Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
I was reminded yesterday what a challenge hiking in the rain can be here in the Pacific Northwest. What often sounds so good in theory doesn't work well in practice. For example, I have no less than 5 so called breathable-waterproof jackets. I'm not impressed. Also, simple chores like cooking, changing clothing, setting up a tent, even pitching a rain fly, turn out to be more complicated and less satisfactory than planned. I know our climate is a bit extreme in the Fall compared to most places in the US. Anyway, to start with a simple question: Have you ever hiked for 4 hours with a pack (at least partly up hill) in pouring down rain? Did you stay dry (10,20,30....100%?)? What were you wearing? Do you think most of the water was from the outside (rain) or inside (sweat)? From a strategy stand point you would: A. Not go hiking if the forecast was 90% chance of rain. B. Go hiking in spite of a bleak forecast because you are not .....a pantywaist. C. Change plans to make the hike shorter.
I've gone dayhiking in the rain - poncho works okay for most purposes if it's not also windy as heck and the poncho is long enough to cover the backpack. Backpacking in the rain, same thing, and the tarp goes up first, then the hammock, and then I can unload and cook under the tarp.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki
Pliny, I spent over 30 years hiking and climbing in western Washington. I never did develop a strategy for staying dry. I generally used a poncho and waterproof rainchaps; that was better than any of the other raingear available then including Goretex.
I generally would set out on a trip whether rain was forecast or not. I would also set out expecting to get at least my legs and shoulders wet. I just made a point of keeping my insulation clothing layers dry and keeping my down bag dry. Setting up and breaking camp in the rain is a pain; I used to just tell myself that it won't get any worse than this; lying to oneself helps a bit.
I hike in the East - probably not as extreme wet as you get, but we do have our moments. I have hiked, both uphill and downhill, for 6 - 8 hours in a steady, heavy rain splashing along the small creek running down the trail. I've done this while wearing a poncho, a GoreTex rainsuit, and a Patagonia proprietary w/b rainsuit (different hikes, not all at the same time!) I did not stay dry: my T-shirt was probably 50% wet, my shorts were 30% wet, and my socks and shoes were 100% wet. The type of garment did not seem to make any difference at all in how wet I got. The moisture came from both inside (hot day, with sweating) and outside (hot or cold day, leaking in around the hood, mostly, plus running down - or up? - my arms since I was using hiking poles.)
As far as strategy: The only good way to deal with rain is to get out of it. Barring that, I would probably scrap a trip now if the forecast were for rain most of the trip. I'd still go if it was only a 50% chance, or if it were only going to rain, say, 1 day of a 3 or 4 day trip. I might modify my plan to make the predicted rain day a short day, or to spend the night at a shelter, to make things a little less difficult. (I used to do the whole non-pantywaist, "I've been wet before" thing and go regardless of the forecast. At 59, I no longer feel compelled to prove that I can.)
Loc: Kitsap Peninsula, WA
Glenn, I can tell you too are very experienced in these matters. And I agree with you on all points including at my (our) age I don't have anything to prove and only get out into the wilderness because I truly enjoy it...and I don't enjoy rain much. Here is a quote I enjoy...
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir
I know it's not about proving anything - now. I didn't know it 25 years ago, and the guys I hiked with for a while were into playing the "look how tough we are" game. Fortunately, I realized fairly quickly that this was the wrong attitude to take into the outdoors, and we parted ways.
I can do wet if I need to; I'm just more selective nowadays about "need." When I go to Isle Royale or Grayson Highlands for a week, I assume that I'll be wet one or two of those days. They're worth it; the rainbows and views are extra pretty. The local state park that used to be a creek running through cornfields until they dammed it isn't.
This past September we hiked Gros Morne in Newfoundland for 10 days. It was wet and wetter. Several all day rains and several days of rain off and on.
I stayed dry the entire time (except in the Epic fabric tent).
My rain gear consisted of North Face Venture jacket and pants and O.R. Sombrero hat. I carried a 30 lb pack. There was lots of elevation change from 600' to 2500'.
I was most impressed because this was old rain gear has never preformed as well as it did on this trip. The one thing that I did on this trip that I have never done before was wear wool base layers. Everything from micro light (150 gm/m) to combinations including mid weight (250 gm/m) layers. I did not wear any synthetics under the rain gear. I can only surmise that the wool in combination with the HyVent breathed exceptionally well. In the past I've always worn plastic base layers with this rain gear and have always been more wet inside than outside the rain gear.
Quite clearly a very subjective observation and certainly not quantifiable, but none the less I have restored confidence in this Venture / HyVent gear in combination with wool base layers.
A long time (25 years) ago and far far away, we backpacked up to Little Yosemite Valley in medium rain. I had my new TNF goretex mountain light jacket on, and TNF nonzip goretex pants. Under this I was wearing only long underwear of some breathable type - probably polypro as that was it back then. The pit zips were open and the front zipper was half way unzipped. When we arrived I was basically dry, even inside the pants.
I now wear packlite full zip pants from LLbean and I consider them the best there is. On one late season trip last year in rain and spitting snow, they kept my legs warm and dry.
Pit zips are critical and they put them on a lot of garments because they add an ounce of weight. I am convinced that the short cuts done to save weight also produces gear that doesn't work.
People swear at goretex or swear it works. If you are in the second group, fine, if you aren't then stay home when it rains sissy. just joking
Seriously - I love to camp in extremely bad weather and I wouldn't do it if I was either wet or cold. My good sleeping bags are one goretex and two dryloft. Jim YMMV
Edited by Jimshaw (11/19/0908:25 PM)
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
There was a thread a while ago either here or at backpackinglight about Paramo and other similar garments. If I understood correctly, the basic concept is not to stop you from getting wet but to keep you warm and to have a garment that will quickly dry. Apparently there are two different ways to do this. One involves body heat forcing the water outward and the other involves designing the fabric to use the properties of water the make the water droplets move outward. It sounds like an interesting concept and if I were regularly hiking in cold, wet conditions I'd try it. Anybody use Paramo and have a report for us! Interested minds want to know
If I wouldn't eat it at home, why would I want to eat it on the trail?
It depends if it is wet-warm or wet-cold. In wet-warm (Lost Coast - 7 days) I finally accepted wet. I hiked in just my rain gear and then put on wool at night. Everything got damp but not wet. I stayed warm. Temperatures only varied from 66-70 degrees day and night. I got as much as 4 inchs of rain one night, 3 inches of rain one afternoon hiking, and no rain but 100+ humidity that made everything clamy.
Wet-cold is different. Again, I will sacrafice one layer of light wool under raingear. I do not get soaked, just damp. I agree that Gore-tex is worthless. I have gone back to simple coated nylon over-sized long poncho-style jacket. Hoods also do not work for me. A good cowboy hat is better. I have not yet done the umbrella - too much wind, but I think this would be great in less windy areas. I also only allow myself to get just so wet - then I will camp and crawl into my sleeping bag. I also drop to forests and build a big fire and dry out stuff when the rain eases.
I also will just sit out a very wet cold day.
I would not cancel a trip because of weather reports. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and we always drove to the trailhead and hiked into our base camp (for climbing). If we got a window - we would climb the peak, otherwise we just walked back out. These were weekend trips.
Working for NOLS in Wyoming, we would be out 35 days. WHen it rained we just trucked on. It really makes a difference being solo or with a larger group. A big group can do stuff a solo guy cannot. Like a group effort at building a warming fire. We would do classes on rainy days. Build a fire or sit under trees. This was in the early 1970's - before Gortex. Wool and coated nylon and cowboy hats is what we used.
As for strategy - make hay when the sun shines. Take advantage of windows of slightly better weather. I have at times set up my tent 4 times in a day while hiking!
In my old age, I moved to California. I love the Sierra weather. Great place for aging backpackers who have already paid their dues with rain.
I sweat heavily when hiking, particularly when going up hill. So keep this in mind when you read my comments. They won't apply to you if you are not a heavy sweater.
"Have you ever hiked for 4 hours with a pack (at least partly up hill) in pouring down rain?" Yes. This is the typical Pacific Northwest spring and fall hike for me. Gain a couple of thousand feet or more and camp in an area that is high, cool/cold and windy. The rain may have turned to snow by the time I reach camp.
"Did you stay dry (10,20,30....100%?)? Never (0%), even if it isn't raining.
"What were you wearing?" I keep moving and wear as little as I can to stay warm. Everything will be soaking wet by the time I get to camp and I will have to strip naked and redress. I gave up trying to keep dry decades ago and now only try to keep warm. I wear all synthetics because they retain less water and/or dry more quickly than cotton, down or wool. I've even experimented with closed cell foam clothing (e.g. a float coat) because they stay warm when wet.
"Do you think most of the water was from the outside (rain) or inside (sweat)? The sweat alone soaks me 100%, even without rain. Every single thing I am wearing will be wringing wet by the time I reach camp if I'm going up switchbacks with a pack. If it is raining then some of the sweat will be replaced by cold rain but the clothing can only hold so much. I can't really get any wetter.
I hike with a friend who keeps dry during everything I have described. Like I said at the beginning, my experience may not apply to you.
I used to follow the Family Circus motto: "There's no such thing as bad weather; just different kinds of good weather." Nowadays, I just don't feel compelled to go hiking in every form of good weather.
I forgot to add that I love hiking in the rain. I never cancel a trip because of it.
I love fiddling with gear and hiking in the rain poses the number one challenge to gear prep for me. How does one keep warm without packing an infinite pile of dry clothes, for example.
I also love the solitude. Most people don't go hiking in the rain, particularly at higher elevations where it might turn to snow by nightfall. And the ones who are hiking in the rain are mostly day hikers, not backpackers. Soooo, when nightfalls the woods are mine.
Returning from a rainy 3 day trip heightens my appreciation for all the comforts around me that I take for granted on a daily basis. It also causes me to reflect upon the experiences of those who have been in bad weather with much cruder gear than I have (e.g. Lewis and Clark).
Loc: Puget Sound, Washington
I have the same experience as DJ2. I sweat quickly and fully. I wear as few clothes as possible to stay warm. I get to and set up camp quickly before I cool off too much. Crawl into the tent and change into dry clothes. It doesn't really matter if the clothes are dry the next morning. I just put them on wet and after about five minutes of hiking (ok, maybe ten minutes) I have already heated up the cold wet clothes and I'm sweating again. Probably the only "dry" thing I have then are my merino wool socks.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Ah, W_D, I'm so glad to find someone else who has the same approach to rain gear! I too have given up on "breathable" fabrics which, at least for me, are not breathable. The exception is Frogg Toggs, which IMHO are too easily damaged and are not wind resistant enough for really cold, windy conditions. I have a silnylon rain jacket and pants (made by Brawny Gear, now out of business) which is extremely light (7.6 oz. for jacket and pants together). Once I sealed the seams, there was no leakage after 45 minutes in the shower, nor have I noticed any leakage in the field since. Anti-Gravity Gear makes a similar silnylon rain jacket, with a full-length zipper and therefore more ventilation. I haven't seen any silnylon rain pants recently, though.
When I'm hiking in warm and wet conditions, I am soon in a lather when wearing a rain jacket, breathable or not. I therefore leave off the rain gear, wear just my supplex nylon hiking shirt and pants and get wet. If it's not quite so warm but still warm enough that I'll sweat in the rain jacket, I wear a lightweight wind shirt. I put on the rain jacket when I stop to avoid evaporative cooling, but the jacket comes off when I start hiking again. If the rain stops, my body heat dries my lightweight supplex clothing in 10 minutes or less while I'm moving.
In cold rain, especially when the wind is blowing, I've found no difference between breathable and non-breathable shells--when it's cold the breathability seems to make no difference either. I wear just my normal hiking shirt and pants under the rain gear. If it's a little too cold for that while I'm moving, I may wear a lightweight insulation layer (such as a lightweight fleece vest) under the rain jacket. If it's really cold I may add a headband for my ears and thin gloves under rain mitts. My main purpose is not to sweat while I'm moving, but of course I don't want to get chilled, either. As soon as I stop to rest, I put on my insulating jacket under the rain jacket; if it's cold I'll add my heavy fleece gloves and balaclava. In blustery winter conditions, I might be wearing my base layer under all, but it has to be extremely nasty for me to need to wear my base layer while hiking. Outside of bug season, I wear a very lightweight wicking base layer top instead of a supplex shirt.
When I camp for the night, my tent (carried in an outside pocket of my pack) goes up first. I then take my pack (kept mostly dry with a very lightweight pack cover) inside. Of course my wet rain gear and wet pack cover come off in the vestibule as I go inside. I undress, get into my dry and warm base layer and re-dress (leaving off my hiking shirt and pants if they're wet) before the circulation I've worked up from hiking slows down too much. If it's cold, I wear most or all of my insulating clothing. I then unpack my backpack, get out my sleeping bag and blow up my insulated air pad. Anything I'm going to need outside is placed right next to the door. I grab water containers, gravity filter and the Ursack containing my food, put my rain gear back on and go outside. I tie the Ursack to a tree and head for the water source. Upon returning, I boil water and start my dinner rehydrating, feed the dog while I sip hot tea, take him for his post-prandial "stroll" and bury his leavings. The dog chores take up just the right amount of time for my dinner to rehydrate in its cozy, so the next step is eating.
If it's still raining, I brush my teeth, do any other chores, secure my Ursack for the night and head for the tent with the dog. I dry him off as best I can in the vestibule and put on his lightweight fleece jacket to protect my sleeping bag from his wet fur. If the rain has stopped, the dog and I usually go for a sunset walk before bedtime. If it's really cold, I've learned that a brisk walk or vigorous calisthenics for 15-20 minutes at bedtime get my circulation/body heat revved up before I get into the sleeping bag and make it easier to warm the bag.
If my hiking clothing is wet, I seal it (and my wet socks) in a plastic bag and put it inside my sleeping bag. That way the clothes are at least warm in the morning. I usually stay in my base layer (with insulation if neccessary and rain gear on top) while I eat breakfast and feed the dog. I then change into my hiking clothes (left in the sleeping bag so they're still fairly warm) and pack everything up while I'm inside the tent. My tent is the last item to be packed whether or not it's raining in the morning. If it's raining, my pack contents stay dry; if it's not raining my tent has the maximum time to dry out. The tent goes into one of the outside side pockets of my pack, where it doesn't transfer moisture to my pack contents and is available without opening the pack if it's raining when I make camp that evening.
Unless the visibility is too low for safe hiking, I'd far rather keep hiking than spend a whole day cooped up in my tent. So would my dog! With careful attention to keeping all my insulating clothing and sleeping bag dry, appropriate layering to avoid sweating when moving or getting chilled when stopped, and using fabrics that don't absorb water, I am a lot more comfortable hiking in nasty weather than sitting around.
If there are what our Pacific NW forecasters call "sunbreaks" during the day, I stop and get out my tent, sleeping bag and wet socks to dry as much as they can.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
DJ2 "I hike with a friend who keeps dry during everything I have described. Like I said at the beginning, my experience may not apply to you." _____________________________________________________________________ I guess I'm just lucky I don't sweat much. I have had a cloud of steam coming out of the half unzpped jacket that was so thick I couldn't wear my glasses, yet when I arrived at my truck my montbell longunderwear was essentially dry. Guess I neve realised my body type or whatever is why goretex has always performed very well for me. For me, my body heat drives out the steam, but I don't sweat enough to get wet. Jim
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.
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