I was inspired to start writing this entry on a quite rainy February morning. Even if the Pacific Northwest is not known for heavy, sudden rains (think monsoons, Hawaii or Florida) we still have a lot of wet weather. Add to that encounters with wet brush and more moisture generated internally from physical activity and you understand our challenge of staying dry.
Because our typical weather is cool to cooler, wet weather solutions like shorts and dry clothes at the end of the day don’t really work. We must stay warm as well as dry. Since I want to reduce trail weight, I look for a balance between marginally dry, lightweight rain gear and wonderfully dry, but overweight items.
I own a nice Gore-Tex rain parka. It is long and covers my butt. It has a roll-away hood, pit-zips and a two way zipper. It has kept me dry for many years. But it weighs 1 lb. 13 oz. I paired it with a set of Marmot PreCip full zip rain paints, at another 12 oz. That’s a lot to carry just in case it rains.
In my quest for lightness, I hung up my Gore-Tex parka, saving it for winter outings and the like. I added a cheery yellow Marmot PreCip rain jacket. The jacket lacks some length (more about this later) and a two way zipper. It still has a roll-away hood and pit-zips. At 12.8 oz., I save a full pound! If I keep it fairly clean and renew the durable water-repellant finish periodically, I stay reasonably dry.
The ultra-light literature talks about rain chaps to replace full rain pants. I had no experience with them, but decided to make some out of left over sil-nylon fabric. I used my PreCip rain pants as a starter pattern, but tailored the legs a little more. Ankle zippers let them to fit over boots. The cuffs have drawstrings to blouse them, keeping my cuffs dry. Little loops of drawstring with toggles and small mitten hooks suspend them from my belt loops. (I had to add belt loops to one of my summer nylon pants make them work with the chaps). I made a small stuff pouch to hold the chaps. At 3.5 oz. including the pouch, I save close to another half pound.
When I wore the chaps in the rain for the first time, I discovered that my shorter yellow rain parka left a gap above the chaps exposing by butt. Wearing a pack doesn’t add quite enough protection. So the parka grew a little fold-away tail that hangs down over the uncovered area. The tail is sil-nylon and doesn’t really add parka weight. The color even matches.
The chaps do a good job of shedding rain and work well in brush. Pushing uphill, perspiration dampness builds up in my pants. With my old rain pants, I vented some of this moisture by opening the zippers from the top. I might try to add top zippers to the chaps to give me the same option.
What you wear under the rain gear also helps you stay warm. My chaps go over whatever synthetic pants I am using. I use lightweight nylon zip-off’s in summer and medium or heavy weight soft shell pants in other seasons. If the pants get a little damp, they dry quickly and still keep me warm.
If I am working hard in cool, rainy weather, I usually strip down to a lightweight merino wool, long sleeve top covering a poly tee shirt. The sleeves and neck of the wool top can get quite wet, and still retain warmth. When I stop, more layers go on under the rain gear.
I have always had a problem with the front of rain hoods obstructing my vision. Some jackets have an adjustment on the back of the hood to solve this. Typically I take a light nylon ball cap along on trips and putt this on to hold up the hood. If the trip promises to be really rainy, rather than just maybe rainy (Pacific Northwest weather nuances), I pack an Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero, a wide brimmed Gore-Tex rain hat. The extra 2.5 oz. keeps me a lot dryer.