A participant in one of my Introduction to Backpacking Workshops for Hudson Valley Hikers recently asked me for advice on rainwear for hiking. This reminded me that I’ve never written an article on this subject. Here we go…
Rainwear for Hiking in 3 Seasons
Most of the year, I carry a two part rain system. I always have a really light “wind shirt” that is semi-water resistant. That’s good for keeping off wind, holding in a little bit of heat, and resisting a very light rain or mist. My wind shirt is the Patagonia Houdini.
I also carry a lightweight poncho. My poncho is a bit nicer than the plastic throw-away kind. Its made of a material called “silicone coated nylon.” Its really light, covers both me and my pack, and has a variety of other uses. I can pitch it as an emergency shelter or use it as a drop cloth under my tarp or in a lean-to. I use the Equinox brand Silnylon Backpacking Poncho available at Campmor.
In the fall, spring, and winter, I also carry a pair of gaiters. These are water-proof “boot extenders” that reach from my ankles almost to my knees. They cover my legs below where the poncho stops and they’re good for keeping off mud and splashes from puddles. My gaiters are the Outdoor Research Crocodiles.
In the summer, I also carry a wide-brimmed hat and I wear that on my head instead of using the hood from the poncho. The hood just tends to trap too much body heat inside. A wide brimmed hat does a good job keeping water off my neck. I like the OR Solar Roller Hat, which is apparently no longer available in a men’s version.
Rainwear for Hiking in Winter
In the winter I carry what’s called a hard shell and rain pants. A hard shell is a non-insulated waterproof jacket with vents. A good hard shell has vents under the armpits that extend almost to the waste. These are important for venting excess moisture and heat out so you don’t get too hot and sweat inside. The rain pants should also have vents.
The Myth about Rainwear for Hiking
Conventional wisdom says that the best way to stay warm is to stay dry. Rain gear doesn’t really keep you dry very long. When you’re hiking in rain gear, its only a matter before you get wet with sweat. What the gear does is trap that warm moisture inside, like a wet suit, to keep you warm. The danger is that when you stop moving and stop generating body heat, you get cold very quickly. That’s why the vents are so important for dumping out excess heat and moisture along the way.