Ten Essentials for Surviving the Northwest Rain

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The Ten Essentials for Northwest Rain

Drip, drip, drip.

In autumn, we wait for the inevitable. We wait, patiently, for the rain to come and stay. The days on end of grey. The constant puddles to dodge. And once winter is here, it’s here for days on end. Months, even. And then we wait, patiently, for the rain to end.

The sun will come out…. in March. Bet your bottom dollar that in March, there’ll be sun…

After a few weeks of Northwest winter, we’re looking up flights to Hawaii and cursing our fogged up windows.  (Okay, maybe that last one is just me in my 1987 Volvo with the broken defrost.)

Welcome to winter in the Pacific Northwest! To live here, happily, you have to adapt. As a PNW resident for two decades, I’ll gladly share my essential gear and coping mechanisms for a long winter of Northwest rain. Here’s to maintaining sanity in the rainy darkness! And remember, our wonderful, glorious springs, summers and autumns are well worth the wait.


Ten Essentials for the Northwest Rain1. Tiny umbrellas. I know. Everyone tells you that the locals here don’t carry umbrellas. That it’s all parka, parka, parka! Well, they’re lying. We carry umbrellas. We’re just super stealthy about it. And they’re super tiny umbrellas. Like, mine fits in my pocket or purse. If anyone asks, you can tell them its your light saber. But when the hard rain comes in November, out come the tiny umbrellas. Just watch. Downtown Seattle turns into mini-bumbershoot land.



Ten Essentials for the Northwest Rain2. Double the coffee. (I am such a cliche.) Yet it’s true. My coffee consumption doubles in winter. The main reason is that I get up earlier. When it gets dark at 4:30pm, the only way to feel like you’ve lived a full day is to start it early. I get up an hour early so that I can get routine tasks out of the way in the morning darkness. Like folding laundry, binge-watching Stranger Things. And for that, I need double the coffee.

Has the Perrier gone straight to your head? Maybe it should. This might seem a little out there, but another great beveridge to have on hand in dark winter months is real mineral water bottled at the source (Gerolsteiner and Perrier come in particularly high for mineral content). Here’s the deal: Northwest cities like Seattle, Portland and Vancouver get their municipal drinking water from snowmelt and glacial-fed rivers, not groundwater sources. That means the drinking water is very low in mineral content, among the lowest of any cities in North America. Minerals like calcium, magnesium, lithium, chromium, zinc and more are essential for mood regulation. (Just one example, there is scientific evidence that natural levels of lithium in drinking water may have a protective effect on suicide rates).

By the way, I don’t drink much alcohol anytime because it gives me headaches (I love beer so this sorta sucks). But I drink even less of it in winter. Alcohol is a depressant. It’s common for people who are feeling low and bored to drink more. So I keep a limit on my holiday drinking because it can impact my mood.


Ten Essentials for the Northwest Rain3.
Waterproof shoes. Our Northwest cities have steep hills, and those slippery sidewalks have rain puddles all over them. Sensible shoes are a must! My husband wears boots by Keen for his work commute (he walks more than 20 blocks every day) that double as his work shoes. He swears his feet stay dry. Our puddle-loving kid wears Bogs Glosh rainboots in a bright blue color, and he absolutely loves them. I’m partial to my Kamik rain boots, which are stylish over leggings and have great traction for walking around on slippery sidewalks or even on hiking trails. And for a fashionable choice, you can’t beat the timeless Hunter Chelsea ankle boot in black and several other punchy colors. Similar but cheaper are these Polar Chelsea rain boots (I have them in shiny black; they’re super cute and have great traction. Update: my Polar Chelsea Boots were great for a whole year, then suddenly the rubber split on both boots. Pay more for the Hunters if you want longevity!)


Ten Essentials for the Northwest Rain4. A Happy Light. Does the rain make you SAD? I lived here for years before it hit me. SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I first thought this phenomenon was a joke. Then a friend told me about the so-called “happy light” that improves her symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. A short while later, I was calling her to try it out! The model I use is the Verilux HappyLite Deluxe Sunshine Simulator (on sale at the moment for $159). I’ve used mine through five grey winters now and have yet to need to replace the bulbs. For the best results, use it for at least an hour in the morning when you first wake up. Verilux makes a compact HappyLite too, perfect for traveling or atop your desk at work. If you suffer from mild symptoms of SAD and are looking for a winter pick-me-up, I truly believe that a Happy Light is well worth your investment. If you feel your depression is deeper than the “winter blues,” however, it’s a good idea to see your doctor about additional treatment options. And if you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call this 24-hour hotline to reach the Crisis Clinic: (206) 461-3222.



5. Getting Outside. If there’s a break in the rain, or even if there isn’t, get yourself outside! Fresh air, exercise, filtered sunlight and even rain can awaken and enliven you. I live in Seattle and my favorite wintertime walk is the 3-mile loop around Green Lake. In Vancouver BC, I love the long loop through Stanley Park, and in Portland a hike through Washington Park will do wonders for a grey day. Remember, outdoor adventures don’t have to stop just because it’s winter. In fact winter will be a whole lot more bearable if they don’t. For more ideas for outdoor Northwest adventures and weekend getaways in winter, click here.


6. Waterproof notebooks. I love taking these waterproof notebooks on a hike or birdwatching trip and knowing that if I need to write something down in the pouring rain – I can!  Not only is the paper waterproof, but you can actually write on the paper in the rain. And the notebooks are made locally – right here in Tacoma.



7. Hand warmers. I love these! If you have a microwave, you can have warm hands – for hours. All you needs are some swaths of fabric and some rice. Sew these  little rice bags, heat them in the microwave and put them in your pockets before you leave the house into the cold, wet rain.



8. Lots of wool. Avoid wearing cotton against your skin in the winter rain; if cotton gets wet, it will pull the warmth right out of your body. Layers of fabrics like wool, silk or synthetics will pull moisture away from your skin, keeping you warmer. So if you know you’re going to be spending some time outside in the rain, start with a base layer made of wool or a synthetic material. Try Smartwool long underwear or Patagonia’s Capilene. Also wear wool socks, and consider adding felted wool insoles to your shoes to keep your feet dry.


outdoor research backpack cover9. Backpack cover. Many Northwest city dwellers carry their gear around in backpacks. It’s like one big college campus! Seriously, a great reason to choose a backpack is because in the rain, it’s a reliable way to keep your stuff dry as long as you’ve got a pack cover on. These waterproof covers fit over most regular-sized backpacks and keep the water out – and off your stuff inside. When not in use, this cover folds neatly into its own carrying pouch, so you can keep it with you just in case.


Ten Essentials for the Northwest Rain10. A Raincoat. Of course it is essential to have a good raincoat! For an affordable, reliable rain jacket, I love the Marmot Precip jacket. It’s available for men, women and kids in a variety of colors.  A pro tip: refresh the waterproofness of your rain jacket at the start of winter by washing it. You’ll want to consult the care instructions on your jacket, but jackets made of DWR or Gore-Tex fabrics will be wonderfully refreshed after a wash in detergent and a good machine dry. REI has more instructions here.


…did I miss something?  What would YOU add?


Top photo by John Iwanski

Lauren Braden’s new book, 52 Ways to Nature, Washington: Your Seasonal Guide to a Wilder Year, is now available for pre-order
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11 Responses

  1. This is a great list! I’m right there with you – double coffee, wool clothes, continue to get out. I rarely have enough hands free to juggle an umbrella, but both my kids take theirs everywhere, and I have been know to duck under one of theirs on occasion. It’s important to have an arsenal of comfort items to help us through the 6 months of winter (or is it 9?). 🙂

    1. John, probably because I’ve never been downhill skiing or snowboarding in my life! But yeah, there are plenty of Northwesterners who enjoy our grey days on the slopes. This might be the first winter we put our kid on snowshoes or cross-country skis – we shall see.

  2. @John — having been at Timberline several times in the rain, I would definitely describe that as a non-“essential for the Northwest rain”! Indeed, it is a cold and wet experience.

  3. Good rainpants go far for us. My younger boys have been in (and the youngest still is) in all outdoor nature preschool, so they wear rainpants every day. That and rubber boots 😉 I swear by my large golf umbrellas from Costco when it is warm/rainy like today. Then I get out and walk – and stay dry – even in cotton. Hehehe!

  4. Waterproof shoes will make or break ya! I keep spare shoes and umbrellas in my Volvo just in case. I’d rather have em and not need em than need em and not have em.

  5. The best way I have found to combat bad weather is to try my best to enjoy it. Even when it is raining hard I try to spend at least a little time outside. I have a good umbrella that can take the wind and I make the most of every minute I have outside. It makes the days much more enjoyable.

  6. All good advice, sans the umbrella maybe:) As a PNW native born and bred I also use candles. Lots and lots of candles. Nor have I used an umbrella much. At least not until I recently found a gorgeous one at the zoo. Now I use it occasionally if I am going somewhere that I know I will be standing outside for any length of time. I never really noticed how depressing the weather was here until I hit my 60’s.

  7. I’m almost done with my residency and got a job offer in Forks WA. From what I researched it’s a small town and it rains there at least 211 days out of the year. Now I’m coming from Georgia, and as funny as it sounds…. I’m tired of the sun coming out in December and wearing short sleeves for Christmas. I wanted to move out that way early on in my residency and they seem eager for me to take my boards and come on over. My question is…. does anyone think this is a bad move? While I love the rain and the idea of the sceenery… it seems pretty far out of the way. If anyone could give me some advice I’d love to hear it!

    1. Nikki, if you love nature, you will enjoy living in Forks, if only for a few years. Forks is surrounded by lush, beautiful rain forest, right next to Olympic National Park, and a stone’s throw from the awesome Pacific coast. Because of the Hoh Rain Forest and the Twilight books being based here, Forks gets a good amount of tourism for a town its size especially in summer, and that’s helped foster demand for some new restaurants in town. It’s about an hour from the nearest city (Port Angeles, which is small, but has great restaurants and a farmers’ market etc).

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