It’s really, really green here in the New River Gorge National Park. We have tons of gushing streams and waterfalls and lush, brilliant foliage. Do you know what all of these amazing things have in common?
Rain. Yes, rain. It rains a lot here. We love it and you can, too.
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When you are walking in the woods and it’s raining, you are going to get wet. Remain calm. It will not hurt a bit. You won’t melt, I promise, although I know some have been convinced otherwise.
With today’s technology, check the weather app on your phone and see real-time radar of where you plan to hike. If it is yellow and orange (thunderstorms), deploy your Rainy Day Plan B. If you see blue and green (just rain), get out there.
In fact, walking in the rain is a worthy check mark on your bucket list. Trust me: you want to hike in the rain.
Walking in the rain is quoted in songs and poetry and movies and art everywhere throughout time for solid reasons. Such as: It is amazing. It’s particularly good for the deep, dark corners of your brain.
“The sky is crying, baby, look at the tears roll down the street.” —Elmore James (made more famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan)
Some things you can see only if you hike in the rain, like the red-spotted newt. Those little wonders come out only in the rain. Then there are raindrops on a spider web that turn it into lace. A miniature waterfall running down the trunk of a tree. Water spots on your foggy glasses are also good.
Here is how to go about it: One way is to ignore the rain and just get wet. You won’t melt and you do not need any special stuff. Just relax and enjoy the fact that your skin is waterproof. Just keep moving and smile and you’ll stay plenty warm.
The other angle is to be ready for it.
Don’t pick a trail that is longer or even as long as one you would take on a clear day. Keep it short and sweet.
I get hot while walking, so just some kind of synthetic layering is all I need. The number one rule for everyone is no cotton, not even your underwear. To make this point very clear, I want you to get a tissue, put it on the back of your hand, and sprinkle a few drops of water on it. Just writing about it makes me queasy.
Notice how the water spreads out but never dries up. That is what happens when wearing cotton of any type in the rain. Quick, wipe that stuff off your hand and put on some synthetic undies. Okay, now you are ready to dress.
For some folks, wet feet are a big hurdle. Muck boots keep your feet from getting wet from the outside, but your feet will still end up damp from sweat. They are also not very good for walking.
If you have high-dollar “waterproof” hiking boots, wear them. If you don’t, do what I do. Wear regular shoes and good quality synthetic socks and live with wet feet. This part is way different for me than the wet cotton underwear, for some reason.
Secret #1: Pull the insoles out and stuff the shoes with newspaper as soon as you get back. If they are soaked, change the newspaper before bed and by morning they will be wearable again.
Moving on up, if it is warm I am in shorts. No cotton jeans, for sure. I like long sleeve t-shirts or shirts for my first layer. Next is a fuzzy-type pullover or vest. You could also wear a wool sweater or, like I do, a buffalo-plaid shirt like in old hunting photos. (Remember, if you look good, you feel good and it is so important to feel good.)
A shell, or raincoat, is often too much for me, unless it is a cold downpour. But wear a shell if you get cold easily. My wife has several different types of shells depending on the temperature and intensity of the rain, her mood, the season, the rest of her outfit. She looks marvelous in all of them.
When needed, shells are great. A hood is both my favorite and least favorite part. I love that it keeps my neck dry but I hate that it cuts down on my hearing and peripheral vision. The upshot: Use it when you need it. Apologies to my friends at Waterstone Outdoors in downtown Fayetteville, but having a state-of-the-art raincoat is not necessary for hiking in the rain. It’s nice, but not necessary.
A hat is key. Just what kind of hat is depends on your own preferences. Speaking practically, a wide brim is great, although it keeps you from deploying the hood when that is needed. You’ll eventually learn the finer points that work best for you. Baseball caps are better at keeping the raindrops off your face and glasses. If you wear glasses, bring a lens cloth so you can keep them clean.
Secret #2: an umbrella. Yes, just like Gene Kelly’s famous and inspiring “Singin’ in the Rain” routine (click here if you have never seen it), the umbrella is for more than just keeping the rain off. Feel free to sing and dance along the trail. No one will hear you but the squirrels and the newts.
Don’t forget to notice the little things such as the sounds of rain on the leaves overhead; the reflections from the wet trail; and the fresh, clean smells.
Maybe the best reason to hike in the rain is how wonderful the hot tub feels afterwards. You’ll have a story to tell, too: “That time we were in Wild Wonderful West Virginia’s New River Gorge and we walked in the rain.” Even better, there will be the knowledge that you had, in fact, enjoyed it. A whole new world will have opened up for you.
Geoff Heeter designed and built their family-owned and operated Opossum Creek Retreat with the family vacation in mind.
Photographs, top to bottom: Logan Bannatyne via Istockphoto, Williamwaterway via Wikimedia Commons, New River Gorge Adventure Guide