photo by Carl Gronquist.jpg
Colorful rain gear along a hike. Photo by Carl Gronquist.

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.

Choose between waterproof and quick-dry

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 midweight 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 2-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.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Washington Trails magazine.  Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.