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Raincoats and Waterproofs  

Raingear for Every Need

One of the essential pieces of gear for outdoors adventures is a good rain coat. The wilds can be a beautiful place until you get drenched to the bone with cold rain and hypothermia sets in. This brings a quick end to ‘happy campers’ and can actually be life-threatening if you're exposed away from help. A smart rule in any outdoor activity is to stay dry--whether hiking, sleeping, or hanging out around camp. Doing so is sometimes easier said than done.

Key Points to Consider

There are three major things to look for when purchasing rain gear: weight, degree of waterproofing, and breathability.

Regardless what type of outdoors activity you are planning, the days are long gone when your only option was a waterproof army jacket that weighed a ton. You’ll be pleased with the ultralight rain gear available today, at vastly reduced prices for quality gear compared with a few years ago.

Especially for multi-day backpacking trip where every ounce of weight counts, you’ll want to look for something compact, preferably with a self-storage pocket or stuff sack included. If you are hiking in a dry climate, try a super lightweight jacket like the Marmot Ion Windshirt that weighs about 3 ounces and compresses to the size of a teacup when stuffed in its own self-storage pocket. It is categorized as water resistant, not waterproof, so this is only a good option if weight matters more than waterproofing for you, often not a good idea in Britain.

When it comes to waterproofing, the standard has long been Gortex, a waterproof, breathable membrane laminated to nylon. Although Gortex is still very popular, other manufacturers have created equally waterproof and breathable fabrics these days. Fabrics that are often lighter weight as well. For more humid conditions where rain is likely, try a Marmot Precip Jacket that comes with seam taping and pit-zips. It is fully waterproof and still reasonably lightweight.

Breathability is perhaps the most important factor to consider when looking at rain gear. Staying dry is about more than just keeping the rain off your back. Perspiration is as big of a problem in staying dry during a rainstorm as the actual moisture falling from the sky.

In addition to the breathability of the fabric itself, there are several different ventilations systems in rain jackets. A front zipper is the most-used ventilation system because of convenience. You can easily adjust based on your body heat needs. Another popular choice is under-arm zippers, also called pit-zips. These ventilate where the body is the hottest and do so in a way that minimizes exposure to rain. Some jackets also have a back vent, which is helpful but hard to adjust ventilation to fit your needs.

More Buying Tips

When you are ready to select your rain gear, be sure to choose something that matches your style of hiking and the environment you will be hiking in. If you heat up and perspire easily, breathability will be your top concern. If you are hiking where it rains frequently, weatherproofing should be your primary consideration. And of course, if the weather report is calling for blue skies, a super lightweight, marginal jacket will work just fine.

Some quality brands to check out are Marmot, Golite, North Face, Mountain Hardwear. Higher-end products will list things like seam-taping. And the development of silicon impregnated nylon as a waterproof fabric has revolutionized the rain jacket and outdoor recreation field in general. It is breathability, comfortable, super lightweight, and exceptionally compressible for those already heavy-laden backpacks.

Final advice: if you are walking where you might see some rain, plan for it and pack safe. Make dryness a primary focus from the beginning as you walk. It is much easier to stay dry than it is to dry out gear that is wet, especially if it's an overnight trip.