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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Raingear Shopping Guide

by: The Backpacker Editors


The Standard: Full-coverage waterproof/breathable jackets weigh as little as 10 ounces these days, which is great news for backpackers. Unless you're hiking in extremely wet environments–where you want all the bells and whistles–your should look for the lightest, most breathable jacket you can afford. It will sit in your pack 90% of the time, which makes anything heavier illogical. But when it does rain, you don't want to soak in your own sweat. For that reason, a breathable fabric and pit zips are essential. Other wants: a hood that turns with your head, a decent brim that doesn't drip on your nose, and pockets that don't fall under your hipbelt.

Variables: There are numerous waterproof/breathable membranes and coatings on the market–many of them indistinguishable except in the lab. As a general rule, the more you pay, the more breathable the fabric. Two standouts are Gore-Tex and eVent, with the latter getting a slight nod in recent BACKPACKER field-testing.

If you are... Look for these features...
A climber A roomy hood to accommodate your helmet (try both on in the store). A short waist so the jacket doesn't interfere with your harness. Articulated elbows and shoulders for wide, unrestricted range of motion with your arms.
A mountaineer Same features as a climber for three-season outings. For big mountains and winter climbs, go with a long waist to keep drafts out. Big pockets and easy-to-operate zippers are also critical for any cold weather adventures.
A sweaty guy An umbrella.

Take The Chance? BACKPACKER editors constantly argue whether it's worth carrying raingear in places with infrequent precipitation–like the Sierra in summer. Do you really need protection from the 10 minutes of rain you might get some afternoons? The editor who wrote this buying guide says no–you're better off with a few extra Snickers bars and ducking into your tent if a real storm rolls in. Disagree? At least cut back to something that weighs 12 ounces or less.

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Reader Rating: -


Feb 25, 2012

Always amused by the idea of taking no raingear and the suggestion "just set up the tent." These people have never been caught in the instantaneous sideways deluge that comes on in mear seconds and leaves you pouring water out of your boot after it ends.

Nov 17, 2010

A couple of years ago a huge storm caught me and my friend at a 3000 metre mountain on the Moroccan desert in spring. I only rained for 1 minute, but i wish i had carried a waterproof jacket in my pack for the whole 3 weeks just because of that storm!

Jul 02, 2010

Last year in Yosemite it started raining (pouring) after we went to bed and continued non-stop until the next day. We even broke camp in the rain. I wore my trusty wool sweater which breathed while wet, and still kept me warm (and I didn't worry about "pit zips!). I even took it off on the hike down. Even new ultralight materials will get wet and may not keep you as warm.

Jun 18, 2010

I find that its worth it to bring a few good durable garbage bags with you (such as the ones restaurants use) for a variety of uses including light raingear, emergency shelter or waterproof cover for your gear...or you if necessary, or in places such as deserts were rain isn't expected and doesn't last long when it does happen.

kenet nicholls
Apr 01, 2010

I'm going to the Arctic Circle for the summer near Kobuk AK. Looking for a special list of gear I might need like specialized bug stuff and bear repellents. Got ideas?

May 04, 2008

yeah that ultralighter category is clearly a misprint. looks like it needs to be in the stove advice article. just pointing it out


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