Rules for Backpacking Rain Gear
- There is no perfect solution.
- If it rains long enough and hard enough you will eventually get wet.
I don’t mind getting wet. What I do mind is getting chilled, or getting drenched, and getting miserable. Keeping your gear dry is the first priority because you should always be in a position to call it a day and set up your tent, tarp, or hammock to shelter in. To wait it out. I am absolutely fanatical about that.
But when it comes to rain gear which allows you to keep moving there are so many variables. It does matter though. It can be more than being miserable, it can mean hypothermia and maybe even death. We actually had a father and two boys die when day hiking the Ozark Trail in Missouri because they got wet on a day when the weather turned cold and they were unprepared. Only the dog survived.
For commuting on my bike the answer is easy. I wear a poncho. It doesn’t restrict my movement, air can get inside so I am not drenched in sweat, and the one I use, a cheap Coleman poncho, does the trick. Besides, it is 34 minutes from door to door. Hiking and backpacking is more complex.
When hiking the AT my wife and I outfitted ourselves with Frogg Toggs, and ultralight umbrella’s from Gossamer Gear. We had pack covers, and we used contractor bags to put our sleeping bag and extra clothing in. Why the umbrella?
Although it not so much an issue on the AT the umbrella has material on the outside to reflect the heat. I understand it is pretty popular on the Pacific Crest trail for that very reason. I have only used it in light to medium rain, not a downpour, and can report that it works great for that. But your feet will get wet. What about that?
There are two schools. One is to try to keep your feet dry. The other is to acknowledge they are going to get wet and use quick drying shoes and socks. Experienced people do one or the other but most of the people I follow and respect just take it for granted that their feet or going to get wet.
We kept our umbrellas outside the pack and within easy reach. Our drill was to prioritize putting on the pack cover, and then having done that don the umbrella. It worked well as long as the wind wasn’t high. If the wind is blowing hard, or in the wrong direction, you are going to have the thing flip.
The conclusion? For anything less than a downpour the umbrella is a good idea, and for limiting sun exposure it serves double duty. At around $40 bucks it is reasonably priced. There are probably other suppliers, but Gossamer Gear sells one branded for them that is made in Germany.
I do not know if I am going to stay with Frogg Toggs or not. Frankly I do not have enough experience yet to make a determination yet. I am an avid reader of what other experienced people have to say about gear though. I was impressed with a review from the Section Hiker blog on the LightHeart rainjacket. I recommend reading all of what he has to say, not just about this one rain jacket, but especially about waterproof breathable jackets. Spoiler alert. They are not reliable over the long run.
By the way. I am fascinated with the Gatewood Cape. It provides shelter and acts as a poncho. If I was backpacking by myself I would already have one.