M Lightweight Alternative Rainwear: State of the Market Report - Part 1: Introducing and Defining Alternative Rainwear

by David Chenault

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Article Summary:

While some form of rain-proof clothing is almost always a necessary safety measure for wilderness travel, the performance of jackets and pants made from waterproof-breathable fabric is typically a compromise. Such garments serve a single purpose, are often relatively heavy, and on many occasions their purported virtues (breathability in particular) do not meet expectations. For many backpackers, rainwear beyond WPB jackets and pants can be a cheaper, lighter, more effective solution. These articles survey the current options available in lightweight alternative rainwear and evaluate a number of them based on field testing.

On many occasions the only thing worse than a steady, cold rain in the backcountry is having to wear and carry the jacket and pants necessary to guard against it. Rain can, via convective and evaporative heat loss, quickly turn a mild day of hiking into a potentially life threatening situation. Ryan Jordan’s essay on Thermoregulation details the various ways in which body heat is lost in the backcountry, and it should be no surprise that getting wet plays a large role in many of them. In balmy conditions a hiker can safely choose to just get wet, but if conditions dictate the use of any insulating clothing, you’ll need something on top of it all to keep the rain out. As Jordan concludes “...there is no fiber in existence, be it natural or manmade, that can fairly make the claim that it is warm when wet.” Ergo backcountry safety usually demands raingear.

That being the case, what to bring? The standard answer for the past three decades has been a jacket, and in especially cold and wet conditions, pants made from a waterproof-breathable fabric. Gore-Tex invented the category, and claims of a magical ability to keep liquid water out while venting perspiration have seen this product category bloom spectacularly. Virtually every outdoor clothing company has a range of WPB garments at the core of its product range. They come in many weights, fabrics, cuts, colors, and are aimed at every conceivable user group. They are also somewhat-to-very expensive.

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