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layering in the Pacific NW
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Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
layering in the Pacific NW on 03/20/2006 09:52:49 MST Print View

Does anyone have extensive experience with softshells and/or pertex quantum in prolonged(days) cold rain in a climate like the NW?
What material would dry out the quickest overnight in my sleeping bag ready for the next day of rain?
What about water proof/resistant gloves/socks for prolonged rain?
For long trips(days), I go with wool baselayer + fleece mid + hard shell w/ventilation. If I am below the treeline on maintained trail I'll bring an umbrella.

Any suggestions?

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
NW Clothing Systems on 03/20/2006 13:36:02 MST Print View


With the exception of a couple trips to Northern California coast and a Southern Utah/Death Valley loop, I've spent all of my backpacking and hiking over the past 12 years in the NW. I'm pretty convinced at this point that we have the most challenging conditions in the lower 48 for clothing systems. Warm enough for rain and exertion-caused heating, but cold enough for almost year-round hypothermia risk and near constant wetness.

My biggest priorities over this time have become breathability and drying time. Your umbrella idea is probably perfect, but I just don't like carrying it/giving up my poles.

In a single garment, EPIC has performed better than just about anything else I've tried. Not perfect by a long shot, but handles drizzle without a problem, breathes reasonably well, and dries faster than just about any fabric I've had. Unfortunately there are very few options out there.

I did a jacket test this past Saturday in 42 degree misty weather. 9.5 miles and 6 jackets, switching jackets every mile. Right around 18 minute miles so I was generating some heat. Of my water "resistants", the EPIC did great. Supplex also was nice, but not as water resistant and stayed a bit damp. Activent was okay - less breathable than the EPIC and heavier. Of the water "proofs", the dirt-cheap 02 rainwear was by far the most comfortable, despite some fit and feature issues. They could be fixed, though, and it's less than half the weight of anything else. Precip was comfortable, but did get some moisture condensation on the inside. My other jacket was a joke, but you're unlikely to ever see it for sale so it's not much of an option.

A really well vented EPIC jacket could be a perfect NW jacket, serving as a widnshirt and a "drizzle jacket". I've only seen one that is relatively well vented - the Feathered Friends Jackorack. Doesn't fit me, though. I'm using a slightly modified LL Bean EPIC Jacket that is no longer made and weighs 10.6 ounces in XXL Tall. That's pretty light for EPIC. I think WildThings still makes an EPIC windshirt, but not sure about coverage or venting.

I think most ideal mountain setups include a 3 ounce windshirt and a 10-14 ounce rainjacket. Usually close to a pound total in most light gear lists. An EPIC jacket (well-vented) and an O2 jacket for the super downpour would cover the NW for about the same weight. The problem isn't the heavy rain, it's the incessant damp stuff.

I've found most ultralight windshirts to be nice, but not ideal. The dampness does get to them - from the outside or the inside - and they seem clingy to me when they're wet. They do dry quickly, though. I know everybody wants to keep their ultralight windshirts under 3.5 ounces or so, but a Quantum hooded windshirt with huge #3 zip pit zippers would still be under 5 ounces and would be the most breathable thing out there. Doesn't exist unless you sew, though. I still have trouble shelling out $100 plus for these jackets, too.

BPL has had a comprehensive fabric article mentioned for a couple years no, but it apparently keeps getting pushed back. I'm curious to see a technical view from them at some point. There's some good stuff out there - Patagonia has some interesting data - but it's tough to make good comparisons.

I'm less impressed with softshells, whatever they are. If you mean the Schoeller and similar type fabrics, they're great for NW skiing, but are too heavy, too hot, and stay too wet for NW hiking in my experience. Most include quite a bit of Lycra, which I find tends to hold water. As long as it didn't get soaked it'd probbly be fine, but if that's the situation there are many other lighter, cheaper, better performing options.

Lots of blah blah there, but in a nutshell, your focus on drying time is good. Windshirts are great out here when they're dry, and softshells questionable for backpacking specific stuff in my opinion. Interested to hear what you've tried - always eager to hear what works for other Northwesterners!


Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
EPIC on 03/20/2006 14:10:16 MST Print View

Thanks Curt.
I have tried the o2 rainwear but find it extremely lacking in durability.
I think you're right about a pertex shell with pit zips.
With an umbrella, a full zip windshirt works well. But I like to keep my hands free.
Which for me leaves two possibilities:
1. windshirt + umbrella + waterproof anorak.
2. epic with pit zips + waterproof anorak.
The anorak is heavy downpours or breaks.
These both add up to similar total weight.

If I was on the PCT for an extended period north of the Sisters, I would use the windshirt + umbrells + wp anorak.

I use a BD FirstLight tent and have been impressed with the breathability and weather resistance of the EPIC fabric.

What about pants/gloves/socks?

I have tried sealskinz but they take forever to dryout and arent very breathable.

Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
EPIC wet out time on 03/20/2006 14:24:20 MST Print View

Curt, how long before EPIC wets out during a full day of liquid sunshine(the standard NW steady drizzle)? Does it dry out at nite well? Do you need to wear it in your sleeping bag or will hang drying it in your shelter suffice?

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: EPIC on 03/20/2006 15:40:39 MST Print View


What has failed on the O2 stuff for you? So far I haven't had problems, but it's obviously less durable. I'm curious what goes first - seams or holes?

I'm impressed you have the guts to use an EPIC tent out here. I guess I've had too many 72 hour nonstop rains to trust it. What's your experience in multi-day wet with it?

I wear EPIC pants - companion piece to the jacket. I really wish they still made them! Impossible to find now. EPIC is a great material for pants. Walking generates enough heat to dry them very quickly. Side zips offer as much ventilation as I want. Even if they end up saturated it's a very short time before they dry.

My favorite gloves in the world are somewhere along I90 right now. I was about 5 miles down the pass when I heard a flapping sound then saw a glove in my rearview mirror and realized I'd set them on top of the car. I'm still *BEEP* a month later. They were OR AirFoil gloves. Super thin, super agile, and enough warmth for all but the coldest. They're not waterproof, but water resistant and dry super fast. That's why I like them. All my various fleece and leather gloves stay wet forever. The AirFoils will dry in your pockets in just an hour or so. I'll probably shell out the $40 to replace them. Overpriced, but excellent gloves and a fantastic fit.

EPIC will wet out. I've found its performance is hugely determined by how clean it is. If it's even a little dirty, it wets out much faster. Right out of the dryer it behaves like a full-on waterproof with huge beads just rolling off it. I tend to wash it right before a trip and 90% of my trips - even here in Washington - my rainproof never leaves my pack.

When it does wet out, it's a spot thing for me. The shoulders and lower arms tend to wet out most. Not massively uncomfortable, but typical for nylon or polyester - whatever the fabric is that the EPIC process is applied to. The real benefit is the drying time. If I put on a synthetic or down insulation layer over the top, it's dry in probably less than an hour. I just had this happen weekend before last. We hiked the last 5 miles of a route in open, unsheltered ice/rain mix. Not a full wet out, but certainly covered in water. Put on a down jacket and it was completely dry in about a half hour - maybe less - that's just when I checked it. Of course all that moisture was now in the down, so a synthetic is better if you're going to be doing this a lot, but the EPIC will dry as fast or faster than anything you've had before almost for certain.

Big Sky International makes an interesting EPIC jacket and pants. Might want to look into them.

Hope that helps,


Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
wet hiking on 03/20/2006 16:05:03 MST Print View

I don't hike in the NW but I've spent a considerable amount of time hiking in the Northwest of Spain, which has a similar climate. Drizzle that starts and stops every few minutes, overcast and cold alternating every so often with sunny and hot as the clouds temporarily open, very hilly. The solution I finally came upon is to make my own raincoat of Goretex which extends past my hands and knees, so I don't need rain pants or rain mittens, then wear very little under that, usually just a thin nylon supplex shirt with perhaps an insulated vest and insulated bomber hat if temperatures are under 40°F. When walking on the flat, with a strong wind, this getup may be a bit chilly, but it will definitely not lead to hypothermia.

The reason hard shells don't work for most people is they insist on wearing too much clothing under them. In particular, any sort of knit base layer is usually too warm until the temperature drops below freezing, unless you are walking strictly on the flat or downhill. A fleece jacket or long sleeve insulated pullover is ridiculously warm when you are wearing a hard-shell in above-freezing temperatures.

The other thing is that you absolutely have to use a wide-brim rain hat in order to allow ventilation at the neck, with the rain jacket hood tucked down the back. Using the rain jacket hood, other than in extreme conditions, is a classic mark of someone who doesn't know what they are doing. The amount of heat trapped by a hard-shell rain jacket hood will easily overheat the average man walking uphill with a pack even in sub-freezing temperatures.

If the rain jacket layered over a supplex shirt is too warm, so that you start perspiring, then remove both the rainjacket and the shirt and just let your torso get wet. Hypothermia results from getting your clothing wet at 40°F, not from getting your naked body wet while hikingn at that temperature (assuming you have dry clothing available in your pack for when you stop moving).

Edited by frprovis on 03/20/2006 16:09:07 MST.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: wet hiking on 03/20/2006 18:31:54 MST Print View

Weather on the west side of the NW runs cool and with high humidity. The coastal areas and the mountain foothills can get 100" or more per year in precipitation (some twice that) with rain shadows that get 20". It is a land of microclimates. The eastern basins of Washington and Oregon are dry range and desert. The argiculture there requires irrigation.

The rain can drizzle for days on end, rather than short intense thunderstorms. The significant factor in Pacific NW climate is the lack of sunshine. Seattle gets less rain than many East Coast cities, but it is the cloud cover that makes it dark and cool. With that and the humidity, you are walking in a cold sauna all day, and the sweat has nowhere to go. Trying to dry out gear is a real challenge unless it is the middle of summer. With the Japan Current, it is rarely very cold below 3000' feet.

Fleece and polyfill garments are great; down is terrible. The gound is wet and brushy trails can soak you in minutes with morning dew. Mud is part of life on the trail. Many trails are near stream beds in the Winter, early Spring and late Fall. Overused campsites are muddy and finding a dry or draining area to pitch a tent can be a challenge.

Ponchos can be good when the rain is coming down and DWR and highly breathable gear is a Godsend. I'm committed to using an umbrella as much as possible in the next year to see how that works into the mix.

Like I said, fleece and sythetics work and it should be understood by those making UL gear lists that down may be good for the Rockies, Sierra, or Great Basin states, but not on the west ide of the Cascades or the Pacific Coast. I would add a pound or so to any gear list to compensate for the climate.

I'd love to hear from folk in costal British Columbia and SE Alaska on their UL gear for clothing and bedding.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Full zip Epic pants on 03/20/2006 19:39:31 MST Print View

Available at Big Sky Products

Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
answers on 03/20/2006 19:56:52 MST Print View

Hey Curt, luckily, I have never experienced 72 hours of rain in my BD Firstlight, I have lucked out my last few long trips in the Cascades. My prediction is that would be patchy leaking, as it can survive a single night of rain easily.
The o2 rainwear I used just generally had little rips and tears after repeated packing and unpacking, worsened by a tight fit, I'm a little too rough on my gear.

Well, on my next long trip I'm going to most likely try a jackorak(epic) with some epic pants for my outer shell. I'll stick with a wool baselayer and a lightweight fleece midlayer. For stops and to dry out at night, maybe my micropuff pullover. And maybe a wide brimmed rain hat instead of an umbrella?

Water resistance aside, what's more breathable, an epic jacket with pit/torso vents or a pertex quantum with no venting?

Thanks for all the advice.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Full zip Epic pants on 03/20/2006 20:27:30 MST Print View

Interesting product, but they need some help with their Web design and programming.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Fabrics and water on 03/20/2006 20:38:02 MST Print View

I had to laugh at some of the comments about the dry Rockies and down ... How very true!

Around Sydney in Australia we can have a hot humid day followed in very short order by a thunderstorm. In our 'Alps' we are as likely to get rain as snow in the winter. (Sigh.)

In summer time we very often don't bother with a jacket when the rain is short. (Knowing it will be short is another matter - but thunderstorms usually are.) I just wear a strong windshirt made of a Taslan-style nylon fabric. It is tough, for our scrub, and dries pretty quickly. In cool weather I will wear a shortish poncho, rather like the 'Packa', clipped to my pack. This lets me adjust the amount of ventilation from very little to wide open.

The key requirements under these wet conditions in my mind are as follows:

* Retain body warmth!
Really, it doesn't matter if you are wet, but it DOES matter if you are cold. So balancing heat generation and sweating are important.

* Retain head warmth!
I think this is very important, and I wear a good hat with a broad brim which helps a lot. If the weather is poor I may have the hood of my poncho over my head and hat while the rest of the poncho is open.

* Avoid heat loss due to rain water pouring through your clothing.
Being wet doesn't really matter. What matters is the continuous drain on your body of cold water pouring over you. So if you are wet but warm inside your clothing, you are probably OK.

* Keep the outer surface fabric warm
This is less obvious. Imagine you are wearing a light PU jacket over bare skin. The jacket will wet out against your skin, and the cold rain will chill the outside surface of the jacket. You will rapidly start losing heat through the jacket. But if you have a layer of almost anything inbetween, to insulate your skin from the cold water, your skin can stay warm. That much is obvious.
Less obvious is the fact that by keeping your skin warm, you are helping the surface fabric an enormous amount. If it is PU or EPIC, the internal warmth can help keep the outer surface warm and prevent it from wetting out. This will allow the breathability to continue. It can almost be a closed loop.
I had an EPIC top over a light thermal in driving sleet, and I was getting cold and damp. I put a 200 weight fleece top on under the EPIC. I dried out, was warm, and the fleece stayed pretty dry too.

Mind you, handling day after day of drizzle and rain is hard. We have to do that sometimes in Australia, especially in Tasmania, and the solution seems to be to run shorter days, working hard and staying warm, and then doing some limited drying out in the tent in the evening. I said 'tent', not 'tarp': you will need the room.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
EPIC fabric on 03/20/2006 20:49:10 MST Print View

EPIC fabrics rely on a layer of silicone polymer coating around the individual fibers to create enough surface tension to block water coming through. This means there are holes between the threads and the fabric can really breath air through it. Great. However, there are two ways in which EPIC can fail.

1: Under enough pressure the surface tension idea fails. Try kneeling on an EPIC groundsheet on wet ground to see this.

2: If the surface tension effect fails the fabric will leak. This can happen when the fabric gets dirty or sweaty. In fact, cleanliness is crucial to having EPIC work. So if you are going through scrub in an EPIC top, sooner or later enough stuff will rub off the bushes that the silicone surface will be masked by the gunge, and the fabric will leak.

For some strange reason Nextec insist on marketing EPIC-treated cotton fabrics. These fail something awful. What happens here is that the cotton fibers wear away, and the silicone polymer actually gets abraded off the surface of the fibers. Now the fibres can get wet. Combine this with a bit of dirt and sweat, and you have a very expensive wet shirt.
I tried this myself, making a windshirt out of some tough polycotton EPIC fabric I was given. The company confirmed later on that the fabric simply would not take this treatment. I was misusing the fabric.

Synthetic EPIC fabrics are great for clean dry snow conditions. They will work in clean wet snow conditions. But keep them clean.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Wet Hiking on 03/20/2006 21:51:15 MST Print View

Here in Japan the three season hiking season is filled with constant, often torrential rains. Last year there was not a single weekend of sunny weather, many hikers complaining about the dismal, muddy conditions. In the high mountains this made for a constant need to keep warm while being wet and since the rain is so strong something like Epic or the Pertex/Pile system from Scotland would either wet out too quickly with no chance of drying or, in the case of Pertex/Pile, be too hot. I tend to use Paramo gear, which acts like a waterproof softshell, and by wearing only a thin wool t-shirt (I rarely need anything more than my Mammut Courmayeur Schoeller Dryskin Pants... I just don't mind my legs getting wet as long as the pants keep my legs reasonably warm and they don't cling to my legs when wet... one reason I dislike materials like Supplex) with the Paramo jacket over it I find that I can walk in most conditions and stay dry and warm. If it gets too warm while hiking I just take off the jacket and let myself get wet. With the heat generated from walking I dry out very quickly.

From my 10 years living in western Oregon and the memories of days of hiking in the endless drizzle in the Cascades I would say in general a good windshirt would be great for most conditions, with a backup rainshell for when the rain gets bad or you have to push through wet brush. Most of the time the rain doesn't get strong enough to even warrant carrying an umbrella (I never owned an umbrella when I lived in Eugene). More important would be to stay warm in the Cascades, something that dries very quickly and that you can wear under your windshell.

I think people over-rate staying dry. As others have said here it is not the getting wet that kills, but getting cold. As long as you're warm you'll be okay. After all wild animals get wet all the time, but as long as their insulation works they are always fine.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Re: Wet Hiking on 03/20/2006 23:30:28 MST Print View

"I think people over-rate staying dry. As others have said here it is not the getting wet that kills, but getting cold. As long as you're warm you'll be okay."


What he said.

(I had a whole lot more to say... but it doesnt need said)

Daniel Schmidt
(dschmidt) - F
people overrate staying dry on 03/21/2006 08:05:03 MST Print View

I'd agree, if getting wet didn't make me colder.

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Wet Hiking on 03/21/2006 08:12:04 MST Print View

I completely agree with the major "themes" that are coming through on most of these posts:

1. You will get wet regardless
2. Staying warm is more important than staying dry.

This is why I believe the EPIC does well out here - not because of its water resistance, but because it dries so fast. I just assume if it's rainy/drizzly I'm going to get wet - either from precip or sweat. What I don't want to do is sit around camp at night in soaked clothing or wake up in the morning and don a sopped jacket to start my day in. Drying time has become a huge priority. This is where EPIC shines.

Wool hasn't performed well for me because it doesn't really dry in these conditions (granted, I have not used some of the newer very light stuff), cotton is obviously useless in these conditions, and slow-drying stuff like heavier nylons and some Supplex don't cut it. Even mid-weight polypro can be a problem for me. I tend to get the lightest weight fabric in all my layers not just becaues of pack weight, but because of drying time.

Daniel, you're right that good old fleece is actually pretty good for these conditions. Most is too heavy, but a well-designed 100 wt. fleece can be a great layer in the Cascades where you don't need a ton of insulation. Still haven't found the perfect one, though.

Any suggestions on a hat that doesn't trap heat? Even in cold rain I get a hot head quickly. Something like the Seattle Sombrero is way too much. What works for you when you're not using an umbrella?


Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: answers on 03/21/2006 08:14:28 MST Print View

"The o2 rainwear I used just generally had little rips and tears after repeated packing and unpacking, worsened by a tight fit, I'm a little too rough on my gear."

I went up in size and haven't had the problems you note. Just a thought. I don't feel nearly as bitter about a 6oz. shell sitting in the bottom of my pack as I do a 14oz. shell. :)

Curt Peterson
(curtpeterson) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Jackorak on 03/21/2006 08:20:40 MST Print View

"Well, on my next long trip I'm going to most likely try a jackorak(epic) with some epic pants for my outer shell."

Daniel - Big Sky International (see Carol's link above) has an EPIC jacket that's cheaper by $20-$30 and lighter than the jackorak. I'm hoping they offer it in XXL soon. I found the jackorack fit to be off when I tried it a couple years ago - might want to stop downtown and try it on before buying if you decide to got that route. Not sure if you've been down recently, but they doubled their store size. Lots of nice goodies to look at if you haven't been in awhile.


Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: layering in the Pacific NW on 03/21/2006 08:56:55 MST Print View

I thankfully spend most of my time hiking in pleasent california weather, but I have spent several seasons in less pleasant conditions.

EPIC does OK in light drizzle. In a real rain you will be soaked in a short period of time. It drys pretty quickly, but not as quickly as say one of the ultralight windshirts. It's not the most comfortable material next to the skin. As other have noted, EPIC doesn't stand up to much water pressure. So expect anyplace you are touching (like under the shoulder straps, shoulder blades, etc to get pretty wet, even in a drizzle or in wet snow).

I don't see a big advantage of EPIC over any of the light-weight unlined windshirts. The wind shirt will dry more quickly (less material), is less insulating (which is good if you are trying to avoid overheating), and are lighter. Neither will protect you from serious rain.

I use a patagonia dragonfly which I am pretty happy with. My wife marmot chinook (no longer made) was even nicer because it's polyester material absorbed even less water and was significantly more water resistant while being just as breathable as my dragonfly. [Alas, I didn't like the fit of the chinook... too short in length, to large in the body cut.]

If I wasn't going off trail, I would go with a synthetic base layer (wool just doesn't work for me), an unlined windshirt, and a o2 rain jacket.

Off trail I have been most happy with the montbell peak. If someone made a light weight eVENT jacket with good ventilation, I think this would be the best option for a shell, but no one is making this yet.

When it turns cold (snow conditions) I do switch to a EPIC jacket (Patagonia Essenshell pullover) when the extra warmth is helpful, and when the extra durable is helpful.

For the head, I have tried a number of options. I agree than the OR Seattle Sombreo is too warm for most conditions. I have tried two things that worked pretty well. The first is a supplex hat with a plastic stiffener. It keeps rain out of my face and drys pretty quickly. In really serious rain I put a plastic cover over it. The other things which works pretty well in moderate rain and tempature is a cloudveil four shadows beany which is made of dryskin. The only thing it lacks is a brim :-(

As to waterproof gloves / socks. I have had mostly good luck with sealskinz socks. The only downside with them is when the do get wet on the inside, they take forever to dry. But they have kept my feet dry on a number of trips for several days in a row.

I don't like the sealzskin gloves. They just aren't comfortable for me. I use some OR rain mittens, but found that it most conditions they were too warm. I have taken to use Pearl Izumi Encore gloves. They are fairly wind protective, very breathable, water resistant, and dry pretty quickly.

Erik Sund
(sundek) - F
Re: layering in the Pacific NW on 03/21/2006 11:38:52 MST Print View


I've been curious about the Montbell Peak jacket (or, more specifically, the Breeze Dry-Tec material) for some time. How does the breathability this material compare to eVent or to the various flavors or Gore-Tex?

I've been looking for a new waterproof/breathable jacket to back up my Montane Featherlite. The Integral Designs eVent jacket seemed the thing but when I tried it on at Pro Mountain Sports in the U-District I found that I was between sizes (M & L) and couldn't get a good fit. On the M the sleeves rode up and the hood was tight and the large was too large everywhere else. The Montane jackets are interesting, but the Air puts less breathable material right where I need breathability most (the pits) and the Superfly seems a bit hefty at 15 oz, without pitzips. I'm near to settling on something less breathable but lightweight (OR Zealot or Marmot Essence) for the real downpours. The O2 gear seems too fragile for scrambling. Would the Montbell Peak be an ideal compromise with a more breathable (?) material and zips at 11 oz?

Thanks for bearing with my litany of questions. I'm eager to learn more about the Dry-Tec.

Best regards,
Olympia, WA