How to Choose Backpacking
This article shows you how to choose lightweight, high-quality backpacking rain gear. It also provides recommendations for the best rain gear on the market.
Quality rain gear is essential for any backpacking trip. Hypothermia - the inability of the body to keep itself warm - is one of the most common causes of backcountry emergencies.
Contrary to popular belief, hypothermia is not just a problem in winter. It is most likely to occur in wet, windy weather for hikers who are unprepared.
The ability to stay dry is the key to avoiding hypothermia.
Not only will rain gear help to keep you dry, it provides an additional layer for warmth and will also keep out the wind. Your rain jacket can double as your wind breaker.
What to look for...
For backpacking, there is no need for overly rugged rain gear. Hopefully you won't need to wear it often. Waterproof jackets made for skiing or mountaineering are overkill, and will be much heavier than a simple rain jacket. Look for something thin and lightweight, with minimal features (no liners, extra pockets, etc.). Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping for rain gear:
- Thin and lightweight. There should be no liner and only minimal features.
- Good rain jackets should weigh around 10 - 13 ounces.
- Rain pants should weigh 8 - 10 ounces.
Recommended Backpacking Rain Gear
Below I list several options for rain jackets and pants. All of these options are lightweight and affordable. For information on discount backpacking rain gear, click here.
I used the MontBell jacket and pants on my PCT hike. I was very happy with their performance and I'm still using them today.
Look for a partial zipper at the bottom of the leg only. A full side zipper adds weight.
Discount Backpacking Rain Gear
If you want to save money and go with the cheapest option, you can skip the rain pants and use a rain skirt. Just use a large, plastic trash bag (lawn bags work best) and wear it as a skirt.
Many people on the PCT, myself included, used a rain skirt instead of rain pants. While I always carried rain pants to stay warm in camp, the rain skirt worked better while I was hiking. It kept my shorts dry and allowed my legs to stay cool. In all but the coldest weather, rain pants are not necessary. I've found that I get too hot and sweaty trying to hike in rain pants.
Trash bags can also be used to create a pack cover and a pack liner. This combination is very waterproof and is cheaper than buying a standard pack cover. I use a trash compactor bag for my pack liner because they are more durable than regular trash bags.
Rain Gear Tips
In wet and humid climates, or in multiple days of constant rain, it is impossible to stay completely dry. Moisture seeps into all of your gear and you can't help sweating when you hike. Here are some tips to help you make the best of the situation and stay as dry as possible:
- Keep a set of long underwear just for sleeping and camp. Don't wear them while hiking. Store them in a waterproof stuff sack in your pack to keep them dry.
- Keep your sleeping bag in a water proof stuff sack for extra protection.
- If your sleeping back is damp, make sure to dry it out if you have a break in the weather during the day.
- Monitor your body temperature while hiking to avoid excess perspiration.
- Use a trash compactor bag for a pack liner in addition to using a pack cover.
For more tips, click here to go to the Backpacking Tips page.
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