Get Outdoors! Camping & Hiking Trips

Rainy Day Rambles: All-weather hikes with kids

You’ve got a hike planned. But it’s raining, pouring, dumping outside.

Just go, says Jennifer Aist, the author of the book “Babes in the Woods,” a guide to hiking, camping and boating with babies and small children.

“If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you need to embrace the wet,” Aist says. “Otherwise you’ll rot away on your couch.”

An Alaska resident, Jennifer’s been on plenty of hikes with her three kids in Washington State and British Columbia. She knows rainy days. “I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent in the rain in campgrounds, on trails and on beaches,” Aist says.

But rain is a magical, surprising twist on the everyday hike, in Aist’s opinion. Let’s find out how to make your drizzly-day family hike a fantastic success.

Why is a rainy-day hike such a great idea?

Aist: To kids, rainy days just mean putting on another layer of clothing.

Rain brings out different critters on the beach. Rain brings earthworms to the surface for easy picking. Rain makes for perfect fort-building conditions. Rain sounds neat. Rain makes fantastic puddles. Rain makes for better wildlife sightings. Rain makes great little creeks for damming up.

Rain keeps lots of folks inside so you get the whole trail to yourself.

I hadn’t thought about it that way. But how do you prevent wet babies?

Aist: ERGOBaby makes a sport model of their carrier, which uses a fabric that is a bit better for rain than their cotton counterpart. Ergo also sells a cool add-on Weather Cover, made from fairly waterproof/windproof material that you put on over the carrier. But really, all soft structured baby carriers are going to get wet.

The makers of the Kindercoat have rain ponchos and jackets that are designed to be worn over a sling/wrap/mai tai or ergo or other soft structured carrier. These are great! A bit pricey, but great. You can even wear 2 babies at once in them.

External frame backpacks, like those made by Kelty and Sherpani are generally made of nylon and come with rain/shade hoods so they fare better. If you’re pushing an infant on a fairly flat, even trail, the Chariot or other system has very effective rain flies that keep baby nice and dry.

And of course, you can always carry an umbrella.

The author's daughter in Puddlegear.

Good tips. How do you keep walking-age kids dry?

Aist: For mobile kids, I’m a big fan of the one-piece rain suit and some tall rain boots. Puddlegear makes some really nice PVC-free ones. Molehill Mountain makes great kids outdoor gear. Great poly pro options, rain gear, all sorts of cool stuff.

You have to assume that little kids will stomp in puddles and get lots of water in their boots, so wool socks are a must.

Hats from Sunday Afternoons keep the rain off your face.

I also avoid cotton clothing wherever possible (wet cotton makes you cold). I give more details on how to dress in warm layers in the book, as well.

How long of a hike should parents aim for?

Aist: Length of trail really depends on lots of different things. With young infants, it is much easier to go farther and longer. You may have to stop and nurse on the trail, but otherwise they are usually pretty content just hanging out.

Toddlers and preschoolers are a whole different story. Start short and test out the waters. Thirty minutes may be plenty for some.

My oldest could easily hike 10 miles at age 4, but her brother pooped out at 3 miles at the same age. Better to get back to the car wanting to do more than dragging a kid in the midst of total melt down back to the car.

Also, is the trail interesting? All uphill? Easy? Good views? Cool landmarks like a fun bridge along the way? Look for those little extras to boost your child’s interest.

Are there any warm-your-soul snacks or drinks for a rainy-day hike with kids?

Aist: I bring a thermos with hot cocoa or hot apple cider with us on cold days. This is always a big hit. I also aim for snacks that hold up well when wet.

Sandwich bread is a total bust. Apples are good, berries are great, hard granola bars do OK.

Is there a good rule of thumb that parents should keep in mind regarding rainy-day hikes?

The author with two of her three children.

Aist: Rule of thumb? Make it fun! Make it so they want to get out and do it again. Better yet, make it so fun that mom and dad want to take them out again.

So go ahead and stomp in the puddles yourself. You can clean up when you get home.

The number one reason people don’t like to take kids out in rainy/cold weather is because someone is cold. Gear up to keep everyone toasty. Bring snacks–or pick them along the way. Sing, be silly. Share in the natural wonder kids enjoy.

And know when to call it a day. If a meltdown is imminent, head for home!


Discover Canadian-made rainy day clothing recommendations from Yoyomama.

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.