Staying warm and dry in rain (long post)

Posted by: Barefoot Friar

Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 02:12 PM

Mods, please move this if I have opened it in the wrong place.

I went out Monday morning for a 4-day loop in Bankhead NF in Alabama. I had been watching the weather forecast (from 3 or 4 sources) for a week, and had checked it a final time on Sunday evening. All 4 were calling for a light drizzle in the evening, followed by several days of sunshine and warmer temps. I packed accordingly. Instead of a light drizzle in the evening, however, it set in to an all-day soaking rain. I ended up hiking out last night because I was concerned I couldn't get warm with the equipment and supplies I had with me. I think by the time I made it to my pickup I was suffering from the first stages of hypothermia.

On the one hand, this is Alabama in May -- meaning, it should be hot and humid, not cold and wet. On the flip side, weather forecasts are not always accurate, and I won't always be hiking in Alabama, or only in May.

I worked on a golf course one summer, and quickly discovered that to wear rain gear while working was no better than getting rained on. I ended up as wet either way: without it I was wet with rain, and with it I was wet with sweat. I decided I'd be far more comfortable most of the time without rain gear. After yesterday, though, I may be about to change my mind.

So I need some help figuring out how to approach this next time. I know that cotton kills. I confess that until now I have not wanted to wear synthetic fabrics. This is a personal bias, due mainly to the fact that in most of my jobs I have needed to wear dress clothes, and synthetics are to be avoided there. However, I want to think outside of my own box.

Specifically, I need some help choosing rain gear that will breathe while keeping my dry. I need to choose some light pants or shorts (preferably with cargo pockets) and a shirt that will dry quickly and help retain heat while wet. Above all, weight is an issue -- I'd like to take enough clothing that if something gets soaked, I can make do with something else until it dries.

I know that wool is a natural fiber that does perform well in the situations I'm describing, but I'm not sure what might be available, or even if it as good as other fabrics. It can also be a bit heavy and scratchy. TBH, I don't really know where to begin looking.

Any ideas or suggestions?
Posted by: ChrisFol

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 02:34 PM

Originally Posted By Bear

Specifically, I need some help choosing rain gear that will breathe while keeping my dry.


Aren't we all? The problem is that even the most waterproof of materials will eventually wet out in all-day heavy downpours; some just wet-out sooner than others. I find that the best to dry from with-in is air-flow, I believe that core vents or pit-zips combined with a synthetic or wool baselayer can go a long way to manage the moisture that your body creates.

Probably the most breathable fabric is eVent, the problem is that these tend to be rather expensive and I don't believe that there is currently any garment on the market that is completely waterproof and 100% breathable.

Originally Posted By Bear

I need to choose some light pants or shorts (preferably with cargo pockets) and a shirt that will dry quickly and help retain heat while wet.

Pretty much any hiking pants will dry quickly and offer cargo pockets. I have a pair of MH Mesa that perform great. If you want rain-pants, then I don't believe there are any that have a cargo pocket. Couldn't say about shorts, I use generic running shorts when the conditions arise. Shirts, if you mean button down, then I have no experience since I don't wear them. I just use a Capilene 1 or 3 as a baselayer-- they dry quickly, keep their warmth when wet and wick moisture very quickly.

Originally Posted By Bear

I know that wool is a natural fiber that does perform well in the situations I'm describing, but I'm not sure what might be available, or even if it as good as other fabrics. It can also be a bit heavy and scratchy.


I am not a lover of Merino wool next to my skin, but wool baselayers are no heavier than most synthetic crews. They keep you warm better when wet, but they don't wick moisture quite as efficently as synthetic.

Posted by: lori

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 03:03 PM

The merinos they have these days can be light and thin and wonderful to wear... Icebreaker, SmartWool, Patagonia and similar have all different weights of fabric. I wish I could afford them. frown

I get polypro on sale at Sierra Trading Post in different weights. I carry one set of midweights for three season use and a midweight shirt plus a set of expedition weight for colder. I have a lightweight base layer shirt for hiking in colder weather, otherwise use those synthetic REI OxyT shirts during the day - I like the long sleeved version, keeps sun and bugs off. They breathe very well.

Polypro feels fine and works well, but needs washing with vinegar to handle lingering stench. Wool doesn't stench up as bad.

I hiked in rain and then slept in it - my setup on that trip included the hammock and tarp, down quilt, pad, and poncho. Sometimes you just get wet. When I got to camp I set up the tarp and put down a large trash bag on the ground, then got out everything else - I was the driest person there, the tent folk struggled with rainwear dripping all over the interior of their tents, and the poncho tarp user had to bring a jacket to use around camp... It rained all night until early morning. Since I had dry base layer to sleep in, I was fine, and my clothes dried somewhat overnight (I wrung them out good and put them in alongside me) and finished the process while I was hiking the next day. Pretty much how I handle hiking in the rain. If I were still a tenter I would have taken a light tarp in addition if rain were likely, to have a shelter while setting up - about the only way to ensure staying dry. And then the tent could be moved aside, and the tarp could be the kitchen area.
Posted by: Redfacery

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 03:10 PM

I would agree wholeheartedly with Lori. I use pretty much the same procedure for making camp when it's raining, and the same in the opposite order to break camp in the morning. I use LL Bean instead of REI for the long sleeve synthetic, but same idea.

I would say it's also quite helpful to stop if there is a break in the clouds during the afternoon and get anything wet out in the sun for as long as you can.

Depending on the trip, I might take a light raincoat instead of the poncho, but only if I have a reliable pack cover/liner. The one or two times I've managed to let all my gear get wet overnight in an improperly protected backpack, I was forced to grit my teeth as I carried sodden/drying gear for days. Not the best.
Posted by: Glenn

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 03:30 PM

Good luck finding something that will let you hike and stay dry - I have yet to find such a thing. smile

Having said that, there are some products that do better than others. Your first decision might be: poncho or waterproof/breathable rainsuit? There are a fair number of arguments in favor of ponchos, better ventilation being a significant one. I've used ponchos successfully ("success" being a relative term, with the meaning that "no worse than a rain suit.") They do allow a lot of air circulation, and they do keep the back of your pack dry - but they also snag on bushes and blow around if exposed to wind. The solution for those problems is to tie a cord around your waist; unfortunately, you've just eliminated about 2/3 of the ventilation. Ponchos are a viable option, but I've never found that they kept me any drier than rain jacket and pants.

My favorite w/b rain suit is the Patagonia Rain Shadow. I seem to have a bit less wetness from sweat when I use it, and the hood adjusts well for me. It doesn't let water in. However, we're again talking in relative terms: it works better for me than any other suit that I've tried, but I still end up with damp clothes. I can't prove it, but I've always felt that one weak point when walking in an all-day rain is where the hood meets your face, and your wrists meet your cuffs. You'll never obtain a perfect, waterproof seal at those places, so there will always be a little water that sneaks in if it's wet enough for long enough, and it will eventually get soaked up by your clothing. (It doesn't seem like any should sneak in at the wrists, until you remember that if you're using hiking poles, your wrists and forearms are horizontal, not vertical, surfaces and the rain runs along, not down, them.)

My second line of defense is synthetic clothing and, if the forecast is for significant rain, spare clothing. I tend to hike in shorts like the Patagonia Baggies, nylon shorts with a built-in mesh liner, like a swimsuit. I also wear synthetic T-shirts in the summer, like Capilene 1 or Runshade. (If you're noticing a bias toward Patagonia, it's not because I'm a brand-snob - it's that their stuff fits me well, every time. There are plenty of other equally high quality products out there, they just don't fit me quite as well.) The synthetic T-shirts also dry quickly in warm weather, once you're out of the rain. Body heat, inside a tent, will usually dry them in an hour or so - but it will increase the humidity in the tent, which eventually leads to condensation on the walls. (Where the rain gods open a window, they slam a door!)

In cooler weather, I change out the Capilene/Runshade for Wool 2 T-shirts, which are a wool/synthetic blend; they're a bit warmer, even when damp, and still dry out reasonably quickly.

If I know there will be a good chance of heavy or prolonged rain, I'll carry a second T-shirt and second pair of shorts, and save them for in-camp wear; I change into them after I have the tent pitched and the water collected, and I'm ready to move into the tent for the night. The next morning, I'm back in the damp clothing for hiking, with the dry stuff tucked safely away in ziplock bags. In spring or fall, the T-shirt and shorts may morph into Wool 2 longjohn bottoms and long-sleeved top - still saved for camp. A second pair of shorts is optional, but I usually take one just to avoid seat abrasion on the more delicate Wool 2 material.

This year, I'm going to experiment with using Borderless shorts (which don't have a liner) and Capilene 1 boxer shorts; when it's going to rain, I'll probably carry a spare pair of boxers for camp.

As far as brands, in addition to Patagonia, I have friends who swear by Smartwool and Icebreaker for their wool T-shirts (in the lightest weight they can get) and their light or midweight longjohn tops and bottoms. I also know people who have had very good luck with OR's brand of synthetic T-shirts and nylon shorts. For raingear, I've heard mixed reviews (though mostly good) about Marmot Precip.

GoreTex is the classic name, and I owned a GoreTex rainsuit way back when. It worked to keep water out, and I suppose it breathed. However, it was a heavy 3-layer fabric, so its mere weight generated a lot of sweat for me. So, all in all, I didn't stay any drier in it than I had in the old non-breathable coated-nylon rainsuits we had before GoreTex.

All in all, the Patagonia is the best I've ever used, but it's still a comfortable half-hitch short of the bar you're setting. Such, I'm afraid, is the state of the art so far.
Posted by: 300winmag

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 05:29 PM

My rain outfit is Cabela's Rainy River PacLite suit, presently selling for $99. each - a bargain price.

OK PacLite doesnt' breathe as well as eVent but it DOES breathe far better than the next best truly waterproof laminate, and it's a lot less expensive and very durable.

I Have GTX Merrill Moab Mid boots for the same reason, they keep my feet dry in the rain.

TIPS:
1. wash your (synthetic) pants & shirt with Nikwax DWR or spray them with REVIVEX so they get wet more slowly and dry much faster.
2. Spray Revivex DWR on your Gore-Tex or other W/B gear for max breathability.

Eric
Posted by: BarryP

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 06:45 PM

If I understand right, you left Sunday May 9th and returned Monday May 10th?
The weather there shows it got down to 48F (early Monday) and maybe got to a high of 57F.
This is why I like to take a thermometer so I can tell if itís physiological or actually cold.

If youíre cold above 50F, I wonder if you had the right food. Itís easier to stay warm above 50F and wet, than below 50F and wet.

Above 50F temperatures, I layer with a light synthetic undershirt, JCPenney button shirt (itís a cotton-poly blend that dries fast), and an O2 jacket. I would never use 100% cotton. They stick on you, get heavy, wonít dry, and wonít let your skin breathe. I hike hard above 50F and I stay warm. The jacket breathes rather well--- better than my Driducks jacket.

My feet--- I just let them get wet. They stay warm with my sandals while hiking and using some thick coolmax socks. You would think they would get all pruned up with all day rain but they donít since theyíre also airing out.

Below 50F, I use a different style.
Good luck with the wet cold.


-Barry
Posted by: Barefoot Friar

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 08:09 PM

Thanks for the replies so far. Very helpful and informative.

BarryP: I left very early Monday morning. I failed to check the weather before I left, especially the radar. I'm no meteorologist, but I can read a weather map. Had I done so, I would have seen that rain was coming and made appropriate changes to my plan and/or gear.

I hiked about ten miles in the rain, and got soaked through. I think the wet vegetation soaked me more than the rain. I kept thinking the rain would stop before long. The sun started to come out about 3PM, so I decided to make camp and try to dry out some. However, the wind picked up and the sun went back in. I simply couldn't get warm.

As for food, I found those Knorr sides (Spanish Rice to be exact) at the grocery store and mixed one with a pouch of chicken. It helped, but not enough. I also made a cuppa tea.

As I see it, I made five poor choices. The first was my clothing selection (although I am glad I was wearing pants instead of shorts, and I am glad I chose the shoes I did). Second was not checking the weather Monday morning before I left. Third was not putting a dry set of clothes in a drysack in my pack (I only had an extra pair of socks and undies). The fourth was my quilt selection; it was perfect for most Alabama summer nights, but not for this trip. I should have taken my sleeping bag or an additional quilt. The fifth was that I didn't hole up early in the day and read and just wait out the rain.

Of those mistakes, the last four are all mental or planning issues, and I have learned from them so that I will not repeat them. The first one, clothing selection, is one I think I need the most help with, since I have limited experience in that area.

Thanks again for your help.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 08:26 PM

However, the wind picked up and the sun went back in. I simply couldn't get warm.

If you are wet through and it is windy, it would not matter a d**n if the air temp was over 50 degrees. You can get definitely hypothermic in those conditions.

I also made a cuppa tea.

A wise decision.
Posted by: Glenn

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 08:34 PM

You did one very important thing right: when you realized that maybe, just maybe, you might be starting to get in a tentatively serious condition, you made the decision to pull the plug on the trip, and get yourself out where you could get warm and start figuring out how not to let it happen again.

Good choice.
Posted by: Tango61

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/11/10 11:43 PM

I carry a Marmot Precip jacket and Red Ledge pants.
The Precip jacket has pit zips and the pants have full side zippers that help with ventilation.

Typically, I won't hike in them unless it is cold (<50F, which is cold here in East Texas - similar to AL) because I'll sweat too much. Once I stop and make camp, I'll put on almost all my clothing. I carry a merino wool, 1/4 zip long sleeve top and plan on getting a short sleeve t-shirt soon. I like the wool over the synthetics.

It's all about the layers.

Good decision on when to bail. Better to hike another day.
Posted by: billk

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/12/10 01:31 AM

I have the Marmot Precip stuff, both the jacket and the anorak. I use the anorak (very light, only about 8 ounces) when there's less chance of rain. The waterproof/breathable fabrics have their limits...it depends how hard you're working and how much you sweat. I have some homemade Ultrex rain pants that work wonderfully, although everybody bad-mouths Ultrex.

A few years ago I spent my REI dividend and then some on a smartwool t-shirt and zip-T. Unlike most folks, I don't care for them. In warm weather, the t-shirt gets soggy and takes much longer to dry than polyester (though faster than cotton, of course). I like the zip-T better, but it's no match for my REI MTS zip-T.

I think the synthetics win hands down, and especially for wet weather.
Posted by: CJC

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/12/10 02:42 AM

Great advise from the previous posts and what they are saying is you need to try some different methods.

What I have now is all four; lightweight merino wool, silk, synthetics, and cotton all in t shirts, 1/4 zip long sleeve, and merino, silk and Hot Chili pants. Now depending on where and when I am going will dictate whether cotton is part of the wardrobe or not. Sometimes I will take 2 short sleeve shirts and sometimes it is 1 of each, but one set always stays dry for wearing around camp and sleeping in.

I have Dri ducks rain gear and it fits really loose so it vents pretty well, a full backpacking SD poncho that has never wetted through and has been tested! 2.75 inches in Zion NP over 5 hours of hiking in October! Everything was dry except the hands, face, and feet and a towel took care of that.

I usually take along a 8x8 UL Syl Tarp that I tie out/setup first and then depending on which tent I have brought along will set it up under the tarp and move it or if I have the TT Rainbow then I just pitch it where I want it. I hate cooking in the vestibules of my expensive tents and the 8 ounces the tarp weighs is wonderful shade from the sun or wonderful dry from the rain.
Posted by: ohiohiker

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/12/10 05:00 PM

I've been only comfortably cool hiking vigorously in a moderate rain at 38 F wearing:

Polyester running hat
Polyester t-shirt
Polyester (not cotton) fleece jacket
Nylon hiking pants
Synthetic running or dress socks
Hiking shoes (not waterproof)

But, this was a dayhike without too much wind. If it were an overnighter, I would have worn at least a rain jacket and probably rain pants.

My suggestion would be to try out a DriDucks rain jacket/pants. They won't stand up to bushwhacking or significant thorny trail overgrowth, but they're one of the lightest and cheapest options at around $20.

Edit:
One factor to consider when deciding on wool vs. synthetics is that synthetics dry faster, but that means there's evaporation happening near your skin. Evaporation is a significant source of heat loss. The result is that you'll likely be chilled more while your synthetic clothing dries than while wool clothing dries more gradually. For this reason, I generally choose synthetic clothing for above freezing temps and wool for below freezing temps when moisture from sweat and precipitation is less likely, and heat loss from evaporation is a more significant factor.
Posted by: Franco

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/12/10 05:39 PM

This is how I do it.
My 3 season rain jacket is a Montane smock (half zip, no pit zips)
The rain pants are the Montane Featherlite (more like a wind barrier than rain..) or eVent in colder (low 30s) weather.
My base layer is a Merino 140 in summer or 190 spring/autumn.
I wear a synthetic shirt on top of that if cold. When I put the rain jacket on , a layer comes off except for the base layer.
Nylon shorts or longs, not convertibles. I usually have both with me. Shorts for walking , longs at camp.
My wool beanie is in the jacket pocket , just in case.
At lunch I put another layer on, it comes off before I start walking.
The idea is to sweat as little as possible but wool will keep you warm even when wet.
Wool is not wool... there is heavy itchy stuff (not a problem for me...) and there is IceBreaker.
At camp I set up my shelter in a few minutes. Any of my Tarptents set up dry and are ready for me to go in in 2-5 minutes max , and that is when is wet and windy.
Once in I have a full wash (top first and then the rest) change into my "night clothes" and get into the sleeping bag if really cold.
So the trick is to keep moving, set up camp whilst you are still warm and change into something dry as soon as possible.
And have a hot drink as soon as you are dry. (soup or hot chocolate)
Franco
Posted by: Tango61

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/13/10 12:39 AM


Quote:
And have a hot drink as soon as you are dry. (soup or hot chocolate)


The hot chocolate will give you extra calories to heat up the inside or carry some dark chocolate or snickers and also try some hard cheese.

A little exercise can also warm up the core temp. Of course, this may not be too easy if you're in your tent/sleeping bag. smile
Posted by: lori

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/13/10 11:21 AM

Originally Posted By Tango61


A little exercise can also warm up the core temp. Of course, this may not be too easy if you're in your tent/sleeping bag. smile


That depends on who is in the bag with you. grin
Posted by: thecook

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/13/10 10:57 PM

I went for a walk earlier this week to try out a new rain jacket. I had picked up a 'natural' rain set from Sams' much like Driducks but thicker. Temps were in the mid-forties and it was raining moderately hard. I stayed comfortablly warm wearing a wool long underwear top under the jacket, Thorlo socks and non GTX trail runners, Mt Hardwear Canyon pants, a Columbia nylon hat to keep the rain off my glasses, and light wool/poly blend gloves. The only problem was my legs. From the edge of my MTS boxers to just below my knee FROZE because my wet pants just stuck there and sucked all the heat away. When I got home after 6 miles, my legs there were bright red. Next time, I'll try wearing light poly longjohns on my legs to see if that will help.
Posted by: ChrisFol

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/13/10 11:47 PM

Originally Posted By thecook
Next time, I'll try wearing light poly longjohns on my legs to see if that will help.


Or wear some actual rain pants. they are great in cold rain.
Posted by: Claus

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/14/10 10:42 AM

My guess is the OP never tried any good rain gear that's designed for hiking.

I have marmot rain pants and jacket that are fairly breathable and keep me dry while walking or biking. I even used the rain pants over jeans for skiing when I didn't had snow pants. It hasn't failed keeping me dry and comfortable.

It's getting close to a decade that I own them and the white inner coating of the jacket is flaking off, which causes it not to perform as well (and me having a case of dandruff). I got a replacement jacket from a different manufacturer (trying to be thrifty) but haven't used it enough to comment on it. The pants are still perfect.

Go and try some decent rain gear and not a plastic shell.

BTW, both pack small enough that I always take them along.
Posted by: Barefoot Friar

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/14/10 11:32 AM

Short answer: Nope.

I have been extraordinarily lucky so far in that I have managed to avoid rain until this most recent trip. But since it looks as though my streak has ended, I decided to ask about rain gear so I can spend my hard-earned and scarce cash on a good set.
Posted by: Glenn

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/14/10 12:32 PM

Don't try to pinch pennies - you'll end up spending more on the three sets of cheap gear that you think might work, than you will on one good, brand-name set that will work.

And remember that rain shells can also do double duty, as cold-weather shells over long johns and insulation (in camp.)
Posted by: thecook

Re: Staying warm and dry in rain (long post) - 05/14/10 08:43 PM

Yeah, normally for that kind of weather I would wear rain pants. This was just a trial to see what would happen. Somewhere around 50F I sweat so much in full rain gear I'd rather just get wet and stay a little cooler.