9 Tips For Hiking In Bad Weather

We’ve all been there, stopped dead in the middle of a hike watching dark and ferocious clouds roll over the mountains towards us. Scrambling to find shelter before the rain soaks through to your bones.

And if you haven’t, consider yourself very lucky! 

The probability of hiking in bad weather at least once in your life is close to 100%. Even if you meticulously pour over every weather app before setting off, mother nature loves to throw us a curveball every now and again. 

But don’t let that stop you! 

We’ve encountered more wild weather than not over the three years of hiking in Tasmania and have learnt some invaluable tips along the way! In this post, we will share our top tips for hiking in bad weather and as a bonus, we’ve asked our fellow hikers for their input as well.

Hiking up Stacks Bluff in the snow wearing some of the best rain jackets on the market

9 Tips For Hiking In Bad Weather

Of course, the obvious thing to do if the weather is looking grim is to forfeit the hike altogether. But if you’ve already set off or you’re unaware that the weather forecast has changed then these 9 tips for hiking in bad weather could save your life! 

1. Know When To Turn Back

Hiking the dangerous summit track of Mt Anne before turning back

Before you leave for your hike, it’s good practice to research the trail and determine where the most challenging and exposed sections are. Therefore, when the weather turns bad you can be confident in knowing whether it’s safer to turn back or to continue on and complete the hike. 

If you’ve set off on a summit hike, remember that whatever weather you’re experiencing below the peak will almost always be worse at the top. 

Trust me, we know it can be hard to turn back when you’re so close! We had to turn back on multiple hikes in New Zealand, including Gertrude Saddle and Mt Barrosa. But don’t let your ego get the better of you, there is always a next time if you turn back but not so much if you don’t…

Even when the skies are clear the conditions aren’t always on your side. In the image above, we turned back at this point due to frost covering the slanted boulders.

2. Don’t Forget To Snack!

Cooking breakfast behind a rock used for wind break on Mt Eliza

This is my favourite tip because, well, who doesn’t love an excuse to snack?! 

But in all seriousness, snacking on the right food not only increases your energy levels but can also keep you warmer. The production of heat in your body is called thermogenesis and it occurs when your body is metabolising.

Certain foods that take longer to digest can increase your body temperature and keep you feeling warmer. Some foods that are high in nutrition and will also keep you warm are:

  • Bananas
  • Ginger Tea
  • Peanuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Oats
  • Coffee
  • Water

3. Prioritise Finding A Place To Camp

Photography skills to edit this moody sunset camping portrait

If you’re out on a multi-day hike, prioritise finding a sheltered place to camp. 

Sometimes, when the weather is especially wild, reaching your planned campsite may not be possible. In these circumstances, look for flat ground that’s sheltered from the storm but far enough away from trees to avoid falling branches.

Just remember to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when you’re finding a spot to set up. Avoid any fragile plants where possible and for a toilet, dig a hole at least 100 m away from water sources.

4. Always Carry An Emergency Beacon

Anytime we set off on a hike, no matter the distance or grade, we carry an emergency beacon and a first aid kit with us. It’s become second nature to us now and to hike without one feels as if we’re tempting fate!

While we have never had to use an emergency beacon, it makes us feel safer knowing we have backup if we need it

However, it’s super important to know that in bad weather, a helicopter will not be deployed to come and save you. Instead, a search party will take off on foot which could take a long time. 

It’s best to think of an emergency beacon as a last resort rather than your first line of defence for hiking in bad weather. 

5. Carry An Emergency Shelter

On day hikes where you won’t have your tent, carry an emergency shelter to take refuge under while you wait out the storm.

There are multiple varieties of emergency shelters you can purchase, some of which are super lightweight and others that are designed to wrap over you. 

For a basic option, you can grab any old tarp and rope from your garage. However, this option is considerably heavier than a specialised emergency shelter. 

6. Pack Extra Warm Clothes

Moody Golden Sunrise on top of Stacks Bluff overlooking Tranquil Tarn

A rule we live by is to always pack as if you’ll be spending the night in the mountains. You never know what can happen and we’d much rather have a heavier pack than find ourselves unprepared while hiking in bad weather. 

Even in summer, we always pack a thermal top, down jacket and rain jacket at the very least. Most often, we will also include a pair of rain pants, a beanie, thick socks and gloves. 

Of course, if you’re hiking in a hot and dry climate, you can get away with only packing a rain jacket, rain pants and maybe a beanie. 

7. Don’t Let Yourself Sweat! Keep Your Temperature Regulated

Walking down a staircase made from logs on Frenchmans Cap Tasmania

On the contrary, it’s important to keep your temperature regulated and avoid sweating at all costs! As soon as you stop and the sweat cools, your core temperature will drop drastically. 

Layering is your best friend when it comes to regulating your temperature. Start with a merino base layer and follow with a fleece and rain jacket. You can also add a down jacket underneath your rain jacket in extreme cold. 

Remember, cotton is your worst enemy when hiking! 

8. Carry Extra Food And Water

Following on from our snacking tip, carry enough food and water to last you at least an extra day than planned. Having an emergency stash of food and water can allow you to bunker down and wait out a storm. 

Remember to choose food that is high in nutrients and slow in metabolising. Our go-to emergency items are Clif Bars, packet pasta or rice (Continental side dishes are our favourite and quite nutritious) and oats.

As a general rule, half a litre of water per hour of walking should keep you sufficiently hydrated. I use this as the bare minimum and often take extra, especially in summer when I know I drink a lot more. 

If you’ve done your research and know there will be reliable water sources along your route, you can bring less and fill up as you walk. We always pack a water filtration system on multi-day hikes so we can fill up anywhere without the risk of illness. 

9. Learn How To Read The Terrain

Tent set up off the Carr Villa Track at sunset in Ben Lomond Tasmania

This may be the most important tip on this list. Knowing how to avoid the worst of the bad weather and where to seek shelter is priceless. 

First, determine which way the wind and storm are coming from and then you can seek shelter behind a boulder or on a slope that’s protected from the wind. Unfortunately, it’s common for the wind to swirl and when that happens, you might want to check if the wind is calmer in the valley. 

Staying away from trees is important, especially if the wind is blowing in the opposite direction that it usually does – you can learn this by looking at the direction the trees lean towards. For example, if the trees are leaning to the east, the wind will usually blow from the west. 

Climbing to the precarious peak of Mount Eliza on the fallen dolerite rock trail

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, the reality is that you’ll be wet and uncomfortable if you find yourself hiking in bad weather. But by doing your research beforehand and packing the essentials, you’ll minimise your risks considerably and subsequently enjoy your hike nevertheless. 

Do you have any tips you could share on the topic? We would love to hear them in the comments below. And as always, we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have for us. You can either leave a comment here or email us. 

Happy Hiking!