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A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain
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Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/26/2006 18:16:27 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
when you can't rely on DWR on 12/26/2006 22:46:50 MST Print View

I do a lot of stuff in the wet (rain, packrafting, and both together), so I find this a fascinating topic.

However, it seems like the reliance on a working DWR finish is completely impractical for longer trips. Using a special washing liquid and a special fabric treatment every time you expect to encounter rain is all well and good if you start out in your house. But what if you've been griming up your rain clothes and beating them up in the brush for a month or more? And there's no washing machine for a hundred miles, let alone a store that would carry water repellent treatments?

My solution in the past has been to carry a full fleece hooded body suit (for under the raingear in cold), since it deals so well with water. Since that's my only insulation, it ends up being as light as the method mentioned here, but it's not neccessarily the best way. Any other ideas? As I'll be spending next fall making my way by foot and packraft through the SE Alaska rainforest (with 20 inches/month of precipitation at that time of year) - I'm interested in any novel ideas. Current plan involves a light drysuit, but I don't know how well it will hold up.

When I've tried using light glove liners, they quickly die and leak. Then the light liner glove gets soaked, and my hands are freezing. Last summer, I had really good luck using fish picking gloves (the white cloth kind, with some rubberizing on the palms). They're made to be stuck in the water, and seem to work pretty well when wet. And as a bonus, you can get them pretty much anywhere, and they're only a couple bucks.


Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
DWR, wind, stoves, tents & more on 12/27/2006 10:25:33 MST Print View

Interesting article. Days of rain are probably the hardest conditions backpackers have to deal with. Cold dry conditions are much easier to handle.

The point about DWR is well-made. My regular hiking area is the very wet Scottish Highlands, where I've hiked for several weeks at a time with rain every day. I've never had any sealed rainwear DWR last this long and so have had to put up with increasing condensation. However DWR on midlayers does last better and is worth having on long trips. June through September I carry a thin windproof as a mid layer and a thin 100-weight fleece or heavyweight base layer (e.g. Patagonia R1) as warmwear. October through May I carry a synthetic insulated jacket as well. In temperatures below 40F I wear Paramo waterproof jacket and trousers, which has a light fleece lining, as I find these garments more breathable and more comfortable in the rain than anything else. Above 40F I find them too warm. Paramo garments aren't light though so I only use them when I expect to wear all day every day, including in camp.

For DWR treatments I find Nikwax products excellent. For washing garments with DWR pure soap products are fine, detergents are disastrous (despite what the labels on many garments say).

Scotland is very windy so I always use a windscreen with a stove. It is possible to use one safely with a canister stove, something I've done regularly for many years including on a 41/2 month trip.

I've never found single skin tents very good in wet, windy weather. Ones with good ventilation are too breezy and cool - and if the wind drops condensation can still be copious - while ones with minimal ventilation just get too damp. Double-skin tents I find much better. My favourite solo tent is the Hilleberg Akto, which can be pitched in a few minutes and stands up well to wet and windy weather. Wild camping in Scotland usually means exposed sites and winds tend to swirl round so cooking with the vestibule doors open is often not possible. I've regularly cooked in the large Akto vestibule.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/27/2006 15:39:54 MST Print View

My current rain jacket is a montane lightspeed OVER a driducks/dropstopper jacket. An outer DWR isn't needed in that case. People have reported hiking the entire AT using one pair of Frogg Toggs. An outer jacket of water resistent fabric over a driducks would work for bushwacking also.

On the hands for cold and wet, some use waterproof neoprene gloves like the Glacier Glove Icebay gloves.

Greyson Howard

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Re: A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/27/2006 18:48:42 MST Print View

After three days in the rain I've come to similar conclusions to this article.
I used a synthetic insulation jacket (REI Gossamer), thin synthetic clothing, a down bag, and a single wall tent.
My favorite gear from the trip was my Jetboil, which was nice to hold while it cooked, my golite poncho, which I used as my friends rain gear/big add-on vestibule for cooking under, and the Rainshield Rainsuit, which didn't wet out, has no DWR to wear-out, and was more than breathable enough for me.
One place I differed was on footwear: I used Gortex boots that kept my feet dry for two of the three days, and even though they stayed wet once water made it in, they stayed warmer than wet mesh shoes.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/28/2006 10:54:33 MST Print View

Erin-I have made two multi-month trips along the Alaska coast using a folding kayak and hiking. A Kokatat Gore-Tex dry suit, in combination with a light fleece insulation layer kept me dry and warm while on the water or setting up camp. The dry suit's DWR was still partially effective after multiple months of use because I never used it for hiking. Hiking in brush would quickly wear off the DWR and probably tear the latex wrist gaskets.

I used an eVENT rain suit that I carefully rejuvenated the DWR on before each expedition. After only just a few days of hiking through heavy wet brush, the DWR would wear off the pants and lower arms. I suggest you consider the approach the US Special Forces now use. Wear an EPIC, Brookwood Ecology, or Brookwood Agility outer layer for bushwhacking through the rain forests (all similar in function). This type of material is durable, breathable, and highly water repellant. With the characteristically light to moderate rain of SE Alaska, your body heat will keep your insulation dry. There is no DWR to need rejuvenation. All you do is periodically rinse off the accumulated grime.

Theoretically your comfort level would be increased if your custom body suit insulation was made of Polartec Powerdry rather than conventional fleece. The elastic component of Powerdry eliminates large air gaps that can occur with conventional fleece. For spring or fall weather I suggest you augment your fleece with a Primaloft One insulated jacket. The insulation value, when wet, is reduced much less than other synthetics.

Edited by richard295 on 12/28/2006 11:30:32 MST.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/28/2006 12:01:08 MST Print View

Richard - Thanks for the thoughts.

For the SE Alaska portion of my trip, I'll be doing a mix of hiking and packrafting, biased towards hiking. Since I'm going to need to lug a couple weeks of food on some legs, I'd rather carry only one set of outerwear. And I'd not count hiking through wet brush as "mild to moderate rain". Even if the rain falling out of the sky is moderate, moving through wet brush ups the effect to "heavy rain". Though I'll be in SE Alaska in the fall, the trip will be starting in summer and continuing through winter - I'll need to make some switches (adding insulation, skis, etc...), but my goal is to stretch gear through as many different conditions as possible.

Betraying my ignorance - What exactly is EPIC and ECOLOGY fabric? Searching this site I've found reviews of products containing EPIC, but no overview of what it actually is (how the waterproofing works, how tough it is, etc...).

I'm also not sure what polartec powerdry is. But I've used fleece with the stretchy windproofing before, and found that it prevented water from draining - it never dried out. Normal fleece was much better.


Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
a few observations about managing in continuously wet conditions on 12/28/2006 12:33:53 MST Print View

This is one of my favorite topics. I have taken a number of trips to the california lost coast to fine tune my system and techniques so I could be confident that on longer trips that continuous rain wouldn't be a problem. My experience / conclusions are similar to this article. A few issues I would highlights:

1) Drying clothing. As was mentioned, using clothing that has a low water absorption such as featherweight synthetics base, light supplex, EPIC, etc can make a big difference. I dry my clothing in stages. Once I have shelter (typically a gg spinnshelter shaped tarp) I take my clothing off, squeeze out . shake off any excess water. I put my base layer back on, put on my dry sleeping socks, and then get under my down quilt. If I am really chilled I also put on my synthetic vest. I have yet to have my base layer (or supplex outwear) take more than an hour to dry. Once my base is dry I will pull (one item at a time) the rest of my wet clothing under the quilt to dry. The dry base layer keeps me from chilling too much as damp clothing is added. This sort of experience was described briefly in the spinnshelter review on my website. I would also note that I have sometimes experienced clothing drying under breathable rain clothing when I am engaged in moderate activities. In particular rail rider eco mesh shirt, sekri level 1 powerdry, or featherweight coolmax shirt under a Rainshield O2 jacket.

2) Waterproof socks. I have had reasonable luck with sealskinz socks. They do eventually leak, can get holes, but I have found them to be the most effective protection when I am expecting to be facing continuously wet / cool conditions. A nice side effect is my feet are much cleaner because the Inov-8 Flyrocs mesh doesn't keep dust and dirt out. I have had my feet get wet wearing sealskinz, and would not expect them to keep feet dry for more than a couple of days. A downside is that once the sealskinz get wet on the inside they are very hard to dry out. [Body heat hasn't succeeded, but a hot water bottle did get the job done]. All this said, I have found that with good fitting shoes and socks, my feet can be pretty much soaked during much of the day and be in fine shape at the end of the day. One such experience was detailed in my initial owner review of the Flyroc-310 on my personal website. Just make sure you dry your feet out over night. Otherwise you run the risk of trench foot.

3) Rainwear. As I have written elsewhere,
no rainwear makes me really happy in all conditions. Something I have been experimenting with in colder weather is the a soft shell approach using a highly breathable nylon or polyester shell which blocks wind and keeps the majority of the rain off me with a *light* weight fleece or pile underneath. Examples of this have included a patagonia dragonfly over a patagonia r.5, a patagonia essenshell over a patagonia r1, rab vapour rise jacket, or watching others use marmot driclim, buffalo activity shirt, or the somewhat similar paramo. This sort of system is highly breathable, dry quickly, provide adequate warmth when engaged in aerobic activities down to freezing.

4) Hot water bottles: Not only can you use it to warm yourself up, but it can be an effective drier. Often my wettest clothing are my socks. In cold weather I find that wrapping the wet socks around a water bottle filled with boiling water dries the socks quickly, and keeps the water bottle from being too hot against my skin. BTW: Most cheap water bottles will melt when exposed to boiling water. I have found gatoraid bottles to be the lightest that don't melt.

5) Shelters. So long as there isn't standing water, I found that it is easier for me to manage wet stuff when I have access to ground that will absorb water. My favorite shelter for this sort of thing was a floorless tarptent squall which I used solo. Shelters with larger vestibules such as the Hilleberg Akto would provide the same functionality. It is also useful to have a shelter which minimizes water absorption. One of the nice things about single wall silnylon or spinnaker fabric shelters is they will dry out in minutes if you get a break in the rain and a bit of rain. Many double walled tents use nylon which will absorb a fair bit of water over an extended period of time.

Edited by verber on 12/29/2006 06:31:54 MST.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/28/2006 12:52:02 MST Print View

I would agree with Richard Nisley's suggestions.

EPIC is a silicon encapsulated process produced by EPIC garments will wet out, and won't keep you completely dry, but it sheds water well (even after it wets out) and dries very quickly because the process prevents significant water absorption and there aren't a lot of voids for water to accumulate. Patagonia was the first company to use it (they has an short term exclusive) and used the name EncapSil which was used in the Essenshell and KruShell outwear a few years ago. I have been experimenting with Pertex Equilibrium but can't yet speak to weather I think it would be better than EPIC on extended trips. [For short trips I think it is much nicer: more comfortable against the skin, slightly wicking, less noisy, seems about as water repellent, I think more breathable.]

I would also second powerdry, or some other bipolar material like marmot driclim rather than traditional fleece. The one directional wicking means that your skin gets drier faster than with more conventional fleece.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/28/2006 13:20:06 MST Print View

Erin-Primarily for pack rafting and secondarily for heavy rain, the dry suit is mandatory. Consider the EPIC shirt and pants not as an extra layer but, as your only shirt and pants for the trip. If you seam seal the garment seams on the inside using a silicone based product, it should adequately address the point you made about not counting wet brush as "mild to moderate" rain.

The EPIC by Nextec represents a class of fabrics that have each individual fiber encapsulated for water repellency. There are alternatives to the Nextec EPIC process and Brookwood's Ecology is just one example. Patagonia also has a micro weight alternative as another example. See my post at for a picture of the Patagonia Houdini's encapsulated fibers.

One of my sports is ocean kayak surfing. The Pacific Ocean temps in Northern CA stay near 50 degrees year round. Both the board surfers and the kayak surfers spend a lot of time under the water. Mysterioso (this is the brand name – material type is Polartech Powerstretch) is almost universally the insulation worn. Search any surfing forum for Mysterioso testimonials. Mysterioso is made of Polartec Powerstrecth which is nearly identical to Powerdry. The only difference is Powerdry has a checkerboard skin surface which will keep your skin a little drier if you are primarily on land. In addition to Mark V.'s comment regarding the bicomponent benefit of this material, for water related sports, it prevents the cold water flush when you are in the water and closely knit outer surface minimizes convection heat loss when you are both in and out of the water. The cold water flush phenomenon is related to the stretch benefit on land that I mentioned in my prior post.

Edited by richard295 on 12/28/2006 14:20:18 MST.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/28/2006 13:59:28 MST Print View

It's interesting to hear what people think about the newer fabrics. I've been poking at wet weather systems for years, but usually with homemade gear (harder to get the latest snazziest fabrics).

Fleece drying: I've always found that conventional (200wt) fleece drains water almost immediately, and feels quite dry next to the skin. Does powerdry actually drain water (lose water weight) faster? Or just move it away from the skin faster? Anyone done any side by side tests?
(Richard - just read your tip on Mysterioso, will check it out).
The kayakers might not notice whether or not the fabric drains water though, if they're not walking around.

Raingear drying: I'd be interested to check out a piece of Epic fabric if I can get ahold of one. As far as a coat drying, though, it seems the most key thing is the design. Most raingear fabrics (even goretex) dry quite fast - it's the elasiticized cuffs, zippers, seams, flaps, etc... that hold all the water.

Do Epic and Pertex equilibrium come in rip stop?
Unfortunately, it is still an extra layer for me - I normally go with fleece, raingear (drysuit this time), and nothing else.
This time I will have a snazzy new drysuit that Sheri of Alpacka rafts is making, that will be better for hiking. I'll have to ask her the fabric. I'm hoping I can just use that for everything. But if two suits is inevitable, I will try and make as light as possible Epic (or similar fabric) clothing, maybe.

Wet socks: I have tried seal skins socks. But a combination of sweat and leaks turned my feet into pickles. I actually think that dry feet are unneccessary. Change int o dry socks at night, wring out wet socks, put wet socks back on in the morning, feet are warm almost immediately. Repeat. Wet socks go under sleeping bag if they're likely to freeze otherwise.

Mark - I agree on the silnylon tarp. Most of the water can be shaken out, even without a break in the weather.


Patrick Baker
(WildMan) - F
Re: A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/29/2006 09:15:18 MST Print View

Nice article, one of the better ones I have seen.

Is there a role for Hydropel in these conditions ?

Based on what I have previously read on this website,
there just may be.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/29/2006 14:59:18 MST Print View

Erin-Please let us know what fabric type will be used in your dry suit and if it is specifically designed for backpacking as a dual use feature. Also list the weight (My lightest Kokatat is 3lb without a skirt but, a male relief zipper and built in Gore-Tex booties), relief zipper type, bootie type, and the gasket type. Is Sherri T. planning on eventually offering it as a standard product to the public?

It may be obvious, but just in case, a thin loose fitting EPIC shirt and pants can be layered over your fleece inside your un-burped dry suit for significantly increased warmth. It will provide an additional layer for the internal dry suit air to adhere to rather than moving by convection. It should provide additional warmth equivalent to ~ 12mm (.5 clo) of additional insulation.

Edited by richard295 on 12/29/2006 16:24:54 MST.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/29/2006 15:14:07 MST Print View

>Is there a role for Hydropel in these conditions ?

I'd like to see more expert commentary on this as well. A few months ago I hiked the Wonderland Trail and had rain and soaked feet on all but the first day. I applied BodyGlide heavily to my feet daily and I think it made a big difference. I would have used Hydropel but I couldn't find it in any store.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/29/2006 15:59:58 MST Print View


Do you know that Hydropel is sold in the store here at

I have mine do you have yours yet?

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 12/29/2006 16:32:11 MST Print View

>Do you know that Hydropel is sold in the store here at
>I have mine do you have yours yet?

Yup, I ordered it immediately when it became available on BPL. But that was after the trip...

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Re: Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/29/2006 22:14:07 MST Print View

Richard, do you use the mysterioso alone for kayak surfing in those water temps? I am looking for something to go under clothing for Texas winter kayaking where waters probably do not get below 50 degrees.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Re: Re: when you can't rely on DWR on 12/29/2006 22:54:54 MST Print View


The Mysterioso is used in combination with a wet suit and paddling jacket for 50 degree water.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
Re: A Lightweight Guide to Backpacking in Sustained, Cold Rain on 01/02/2007 09:50:22 MST Print View

Alan, this was another great article. The timing was just right for me. My buddies have an annual New Year's overnight hike. Juggling everyone's schedules, we range close to home in Tulsa, OK. We never know what the winter weather will be. The last 3 trips have been exceptionally warm allowing us to hike in shirt sleeves. This year we found ourselves heading out in a steady rain with a stable 50F temperature.

We headed to a familiar local haunt, the Greenleaf Hiking Trail. After several dry years, we learned of benefits to hiking in the rain, finding numerous creeks and waterfalls that we've never seen before. Our loop hike was cut short by a raging river that usually presents an easy creek crossing.

Lessons learned on this trip include:
I should have stuck to my trail running shoes. I switched to lightweight Gore Tex boots at the trail head. The boots wet through after a few hours of walking and did not dry well.
A silnylon poncho works well for me in steady rain, light wind, and temps around 50F. I was able to slip into my insulated jacket when we stopped for lunch while staying underneath the poncho. The poncho ventilated very well in these conditions.
The bivy/tarp combination works well in a saturated environment. The nighttime temp was 40F. My tarp was saturated on top and below. My lightweight, breathable Equinox bivy stayed dry with the only condensation being at the foot end of my sleeping bag. Certainly experience would be different in a blowing storm.
Leukotape P has an amazing stickiness. In spite of being wet, the tape just sticks.
The MSR Windpro works well in cool conditions. The ability to easily and safely use a windscreen is a big help along with turning the canister upside down on a cool morning.

There are some things we never see except in weather like this:

Edited by flyfast on 01/02/2007 20:33:34 MST.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Backpacking in sustained, cold rain on 01/02/2007 19:42:42 MST Print View

Phil, I’m with you on the poncho. I need the ventilation, even down below freezing. Granted, I hike in forested areas so I am not exposed to wind. I have recently sewed some sil-nylon sleeves onto the poncho to keep my forearms dry. They come down over my w/b shell gloves. The resulting garment looks hideous (I probably should have matched the fabric colors) but it works.

To me, cold, wet weather with muddy ground calls for gore-tex boots. I don’t know what I’m doing right but my wife and I hike for long weekends in these conditions and never wet out our boots. I have Montrail Comp Mids and she has Vasque Breeze Mids. We wear rain pants (Marmot Precip) that come down over the top of the shoes. We were thick wool socks.

If there is potential for wading across creeks, I attach Crocs to the outside of the pack and change footwear and roll up the pants. I figure skin can be dried out easier than fabrics (plus I like the pretty blue color of my toes)!

I really don’t mind hiking in this kind of weather. The only downside to me is that I don’t enjoy cooking and eating as much as in dry weather.

I also think this was a great article. Keep up with the articles on techniques. I always learn a lot from them.