In a few instances I will leave behind my rain gear, notably short backpacking trips in dry environments when there is no precipitation in the forecast, and longer trips in hot and humid environments when a soaking is actually welcomed. But otherwise I bring something to help keep me dry when it rains.
A rain jacket and rain pants are Items 10 & 11 of the Core 13, my collection of essential backpacking clothing that can be mixed-and-matched to create appropriate systems for any set of 3-season conditions.
When hiking in the rain, the usual attire is a rain jacket and rain pants. But before I cover these product types in greater detail, two other options deserve mention:
- Umbrellas, and
These rain defenses do one thing right: They allow for excellent airflow, which helps to keep the user relatively cool (via convection) and dry (via evaporation of perspiration).
Otherwise, however, they are a tough sell. An umbrella is useless in high winds or when bushwhacking, snags when on poorly maintained trails, takes out of commission a hand and arm, and creates noticeable drag. A poncho also struggles in high winds or when off-trail, but more importantly it leaves exposed the lower arms and legs, a major liability in cooler conditions.
I would additionally add that, probably due to limited consumer interest, there is little innovation in the umbrella and poncho space, thus curbing interest further. An unbreakable umbrella with a carbon fiber shaft and cuben fiber canopy? Sorry, it does not exist. A poncho with an excellently designed hood and full arm protection? Keep dreaming.
Waterproof-breathable rain gear
A rain jacket and pants are much more field-friendly than an umbrella or poncho. However, their form-fitting silhouettes create a problem: near complete loss of airflow.
If they were to be made of the same waterproof fabric used in umbrella canopies, ponchos, tarps, and tent flies — e.g. polyurethane-coated nylon, silicone-impregnated nylon, or cuben fiber — the wearer would have an effective protection against external precipitation, but they would bathe in their perspiration that becomes trapped in the garment during aerobic activity. (For low-aerobic activity, however, fully waterproof rain gear is great. Next time you watch a baseball game or go fishing in the rain, bring along something like the Helly Hensen Lerwick Rain Jacket.)
The outdoor industry’s solution to this body bag scenario have been waterproof-breathable fabrics (WP/B), e.g. Gore-Tex, eVent, NeoShell, plus proprietary fabrics like Marmot’s Precip and Patagonia’s H2No. That “waterproof-breathable” is an oxymoron is perhaps the first clue that this fabric technology might be overhyped. Think: A “waterproof” fabric does not allow moisture through it, yet a “breathable” fabric does — So how can a material be both?
Why waterproof-breathable fabrics fail
In my experience, waterproof-breathable fabrics are neither waterproof nor breathable, especially during extended use and/or if the garment is not brand new. While there are measurable performance differences between the degrees of water-resistance and breathability of different fabrics, the ultimate outcome is the same: I will get wet from the outside, the inside, or both. It’s really just a question of timing and method.
Outside. The Achilles heel of WP/B fabrics is the durable water repellent (DWR) treatment applied to the face fabric. This long-chain (C8) fluorocarbon-based treatment easily degrades due to abrasion and contaminants (e.g. dirt, body oils, sunscreen), which causes the face fabric to become saturated with moisture. Since it is more humid outside the jacket than inside it, moisture is “pulled” through the jacket by the drier air inside. With new restrictions C8 soon taking effect, the lackluster performance of DWR will decline further.
The DWR finish can be restored with wash-in and spray-on treatments like Nikwax TX Direct Wash In. They definitely help, but I have found that the DWR is never as-good-as-new again. And without a functional DWR, wet-out is inevitable.
Inside. Technically, waterproof/breathable fabrics are breathable — i.e. moisture can transmit through the fabric, via solid state diffusion or direct venting. But so too is a jacket made of trash bag material with a few pinholes in it. Regardless of marketing claims to the contrary, the breathability of WP/B fabrics is utterly inadequate relative to a normal rate of perspiration when hiking, especially in warm and/or humid conditions. So even if you managed to stay dry on the outside while wearing WP/B clothing (like if it’s a sunny day) you will get wet from the inside due to trapped perspiration.
Fit and features
Proper 3-season rain shells should be sized to fit over a hiking shirt and mid-layer top, or pants and underwear. Unlike winter shells, they need not be so large to fit over an insulated jacket or pants.
Many high-end technical rain jackets such as the Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket are “helmet-compatible,” which sounds sexy but which for hat-wearing backpackers results an excessively large and poor-fitting hood.
Pockets, if any, need to be accessible while wearing a backpack — otherwise, why bother? A kangaroo-pouch protected with a waterproof flap would be superb, but most jackets feature smaller, marginally useful pockets with vertical or diagonal zippers.
10. My picks and suggestions
When choosing rain gear for a particular trip, I mostly account for the:
- Likelihood and duration of rain events;
- Relative humidity; and,
- Ambient temperature.
If I expect no or little precipitation, short-lived storms, low humidity, and cool temperatures, I pack ultralight and relatively inexpensive rain gear like the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket or the Marmot Precip Jacket, plus perhaps the matching Helium Pants or Essence Pants for full-body defense against cold-and-wet conditions. These garments will have minimal features: no pit zips, ankle zips, multiple hood adjustments, hem closure, or pockets.
My rationale for these choices is simple. First, since I may not even need my rain gear, I’d like to keep down its weight and volume. Second, if I do need it, by the time I’m starting to get wet (from the outside or inside), the storm will have hopefully passed through. Of course, sometimes they don’t do so quickly, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
When expected conditions are at the other end of the spectrum — reliable and long-lasting rain events, high humidity, and/or warm temperatures — WP/B fabrics really struggle. In these conditions, I think rain gear with generous venting and air flow will be far more effective in keeping you dry than rain gear with a best-in-class WP/B fabric.
Traditionally, venting features have stopped at pit zips. Realizing that this is grossly inadequate, I’m excited to see companies doing more. The Outdoor Research Foray Jacket, for instance, features a two-way front zipper and side zippers running from the waist hem to the armpit. (Too bad the product video was shot in Joshua Tree National Park — it’s hard to trust someone talking about rain gear while surrounded by cactus and desert shrubbery.)
Sierra Designs has taken ventilation another step further with its Elite Cagoule Jacket and Elite Rain Chaps, new for Spring 2015. I used a prototype last summer but not enough for review, and I don’t yet have production pieces. At worst, Sierra Designs gets credit for designing unconventional but poor-performing rain gear. At best, the Cagoule and Chaps are the start of an evolution in rain gear, in which we will see more emphasis placed on ventilation than fabric breathability.
If you have given up on shell jacket and pants in wet, warm, and humid conditions, I would certainly understand. As alternatives, consider the Outdoor Products Packframe Poncho or the REI Travel Umbrella.
Having started hiking before GoreTex came into existence, I wouldn’t damn WP/B fabrics quite as severely as you do but you are correct. I get wet when climbing hills in the rain. The one thing which does need saying, however, is that I tend to dry out during the descent without having to open up my breathable jacket. As a result, WP/B fabrics have led to my carrying less spare clothing than I did in the Sixties.
Helmet compatible hoods are an absolute abomination. Those I have tried simply will not stay on when I’m hiking into the wind. I guess if you are climbing a big wall, on a belay, you might want to pull a hood over a helmet but how many of us climb big walls? While cycling and kayaking in helmets, as well as on short rock climbs, I have never felt like pulling a hood over a helmet.
That smile must have been from Type 3 fun? 🙂
I would have expected your trash bag solution to have the opposite effect though, trapping the moisture against you, be it your own perspiration or the rain coming in via the head hole (though it would keep you warmer).
I did a similar thing in a way on my first mountain trip in one of the few good storms I’ve experienced except I was in my tarp trying to further protect the end of my bag from splash and windblown rain. I figured pulling my compactor bag over the end would be fine with my body’s moisture being able to flow out the open end that was below my knee area, but when I checked my bag later in the evening only that part in the compactor bag was damp. I swapped the compactor bag for the DriDucks jacket and it has worked well for that purpose when needed (being the most breathable rain gear fabric I’m aware of, albeit at the cost of durability).
Aside from their limitations for bushwhacking, I have found the Frogg Toggs style rain gear to be very effective, lightweight, and CHEAP. No it’s definitely not super breathable but sometimes this can be a blessing when things get cold since it can keep you warm. More than once I have been in the high 40s/low 50s (Fahrenheit) in a cold rain storm and felt the warmth of my frogg toggs.
They definitely will not win any fashion contests though!
Great article, I use sea to summit poncho for the maybe or short rain time, mostly due to its multi function then my heavy Gore-Tex top and paints for the winter, heavy rain times.
I did a trip recently in Davy Crockett National Forrest where it was hot humid and some rain which was nice, then the next day temps dropped by 35 degrees and rained neither of my items work well for a mix of temps and conditions like that I’m not willing to carry both .
Hi, how about rain skirts? Quite a few people in our group use them so I finally got one (http://zpacks.com/accessories/cloudkilt.shtml) and I love it. It is compact, light, inexpensive (compared to rain pants especially considering that it should last longer) and versatile in that I can roll it at the waist if I only want coverage on upper legs, or extend it if I want full coverage. Also allows for substantial airflow and the version I bought has a zipper that you can open to extend your stride. I have found that I have to hitch it up if I need to straddle a big log on the trail, but so far that hasn’t been a deal breaker.
Incidentally, another innovation in the umbrella category would be an “umbrella holster” for the pack so that you could walk with it open without having to hold it.
Denise- I’ve seen such a holster online, though I forget the name of it.
Do you have any thoughts about The Packa? It seems somewhere in between a poncho and the Cagoule.
We love our Packas!
My wife and I used Packas on the Appalachian Trail and were very happy with them. For the PCT we are switching to gear that handles a lot of wind better, but the Packa is basically a poncho that covers your pack, has great pit zips and real arm coverage with a real hood.
Frogg Toggs often get mentioned only as the option for people who can’t afford anything better (or extreme gram-weenies), but they actually have a big advantage over traditional multi-layer WPB gear: they don’t rely on DWR.
Gore-Tex and company all use a WPB membrane covered by a breathable, non-waterproof fabric (nylon, usually) for durability. It’s that outer fabric that absorbs water when the DWR fails, blocking airflow to the membrane. Frogg Toggs and DriDucks don’t have an absorbent outer layer, they just have a single layer that’s comparable in function to the membrane on other jackets. Water rolls off of it, and will continue to roll off of it for the life of the jacket.
Combine that with the fact that its breathability exceeds that of even brand new eVent (and FAR exceeds wetted-out eVent), and you have a really good piece of rainwear for situations where you can deal with its relative fragility.
The inside of Dri-Ducks also has a fuzzy (peach fuzz) feel that doesn’t feel clamy like other shells can. I have a jacket that I have about 500 miles on and though it has some duct tape patches has held up fairly well. I don’t use it off trail but it does have a place in my jacket quiver.
Traded out my tent and raingear for a poncho during my AT thruhike. Loved the idea of it. Functionality? Not so much. Made for a sail in the wind, and aside from very light rain would have been a shotty shelter. Had a few nights where I was really glad I was going SOBO and didn’t have to fight for shelter space.
This is good stuff, Andrew, lots of condensed (sorry, couldn’t help the pun) know how.
I made something like the Elite Cagoule, i e lengthened an excisting rain jacket with a piece of silnylon in 2004. The idea was to use it in combination with chaps, just like described for the Elite Cagoule. The idea got a severe setback when I struggled against the wind in a rain storm on the tundra in Lapland. The wind whipped the bottom part of the rain jacket up to my waist belt, the rain then soaked my groin, ran down my legs and soaked my pants. Not my most pleasant outdoor experience.
I was using poles at the time, perhaps I should have put them in my pack and used my hands to hold the long rain jacket down. I still think the basic idea has merits, but I would add some sort of snap fastening that will attach the Cagoule to the chaps in the kind of weather I describe.
Since I really like the ventilation chaps promise I used a pair of ‘rain-shorts’ for a number of years. I pulled those on to protect my groin when needed. That could be an alternative in combination with Cagoule and chaps. The shorts could be made from silnylon, since they would not be used often and then probably in situations when ‘breathability’ is not paramount.
Andrew, could you please share your thoughts/opinions/experiences(if any) on products such as these:
As I and Mitchell E alluded to above, the UltraLite2 (what used to be called DriDucks) is the most breathable rain gear “fabric” around (that I am aware of at least). It is also totally waterproof though it’s possible it could leak at a seam I suppose. However, the major setback is they are very fragile so would not be suitable at all for bushwhacking or overgrown trails. It’s easy to snag them on briers, sticks, etc. I try to use my poles to push away anything that may snag on them as I pass by. You can patch with duct tape or similar but it will become a losing battle. My first set held up OK for 3 years until I wore them while using a wood chipper. 😛
Also don’t get real close to a fire as the material sort of shrivels though I haven’t tested whether that arm also lost the waterproofness.
Even with those limitations I don’t see myself buying any other rain jacket. So far my bushwhacking time hasn’t been in the rain. I’d have to go very carefully if conditions dictated that I need my DriDucks.
BTW, normal Frogg Togg material is similar in concept to the UltraLite2/DriDucks but thicker so it could take a little more abuse. Its face seems like it wouldn’t catch on things as easy, but that is just my perception. The kids suit my son wears is made from that. You can compare the material at many sporting goods stores that would have both versions. Some Walmarts carry that UltraLite2 as well.
Andrew, I think you ought to try Páramo directional clothing. I’ll come clean, I work for them. They use Nikwax Directional Textiles which are able to move liquid water as well as water vapour, so they aren’t just breathable, they’re directional and able to get rid of perspiration and condensation far more effectively than any membrane fabric – without using a membrane, per fluorinated compounds (either C6 or C8 or any PFCs), laminates etc etc. They are soft, flexible, quiet and don’t feel like a waterproof!
We also now produce a Poncho – windproof, water-repellent with extra repellency in hood and shoulders. This gives excellent water-shedding without being fully waterproof and is designed to fit over a pack.
If anyone would like to read reviews backpackinglight.com have reviewed some Páramo gear. It is a revelation! It’s designed in the UK and made by the charitable Miquelina Foundation in Colombia, South America, helping at risk women and their children.
Hope you don’t mind me posting this, I just felt that Páramo gear answered my of your criticisms!
Funny, because I just received a package from your company yesterday or the two before with a jacket and pants. Haven’t studied them closely yet but I’m looking forward to trying them out — if Chris Townsend says something works, I’m inclined to believe it.
My only hesitation in saying, Paramo or bust, is that it’s a thick fabric. My jacket probably weighs 1-1.5 lbs. I’m sure it works wonderfully for cold- or cool-and-wet conditions like those in the UK, but I would imagine it’s an unrealistic layer for warmer conditions because it’s just too warm. What are your thoughts?
Andrew, My experiences with Paramo mirror your thoughts. I find them ideal for winter use, when the weight (and warmth) matter less but where they serve as an ideal wind-proof, very breathable but also water-proof layer. They can also be used next to the skin. Ideal in cold, rain and sleet, something the Brits have plenty of and Scandinavia its share. Incidentally, it was Chris Townsend who tipped me off about Paramo as well, and his opinon is the same. To heavy and warm for summer, especially if you are in an inland climate, like most of North America.
Ah, glad you’ve received Julia’s package – I’ll be looking forward to your feedback. The temperatures you walk in may be the deciding factor. Certainly Páramo works in humid/ cold/ wet Scotland/ Lakes/ Scandinavia/ or the Andean Páramo where it was ‘born’! Hope you find some relatively cool, wet weather to test it in! And if you’d like to give the Poncho a go when it arrives….
You also mentioned wanting to try it in your gear guide book. How did the paramo perform when you tested it?
It may work well in cool temperatures, but it’ll be too hot for mild or warm conditions because of the thick construction.
Catherine, I love Paramo, most of my hiking is in the Paramos of the Colombian Central Mountain Range, my go ítems are the quito jacket and pants, a bora Fleece and the Torres gillet. Is not a ultralight kit, but fairly light and my favorite thing, is really durable. I been a using my quito jacket for 5 years and still working(full of repairs and tenacius tape because the bushwacking). The pants are more worn out and most of the seams are busted but still working even without the DWR. I want to take a look to that poncho, must be perfect for birdwatching!
In the humid south East I like the Z-Pack poncho/groundsheet.Since it covers the pack too there is tons of air flow.Not warm but great for Summer on the AT.Has side and front zips.
Before that I used an emergency poncho that was a trash bag with a hood that covers me and my pack. Cost $1.00 and disposable.Cold weather=Goretex.
I disagree on the chaps. While, they work well on open trails or perhaps possibly far above tree line; I have had problems with them while hiking overgrown trails. My problems stemmed from, well, stems. In overgrown wet trails with a cagoule I still get tree branches, tall grass and bushes brushing up my legs under the cagoule and depositing water onto the fabric under the cagoule. So unless your rain pants go a long way up, which chaps by design can’t, then you are going to get your clothes soaked. I spent 3 days of heavy rain hiking along the PCT in central Washington and for the second time in my life got hypothermic because I was literally soaked in all my clothes and finally could not dry anything off. You would think with all my years of hiking and bushwacking in Alaska I would have known better than to try chaps, but I got suckered in by the lower weight and a few times of them working in conditions they were designed for.
I have since bought Z-packs challenger rain pants (1st generation) and they are fantastic. They look flimsier than they are but so far after at least 300 miles hiking IN THEM not one snag and they in fact breath fairly well but have never wetted through on me.
I heartily agree that rain pants should go to the belly button and have a drawcord waist to secure them.
Any recommendations for rain gear for the backpack?
I was hiking the Kalalau trail last week and got rained on a lot… the rain didn’t bother me nor did my wet clothing. I had the inside of my pack all rain geared up with trash bags but my pack got wet and added a pound or so of water.
For contents inside the pack, I recommend a trash compactor bag. Versus a pack cover, it is much more effective protection. Versus smaller waterproof stuff sacks/dry bags, it is much less expensive and creates just one seal to open or close in order to access all of your stuff.
A water-logged backpack is an older problem, when packs were made of untreated canvas. Now, most are made of PU- or sil-coated nylon, which effectively waterproofs the pack. The open cell foam in pack straps and waist belts still absorbs water, but there’s little you can do about that.
Would you give your opinion on a pack cover?
It’s a terrible product. Only use one if you want your stuff to get wet. They date back to when pack fabrics absorbed water, but that is no longer the case. So now they just hinder your access to your pack and they allow all of your things to get wet from water that runs down your back and into the pack.
To decrease the possible water holding capacity of untreated pack straps, hip belt, etc spray with something like McNetts Revivex. Even with older backpacks made from less water repelling main pack fabric the whole pack can be stayed with or washing in a DWR. Doesn’t last forever(durable uh ?) but certainly better than hauling unnecessary water wt that leads to other issues such as odors, mildew, etc.
Andrew can you comment at all on the Sierra Designs Hurricane Rain Pant?
No, no experience with them. My understanding is that the price is suggestive of the performance.
I just got ULA’s rain skirt what is your experience with these?
Also I’m planning a thru of the PNT for summer 16 and I’m looking for a running short bushwack comprise… Any thoughts?
No experience with skirts, sorry.
I hiked the entire PNT in short running shorts, but I regretted it in places. It would have been helpful to have a pair of nylon pants to throw over my shorts for stretches on overgrown trails, buggy valleys, and the occasional bushwhack.
Pants over running shorts is not ideal, as the shorts tend to bunch up some, but it’s entirely manageable here and there.
You rarely mention zip-off pants/shorts. I know they are neither great shorts nor great pants, but in areas where you frequently switch from shortspants they have been a useful option for me. Unfortunately I think product design on zip-offs seems to be way behind and it is difficult to find something that is high quality. Thoughts?
I have thought hard about how to make zip-offs better, and have no good ideas. I think the limitation is that they are bad shorts, not necessarily bad pants. They are bad shorts because they are like traditional “hiking shorts,” and running shorts are far superior. (Read the post for my argument why.) Convertible pants automatically get one strike for having that zipper around the thigh, but mostly its just an annoyance and otherwise the pant can perform up to general pants standards.
The better system for me has been running shorts + pants. I’m usually not changing so often that I can’t afford a few minutes here and there to swap out. Alternatively, I just go with the lowest common denominator — pants — and cope with their flaws during the times that I wish I was in shorts.
In my experience I had a very nice pair of kuhl convertible pants and like Andrew says they are not a great compromise. After about 6 days and 100 miles the well fairly well hidden and padded zipper started to wear through my skin…
Umbrellas excel when you have continuous heavy rain with little wind – a big fat low pressure weather system sat over you. The problem is that they are not very good under other circumstances and cannot really multi-task as beaks on a flat tarp or windshield for a stove.
For waterproof jackets I demand pit zips and venting (mesh) chest pockets because they massively extend the range of usable conditions for the jacket. Fabric breathability is not as effective at cooling you down as conductive heat loss through ventilation, nor is it as controllable to adapt to different situations. Also beware the recent tend in ultra-breathable (but not as much as like a wind shirt) waterproof jackets that are waterproof but air-permeable and therefore not entirely windproof; I have friends who became extremely cold wearing NeoShell as an outer layer in Scottish winter conditions. Nylon wind shirts do not quite cut out 100% of the wind, but GoreTex and equivalent membranes do cut out 100% of the wind and in some climates this makes them an important component of the clothing system regardless of precipitation.
Rain-pants are one of those things I have a hard time justifying, even in the Pacific Northwest. Never even used garbage bags as a skirt.
Rain-jacket is a life-saver, but pants? The only time I wore them in my life was in winters as an impromptu vapor barrier liner.
Have you regularly backpacked elsewhere besides the PNW? Personally, I didn’t appreciate rain pants until I started backpacking in locations like the Rockies and High Sierra, where there is low humidity and where rain is often delivered by thunderstorms. Here, we usually have “cold rain” as opposed to the normal “warm rain” in the PNW and East Coast.
Humidity matters because the moisture vapor (or lack thereof) gives the air its thermal mass. Air with significant thermal mass cannot change temperature quickly, and vice versa, which explains why daily temperature swings are more significant in continental climates than along the coast. When a thunderstorm arrives, downdrafts from tens of thousands of feet in the sky quickly cause the temperature to drop. In addition, a backpacker experiences much greater evaporative heat loss when wet in a dry climate. These circumstances make me badly want to have rain pants when it rains in these locations. I have tried going sans rain pants and the results are very uncomfortable.
Andrew, thanks for so many great articles since so many years. Talking about rain gear? I recently found a real PVC-waterproof piece of gear which is used in the motocross with a lot of vents. See http://www.jvlmxparts.nl/a-38713450/regenjassen/rfx-regenjas-clear-zwart/ Maybe this helps in search of a new balance between vents and real waterproof textures?
For a mid-summer trip in coastal South-Central Alaska, what shell top would you buy if you had to pick one today?
Would I be OK with a minimalist top, given the cool temperatures, or would I want something with better venting features given that I could be hiking in constant rain?
High humidity + frequent rain events requires rain gear with excellent venting.
I just finished three weeks of trips with the Sierra Designs Ultralight Trench. I think it has become my go-to rain jacket. It’s reasonably light (12 oz), features a durable 3-layer fabric, and has a long cut and built-in venting features.
I think the value of breathable materials is that you can more effectively dry clothing after the rain stops. I’ve slept in Gortex and dried wet clothing while sleeping with my body heat driving the moisture out through the shell.
I don’t hike in rain gear though unless it is extremely windy or cold. I’d rather get a t-shirt and shorts wet and save my dry stuff for camp. If I have to hike with rain gear I typically stick arms out of the pit zips because I don’t really need them dry. I just need my core protected. The less clothing I have to expose to the wet the better because I’d like to have dry clothing for camp.
In terms of rain pants…. only used them in winter conditions. I’ve carried the Frog Toggs (with crotch ripped out) and wore them in camp for bug protection but I don’t hike in them. I’ve never experienced the thermal drop in a dry climate that has bothered my legs much. I’ve hiked in a hail storm with shorts and a rain top and while that wasn’t fun, I never felt dangerously hypothermic.
You must run warm, and perhaps in those wonderful parts of the country where they get “warm rain,” too. Personally, if I tried to replicate that approach (give my metabolism and where I like to hike), I’d be hypothermic pretty quickly.
Andrew, First great review. Any more thoughts on SD Cagoule? Love the length and vents. Willing to sacrifice breathability for vents and real waterproofing. Compliments my use of Neos River Trekkers that I wade/fish with and sub for rain paints. Questions:
1: Bushwhack durable? 2. Hood structure OK or best with hat? 3.Will material “wet out.” 3. How do you pack it? rolled in hood?
I much prefer the SD UL Trench over the Cagoule, which has a full-length zipper and more importantly 3-layer fabric; it’s almost as long, but not quite. The current Cagoule is not durable or waterproof enough for my purposes. Rumor is that the 2016 version will be in 3-layer.
Andrew, I like your articles, however sometimes I read comments in them that make me think you haven’t done any research before making them. This article is a prime example in that your comment about ponchos that have an excellent design, but cover your arms, “keep dreaming”. I’m not sure what you consider an excellent design, but there are ponchos that give you good ventilation, and have sleeves for your arms. They are not ultralight, however they do exist. Proforce Snugpak makes one and you can find them on Ebay from made by Chinese sources.
No, no research save for just a few days in the field…
A 25-oz poncho with a terribly fitting hood does not deserve mention, IMHO.
forgive me if you have but i didn’t see it in your ‘rain’ feeds…
and yes this thread is ‘2015 yet…
SIX MOON DESIGNS GATEWOOD CAPE
have you fully used and tested?
as waterproof shelter?
I’ve used a poncho/tarp extensively. It’s fine as insurance against precip during the day or at night. But otherwise it makes for inferior rain gear and for an inferior shelter, relative to other options. Furthermore, having to transition between rain gear and shelter while it’s raining it’s downright awful.
per comment above,
we had hail followed by 5 hours of rain, in the Weminuche last week.. hypothermia in July. None of our rain jackets acquitted themselves well.
In my researches for something better I liked the SD trench, thank you for the comment on it – believe I’ll try that next. It’s always been a puzzle to me that it is so hard to find a longer rainjacket.
The Columbia new OutDry Extreme looks like an interesting idea as well.
Have you had any experience with the military-surplus purportedly Goretex parkas from eBay etc ?
Doug, I used the military goretex extensively while in the military. I’m not sure exactly what it was made of but they let water thru within an hour in any rain. In the end they were about as useful as a non-waterproof jacket with a DWR coating.
Hi Andrew, I’ve been working on putting together an ideal rain set for the SouthWest and also for next years thru hike of the PCT. I’m thinking the Packa and ZPacks Rain kilt, both items in CF. I like the Packs because it looks like it has many vents, it is open at the bottom. I do not care about the pack cover aspect as I’m going with a CF backpack and a trash compactor bag. The kilt seems like the best option for ventilation but protects my legs. Do you have experience with this system? It is a large investment and I would appreciate any and all guidance. Thank you for your time,
No experience with either product, sorry. Dry conditions dominate the Southwest and PCT, so I would tend to air on the minimalist side of things. Also, as a thru-hiker, you can’t rely on a DWR finish to keep your rain gear working properly — it will fail.
Thank you Andrew! I’m following your advice on the DWR finish and avoiding those “waterproof breathable fabrics.” That is why I’m trying to focus on the CF gear with the most ventilation. I really look forward to the stuff you and SD are coming up with, however I do not think it will be available before next April. Cheers and thank you again for sharing your knowledge!
Seems like the trench offers more bells and whistles over the cagoule. I like the weight saving and price point for the cagoule as well. How did you like it and what made you consider the trench your go-to jacket?
I like the zipper and the 3-layer fabric, which is more durable and more waterproof. The fit is more athletic too.
A poncho with an excellently designed hood and full arm protection? Keep dreaming.
Although I don’t like referring to my product as a “poncho”, it does appear the Packa may be a good fit for you. I’d be happy to send you one to try out if you are interested.
Any idea when SD will have the Elite Cagoule back in stock in any size larger than small?
“He’s probably looking at the older version. The new one http://sierradesigns.com/product/mens-elite-cagoule has inventory.”
Thanks, Andrew! I thought I got to the Cagoule page from SD’s menu, not a google search, but, in any event, I now see medium sizes.
OK, so each time I look at the Cagoule it gets heavier; now it’s up to nine ounces. I remember that you’ve said you prefer the Trench, but I can’t find your reasoning anywhere using the search button on your webpages. (Maybe I am search challenged in general.) The Trench is now only two ounces heavier according to the specs.
If you have a moment to give your reasons – or a link to them – for preferring the Trench, it would be much appreciated.
The UL Trench and Cagoule are more similar in 2016 than they have been in the past. Previously, the Cagoule was made of 2-layer fabric, whereas the UL Trench was 3-layer. So the Cagoule was lighter but the UL Trench was tougher and was more waterproof.
The jackets share the same 3-layer fabric now. So there are only two major differences: (1) the Trench has a full-length zip and (2) the Cagoule is a few inches longer. Because of the full-length zip, my pick is still the Trench — for an extra ounce or so, I think it’s worth the convenience not to have to pull the jacket over my head; plus, ventilation is better.
Does the Trench work as well with the rain chaps?
Not as well because it’s not as long, but the UL Trench is still long enough for the Chaps to be effective.
Despite your wisdom, I’ve gone with the Cagoule over the Trench. I’m glad I got the extra length. I expected it to be somewhat roomier inside, however, perhaps because I’m used to a poncho-style garment. At 6’1″ and only 147 pounds, the problem is not *me*! 😉 I got a medium based on SD’s sizing chart, but maybe I should have gotten a large.
I am completely puzzled by one aspect of the Cagoule, however, and you, Obi Wan, are my only hope! 😉 The bottom of the front has a pair of snaps (female) on each side, one about two inches above the other. At the bottom of the back, however, there is only one snap (male) on each side for the front snaps to connect to. What am I supposed to do with the two extra snaps in the front?
The 2016 Cagoule is a better piece than the original version. Although I still like the full-length zipper on the UL Trench.
When you put a pack on and pull the apron over your waist belt, the male snap will be lined up better with one of the female pieces than the other, depending on your height and the thickness of your belt.
OK, thanks, Andrew! BTW, I’ve now got several pieces of SD gear, based on reading your blog.
Update! My two cents is to go with the large over the medium with the cagoule if you are over 6′. It’s roomier, of course, but I don’t think that can be a bad thing for ventilation. The kicker is the extra length, if you are using rain chaps. You lose a little length when you belt your pack, and, for me, I want a nice margin between the inside top of the chaps and the bottom of the cagoule. I did not get a chance to actually test the medium in the rain, but it looked iffy.
Chaps huh, that is kind of interesting as a “new” product. I have been backpacking for years and when I went with my parents I remember using rain chaps. Apparently (at least in Colorado) they were in common use during the late 70’s.and 80’s. I as I recall they worked pretty well except for the usual complaint of not breathing enough. I think we stopped using them because they simply wore out and and no one was making replacements. If you are a handy sewer it would be a snap to make a pair. Just use a pants pattern and only use the leg portion of the pattern.
agree on ALL the wpb crap claims…
a couple alternatives are to stay with what has WORKED since these types of clothes have been made.
yet to try but eager to:
don’t have site in front of me but i found a waxed canvas coat that weighs only 16oz., opens fully in front or can close in stages all the way UP! lasts forever and can be waxed up whenever you like…
six moon designs ‘gatewood cape’ which is better than a pancho and a kickass shelter many swear by thus two gear items in one at about 16oz. breathes and fully covers pack creating huge airflow when wanted and has large usable pocket. would like andrew to test one and give his take.
wool, wool, and more wool…ACTUALLY truthfully keeps you warm when wet(yeah it’s heavier but more and more things are coming made with alpaca,yak,bison,others that are lighter and stronger than merino! and even softer)
you can knock down your gear carried with the multi use Swanndri Bush Shirt which has secret 100+ year old way they do the wool which SHEDS water. i wore mine in a downpour for over an hour and let me tell you the kiwis don’t lie and they’ve been wearing them in N.Zealand crazy mountain weather for 100+ years. i took mine to sequoia in beginning of fall to test breathability and man let me tell you i kept it on! up steep walks in 70+deg and was NOT uncomfortable and could feel it breathing. at night it’s your blanket as sized right it comes to top of your kneecap. i had my mt.harwware laminate as backup and didn’t need it. the Swanndri with longjohn bottoms(don’t always need) and wool socks(don’t always need)and you are comfy snuggly comfy wrapped in soft beautiful wool. elev. 10,000ft. so it is your raingear, warmer layer, AND sleep gear thus the weight is null. has a full roomy hood and huge front pocket i can carry 5 C’s in! shelter too?! you say…yup a tightly packaged e-tarp and 50 gallon rubbish bag AND tightly packaged e-pancho pitchable as well. i will not go on ANY more trips without it and if it ends up ever causing me a little extra weight it is ABSOLUTELY worth it. and it’s wool so can sit and sleep and cook next to fires. oh yeah, my puffy fits wonderfully under it as it’s so roomy. only needed when CHILLLY. since it falls to top of knee perfectly no need for any rain pants(why do you walk in a downpour anyway stop and enjoy it!!!)…
also still to try:
rivendell mountain works ‘cagoulle’
I just learned of a few of your accomplishments when I visited the SD booth at the 2016 ORSM show in SLC last week. Good luck on the Flex Capacitor and the new tent. Also, good to hear not all people are sitting at home posting to their various social media accounts.
I have written extensively on ePTFE’s in part, do to the small part I played in developing the first three or so iterations. That is the time before Gore laminated PU to the ePTFE to deal with the oil contamination issues. Go to http://insideoutdoor.com/inside-outdoor-fall-2012/ to check out ePTFE 2.0. I am also aware of all the other problems G-T had or has since we dealt with them early on, such as bruising and spot delaminations which Gore dubbed ‘texturization.”
It was entertaining to read how more astute persons as yourself noticed Gore’s spin on just about everything they do. One of their more brilliant strokes is developing tests so their materials clearly outperformed their competitors on this uneven, Gore-biased playing field! However, it looks like Gore’s ePTFEs apparel might be on borrowed time as the word on the EU street seems to be moving in the direction of banning ePTFEs.
Anyway, if you ever want to kill 30 minutes, I can give you an in-depth clinic on Gore-Tex which should be factually correct as I was actually there at the very beginning.
What jacket would you recommend for crossing Iceland (in summer) for a gram counters? I am thinking of GTX Paclite jacket, because I think that can keep me dry in prolonged wet conditions and is still lightweight.
> because I think that can keep me dry in prolonged wet conditions
I think you’re wrong about this part.
I’ve written a brief update on this matter recently, https://andrewskurka.com/2016/clothing-skills-backpacking-in-the-rain-reader-question/.
get a swanndri bushshirt(traditional) and/or a dachstein mountain sweater that’s roomy enough to layer under with wool or silk base layers and still have room in it so it’s NOT snug to your body. if you don’t trust these (which you should) also carry a six moon designs gatewood cape…
get a buff…
bring a wool visor or wool baseball type cap…
NO gore-tex or other claimed W/B fabric in shoes or boots. just DON’T.
don’t forget to get a traditional icelandic wool sweater when there ;-))>
The DWR can easily be checked by making sure water beads off the jacket or pants before you hit the trail. Most last longer than you seem to suggest. Besides nit picking that one small point I agree with your choices 100%. I buy a lot of used gear that is sometimes 10 years old or more. Marmot, OR, and Arcteryx are my favorites. REI brand is also a great lower cost option. The Marmot Precip pants are especially light and breath well.
What do you make of Pertex jackets (like the RAB Windveil)? They’re DWR fabric rather than a DWR coating, which supposedly makes the water resistance much more durable (according to OutdoorGearLabs.com).
I think OutdoorGearLabs needs to product test for more than a day. With average use, the DWR will degrade quickly and describing the jacket as “water-resistant” would be grossly inaccurate.
Cool, thanks. Is that from firsthand experience with Pertex? Or just well-earned cynicism about any claims of DWR breakthroughs?
The latter. I don’t care what their lab tests say. Let me shove it inside my pack a few times, bushwhack through 100 yards of willow, and wear it on a few hour-long runs, and we’ll see how water-resistant it is afterwards.
Andrew, what are your thoughts on silnylon jackets for primarily 3-season use in Colorado. I’ve been eyeing something like this to replace my aging Precip: https://www.lightheartgear.com/index.php/shop-now/rain-gear
Phillip Werner at SectionHiker really liked it, but his conditions in the NE are different that ours. Just curious if you have any thoughts on silnylon for use as a waterproof and not breathable rain jacket for short/heavy bursts of afternoon thunder storms.
So long as you are not a sweat machine, I think it’d perform well, and actually better than a traditional WPB rain jacket with a degraded DWR.
I’m not convinced the execution of the linked product is perfect. Personally, I’d like to see taped seams, not just bound, as well as more generous venting — pit zips tend not be adequate, especially while wearing a pack.
You make a good case for rain pants for warmth in bad conditions, but I didn’t see them on your Ultimate Gear Guide Philmont list. Was that an omission or are they not needed for Philmont summer weather?
You’re critical of breathability claims and DWR durability, but suggest 2.5 layer with DWR for light use (helium, essence). Why not suggest lighter less expensive possibly more durable silnylon pants?
At Philmont I would consider them optional. I’d have them available, but I’d look at the forecast last-minute and make a decision. That’s what I do for trips in CO and CA, too. If there’s a reasonable chance of precip, I take the pants; if it’s a really dry forecast, I leave them behind.
Two issues with non-breathable rain gear made of silnylon:
1. It’s not widely available, so many customers would struggle to even find it.
2. The seams are not taped (usually), and in heavier precip events that is an Achilles heel.
A new jacket with an in-tact DWR will do okay for short-lived rain events.
why not knock out 3 big weight makers with the flying tent @ under 3 lbs. and can be made lighter???
i’m kicking myself for not getting it @ kickstarter price…
will be ordering very soon see if price drop off-season…
also i wrote you directly about something else haven’t heard back ;-((>
I have not used the Flying Tent first-hand, but my experience with do-it-all solutions is that they don’t actually do anything well. In this case, I could think of a better shelter and better rain gear that amount to less than 3 lbs.
as i stated haven’t used it yet but it definitely ‘seems’ to be best of many other ‘attempts’ to make great multi-use gear that does ALL facets with excellence.
no idea what the other poster comment about pitching in rain is it pitches in 30seconds and you can pitch it from being inside and dry (‘IF’ using it pitched as bivvy/tent)
i digress til acquired, fully used in torrentials, and happy with it…
still seem kewl for other uses…
Andrew S. do you feel the Gatewood Cape doesn’t do both well?…
actually 3 things as it covers whole pack too unlike lame packcovers.
I generally don’t feel that all-purpose items exceed the performance of dedicated items, and I’m usually happy to carry a few extra ounces for improved performance. The Gatewood Cape is not a great shelter or rain gear, relative to single-purpose shelter, rain gear, and pack liner. And then there’s that whole transition-in-the-rain problem.
64 oz or 4# actually for flying tent on their website.
One example with light duty rain gear more versatile/functional.
6.5 oz Jacket OR Helium or Marmot Essence
5.5 oz Pants OR Helium or Marmot Essence
24 oz Sil Tent (SMD, Tarptent, etc.)
36 oz total
Also as Andrew mentioned earlier no fun to setup in rain or if you need to get out of your shelter for any reason – deal breaker for me. You’d still be lighter even with heavy duty rain gear. I wouldn’t kick yourself too hard. 🙂
Thank you so much for clarification and quick reply! This makes sense to me now. I appreciate your advice is lightweight without compromising safety and protection. I made the mistake once not bringing my warm jacket. I would have never noticed the 1/2 pound in my pack, but sure noticed not having the jacket! Same goes for rain gear I think. Love the picture of you wearing the garbage bag really helps bring home your point! I had Marmot 50% coupon for a warranty issue and ordered Essence pants.
Would you consider full zip or 3/4 zips necessary for backpacking rain pants or just extra weight?
Do you size rain pants to fit over insulated layers, i/e/ down pants or a soft-shell?
I saw a photo of you wearing a red anorak on GearJunkie. You didn’t write what brand the jacket was but I’m interested in knowing what brand the jacket is.
It’s the red jacket. Link below
It was a prototype, and as far as I know I don’t think it ever made it into production. Too bad, it was a nice jacket.
It’s a Salomon S-LAB X Alp Anorak. It went into production but was quickly discontinued:
I’m also a Gore Tex user since the 80’s. I’m well aware of its shortcomings. I came to this post because of my dissatisfaction with Gore Tex lined boots. I’m currently in Patagonia, i worked out that since new my £235 boots have been used for a mere 17 days. They leak like a sieve and are essentially ready to be thrown away. At least a £200+ Gore Tex jacket will last longer.
gore-tex-lined boots SUCK.[period]
andrew s. ‘may’ disagree but i doubt it as i ‘think’ he mainly wears lightweight ‘meshy’ running/trailrunning shoes…
i’m sooo glad i learned this LONG ago and will not buy any more goretex-lined-boots.
N0 gore-tex is ‘fully waterproof’ as andrew s. will hopefully confirm as he has about jackets and pants with adding other self-claiming-100%-waterproof-breathable pants/products.
a PROPER pair of leather boots (don’t need ‘clompers’) ARE waterproof and DO breathe and it IS recommended you take some tent seam sealer (which flexes and breathes) and hit ALL the boot seams with it to INSURE/ENSURE watershedding…
this is ONLY due to seams not being leather so it just makes sense…
‘IF’ you can find boots made from ONE seamless piece of leather each (usually much more $$$) they ARE fully waterproof…
it ‘IS’ recommended to take care of ALL your leather anyway and rub it down etc. …
it SUCKS that a great company like DANNER has gone almost ALL barrier-lined-leather boots :-((
next-gen is a few different tough-ass materials being used including titanium in boots/shoes…
webfu >>> searching >>> will bring them(materials) up some haven’t come to market yet
will keep a pair of 9″ leather hikers for pure bushwacking and another for super-cold-winter-and-slush/ice but other than that a good pair of lightweight trailrunner/running shoes with tough mesh fully breathe, dry A LOT FASTER when walking and in camp and are simply heaven on the feet…
PROPER wool socks VERY important (liners inside to taste)…
but then whenever possible i prefer my barefeet sooo…
there is a great combo i really want to make and try that some guys do and have gone LONG distance in different seasons including cold and snow which is sport sandals (chaco type) home-made with tire tread soles and PROPER leather mocs lined with wool of your choice…
multiple different ways to switch up wearing them including together with mocs in sandals…
totally repairable on path…
the guys haven’t gone back to ANY other boots/shoes and it’s totally logical…
Fill them with water to spot leaks. When dry cover leaking area with your favorite gear tape on inside of boots. Works like a charm.
I did fill them with water, i washed them thoroughly in the hope that i might free up some of the clogged pores and potentially allow the shoes to breathe. Once washed I soaked them in water and a solution of bicarbonate and soda to try and freshen them up a bit. It’s impossible to tell where they leak and I cannot imagine any gear tape will hold in place even if I could find the holes. Incidentally I always keep my toenails short because i can see how long nails would abraid the toe box of the boots. I’m pretty sick of GORE-TEX!
Does anyone know of a stiff soled climbing boot made of leather that is capable of taking technical crampons for ice climbing?
You may have done this already so forgive me if I am making an ignorant statement. That said, filling them with water allows the leaks in the GTX to become visible as the outer leather becomes wet. The gear tape works well and will hold for smaller leaks. If they are leaking in large areas then not much will save them. I just retired my wife’s boots that were in similar shape.
Hey Andrew. I am planning a backpacking trip in the canadian rockies this coming summer and am wondering your thoughts on silnylon vs gore-tex pants vs a silnylon rain kilt considering that above the treeline in late august it is entire possible to have a surprise snowstorm.
How long is your trip? On trips of less than about a week, you can play the weather. Have both available, and make a call last-minute. If you’re out for longer than that, you need to assume that you’ll get hit with something gross.
Due to how many trips I lead, I’ve see a huge range of reactions to cold and wet. Some people are really hearty, while others really struggle. I’m in the latter camp, and generally need a layer more than everyone else. Not sure how you run. Assuming normal conditions, personally I’d plan on real pants (not a kilt) that location and time of year. And I’d go with Gore-Tex, just because I like the cut of my Gore-Tex pants more than I like the cut on my sil-nylon pants.
We are doing the jasper skyline trail (2-3 days). I have a rain jacket (under armor storm) and am looking to round out my kit with a set of rain pants. I would like to think that I run hot since I am used to running outside in the cold but I don’t have a lot of meat on me (6 ft 160lbs). The rain kilt probably won’t provide adequate protection in a snow storm right? Will the breathability of goretex actually help in the dry mountain climate since I will be able to ‘dry off’ without having to remove the outer shell layer or is it just better to have something completely waterproof, holding price, fit, and durability equal.
Hi Andrew. Thanks for your incredible website and all the support. I am looking to buy a rain jacket that I can trust in stormy cold rain conditions of Europe. My market research has pointed me to Columbia Outdry jackets as the only jackets that won’t wet out in fierce conditions. Two models, the “Featherweight” and even more, the “Caldorado” jackets are very light and the last one also has underarm venting in the form of “gills”. Strangely, almost all the internet review sites have ignored these two models when comparing hiking rain jackets. Have you any opinion/experience with them? Finally, just got news that North Face is unveiling an new rain technology in the fall of 2019. Any news/opinion on this too? Thanks again.
Great article and commentary. Thanks especially for pointing out that gear is condition dependent. I routinely hike the Wind Rivers mid-to-late September where cold rain/high wind could happen for several hours. The Northern Rockies in shoulder seasons is not a place where most would stay comfortable (if not risk hypothermia) without solid rain gear, including pants.
But I do know that my Marmot Precip jacket and Sierra Design pants (1/4 zip) (20 oz combined) will not keep me dry if out more than a few hours. Still, the alternatives (non-breathables like the Lightheart and AntiGravity) aren’t yet great. Adding weight with 3 layer garments might be warranted if one knows for certain extended rain is coming, but mountain forecasts more than 2 days out have their own issues. A 20% chance for the nearest station is often enough to ensure rain/snow/sleet next to the divide.
I hope more development is put into these and other types of garments. For example, adding cape style front and back vents. It appears the Columbia Outdry Featherweight is no longer available.
Price, durability, weight. Pick 2.
Seems accurate here as well.
As a physician and amateur hiker, it’s nice to know there are smart people out there with the field experience to make a stand. There are many others out there voicing the same concerns, with some real viable options based upon critical thinking. However, very few have that real connection to the backpacking and through hiking world as you do, Andrew. Keep it up.
Andrew or anyone,
would you share your opinion on full zip rain pants? Does the practicality compensate for the added weight?
Maybe for biking. But for backpacking?
I think it’s situational:
* If it’s cool-to-warm and you’re in day-long on-and-off rain, then full zips would be great, so that you can leave them on all day and easily regulate
* If precip is more binary (it’s raining or not), you at least want ankle/calf zips, so that you don’t need to take off your shoes to get your pants on and off
* If your rain pants are mostly just insurance against a low-odds event, then zipper-less is fine, and save 1-2 ounces.