How to Compare Hiking Rain Gear

How to Compare Hiking Rain Gear
Rain gear is one of the most essential items of clothing for hikers, especially if you're heading out on a long trip in the warm seasons when storms can brew up at any time. Your rain gear keeps you dry, of course, but it also protects you from the cooling that happens when the water and sweat on your skin begin to evaporate. Rain gear serves two purposes: to repel moisture while remaining light and breathable, and to keep your skin dry and therefore warm. Searching for rain gear can seem daunting at first, with the amazing variety of jacket styles, attached and detachable hoods, lightweight materials and heavier waterproof materials. Follow these simple steps to compare rain gear and find what's best for you.


Difficulty: Easy

Deciding What You Need

Step 1
What kind of trips do you take most often? If you're a regular day hiker, you'll want to look for a light but warm jacket that can fit easily into a daypack. If you're looking at longer overnights or intensive trails with major elevation gains, you'll need to consider a heavier jacket with several layers of materials to keep you warm as well as dry. Lots of hikers also carry rain pants with them whether they're hiking for a day or a week; rain pants can be especially helpful in areas with high winds.
Step 2
In addition, consider what kind of comfort level you need while hiking. How does your pack fit on your shoulders? Will a hood pocket (for a detachable hood) interfere with the comfort of your pack? Does the jacket provide pockets in a place that is accessible with the pack on? Can you handle the extra weight of a more heavy-duty jacket, or are you keeping your carrying to a minimum? The answers to these questions will help determine what kind of rain gear you choose.

Researching Your Options

Step 1
Once you've decided what kind of jacket, pants and gear you'll need, the next step is to explore the options available. This can be incredibly confusing, as there are all kinds of terms to describe the levels of water protection a material provides. In essence, terms like "water resistant" are used to describe fabrics that will shed water in a light to medium-heavy rain with little wind; these fabrics aren't the most effective, for sure, but they're much more affordable and can be all you need for shorter day hikes and overnights without significant elevation gain (and lots of layers). Terms like "waterproof" are usually used for fabrics that really are watertight, though they may not provide any breathability and can raise your body temperature during a serious workout. Many manufacturers, including those using Gore-Tex waterproofing material, are beginning to use the term "waterproof-breathable" to describe fabrics that will keep you dry in 85 percent of the storms you might encounter, yet still allow air to ventilate and keep you from overheating. Each of these types of fabrics has a different weight, feel and durability, so be sure to check out all your options before choosing a piece of gear.

Other Tips for Finding Gear

Step 1
Of course, the most important factor to look for when choosing rain gear is its ability to shed water and keep you dry. However, watching for a few other things can help you stay comfortable on the trail with your new jacket. Make sure your new gear works with your existing supplies--pack, belts, pockets and items you carry on your person. Also, make sure any jacket you buy, waterproof or not, will fit properly, with the capability of tightening hood and arm openings to protect from unwanted rain. It's also important to be able to wear layers underneath your jacket--so avoid jackets that fit too tightly.
Step 2
Above all, choose gear from a trusted manufacturer or retailer, and research your options. A cheap poncho (basically a tarp with a hole cut out for your head) might only cost you a buck, but on the trail, that investment won't be worth much. As with all hiking purchases, remember that you're only as safe as your equipment makes you!

Article Written By Emily Elder

Emily works as a Greenway coordinator and parks project manager in her local community, and has been hiking, camping, fishing and riding all over the mountains of western North Carolina. She enjoys being outside with her family, especially her two children, Creedence and Mason, and her husband, James, and lives on a small farm surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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