Raingear for Hiking in the Big Wilds

Now that you’ve read Staying Dry While Hiking, Parts 1 and 2, and you’ve learned to stay reasonably dry even in stormy weather, I’ll add a few quick words on what to look for when purchasing rain gear for backpacking. First of all, this is no item to skimp on. Buy a good rainsuit. I said “rainsuit,” not poncho. As previously discussed, ponchos are nearly worthless in severe weather. No plastic rainsuits, either! Those are worse than worthless, because they not only create the ultimate traveling steam bath inside them, but they are guaranteed to rip to shreds after just a bit of use. And don’t buy a ten pound rainsuit that’s made for fishing off the Alaska coast, either. You’re going backpacking. Think light. But buy quality.

When I was a youngster, all rainsuits were made of rubber-coated nylon that did not breathe. So hiking in the rain was hot and wet, with no place for your sweat to go and no way to cool off. Sure, the old rainsuits kept the rain out, but the sweat factor was so bad that often I kept the rain gear in my pack and just hiked in the rain, getting soaked. Then I changed out of my wet cloths after setting up camp. Nowadays, since the invention of Gore-Tex (and various other similar fabrics), which keeps the rain out but lets water vapor escape, hiking in rain is a much more pleasant experience. Adios steam bath. Nonetheless, pay attention to your layering system and don’t over-dress under the rainsuit because you can still become overheated and sweat-soaked, despite the fabric’s ability to let some water vapor escape through the pores of the fabric. And whatever you do, buy the rainsuit big enough to comfortably fit over all of your layers. If it’s cold and wet and you need layers, what good is a rainsuit that doesn’t allow you to bulk up beneath it? Buy it plenty big, and you’ll be plenty happy.

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