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.

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-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.

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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.

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16 thoughts on “30s and raining: some suggestions

  1. Have you heard of or used the Nikwax line of fabrics? He seems like a “little guy” in this field, yet also innovative. Says he’s imitating animal fur and active movement of wetness around, like a dog shaking its wet coat. Paramo is the fabric line, I think, with a sub-line called “Analogy.” I haven’t seen it in the US — but I don’t shop so I could’ve easily missed it. It looks like he’s now making apparel. I enjoy the miracle/mystery aspect of his waterproofing washes and how they dry invisibly in canvas and don’t seem to have changed/affected it at all — the weave still appears porous — yet suddenly it’s waterproof. Here’s his fabric info: http://www.paramo.co.uk/en-gb/garments/fabrics/

    • The theory behind Paramo is the same idea I’m using here. I’ve held back from getting a Paramo shell for a variety of reasons. The first is that the more recent, lighter jackets haven’t gotten favorable reports on waterproofing during full conditions. Unfortunately, the heavier coats would be limited to true winter use due to warmth (I assume), and thus not work so well during the rainiest times here. I also doubt they’d be waterproof while packrafting.

  2. Dave, check out the Mountain Equipment Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee. It’s longer in the arms and torso than the Cap 4 Hoody and has a much more protective (single layer) hood that covers your face, and nose if you want it to. Even better than the R1 Hoody. The fleece material may be slightly inferior to Cap 4, but I find the jacket to be warmer and more comfortable overall, and worth the minor additional weight penalty. Especially in winter. Woody Dixon at Cascade Alpinist could set you up with one for BPL testing.

    • Thanks Max. Interestingly, the only thing I’d change with the Cap 4 is to lower the front zipper, I’d be fine if it ended right below my mouth. Not a fan of mouth and nose covering balaclavas, they fog glasses and feel claustrophobic. A nose bra for those arctic days gets the job done.

  3. I haven’t been able to stay dry on these torrential rain days, at least not completely. The idea that you can dry your clothes through body heat at the same rate the elements wet them sounds fantastic, but it’s not been my experience. That said, a wool base layer makes it all tolerable, and it’s much better than spending the day indoors.

    • Drying with body heat works with drizzle, but with a multi-hour downpour you’ll get wet no matter what. For all their skin appeal, I don’t like wool on those days. The hydrophilic fiber structure may feel warmer, but requires more metabolic energy to keep warm compared with something like the Cap 4.

  4. More hats is a good recommendation, especially if you are prone to being cold like I am. I am a smallish, mid-40s woman. I have worn three head coverings at once in some conditions, a fleece balaclava, an old Ray Jardine bomber hat and the hood of my jacket. I even added a fourth if you count the bandana I usually have to keep my hair out of the way.

  5. Love this article! I’ve long said that 35 and raining (esp hard rain w/ any amount of wind) is harder to deal with and more dangerous that just about any other weather. I’ll take 10-deg and snowing over 35 and raining any day. Ended up trying to trudge thru a day hiking the PCT near Lake Tahoe about two weeks ago in the first snow of the season… weather reports were calling for 30% chance of showers which turned out to be steady rain at first, that moved into sleet w/ 40-60mph winds once I was on the ridge. Got ~10 miles and heading quickly towards hypothermia before I got to a trail I could finally bail off the ridge and head back to town, soaked to the bone. Thanks and a shout-out to the folks of Bill’s Rotisserie for letting me warm up and change in their bathroom!

    One thing I’d add to this article is adequate hand gear is very important. I let myself and my hands get too cold trying to push through it, expecting it to let up at some point. Eventually realized that if I’d become immobilized for whatever reason and had to stop, setup shelter, make a fire, etc, there was NO way I could have as my hands were useless from cold. Not a fun place to be.

  6. “Poncho and umbrella fans hike a 8k ridge during an October snain gale and call me back.”

    Ring, ring. Poncho + windbreaker + polypro + rain paints + good rain hat work well for me in those conditions. I stay lots dryer and closer to the correct temperature than when coffined in a jacket with miracle fabrics and pit zips. Everything else you said is correct.

    +1 on adequate hand gear. Can’t operate fire-lighting devices when my hands are too cold, and that’s a big problem.

    Anyone else experience chills for parts of your body while sweating for others? Real annoying, haven’t figured out how to fix that yet. Sometimes it’s left side versus right side, so it’s not a simple clothing thing. Usually I power through it, or alternate where the chills and sweating occurs for entertainment.

  7. Interestingly what you are describing are UK hill conditions pretty much most of the year. Pile and pertex with a buff or two, armed with a flask of hot drink works for me. Decent gloves (and a change for when they get too wet) make a huge difference too.

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