Trail Running in the Rain

I’ve been rebuilding my PNW running kit and in doing so I’ve been reviewing why my it works so well for me. You should not be afraid of running in the rain or cold. In fact, if approached correctly, this can be the best time of year to run. However, you must make a couple of adjustments to the common kit in order to make trail running after the autumn equinox safe, comfortable and enjoyable. Here are my suggestions for staying out on the trail all winter long.

Get Wet, Be Happy

The myth of the dry runner is perhaps bigger than the myth of Sasquatch. In the Pacific North West, during the rainy season, there is no such thing as a dry runner. If you run on trails this is doubly so because you’ll be brushing up against nappy ferns and running under dripping trees even if there isn’t rain falling from the sky. Water will get inside your jacket, it will saturate your socks, it will soak your underwear and there is nothing you can do about it. Coat yourself in vinyl and you’ll still be dealing with a wetness problem since you’re body is going to perspire far more than your clothes will be able to eject.

The solution is to become comfortable with wet, and work for warm. Wet can no longer be a discomfort that you tolerate, you must make your peace with it fully and completely. If you cannot bring yourself to this state of mind you will fail running in the rainy season.

However, since you know you’re going to get wet you need to ensure you never get cold. Cold is the enemy. This means wearing hydrophobic fabrics like nylon and and wool which don’t lose their property to insulate when they get wet. Socks, tights, shorts, shirt, jacket, gloves, and hat. None of these things should have a single thread of cotton involved in the weave. Garments that claim to be “waterproof” are extra weight which will quickly be proven inadequate. Even the best tech fabrics will take on water in a good down poor and most of them do little to insulate.

Start Cold

There are very few runs that happen this time of year where you wont find a ruck strapped to my back. The reason is that I want to start the run cold, almost shivering cold. This is so I can tune the temperature regulation of my body after things get warmed up which means I’ll likely bring an extra layer of warmth which occupies my backpack for the duration.

In bitter cold, when the air dries up a bit and arctic winds are blowing, I tend to carry a thicker, more insulative outer layer in my ruck while ensuring exposed skin is minimized. Use baffles at critical junctures to keep heat close to your core. A buff around your neck, gloves tucked into sleeves, long underwear tucked into your tights. Starting out will be uncomfortable, but the advantage is that you can untuck or re-zip while you run, adjusting to a headwind or a hill as encountered.

Save that outer layer in reserve for when you stop for a bite to eat or after the run is over. Its warmth and dryness will be welcome then and in an emergency it can be the difference between life and death.

Layer Like a Bagman

Your running wardrobe should be built in layers: base/insulation/shell. You can add complexity and thus adjustability in middle. Two components adding a quarter inch of insulation are better than a single which does the same thing. This is because that second jacket or sweater can come off and on as conditions fluctuate.

Also, there is an advantage to this when you pay attention to what the weather is doing. Do you see that pregnant cloud coming in over the lake? Yeah, it’s going to make land fall and start dumping on you in the next couple of minutes. Quick stow a part of your insulation layer in the dry bag tucked away in your ruck and save it for later. If you leave it on, it’s only going to get wet.

Travel Towels

Bring a small hyper-absorbent travel towel along in your kit. It doesn’t have to be much more than a hand rag. I use this at the end of a run before I change into a second set of dry clothes and sometimes during a run to wipe up and wring out some of the excess moisture that will pool in uncomfortable places.

The utility of a hand sized Sea-to-Summit Drylite towel cannot be overstated. You can blow you nose on them, even in the rain. They can clean glasses, or be used to clear fogging. This, and only this, has what it takes to remove that annoying nose-drip which perpetually hangs off the end of my beak. When you’re done with the run, chuck it in with the load of running clothes that you’re going to be washing. Keep a short stack of these ready for when the urge takes you out on the trail.

Stretching Pad

Yeah, you still need to stretch after a run in the rain. If you don’t you’ll be more likely to suffer injury. You can make this vital component of your run more likely to happen by preparing for it. You won’t likely stretch back at the trailhead if you’re going to be sitting down in icy mud. I use a Thermarest Z-lite sleeping mat for a couple of reasons.

First, when I’m done I can open the rear hatch on my Prius and stand on it in my socks. The ridges get me up off the cold and wet of the parking lot and the insulation makes is possible to focus on working out the kinks in my legs before they turn into knots. Also, this little bit of preparation gets used to change atop. If I’ve got warm, dry clothing waiting for me in the car I can get into this outfit without smearing mud and yuck all over the cabin of my automobile.

Seal Electronics

Either buy electronics that are factory sealed or find ways to ensure these useful tools for running are protected. Either that or leave them home. Your phone should be packed up inside something that has no potential to leak and if you carry a separate GPS make sure it can survive a two meter plunge.

Periodically double check your gear to make certain no water has made it into the case. This is especially important for phones sealed in third-party cases since ambient humidity can turn into condensation over time. Open them up, take a look inside, wipe out what shouldn’t be there.

Rotate Shoes

I run at least five days a week. After any run my shoes tend to come back pretty wet and somewhat muddy. In order to alleviate the problem of running in wet shoes (which is never any fun) I rotate three or four pairs of shoes during the winter months.

There is still the advantage that I’m giving my shoes time to recover, but my experience is that shoe foam recovers faster than it dries. Adding shoes to the rotation ensures that I’m always running in dry shoes.

Make sure you stay on top of minor shoe repairs as well. Shoe rubbers become less useful in the wet. Runners will tend to slip on ice, wet pavement, rocks and tree roots given the changed conditions. A little problem with a shoe can quickly turn a minor slip on a tree root into a catastrophic injury. Keep a brush near the place you store your shoes, keep them clean. Inspect them for tears and separations, repair or replace shoes when these problems are minor.

Stay Visible

I don’t think that this one can be overstated. The rainy season, which is marked by low-light days that become progressively shorter, is also when hunters are hitting the trails. Drivers cannot see you in that slick black jogging suit. Neon colors, blinking lights these separate the dead darkwads from the successful winter runners.

Neon color gloves with reflective stripes, jackets that make you look clownish, running tights that hurt the eyes; your winter gear should communicate your presence as far a distance as you can project it. You don’t just want ugly here, you want to revive 80’s outdoor fashion fugly.


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