My take on rain jackets

Fall is in the air.  FB related hiking groups are forming, people are joining, questions and answers are flying.  It happens every year.  Someone posts a gear related question.  They get fifty knee jerk reaction responses on what someone uses, but rarely if ever how they use it.  Time for my knee jerk commentary I guess.  Rain wear can be expensive, it is also necessary.  There is so much variation between the products it can take forever to figure out which one is appropriate for the trip at hand.  It isn’t as simple as, “Does it have pit zips”? or “Is it hook and loop wrist closure”?  What follows is my best initial effort to try to help demystify the purchase of rain jackets.

I find there are three types of rain wear users.  One type of user puts on a rain jacket to find the first flat spot and set up camp.  The second type is the person that will hike towards the daily mileage objective until the weather gets crazy.  The third type of user is the person that is going to push through every bad weather situation they face.  Rarely do these people like the same rain wear.  In addition, all the technical differences between products make it very confusing.

Rain jackets typically fall into three price categories; $99-$149 not so breathable, $150-$250ish lightweight breathable, and the $250+ performance fabric products.  They all have different breathability, water repellent ratings, features, and durability.

If one tends to set up camp at the first drop of rain don’t spend a ton of money.  The $99 – $149 price tier is fine, and all are virtually the same.  They tend to not vent enough under movement.  However, they are very waterproof.  So, if one is standing around camp during a rain storm they are fine.  It is hard to stay dry hiking in these because they trap so much water vapor from perspiration.  Look for features you require; pit zips, adjustable hood, wrist closures.

If one decides to push through their fair share of rain storms they tend to spend a bit more on their rain shell.  The products in this price range are the most popular choice and tend to perform well on the PCT, JMT.  These fit into a $150-$249 price category in the 6-8 ounce weight class.  Make sure that these still have the features and fabric performance desired.  I find that most of the products in this class wet out after a few hours in heavy rain.  Nothing is perfect, but the OR Helium II is as close as I can currently find.  Things may change come January, Black Diamond is shipping us their new rain wear.  It is a little less expensive than the OR Helium II.  The Black Diamond product does have a stretch fabric and great features.  I believe it will prove the best weight (around 8-9 oz), feature, and priced jacket for 2018.  I’m really stoked to get mine.

The most expensive price tier of $250+ is a serious financial commitment, and may not be worth the investment.  Things you find in this category are mostly comprised of Goretex or eVent fabrics. These aren’t necessarily the lightest items either.  I use these more for alpine mountaineering or ice climbing.  I used a Rab Alpine Latok on the CDT in summer and fall, and CT during the fall.  I used it mostly for the CDT because my lightweight jacket was wrecked.  Also, I didn’t feel like buying another jacket when I had a fine but heavier jacket in my gear closet.  We had some massive thunderstorms on the divide and the jacket was great.  Using the Latok Alpine on the CT in September it was perfect.  The Latok shell has worked great in many alpine environments too.

Things I’ve noticed;

  • Breathable fabrics tend to not perform as intended in humid environments.
  • Not using my rain gear as a wind shell extends the life of my jackets.
  • You will eventually get wet wearing a rain jacket in an extended storm.
  • Go up one size from your normal jacket to fit a midweight down jacket underneath.
  • It rains everywhere, even the desert
  • Make sure to follow the care instructions from the manufacturer

Hope this helps,

Triple Crown Outfitters

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