Summer hiking – wouldn’t it be great if it really was all bone dry trails, blue skies and wildflowers? In some places, your waterproof jacket really might just stay in the recesses of your backpack for months, but in others, summer can bring with it some pretty spectacular deluges.
For years, I lived in Colorado where bluebird days were the norm and summer showers at high altitude were severe and to be avoided. Now that I’m back living in Scotland however, I’m having to learn how to dress for rainy summer hikes if I want to hike at all.
It turns out that dressing for rainy summer hiking is a bit of a specialized skill. After all, even though the rain tends to cool things down, it’s still warm outside and you need to make sure the layers that are protecting you from that external moisture aren’t also trapping all your sweat on the inside. I’ve hiked a lot of Scotland’s Munros already this summer – which started out hot and dry and has shifted into near-rainforest conditions with high humidity, frequent sprinkles and the odd downpour – and I’ve finally got the hang of dressing for the damp conditions. Here are my favorite gear picks for rainy summer hiking.
If you’re heading out on a warm hike and not expecting much more than the odd shower, you might be quite happy in a pair of trail running shoes with mesh uppers that dry quickly. Pair them with wool hiking socks and your feet will be pretty happy.
However, for proper wet weather, you’ll benefit from a pair of waterproof hiking boots or shoes, and I’ve been loving The North Face Vectiv Exploris II Mid Futurelight shoes this summer. The water just rolls right off them, even when I’m traipsing through a bog, they offer great grip when the trail gets slick and they’re lightweight and comfortable for hot days. Just remember to size up.
Rab Muztag GTX Pro Gaiters
If you’re going to be hiking off trail or the trail is overgrown with lots of wet bushes, waterproof hiking boots might not cut it, in which case, you could use a pair of gaiters. I love my Rab Muztag GTX Pros which made our list of the best gaiters. They’re waterproof, breathable and fit really well, and if you don’t want to buy a new pair of boots just for wet days they’ll keep the moisture out.
Arc’teryx Gamma Hiking Pants
For summer hiking, you absolutely need lightweight hiking pants and the best kind for light showers are ones that are made from a quick drying fabric. My new favorites are my Arc’teryx Gamma Pants, which at under 300 grams are amazingly lightweight, super stretchy for steep scrambles, and not too baggy, so I can whip my rain pants on over them when things get gnarly out.
Speaking of rain pants, for really heavy rain you’ll be much happier with waterproof trousers than quick drying pants, so I never leave home without a pair of these in my backpack. The wrong pair can be super sweaty, but I recently hiked an entire Munro (entirely off-trail, I should add, making it much harder work) without taking my Keela Rainlife 5000 waterproof trousers off once. It was a sultry day but I never felt uncomfortable. They’re loose enough I can pull them on without taking my shoes off, they keep me dry and they’re a decent price, which is helpful for a piece of gear that you might not wear all the time.
Come summer, I do away with my usual garb of a long-sleeved wool base layer and switch to a merino wool T-shirt. This way I still get the thermoregulating properties of merino but I can stay a bit cooler. I’ve been wearing the IBEX Springbok Tee loads this summer, and though it’s admittedly a little pricey, it feels great on and I can wear it for days without needing to wash it, plus it comes in both men’s and women’s sizing.
Arc’teryx Beta jacket
You’re probably wondering, what about a waterproof jacket? This piece of gear is the most important component to a successful wet weather hike and I’ve tested out a lot of great waterproof jackets in search of one that’s watertight, light and breathable. In the Arc’teryx Beta jacket, I think I’ve finally found it. I’ve worn this jacket in high alpine conditions on the Mont Blanc Massif and in the highlands of Scotland and I can’t believe how light it is (under 300 grams) and how breathable, even when I’m bushwhacking my way up a steep mountainside. It fits a little looser, so it’s great for layering over clothes when the cold weather returns, and I love the fact that it covers my bum so I can sit down in the wet grass for lunch without getting soaked.
Arc’teryx Paltz Cap
Somehow, I never thought of using a peaked hiking hat in the rain until recently as I suppose I always just assumed they were for keeping the sun off. However, I’ve discovered that the right one is also great for keeping rain out my eyes, and I like the Arc’teryx Paltz Cap a lot more than I thought I would when I first got it. The peak isn’t huge, which made me think it wouldn’t be as effective, but instead it means that when it’s blustery it’s less likely to blow away, even despite a not especially tight fit. It’s also super lightweight and quick drying, with a moisture-wicking band that keeps the sweat out of your eyes once the sun comes out.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com 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.