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Backpacker Magazine – Online Only

Waterproof Your Wilderness Gear

A complete guide to buying gear that will keep you dry--no matter what

by: Kristin Hostetter

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Want A Waterproof Bivy Sack?
To cut down on pack weight and bulk, some go-lighters opt for a bivy rather than a tent. If you're in the market for a bivy, put these features on your checklist:

>>Waterproof/breathable fabric. Your bag will be perilously close to the cold, wet ground and all the elements. Be sure the fabric is waterproof to protect your bag and breathable so it doesn't keep condensation (created by the warmth of your body) inside where it can soak your sleeping bag.

>>Factory-taped seams. As with tents, bivies need seam taping to keep water from entering via all those pesky needle holes.

Want Waterproof Raingear?
When perusing the outerwear racks, keep in mind that not all "rainsuits" are created equal. You'll find gear designed for day-trippers, fly-fishermen, mountaineers, backpackers, and everything in between. If you're looking for outerwear that will keep you absolutely 100% dry as a bone, here are the features you need:

>>Waterproof/breathable fabric: The most prominent are Gore-Tex, Sympatex, and eVent, but there are lots of other comparable proprietary fabrics out there as well. They key is that these fabrics have microscopic pores that allow sweat vapor to escape so you won't poach like a slab of fish in your own juices.

If you want to really save some cash, and are willing to sacrifice breathability, you could opt for a polyurethane-coated nylon fabric. This stuff is often super lightweight and packable but the fabrics pores are sealed up tight from the waterproof coating, so expect to get wet from the inside out during high exertion.

>>Factory-taped seams: Tiny needle holes in jacket may seem innocuous, but eventually those holes will let water seep through--unless they're taped.

>>Pit zips: These underarm zippers let you ventilate when things get really steamy. If you decide to forgo pit zips (they do add weight and price to a jacket), at least make sure that the pockets are mesh-lines so you can open them up and get some air movement that way.

>>Waterproof zippers or storm flaps: All non-waterproof zippers should have fabric flaps that secure in place with hook and loop (Velcro) or snaps to keep wind blown rain from penetrating through the teeth.

>>Snug, elasticized wrist closures: They're important because they keep water from dribbling down your hands and into your jacket.

>>Good-fitting, adjustable hood: Check that it fits your head well, while allowing extra room for a hat or a helmet (if you wear one). A good fitting hood should let you turn your head freely from side to side, up and down, without impeding your vision. It should also sport a stiff brim to keep water from streaming into your smiling face.

Fit: Raingear should fit fairly loosely so you can comfortably wear some insulation underneath. Resist the urge to buy a jacket that's huge, however, or the sleeves will bunch up and you'll find yourself swimming in too much fabric-a pain when you're walking through thick woods or trying to maneuver over boulders.

Want Do-It-Yourself Waterproofing?
When the rain stops beading up, try one of these home-remedies.

>>Seam sealer. You can paint this on any untaped seams to prevent water from penetrating needle holes.

>>Wash ins: Best for shell jackets and pants that are linerless (so you don't coat them with DWR that can inhibit performance). Just follow the instructions on the label for smooth, even coverage that penetrates every pore.

>>Spray ons: These work well on garments that do have a wicking inner liner because you control where the DWR goes. Use them in a well-ventilated area and take care to apply a light, even coat.

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