Rain Gear

Jackets, coats, gloves, pants, ponchos, kilts, and caps – OH MY! There are many different pieces of clothing, made from many different types and qualities of materials, for every part of your body, all designed to keep you dry.

Make sure and do your research, even if an item claims a 100% waterproof rating, that claim is worthless if you sweat while wearing it and end up wet anyway, even though it wasn’t from rain.

The name of the game is finding the best balance of waterproofness and breathability at the lowest weight.

 

The following are the stats and my humble opinions of rain gear I’ve used or researched and wish to use on the trail:

 

 

Zpacks Rain Kilt – $59

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Weight: 54 g / 1.9 oz.
Material: waterproof Black 1.0 oz/sqyd Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF)

  • Built with Dyneema Composite Fabric aka Cuben Fiber
  • The back of the kilt can be opened or closed with a waterproof separating zipper
  • can be used as a small ground cloth
  • reinforced tie out loops at the four corners and at the center of the sides
  • Packs up tiny

The Zpacks Rain Kilt is the smallest and lightest piece of rain gear I own. The kilt is an ancient style of clothing but Zpacks uses cutting edge DCF fabric and adds features that allow their kilt to perform at a high level while hiking.

Even though I like to wear the short shorts , sometimes even the shortest shorts aren’t short enough to be covered by the hem of your rain jacket. If wet shorts are a problem for you (and wait til you go cold weather shorts hiking if wet shorts are not currently a problem for you), then the addition of a rain kilt is the solution.

At 1.9 ounces and able to serve multiple functions, I can’t think of a reason not to bring this kilt along on any trip where wet weather is a possibility. Even if you never have to wear it in the rain, it can be used as a ground cloth or gear cover or screen or any number of things; get creative!

The kilt has a full length separating zipper that can be opened wide to allow for longer strides. Completely unzip the kilt to lay it flat as a small ground cloth or instant dry surface.

Like a DCF garments, it is somewhat noisy. Don’t expect to sneak up on anyone, as you crinkle down the trail.

 


Zpacks Vertice Rain Pants – $149

zpacks-vertice-rain-pants

Weight: 105 g / 3.6 oz.
Material: 3-Layer Vertice waterproof breathable fabric

  • Vertice fabric has a 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr vapor transfer per test JIS L 1099 Method B1
  • Fully waterproof, 20,000 mm hydrostatic head rating
  • Durable, effective “C6” water repellent on the exterior
  • Full length water proof front zipper
  • All the seams are taped
  • Packs up tiny. Roll the pants up and secure them with the waist elastic. No stuff sack necessary
  • Adjustable shock cord at the waist. The shock cord can be cinched down to any minimum.
  • Wide ankles fit over most shoes up to US Men’s size 12 without removing them

At the time of writing, the Vertice Rain Pants from Zpacks are the top of the line rain shell bottoms. The ratings on these pants, quite simply destroy all other lightweight waterproof bottoms. The Vertice fabric has an insane waterproof rating, is extremely lightweight and packable, and perhaps most importantly, has a vapor transfer (breathability) rating that is unmatched by any other product on the market.

As far as waterproofness goes, the vertice fabric has a 20,000 mm hydrostatic head rating. In a hydrostatic head waterproof test, the higher the number, the more resistant to liquid the fabric is. For reference, the floor on a high quality, well-made tent from a lead manufacturer has a rating of about 10,000 mm.

Lately, most consumers are looking for a high vapor transfer rating on their rain wear, understanding that most respectable gear companies have got the waterproof thing dialed in by now. “eVent” fabric took the first big leap in the industry. They came out with an affordable patented fabric that employed three separate layers; a waterproof shell (typically DWR coated), a direct venting membrane, and an interior backer fabric.

Since the introduction of 3 layer construction, many companies have come out with their own versions, swapping out for or developing their own fabrics and layers, but using the same basic concept. Almost all versions of breathable waterproof shells, work well and are relatively light weight. However, none are perfect. Even the highest rated breathable shells (maybe even more so, with higher breathability ratings), after prolonged moisture exposure, will “wet out”.

Wetting out is when the fabric on a garment essentially becomes waterlogged and can no longer perform. After some time, moisture will start to permeate from the outside, and depending on the vapor transfer rating, you will begin to sweat on the inside, causing moisture from your body to permeate the inner layer. Once both sides of your shell are compromised, the middle layer soon becomes saturated, with nowhere to transfer the moisture to. At this point the garment is useless as rain gear.

I’ve worn many rain shells, from plastic big box store plastic bottoms to fancy breathable pants from famous outfitters and they all wetted out at some point. As I mentioned, the 20,000 mm hydrostatic waterproof rating of the Vertice fabric is very high but not unheard of on comparable pieces. It is the 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr vapor transfer rating that is unmatched and what sets the Vertice pants apart. The test used to calculate vapor transfer rating is the JIS L 1099 Method B1 aka “the inverted cup test”. You can read all about Vapor Transfer rating tests here (scroll down to ‘inverted cup test’).

Without going into it in depth, here are that standards for grading the results of the test:

Low Under 10,000 gr/m2/24hr
Moderate 10,000 to 20,000 gr/m2/24hr
High 20,000+ gr/m2/24hr

Current upper range is 30,000 gr/m2/day…. Vertice fabric is rated at 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr. That should tell you everything you need to know.

 

 

 


Outdoor Research Men’s Helium Pants – $119

Weight : 160g  / 5.6oz
Material: Pertex® Shield+2.5L 100% nylon 30D ripstop

  • Waterproof & Breathable
  • Fully Seam-Taped
  •  Laminated Construction
  •  Windproof
  •  Lightweight
  • Back Pocket Doubles as Stuff Sack
  •  Reflective Logos
  •  Carabiner Loop
  •  Internal Loops for Instep Lace
  • Elastic Waist with Drawcord
  •  Gusseted Crotch
  •  Ankle Zippers

 

The Outdoor Research Helium series has included some of the most popular gear released over the past decade. The high performance and relatively affordable prices have allowed the masses to experience next level gear in a variety of conditions, from backyards to expeditions.

The Pertex® Shield+2.5L 100% nylon 30D ripstop fabric is very waterproof and scored high on vapor transfer tests, but in my experience, still wets out fairly quickly during high exertion activities, when your body produces more sweat and vapor than the pants’ fabric can transfer at once.

The pants are incredibly light but to achieve this, the Helium clothing series uses a thin fabric. Even though it is constructed with 30D ripstop, even the slightest abrasion will compromise the pants and the waterproofness will inevitably wear down over time.

 

 


Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Fiber Poncho – $189

MLD-Cuben-Fiber-Poncho

Weight: 145 g / 5 oz.
Material: .75 DCF (formerly Cuben Fiber)
Dimensions: 4.3′ x 9′ / 1.3 m x 2.8 m (Rectangular)

  • Traditional poncho design with hood in the middle
  • More material in back to cover backpack when worn as poncho
  • Eight tie-outs with bonded reinforcements
  • Comes with waist bungee cord + cordlock, Silnylon stuff sac, and MLD Pro Guyline

The best way to save weight, in general, is for each piece of gear you bring to serve more than one purpose; the Mountain Laurel Designs Poncho Tarps does just that, serving as both rain gear and shelter, both categories that can eat up a lot of weight and space in your kit.

The MLD Cuben Fiber Poncho is crazy light, completely waterproof, and breathes well due to a poncho’s design and shape. The main differences between the MLD Cuben Poncho and the MLD Pro Poncho are the choice of materials, the hood design, and the cut of the shelter.

This Cuben Fiber poncho only comes in Cuben (now DCF) fabric. There is no real “cut” to the design; it is a straight up 90 degree rectangle with off-set hood. The coverage area of this tarp is pretty small, not allowing for a lot of room underneath for you+other gear. The hood design is simple, but uses an optional “stabilizer bungee” around the neck opening to add strength and a more even and taught pitch when using as a tarp.

This is a shelter for a devoted Super Ultra Light hiker. It is as no frills and as stripped down as they come but insanely light; just 5 ounces for your shelter AND you don’t need to bring a rain jacket!

 

 

 


Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket – $259

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Weight: 176 g / 6.2 oz.
Material: 3-Layer Vertice waterproof breathable fabric

  • Vertice fabric has a 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr vapor transfer per test JIS L 1099 Method B1
  • Fully waterproof, 20,000 mm hydrostatic head rating
  • Durable, effective “C6” water repellent on the exterior
  • Full length water proof front zipper
  • All the seams are taped
  • Adjustable elastic at the wrists and hood
  • Elastic at the hem seals out drafts
  • Fitted hood with visor keeps water off your face
  • The hood can be rolled up and clipped when not in use
  • Packs up a little bit smaller than a soda can
  • You can combine this jacket with a Zpacks Rain KiltPants, and Mitts for an entire rain suit
  •  Waterproof armpit zippers
  • Comfortable body and sleeve length for good coverage on top of layers

At the time of writing (Spring 2018), the Vertice Rain Jacket from Zpacks is the top of the line rain shell. The ratings on this jacket, quite simply destroy all other lightweight waterproof jackets. The Vertice has an insane waterproof rating, is extremely lightweight and packable, and perhaps most importantly, has a vapor transfer (breathability) rating that is unmatched by any other product on the market.

At only 6.2 ounces, it’s hard to believe how fully featured this piece is: zippers, elastic hem, sleeve openings, and hood all standard. Full length zipper and zippered chest pocket. Adjustable hood. Venting armpit zippers. All seams taped for complete reliable waterproofness.

As far as waterproofness goes, the jacket has a 20,000 mm hydrostatic head rating. In a hydrostatic head waterproof test, the higher the number, the more resistant to liquid the fabric is. For reference, the floor on a high quality, well-made tent from a lead manufacturer has a rating of about 10,000 mm.

Waterproofing is the easy part. You can easily wrap yourself in a garbage bag and have waterproof garment. However, you will not enjoy wearing it for very long, because your  body will begin to sweat inside the bag, and you will soon be just as wet as if you weren’t wearing any protection at all. This is where the breathability factor comes into play.

Lately, most consumers are looking for a high vapor transfer rating on their rain wear, understanding that most respectable gear companies have got the waterproof thing dialed in by now. “eVent” fabric took the first big leap in the industry. They came out with an affordable patented fabric that employed three separate layers; a waterproof shell (typically DWR coated), a direct venting membrane, and an interior backer fabric.

Since the introduction of 3 layer construction, many companies have come out with their own versions, swapping out for or developing their own fabrics and layers, but using the same basic concept. Almost all versions of breathable waterproof jackets, work well and are relatively light weight. However, none are perfect. Even with the highest rated breathable shells (maybe even more so, with higher breathability ratings), after prolonged moisture exposure, the jackets will “wet out”.

Wetting out is when the fabric on a garment essentially becomes waterlogged and can no longer perform. After some time, moisture will start to permeate from the outside, and depending on the vapor transfer rating, you will begin to sweat  on the inside, causing moisture from your body to permeate the inner layer. Once both sides of your shell are compromised, the middle layer soon becomes saturated, with nowhere to transfer the moisture to. At this point the garment is useless as rain gear.

I’ve worn many rain shells, from plastic big box store ponchos to fancy breathable jackets from famous outfitters and they all wetted out at some point. As I mentioned, the 20,000 mm hydrostatic waterproof rating of the Vertice jacket is very high but not unheard of on comparable pieces. It is the 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr vapor transfer rating that is unmatched and what sets the Vertice jacket apart. The test used to calculate vapor transfer rating is the JIS L 1099 Method B1 aka “the inverted cup test”. You can read all about Vapor Transfer rating tests here (scroll down to ‘inverted cup test’).

Without going into it in depth, here are that standards for grading the results of the test:

Low Under 10,000 gr/m2/24hr
Moderate 10,000 to 20,000 gr/m2/24hr
High 20,000+ gr/m2/24hr

Current upper range is 30,000 gr/m2/day….the Vertice fabric is rated at 56,000+ g/m^2/24hr. That should tell you everything you need to know.

 

*TRAIL TESTED UPDATE*

I used the Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket as my only upper body rain protection during my 246 day Eastern Continental Trail Hike from 2018 – 2019. Though I felt the jacket lived up to its claims of breathability, I was disappointed in its waterproofness while using it as a high use item in the wilderness for months on end.

When used as a layering system/mild wind breaker during brisk walking and climbing, the jacket adds warmth and vents away excess heat efficiently. This is where the effectiveness of the jacket ends for a thru hiker.

I’m not saying that this jacket isn’t a great piece of gear; it absolutely outperforms much of the competition and lives up to its claims…in a controlled environment. If you are not physically exerting yourself, aren’t loaded up with a backpack, and are able to keep it clean, the Zpacks Vertice rain jacket will keep you very dry and comfortable. However, staying still, not hauling gear, and staying clean are not the norm on a thru hike.

The design of the jacket is great; full range of motion and comfortable fit. The hood fits well and is functional. Sleeves are long in a good way. The construction was pretty good, though I lost one of the toggles on one wrist elastic within the first two weeks of my ECT hike and the threads on the wrist cuffs pulled out not long after. The jacket’s main issue is with the Vertice fabric which is great on paper, but can be easily compromised.

The inner layer of Vertice fabric is tricot and feels soft and cottony, so there is no slick or rubbery rain coat feel. The outer layer is a 7 denier ripstop nylon, which also has a thin papery feel to it. Though the company claims it is durable, I did not find that to be true. Early on in my hike, I got small punctures and tears from brushing against trail side trees and branches. I can take responsibility for not being more aware and avoiding hazards, but these weren’t thorns or brambles and wouldn’t have been an issue in other rain jackets I’ve worn. On the peak of Mount Jaque-Cartier, I faced very high winds and was blown against the worn wooden wall of a small structure on its peak. Just brushing against the wood panel created another small hole on one sleeve. Small tears and holes are easy enough to fix with some tape or a small patch, but there is no real fix for water penetrating zippers, seams, and seeping through the fabric itself.

In a controlled laboratory environment and even in real life, low excursion activities, this fabric is a marvel to observe repelling water. I have worn this jacket to a music festival in heavy rain (no dancing) and the water beaded up and ran off me like a duck. I stayed totally dry for hours and the fabric feel of the material made it a more comfortable wear than traditional waterproof materials.

Dirt, sweat, oils, and compression are the Achilles heal of Vertice fabric. The first few days of an 8 month hike were the only ones this jacket kept me completely dry on. After that, it was impossible to keep clean and thus it began to fail.

If you overheat and sweat in this jacket, skin to fabric, the waterproof rating is immediately compromised. The skin oils transferred from high contact areas (arms, neck) contribute to this as well, with sweat mixing in and permeating the fabric.

If you thru hike, you know about backpack stank. That stank is from the buildup of sweat, oil, skin cells, and lots of bacteria in the fabric of the bag and backpack straps, which are like sponges, absorbing it all. Add a little weight to the bag to squeeze the straps and some rain or more sweat to “rinse” them out, and they release the sludge onto the jacket fabric that is compressed underneath them.

In my experience, seepage occurred in dirt prone areas and in areas compressed by weight, as in under backpack straps. The Vertice fabric is comprised of three layers. This leads me to believe that the compression enables dirt and oil to penetrate the three layers more quickly, allowing moisture to penetrate and seep through. I call it seeping because the fabric doesn’t really “wet out” like a traditional material would, it just kiknd of becomes saturated and begins to seep through. I found that wearing a light long sleeve layer underneath, to limit contact with skin, extended time before seepage about 30 minutes to an hour.

I experienced very heavy rains for many hours on many days and I ended almost every one of those days with a wet shirt underneath. In lighter off and on rain, the jacket breathed well enough for my shirt to stay damp rather than wet. The breathability is impressive; I never got wet from sweat.

I have never found any “waterproof zipper” to actually be waterproof. Zpacks’ are no different. The Vertice claims full length waterproof zippers and though they were very water resistant, they usually began to leak around the same time the jacket started to seep. The armpit vent zippers would inevitably fail first, followed by the top and bottom of the full length. The chest pocket zipper also leaked and I would not store anything in the chest pocket that wasn’t itself waterproof, because the pocket collected water at times.

When I was lucky enough to encounter laundry services on the trail and was also able procure an actual technical detergent for cleaning and re-waterproofing (like Grangers), the jacket did perform almost like it was brand new for the next week or so. This leads me to conclude that dirt is a major factor in the under performance of this jacket. If you can keep it clean and baby it on the trail, maybe it will work for you, but I would not purchase again. I bit the bullet and shelled out $299 for this jacket, which was the most expensive piece of new gear that I bought for the ECT. I could have gotten similar rain protection from any number of jackets at half the price and they would’ve been more durable.

Now, I use the Zpacks Vertice rain jacket as my daily around town rain wear. It does a great job deflecting the weather as I’m running errands, though I still have to be mindful of what I rub up against and it’s hard to justify a $299 rain jacket for around town.

 

 


 

Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II Jacket – $159

Weight: 180 g / 6.4 oz.
Material: Pertex® Shield+2.5L100% nylon 30D ripstop

  • Waterproof & Breathable
  • Fully Seam-Taped
  • Laminated Construction
  • Windproof
  • Adjustable Hood
  •  YKK® AquaGuard® Zippers
  •  Zip Chest Pocket
  •  Internal Pocket Doubles as Stuff Sack
  •  Reflective Logos
  •  Carabiner Loop
  • Single-Separating Front Zipper
  •  Elastic Cuffs
  •  Elastic Draw-cord Hem

The Outdoor Research Helium series has included some of the most popular gear released over the past decade. The high performance and relatively affordable prices have allowed the masses to experience next level gear in a variety of conditions, from backyards to expeditions.

The Pertex® Shield+2.5L 100% nylon 30D ripstop fabric is very waterproof and scored high on vapor transfer tests, but in my experience, still wets out fairly quickly during high exertion activities, when your body produces more sweat and vapor than the jacket’s fabric can transfer at once.

The jacket is incredibly light but to achieve this, the Helium clothing series uses a thin fabric. Even though it is constructed with 30D ripstop, even the slightest abrasion will compromise the jacket and the waterproofness will inevitably wear down over time.

I have taken the previous model, the Helium One on two thru hikes. Like I said, the jacket did eventually wet out, but my shirt beneath never got soaked, like it would have if exposed. It is worth noting that on those two thru hikes combined, I only experienced 9 days of rain, so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

 

 

 


Mountain Laurel Designs Pro Rain Poncho (Cuben Fiber Version) – $330

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Weight: 227 gm / 8 oz
Material: .75 Cuben Fiber
Dimensions: Lenght: 9 ft
                         Front Width: 62 in / 1.6 m
                         Back Width: 55 in / 1.4 m

  • Stiff Hood brim and bungees for adjustments
  • More material in back to cover backpack when worn as poncho, with wider end in the back
  • Curved ridge-line for a fast and tight set up in tarp mode
  • SilNylon version has two additional ridge-line tie-outs positioned 20″ | 51 cm from each end for various pitch options. Cuben fiber version does not have external tie outs
  • Several interior hang loops
  • Comes with waist bungee cord + cordlock, Silnylon stuff sac, and MLD Pro Guyline

The Mountain Laurel Designs Pro Rain Poncho is not as light as the MLD Cuben Poncho, but still saves you tons of weight by acting as both your shelter and rain gear.

The main differences between the MLD ‘Pro’ and the MLD ‘Cuben’ ponchos are choice of fabric, a shaped cut to the design, and the ‘Hood Slit System’ which places the hood directly on the ridge-line. Though it is three ounces heavier, the Pro offers features that justify the slight increase in weight.

Mountain Laurel Designs offers two fabric options on the ‘Pro’ model: SilNylon for a base price of $175 or DCF (aka cuben fiber) in green or white for a +$155 up-charge. DCF is more waterproof, stronger for its weight, doesn’t stretch, and is lighter than the SilNylon version, which weighs 12 ounces.

The footprint of the poncho is asymmetrical. This unique shape allows for many more pitch configurations, and more coverage where you need it. Having a very wide end gives the user more livable space beneath the tarp, up by the head area. Designing the poncho with one wider end also offers more coverage for your pack when wearing it under the poncho. The extra material can be pulled up to the front and cinched for 360 degree protection.

The hood on the Pro Poncho is more structured with a stiffer brim and adjustable draw cords to streamline the fit. The opening for the hood is built directly into the ridge-line, allowing you to quickly roll the hood up and have it become part of the ridge-line instead of having to cinch the hood and keep it elevated to avoid water pooling, as on other ponchos.

The Pro Poncho is slightly heavier than the Cuben Poncho, but is far more durable and functional.

 

 

 


Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite 2 Rain Suit – $24.99

frogg-toggs-ultra-lite-2

Weight: 295 g / 10.4 oz.
Material: non-woven polypropylene

  • Welded waterproof seams
  • Highly compressible; packs down small
  • Amazing weight and performance for the price

Frog Toggs are extremely waterproof, but not very breathable. Though the manufacturer claims they are breathable, the material used feels like cloth on the outside but is tacky on the inside. The highly effective waterproofing treatment means it can’t compete with higher priced competitor’s fabrics with regards to breathability.

Durability is the main downfall, for me. I can deal with being a little clammy on the inside for only $25, but in my experience rips and tears happen quickly if you are out in the wild.

These are an economic option that will keep you dry from the rain, but may still feel damp on the inside after long exposure. Not recommended for extended high physical exertion, but make a great base camp or every day, around town rain gear solution.

 

 


Frogg Toggs Men’s All Sports Rain and Wind Suit – $49.95

  • More durable, heavier version of the Frog Toggs Ultra-lite
  • Welded waterproof seams
  • Great weight and performance for the price

Frog Toggs are extremely waterproof, but not very breathable. Though the manufacturer claims they are breathable, the material used feels like cloth on the outside but is tacky on the inside. The highly effective waterproofing treatment means it can’t compete with higher priced competitor’s fabrics with regards to breathability.

Though these are more durable, rips and tears can still happen quickly if you are out in the wild.

These are an economic option that will keep you dry from the rain, but may still feel damp on the inside after long exposure. Not recommended for high physical exertion or trips where weight is a concern, but make a great base camp or every day rain gear solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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