How to Stay Dry While Traveling

Fred Perrotta

On the walk back from dinner, it started to rain. We ducked under an overhang to wait it out.

Ten minutes later, it was still raining. Harder than before.

Now the winding, narrow streets of Old Town Prague were flooded.

Oh well, we’ll just rough it. Run through the ankle-deep water until we can get back to our hostel. Then I can take a hot shower and hang my clothes to dry.

Great plan. Until, after running a half dozen blocks, we realized we were lost. And out of breath. And still wet.

After a series of trial and error sprints through twisted alleyways, we finally got our bearings and made it back indoors. Completely waterlogged.

As travelers, we encounter every kind of weather from sweltering heat to freezing cold to torrential downpours. Sometimes on the same day.

Packing light won’t allow us to bring ideal gear for every one of these situations. Yet, walking around in wet socks is super gross.

Pareto’s Law says that in a given situation, 80% of the effects result from 20% of the causes. In this article, we’ll outline the 10% of gear that can provide 90% of your rain protection.

If you’re in a hurry, scroll to the bottom for our TL;DR Packing List.

Quick-Dry Gear

Let’s assume that your destination will definitely be getting rain. For example, a trip to London.

If you’re going to be getting wet anyway, take advantage of quick-dry clothing so that you can dry faster. My favorite brand is ExOfficio but most performance apparel brands offer quick-drying fabrics.

Regular readers already know about my dedication to ExOfficio underwear, but quick-dry fabrics are used for shirts, pants, and outerwear too.

Most of these fabrics, if handled correctly, can dry overnight, if not faster.

Having one water-resistant pullover that can dry quickly will get you through most rainy days. For heavier downpours, you’ll need a rain jacket. We’ll get to those in the next section.

Rain really tests my loyalty to jeans. Quick-dry pants are a hideous atrocity, but jeans take foorrreeevvvveeerrrrr to dry. A conundrum.

Rain Jacket

Light packers know to avoid specialized clothing in favor of multipurpose tools. Rain jackets aren’t warm enough to be beneficial in the cold relegating them to rain duty only.

However, if you’re expecting to face a lot of rain, you can still bring a jacket or shell on your trip.

Here’s why: if you’re wearing it most days, it’s not a specialized tool. Secondly, you can buy one that folds up really freaking small. Try packing a fleece jacket into a pocket like in this picture.

I use a Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket. Patagonia even offers used gear through their Common Threads program if you’re looking for a cheaper jacket. Any reputable brand will suffice.

If you’re on an extended trip that includes a rainy leg, pick up a cheap rain jacket at your destination and pay it forward to another traveler when you move on.

Travel Towel

Carrying a travel towel probably sounds like a bit of an indulgence. If you’re staying in hostels, it’s not. If you’re staying in hotels, skip to the next section.

Since many hostels charge for towels, you can save money by bringing your own. A good travel towel will also fold up as small as your rain jacket and dry as fast as your quick-drying clothes.

If you need your quick-dry clothing to dry in a few hours instead of overnight, here’s a trick: Wring the item, let’s say a shirt, as dry as possible with your hands. Then lay it flat on your travel towel. Roll the towel up as tightly as you can to get even more water out of your shirt. Finally, hang both up to dry.

Water-Resistant Bag

We’ve covered how to keep yourself and the clothes on your back dry. But what about the rest of your gear?

Make sure to buy a carry on backpack that’s water-resistant. This is usually enough protection.

You don’t NEED a waterproof bag. They’re more expensive and provide extraneous protection that you don’t need unless you expect to be standing in the rain for hours or submerged underwater.

The Outbreaker travel backpacks, both 35 and 45 L, are almost waterproof. Made of high grade waterproof sailcloth, only the stitching lines are susceptible to a little seeping. Unless you’re standing in a Southeast Asian monsoon for an hour, these bags are going to keep your stuff dry.

Once you buy your bag, you can discreetly test it in the shower like Scott Gilbertson of Vagabonding.com did. Just be careful not to ruin it in case you need to return it “unused.”

If you already have a bag, or are otherwise worried about exposure to the rain, you can buy a rain cover on Amazon.

A rain cover is basically a big shower cap for your bag. They’re sized by volume, so make sure to get one that will fit your bag. You should be able to find one for less than $30. Of course if you choose the Outbreaker travel backpack, you’ll never struggle with an unwieldy rain cover again. Win.

Dry Bags

Are you expecting a lot of wet clothes? Will you be swimming a lot during your trip?

Pick up a small wet/dry bag to prevent your wet clothes from ruining the rest of your stuff.

Dry bags are really designed for hikers who don’t have the same resources at their disposal as travelers. You’ll have more opportunities to hang your stuff to dry or even use a clothes dryer. Just remember to dry your clothes ASAP to prevent them from getting musty.

I once forgot a pair of wet boardshorts in a dry bag for several months. They did not smell okay. I had to throw them out immediately to prevent triggering my gag reflex. This is one of the reasons that the Outbreaker wet/dry bag has an antifungal, antimicrobial coating.

Dry bags can also double as packing cubes, so you’re not wasting space on them if you don’t have any wet clothes.

If you’ve got something inside your bag that absolutely must stay dry (hello electronic gadget!) then the wet/dry bag is your best option. This little gem does double duty, keeping wet stuff (like that swimsuit) away from your dry stuff, and by making absolutely sure that whatever is inside stays totally dry. Yay.

Do you have any experience with dry bags? Have a preferred brand? Let us know in the comments.

Shoes

Frequent downpours and the resulting flooding and mud can ruin most shoes.

If you’re heading to a rainy climate, wear waterproof boots or flip flops. Anything in between will get ruined.

Good boots should be able to keep your feet and socks dry. Unfortunately, good boots can also be very expensive.

Alternatively, you could concede that you’re going to get wet and wear flip flops or sandals. Yes, your feel will get wet, but you won’t ruin any shoes and can dry your feet once you get indoors. You brought a travel towel, remember?

Umbrella… Just Kidding

Please don’t waste space packing an umbrella, even if you’ll need it. Pick up a cheap one at your destination. If you know rain is in the forecast, buy it before the showers hit and vendors double their prices. Market dynamics are a bitch.

After you leave, pass your umbrella on to the next person. Unless it’s already been turned inside out. If the rain’s that bad, an umbrella will be unusable anyway.

TL;DR

Here’s your packing list for traveling in the rain: