Could hiking in the rain actually be good for you?

Julia Clarke wearing the Helly Hansen Odin 1 World Infinity Shell Jacket
We know that hiking in the rain can be an inevitability – but can it actually be good for you, too? (Image credit: Ed Smith)

A light rain blows across the Yorkshire Dales in sheets, obscuring the peak ahead as I climb up the trail. But for a soft mist soaking my face, the rest of me remains warm and dry inside my Mountain Equipment Makalu Jacket and rain pants. The drops blow against my hood with a soft patter and bead on my pant legs in a pleasing manner. My hiking boots splash through the small rivulets streaming down the trail, and the landscape has a haunting, magical quality as landforms around me loom in and out of obscurity.

The last time I hiked here was in 2020, during that scorching hot summer of lockdown, and I shared the trail with a logjam of sunburned hikers in flip flops. Today, there are just a few of us out here, which is no surprise given the weather.

Some might think I’m a bit mad to be out here in these conditions – it’s not actually that cold, but everything is drenched and there’s almost certainly not going to be any view if I make it to the summit of Whernside, one of the three Yorkshire Peaks. At best, I might get a few surprise horizontal glimpses of greenery when the sun grabs an opportunity to send a shaft down in a momentary gap between the clouds. But this type of weather – dreary, misty, atmospheric, whatever you want to call it – is one of the main reasons I moved back to the UK after spending over a decade in the Rockies. 

Scottish people laugh when they hear this – how could anyone miss the rain? Scotland, after all, has on average something like 250 days of rain each year in the Highlands, and 175 days in other parts. Colorado, on the other hand, is very proud of its 300 days of sunshine each year. I won’t pretend that I didn’t make the most of it when I lived in Vail, hiking, biking and rock climbing every day; but after a few years, I began to crave the moisture and softness that rain and mist bring to the landscape, and my body. And I wasn’t alone – by August every summer, my friends and I would be constantly griping about the dryness, the dusty trails, our red, itchy eyes. So I came home and let nature quench my skin. 

Julia Clarke hiking in Scotland

Nowadays, most of my hikes involve squelching through the bog instead of darting along a dusty trail (Image credit: Julia Clarke)

Nowadays, most of my hikes involve squelching through the bog instead of darting along a dusty trail, and I’ve had to learn to embrace hiking boots and save my trail running shoes for actual running. But I don’t consider this a downgrade in terms of experience or opportunity to get outdoors. Unlike in Colorado, when I look out the window and see clouds, I usually pull on my boots and head out anyway, with great joy.

We’ve written a lot about hiking in the rain, with really useful guides like how to choose a rain jacket and how to waterproof your hiking boots. But hiking in the rain doesn’t just have to be about putting up with the weather or making the most of a bad situation. It can be wonderful, soothing, and yes, even beautiful, never mind how great it smells when it rains.

Before I go on, I’ll acknowledge that rain can bring added risk to hiking. It can obscure visibility, making it difficult to navigate. It can make trails treacherous and raise the risk level of making river crossings – just last month, a hiker in California disappeared after being swept away while trying to cross a river in Angeles National Forest. And in places where rain is usually rare and suddenly becomes heavy, it can result in catastrophic flooding and landslides, as southern California has discovered this year. But when it’s not too torrential, you’re prepared and you pick your trail wisely, being outside in the rain might even have some special benefits beyond those we typically associate with hiking.

A hiker adjusts her companions hood as they hike in the rain

Being outside in the rain might even have some special benefits beyond those we typically associate with hiking (Image credit: Geber86)

When you head out in damp weather, researchers believe that the increased moisture in the air results in negative ions, molecules with an electrical charge, and that could significantly lower depression, according to one 2013 study. A 2017 study in the Alps also correlated spending time in ionized air with stress reduction and extended the benefits to hiking near waterfalls. Presumably, walking in the morning dew or even near other bodies of water might also do the trick. The effects were found to be more profound the more ions were available, especially amongst those who suffer from seasonal depression; so the wetter it is, the better it is to get outside.

In addition to the mental health benefits of walking in the rain, there may be physical benefits: a 2015 study conducted by researchers at MIT showed how rain cleans the air of pollutants. We all head outdoors, presumably, to get some fresh air, but thanks to pollution and wildfires, that’s not always possible, especially in places like California which we recently reported is home to five of the 10 most polluted National Parks in the country. Hiking or running during, or just after, a rainstorm could mean you’re breathing cleaner air.

Couple of hikers on their adventure in forest

Researchers believe hiking in damp conditions can ease stress (Image credit: Pekic)

There are other arguments for hiking or running in wet weather, too. I recently wrote about the merits of hiking when the views are obscured and I really believe that doing so helps you to focus on the underappreciated aspects of hiking and tiny details that you might overlook on a sunny day. Inclement weather can help you to give up a little sense of control about what your adventure should look like, as you might end up turning back well before the summit, and just embrace what is. The changing conditions require you to sharpen your navigation skills, something that can be useful in any weather. Getting outside in any weather helps you connect to your natural surroundings, and the shifting landscape is truly enchanting and magical.

To enjoy it though, you have to be prepared. Read our helpful guides like how to waterproof a backpack and make sure your gear is rain-ready. Know how to waterproof your phone to avoid a costly disaster. Consider picking lower-lying trails and staying off high summits, especially if it’s windy. Don’t attempt to cross streams if you can avoid it. And in those moments when the rain lets up, the clouds part and the sun sends a streak of golden light your way, stop dead in your tracks and feel it with every part of you.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.