Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lightweight Rainwear

Rainwear appropriate for lightweight backpacking has been an internal struggle with me for quite some time because rain is considered an event which can make or break a good hike and can make you miserable awfully quick. Rainwear can also take up valuable pack space and serve as nothing more than dead weight. At worst, it can be used as a pillow or as part of a layering system to keep warm if there is no rain. At best, it can keep you dry.

When evaluating any rain option, however, it is important to be realistic. First, how often are you going to be in the rain - seriously? Unless you're in very specific environments, the reality is probably very rarely. With that said, why carry something you'll very rarely use. For example, an emergency poncho is likely one of the lightest and most functional rain options available. At about $1.00 each, it is also the cheapest. It may be the perfect solution for you. I know other people who enjoy the circulation and unrestrictive movement of a kilt or skirt made by water shedding fabrics. Course, if you want something a little more durable, you'll want other alternatives.

Rainwear manufacturers choose a variety of materials for their rain gear. All are functional to some extent, but some are better than others. There is also a huge differences in breathability, durability, and cost. Breathability is second next to waterproofness, but without good ventilation and breathability, the user will get wet from their own body sweat which will be just as miserable. Pit zips, arm cuffs, and adjustments at the neck and waist are all helpful to mitigate body temperature. Of course, the user must actually uses these resources instead of merely assuming the fabric will handle it all.

Two of the least expensive rainwear products which are an upgrade from a plastic bag are offered by DriDucks ( and O2 Rainwear ( Both are lightweight, breathable, and inexpensive. They are made of a non-woven fabric which repels water. Although very lightweight, they are each very flimsy and prone to tears if contacted by trees and rocks. I liken the material to the towel dentists use under your chin while doing busy work. If you look, the towel is fuzzy on one size and rubbery on the other and any spray or dribble sits on the cloth.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is raingear made of eVENT fabrics. eVENT is very durable, lighter than the more popular Gore-Tex, and it breathes better than anything on the market, but it is also very expensive. Some good options include the Wild Things Alpinist (, Rab Super Dru (, and Westcomb Specter LT ( Integral Designs has a lock on the most number and lightest eVENT jackets, but sizing isn’t great. The Integral Designs eVENT jackets include the Cruiser Jacket, Thru-Hiker, and Rain Jacket ( I should mention the Integral Designs website is horrible, slow, and flat out irritating. I’ve also found customer service to be a little rude, although no one complains about their products. Users can't go wrong by going with any of these manufacturers, although sizing is difficult and UK options (Rab, Montane, Westcomb, etc.) tend to be a little more snug under the armpits than American clothing.

Some people choose to go with the ole trusty Gore-Tex fabric of which there are endless options. Unfortunately, Gore-Tex is known to be both expensive and lack breathability.

One option that has received high reviews is The North Face Diad ( which uses the proprietary fabric HyVent.
In any event, and much like with all backpacking related topics, the user must decide based on preference, environment, cost, and other concerns.

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