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10 Tips For Optimizing Your Rain Gear

Author: Jaeger Shaw

April 03, 2019

Spring hiking season is here, and for many of us that means hours spent walking in the rain. Good rain gear is critical, but even the best of the best can’t keep us 100 percent dry in sustained precipitation. Whether it’s a trickle down the neck, or self-generated humidity, everyone is guaranteed to at least get damp eventually. However, there are lots of minor adjustments you can make in how you wear your rain gear that will help keep a little more water out and get you that much closer to 100 percent dry. Here are 10 of those adjustments.

1. Wear a cap under your rain jacket’s hood. This creates an awning to keep rain out of your eyes and from trickling off your face and down your neck. Look for synthetic caps that dry quickly and absorb little to no water.

2. Cuff the hem of your hiking pants and shirt sleeves underneath your rain paints and jacket. It’s important to keep your non-waterproof layers from sliding out underneath your shell, as they will quickly start to absorb water. Cuffing ensures they won’t escape their protective layers and provides a buffer zone between what is wet and what is dry.

3. Leave your pit zips open as their default setting. In most light-medium rain, the venting benefits of pit zips will outweigh whatever tiny amount of water can sneak in under your arms. Only in heavy rain, in a strong side wind, or when bushwacking is it worth closing the pit zips.

4. Set wrist straps to comfortably tight. The goal is to prevent your rain jacket’s sleeves from riding up. Sleeve ride up results in exposed wrists that will then get the inside of your jacket’s sleeves wet once they're back in place.

5. Tuck your undershirt into your rain pants. Just like cuffing your sleeves or pants, the goal here is to prevent the hem of your shirt from draping below your jacket or becoming exposed to the elements if your jacket should ever ride up. Another benefit is that rain pants often have an elastic waist band that is uncomfortable to wear directly against your skin. This helps prevent chafing.

6. Store your rain gear on the outside of your pack. It’s important to keep your rain gear handy so it can be accessed as soon as the rain starts. Comparatively, storing rain gear inside your pack’s main compartment will cause you to get wet while you fish it out, and even worse, allow water to enter the pack.

7. In very light rain, wear your hood like a collar. Any time the rain is bad enough to justify a jacket, but too warm or light enough to justify wearing a hood, it’s worth rolling the hood up like a collar. This prevents rain from collecting in the hood like a bucket and from pouring down the back of your neck when the rain gets worse and you decide it’s time to wear the hood.

8. If you’re using waterproof gaiters to protect against rain, wear them under your rain pants. This creates a shingle effect that keeps the rain flowing down and out. Wearing gaiters over your rain pants can allow water to trickle down in between the two, eventually landing on your socks or down your boot.

9. If possible, when putting a rain jacket on, take another layer off. Rain jackets are warm and sweaty enough with only a base layer, especially during warmer months. If you were already wearing a mid layer, let your rain jacket replace it, not add to it.

10. Set the elastic drawcord hem to prevent jacket ride up. Most rain jackets can cinch at the hem, but tightening doesn’t always make it less likely to ride up as you hike. Every jacket interacts differently with every body shape and every backpack. Next time you’re wearing your jacket, see if tightening or loosening at the hem helps keep it in place better.

Hopefully these tips will help keep you a little bit drier and a little bit happier next time you find yourself slogging through the rain. Oh, and don’t forget to zip up your pockets!

A note on shopping for rain gear: If you enjoy staying dry, it’s imperative that your jacket and pants aren’t too small. Due to its waterproof construction, most rain gear has little to no stretch, which means that large steps or reaches can expose wrists and ankles. To prevent this, make sure everything fits a little loose, with more than enough room for added layers underneath. When shopping online, if you’re in between sizes, or a jacket is noted to run small, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and size up.

For my personal recommendation, I point everyone to the ultralight, minimalist Men’s and Women’s Helium II Jacket and the Men's and Women's Helium Pants. With virtually no downside, they provide the same waterproof/breathable protection as a fully featured rain shell, but at half the weight. For hiking with certainty into exceptionally stormy conditions, I recommend the burlier Men’s Foray Jacket and Pants or the Women’s Aspire Jacket and Pants.

Jaeger Shaw

Lost in the mountains and sandwiched for warmth between three friends in a two-person tent, Jaeger thought to himself, “I need better gear.” His tent leaked. His rain jacket was rubber. And his pack weighed 60 pounds. But no longer! Since that fateful trip, Jaeger has overhauled his entire kit, and now considers himself to be a gear snob, an ultralight backpacker, and an ultra heavy-duty snacker. He is on a decade-long quest to hike every trail in a guidebook to backpacking Washington State, and proudly invented his own system for rating scenic views.