30s and raining: some suggestions
30s and raining is the toughest weather to manage sustainably. What follows are some ideas for how to do so, in vague order of importance.
-Don’t put your rain jacket on until you have to. “Have to” can be defined as the point where you’ll be getting wet enough from exterior sources that maintaining core temp costs too much, metabolically and spiritually. Even the best raingear will trap some moisture if you’re on the move, which is often counterproductive. For drizzle, I find it better to combine a light base/insulating layer which wicks, traps dead air, and provides a space buffer from cold water with a good breathable DWR shell. Often, you can hit the balance where body heat is drying from within about as fast as precip is wetting from without. With proper care and feeding this can last all day. Individual metabolic differences make one setup generalize poorly across different people.
-Don’t fuck around. 35 and raining puts a four letter emphasis on efficiency. These days will take a lot out of you, so there’s no point in making it any harder. You should know, at all times, exactly where everything is in your pack, have a food/hydration/layering plan tailored to the oncoming terrain and weather contingencies, and adapt that plan as needed on the go.
-Move. It’s not especially possible to layer well enough to stay warm while stationary, at these temps that requires more stuff than can be practically worn while ambulatory. Over-layer and you’ll get cold from sweat, and needlessly burn calories. Maintain a steady-state effort. If you’re one of those unfortunate folks who don’t readily produce heat upon effort (a large number of women fit here), I’m not really sure what to tell you. It sucks to be you today. Bulking up on a bit of muscle and metabolic zing might be worth a shot, if possible. Baring that, have plenty of good clothes and chocolate.
-Eat and drink. Obvious, and almost as obviously overlooked when you’re pushing miles a few clicks removed from desperation. Keep a few hours of snacks in a pocket, and keep up on water. Osmosis does not hydrate.
-Get a real rain jacket. A real rain coat has a hood which will keep sub 30mph precip off your glasses and out of your mouth. It also has a solid enough (read: rigid) laminate that it will still provide a functional buffer when the face fabric wets out. ‘Net wags to the contrary, modern WPB fabrics do work. They merely have easily quantifiable shortcomings which minimal experience will allow you to easily predict, provided you’re savvy enough to ignore marketing speak. Once the face fabric wets out, breathability will be minimal, creating an environment ripe for condensation. Fighting that will depend on the aforementioned insulating/base layer providing a few mm of air space between skin and shell, as well as a shell which doesn’t drape like paper when wet. It’s not perfect, but it is better than anything else I’ve found. Poncho and umbrella fans hike a 8k ridge during an October snain gale and call me back. For the record, I’ve only laid hands on 2 sub-30D laminates which met this criteria (Ozo and Helium I), and neither are still made.
-Mind the legs. Wet brush can soak your legs, which can suck a lot of heat fast when we’re talking doses of tree slush every 90 seconds. You might find yourself wearing rain pants well before you put on a rain jacket.
-Give yourself a break. Hiking all day in the aforementioned conditions will add a huge metabolic and psychological load. Recharge both with good food, lots of hot beverages (coffee), and if at all possible an external heat source at the end of the day (i.e. fire). It is possible to scarf dinner, strip, and get in your bag, but you won’t rest as well knowing what you have to look forward to in the morning. If at all possible, plan camp for an area with decent wood, and know how to get it going.
To elaborate on clothing a bit: I cannot say enough good things about the Patagonia Capilene 4 hoody. It is a borderline miraculous piece for these conditions. I’ve yet to find anything which creates as much dead air space and is anywhere close in wicking. The excellent fit and fantastic hood are icing on the cake.
I’ve gone through a ton of windshells in the last few years. For a metabolically-powered drizzle proof setup your shell of choice needs a good DWR, which means you need to maintain it properly. Beyond that, I go back and forth. There are lighter, less breathable shirts like the Rab Cirrus in the first photograph, and heavier, more breathable shirts like the Sitka Ascent I wore this weekend (which if it isn’t made of Pertex Equilibrium stretch, is made from a damn good copy). The lighter shells are lighter, both when dry and wet, but I think the more breathable shells work better for self-drying when the balance is right. Once they get soaked they’re a pain to get dry, so no free lunch.
The final tip I’ll give involves hats. Bring extra hats. A dry hat is both comforting and an efficient use of warmth-per-grams. And enjoy yourself. Functioning at a high level during difficult conditions approaches the satisfaction our ancestors must have felt, having killed a mammoth and knowing they were that much less likely to starve over the winter.