More adventures have been scrapped due to threat of rain than honey-do lists, injuries, and Netflix combined. Wet, cold, and miserable has been used to describe more tragic mishaps than any other adjectives and everybody has at least one story where it fits. While there are plenty of cases where you can’t fight the weather, getting the right gear and technology on your side can fix all but the worst downpour.
Materials have come a long way from the Sears poncho of yesteryear which trapped just as much water on the inside as was on the outside and tore if you breathed on them too heavily. Science and textile wizardry have led to many breakthroughs that make all the difference in the world.
With most water proof fabrics, there are several things to consider and keep in mind. First, is that all water proof materials have a rating of how much water they can take on before finally letting it soak through. Unless you are wearing a solid rubber jacket, exposing a jacket to water long enough and hard enough will eventually allow it to soak in. The measurement system for this spec is to take a section of material and have it sealed against a square 1”x1” tube and start filling the tube full of water. The rating is then determined by the millimeters of height of water you can fill before water begins soaking through.
Most waterproof fabrics are made in a very similar way. On the outermost layer is a DWR (Durable Water Resistant) coating which is what causes the water to bead up and roll off your rain jacket immediately. Over time this will wear out since it is Durable and not Invincible, but you can always recoat it using a product like Revive-X. The DWR coating is laid on the facing fabric, which is the colored fabric that looked so great that you just had to have it. Underneath that though is the waterproof membrane, where the biggest differences in how waterproof and breathable one material is to another.
There are three big segments in the waterproof membrane market: Gore-Tex, eVent, and everybody else.
The first two you may have heard of, but everybody else are the “in house” brands that different manufacturers use. The North Face uses HyVent, Mountain Hardwear uses Dry Q., etc. Just because they are the manufacturers own material doesn’t make them bad by any means, but typically they are either not as waterproof as Gore-Tex or as breathable as eVent. Dollars sometimes outweigh dryness, which is where the house brands have the biggest advantage costing far less than their competition.
Gore-Tex is the most established, having been around since 1969 when it was invented as a type of filter that would keep out water, but allow vapor to pass through it. Someone eventually figured out that it would be perfect for rain jackets, boots, and anything else you use outside and an empire was born. Gore-Tex is so good because it uses proprietary technology where a sandwich of materials in the fabric are dense enough to block water, but open enough for warm air vapor (take note of the “warm” part for later) to pass through. Gore-Tex can take essentially 2x the amount of pressure generated by a good pressure washer until it starts soaking through and is unmatched in sheer durability. Another fringe benefit of having a Gore-Tex product is that Gore-Tex tests in their labs every single product that uses their material and will reject designs that are just plain bad, giving you some comfort in knowing that what you’re buying has gone through extra tests. Also, if your product ever leaks, Gore-Tex goes above and beyond the manufacturer’s warranty to help you out.
eVent is very similar in function to Gore-Tex except that they were able get rid of the least breathable component of the fabric sandwich and replace it with a very breathable option that is still waterproof. The effect is that you can take a piece of eVent and can feel your breath on the other side if you blow through it. While it’s not as absolutely bombproof as Gore-Tex, it’s much more breathable and if I was going to drop some serious coin on a rain jacket in the humid and wet south, I would strongly consider an eVent option. Where Gore-Tex needs a warm vapor on the inside of the vapor to escape, eVent can move any kind of air from the inside to the outside making it much more breathable, and a better option for the hot summer storms.
Rain jackets and rain pants are the most common way to keep dry, and it’s also the area that has the biggest variance in features, fabrics, and choices. The fabrics we’ve discussed all come into play with the features available: Gore-Tex jackets almost always have pit-zips and mesh front pockets for extra ventilation where most eVent jackets are so breathable they don’t even bother putting them on. When I look at rain jackets, there are features that are important to look for. If I’m planning on wearing this jacket while backpacking, I’m going to make sure that the straps of the backpack don’t get in the way of the pockets so I can actually reach that granola bar that will prevent me from starving. Same rule applies if I’m getting a jacket for paddling or climbing: it’s pointless to have pockets and features that get covered up by necessary gear like a PFD or a harness.
Boots and shoes are the next things that people always look for waterproofing on, but let me add a caveat on this. In some situations, it is actually better to have a shoe with no waterproofing get wet than one with waterproofing. No matter how breathable the material, a waterproof membrane does a really great job of keeping water inside of shoes and they don’t dry out quickly at all. If there’s a strong risk of getting water inside of your shoes (stream crossings, extended walks through flooded trails, etc) it might be a good day to swap for breathable mesh running shoes that will dry out in hours instead of days.
A more unusual method of staying dry is the trekking umbrella, a lightweight and compact umbrella that does a great job of keeping light rain off of you with none of the bulkiness of a rain jacket and the breathability of not wearing one at all. It also keeps the sun from burning you to a crisp and in a pinch can be fashioned into a seagull scaring device to flush the unsuspecting avian creatures into a German WWII fighter plane.
Once you’re in camp after a day in the rain, and it’s still raining, and it won’t stop raining, you’re going to want someplace you can stand in the dry to cook and eat. If you’re car camping, an EZ-Up or a Motel 6 usually works pretty well, but if you’re 15 miles in a small packable tarp is your best bet. I got to use a friends Noah’s Tarp by Kelty and was impressed with how easy and quick it was to setup. It gave plenty of room for the 4 of us to cook and eat under, and that was with the 12’ size. They also make a 16’ if you need more coverage, and a smaller 9’ if you don’t need quite as much room.
Finally, we come to tents and the list of needs on that is pretty short. A full coverage rain fly that covers as much of the tent as possible and properly taped seams are about it. If you have any doubts if you have taped seams, just look on the inside of the rainfly and if there is what looks to be clear tape over the seams, they won’t leak easily and you never have to apply seam seal to your tent. If you don’t, and you just see plain stitching, you will need to apply seam sealer every so often to make sure water doesn’t’ soak through the threads.
We’ve come a long way from the days when “trenching”, building ditches around your campsite, and erecting giant canvas tents were the best ways to stay dry. Technology is allowing us to stay dry and less sweaty than ever before, and unlike the selfie stick I’m actually a fan of it. So don’t let the spring showers keep you inside, and get the gear that will keep you outside.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.