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Waterproof Your Wilderness Gear

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

Staying dry. It is as important to backpackers as wind is to sailors. A well-equipped backpacker can happily exist (and thrive!) in even the most monsoon-like weather. Our guide will walk you through all the ins and outs of waterproof gear.

Want Waterproof Boots?

Check out these key features to keep your toes dry.

>>Gore-Tex, Sympatex-or some other waterproof/breathable-membranes. If you’re from the Great NorthWet, or if you often find yourself slogging through rain-soaked trails elsewhere, don’t leave home without them. Some folks find that lined boots are too hot for their tastes, but if it’s true waterproofness you want, membranes are the only way to go.

Note: Clad in Gore-Tex boots you can literally stand in a stream for hours without getting wet…as long as the water doesn’t seep over the top of the boot! To keep that from happening, step into a pair of waterproof gaiters. Now you are a veritable fortress (from the knee down)!

>>Seamless, full-grain leather. Boots that are simply built from a single sheet of sturdy leather are sufficient to battle the liquid intruders that most backpackers face. Think of it this way: the more seams, the more needle holes, the more potential leaking points.

>>Height. The higher your boot, the deeper the puddle you can safely slosh through.

Want A Waterproof Tent?

Of course you do! A tent that’s not waterproof does you about as much good as a car without an engine. Look for these features when shopping for storm-ready shelter:

>>A roomy vestibule. Fully covered vestibules act as mudrooms when things get sloshy. They are an invaluable place to store wet gear and packs, so your inner sanctum stays dry and clean.

>>Full coverage rainfly. Forget about tents with cute little awnings sticking out above doors and windows. The wind will blow sheets of rain right into your lap. Look for a rainfly that extends all the way to the ground and all the way around.

>>Factory taped fly seams. When the factory applies the seam tape (rather than you, post-purchase) it’s more durable, more foolproof, and saves you a big headache. A no-brainer.

>>Plenty of guy out points, stakes and cord. It’s key to be able to keep your rainfly taut so water doesn’t wick into the tent.

>>Bathtub or seamless floor. The floor fabric of tents is made of a sturdier, coated fabric. In bathtub style floors, this fabric wraps a few inches up from the ground creating an impenetrable barrier. At the very least, a tent floor should be one, seamless piece of fabric.

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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