There’s more to it than choosing the right jacket—here are 8 tips for traveling when it’s rainy.
Standing over the carry-on backpack I was going to live out of for the next five weeks, I tapped my destinations into my phone’s weather app for the 15th time. In a single bag, I needed to fit everything for cold-rainy Scotland, hot-dry Jordan, wet-hot Hong Kong and it-could-go-either-way New Zealand. It was the rainy and wet parts that had me worried. I needed to be comfortable for adventurous days outdoors and also look presentable for city life. Five weeks—and an around-the-world trip—later, I was psyched with what I had packed. Here’s what I learned about packing for travel in wet weather.
Ditch the umbrella.
They bump into other people, they get forgotten in restaurants, they break—and they take up precious space in your pack. Personally, I’m not 100% anti-umbrella. They can be nice sometimes. But for most trips, a high-quality rain jacket is way more useful. You can wear it as a wind layer even if it’s not actually raining, and it doesn’t require a hand to hold it so you’re free to move and less likely to bump into others on the street. That makes it easier to slip in and out of shops, cafes or market stalls, or even take a lap on an urban boulder. In the end, isn’t freedom part of what travel is about?
Pack water-shedding, quick-drying clothes.
Whether you’ll be in a warm or cold climate, avoid wearing cotton if it's going to be wet. It takes forever to dry, and can lead to gnarly chafing. And if it takes forever to dry it will probably end up smelling mildewy.
Opt instead for synthetic or wool clothing. I prefer tops that are super soft, so like shirts like the tanks and hoodies in the Chain Reaction Collection, which feel like cotton but wick and dry way faster. For cooler temps, a synthetic flannel, fleece or wool sweater are perfect. Soft shell pants in a casual style can perform on the trail and in town. (The Voodoo Pants and Equinox Pants are perfect for repelling moisture.)
One thing to keep in mind: Dark colors hide splashes and sweat marks better. For my around-the-world trip, I packed mostly black and dark grey items with that in mind. Who knew when I’d have access to laundry?
Decide on a shoe strategy.
Picking shoes always seems to be the crux of packing for me. In wet weather, you can take one of two tacks: Opt for a waterproof shoe or boot and try to keep moisture out, or just embrace the puddle jumping and wear flip-flops or sandals. The temperature will probably help you answer that question. For my big trip I packed both: a pair of trusty Blundstones I can dress up for nice restaurants and a pair of Bedrock sandals I could wear for river crossings, swimming or around town in hot weather.
Use dry bags to keep things dry—and separate from your wet gear.
If your luggage or backpack isn’t waterproof, you’ll need dry bags to keep anything inside dry. But even if your pack is waterproof, you may want to stash a couple of dry bags inside to keep any wet items from dampening other things in the pack.
One way to help keep your dirty or wet gear separate is to use a Dirty/Clean Bag. These dual-entry bags have a separator to keep your clean/dry items separate from your damp/dirty items in the same stuff sack.
Carry a small pack towel.
In a rainy climate, odds are you’ll find yourself dumped on at some point. It’s best simply to embrace that fact, relax into it. And when you do emerge from the rain back indoors—whether it’s onto a train, into a tent or an Airbnb, you’ll want to dry yourself and your gear a little. A small synthetic pack towel can go a long way in drying you off quickly before you settle in.
Use small waterproof gear pouches.
If you’re packing electronic devices like a phone or GPS, or important papers like maps, passports or travel documents, make sure you have a couple of waterproof pouches or small dry bags to keep them safe.
Don’t forget a rain hat.
Much smaller than an umbrella, a rain hat can go a long way for keeping morale up during a squall. Rain jacket hoods are amazing, but if you want to keep your peripheral vision a bit wider, a hat is where it’s at. It keeps pesky cold droplets from finding their way down your neck, which can be priceless.
Never skimp on a rain shell.
Here’s where I remind you that all rain jackets are not created equal. Sure, even a garbage bag can keep you somewhat dry and many a traveler has resorted to using one in a pinch. But if your jacket isn’t breathable, you’ll soon be soaked from within by its sauna effect and the jacket (or garbage bag) will be basically useless.
A great rain shell keeps raindrops out and allows your own moisture to escape as well—either through vents or a breathable membrane. Some lightweight rain jackets—like the Helium Rain Jacket—pack down so tiny they can fit in a purse, running vest or hip pack.
The brand-new Motive AscentShell Jacket combines a super breathable three-layer waterproof shell construction with a lightweight, streamlined design perfect for the trail and the town square and easy to roll up into a carry-on.
One of my personal favorites for all-around travel is the Aspire Gore-Tex Jacket. Layering it over a wool sweater for a rainy hike through Scotish crags is one of my favorite travel memories.
Speaking of favorite memories, I would argue that traveling in rainy conditions is a great way to make a memory. Instead of hiding from the weather, going out into it is a great way to really observe a new place and feel a part of it. The weather makes the experience stand out in your mind. So if you’re debating about traveling to a new location or during the rainy season, just remember: There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.