Gear Review – Rain Gear

April 5th, 2017 by Carl D
Backpacking rain gear Wrangell Mountains Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Hey Folks

This isn’t your typical gear review. It’s more my commentary on rain gear and the failings of waterproof breathable rain gear.

I’ve bought and worn dozens of rain jackets over the years. Literally, dozens of them. Right now on the rack beside me as I type this I can count 11 rain jackets. Eleven.

It’s a bit ridiculous. I have everything from my old Aussie Dryzabone to my most recent Outdoor Research Goretex jacket I bought last year. Whatever your jacket, chances are good I’ve owned at least one of those.

And none of them, I mean none of them, work like I want them to. In fact, it’s fair to say none of them work like they did when I first bought them.

It’s been my experience that the magic of waterproof breathable technology is in the DWR (durable water repellent) coating. I don’t know what kind of black magic voodoo those manufacturers employ, but that stuff is astonishingly good.

Until it isn’t.

Once it begins to fail, it’s done. I’ve tried everything. Washing the jacket, drying the jacket, spray-on DWR replenishments and washing DWR treatments. And all of them work just well enough to keep me going, keep me believing enough to do it again later.

But the treatment never lasts long. At first the water beads up on the jacket like new and I’m a happy fella. But soon (before the end of the first trip) I find the jacket not working well again.

And what “works” really depends on my needs. If I’m doing one multi-day backpacking trip a year, it’s simply not worth buying a new jacket. But most seasons I’ll spend 60 days or so in the mountains (not counting winter wear, which means snow gear, not rain), and being cold and wet and cold for 60 days doesn’t excite me. At all.
So I buy a new parka.

The best performance I’ve had from ANY (breathable) rain gear was my original REI Shuksan eVent jacket. I got nearly 2 seasons with it. My current OR jacket is a poor performer and likely won’t see the mountains with me again.

I’m not telling you folks to go without a rain jacket. Just don’t expect magic. And if it’s old and worn, clean it, and treat it with a good DWR treatment like Nikwax. I’ll often spray the most heavily worn and abraded areas of the jacket, such as the shoulder where the backpack straps rub, and then iron that area on low heat for a few minutes. just be sure your particular jacket is OK to be ironed, some are not. But a light touch with low heat should be fine, most times. Then treat the entire jacket as normal (either a washing treatment or spray on and hang dry).

Then hope for the best.

Cheers
Carl

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4 Responses to “Gear Review – Rain Gear”

  1. Brad Rogers

    I couldn’t agree more Carl. Like you, I have tried countless shells and seemly every technology available from Gore Tex and eVent to Pertex Shield and every company’s “proprietary” wp/b tech. In my experience 3 layer shells are more durable and comfortable than 2.5 layer shells.

    3layer Gore Tex is the most durable of the group in my opinion and Packlite is the only 2.5 layer technology I can recommend for anything but an emergency shell for places like the High Sierra.

    eVent breathes well but is less durable. I have had two separate garments delaminate and eVent is more sensitive to dirt and oil contamination.

    Most proprietary techs including Pertex Shield delaminate quickly with use and don’t breathe well in the field.

    WP/B jackets took a turn for the worse after C8 fluorocarbon DWR’s were phased out due to environmental concerns. The replacement C6 fluorocarbon DWR’s used the past few years are not nearly as durable.

    There are two new technologies that don’t rely on DWR that look promising though I am not sure with is there yet. Gore Tex Permanent Beading, which is lightweight and pretty breathable, but lacks durablity (especially for Alaskan brush) and Columbia Outdry which seem durable but are heavy and have poor breath ability. Hopefully these technologies advance forward into more useful options for backpacking.

    OR does offer a great lifetime warranty and will replace your jacket if it develops problems, which makes them a good company to purchase WP/B jackets from, but their current GTX options are heavy and OR hoods have never fit me very well.

    One thing to note is 99% of WP/B jackets are sold with factory C6 fluorocarbon DWR and Nixwax is different technology all together. Fluorocarbon DWR’s should really be retreated with a Fluorocarbon DWR restoration rather than Nixwax from what the fabric companies say. Nixwax may bond over Fluorocarbon ok, but not as well as it would over non Fluorocarbon treated fabric. Fluorocarbon DWR will not adhere to Nixwax treated fabric at all.

  2. exp-carl

    Hey, thanks Brad, great to hear from you.

    I didn’t know that about the C6 and Nikwax being incompatible. Good to know.

    OR like most of the higher end manufacturers offer a great warranty. I like most everything I’ve bought from them.

    I’ll agree that eVent seems prone to contamination and needs to be cleaned regularly to function well. I haven’t had any issue with delamination though.

    Looking forward to hiking with you this fall!

    Cheers

    Carl

  3. Carl, love the new website. Happy to hear you have expanded beyond solo guiding to include others. More folks deserve the Donohue wilderness experience than you alone can provide, and I’m sure you have picked great representatives of the philosophy. Thanks also for this post on rain gear. It’s been the most difficult piece of wilderness gear I’ve dealt with my whole life and it is nice to have my personal experiences validated by a true expert.

  4. Jan Maerevoet

    Hi Carl,
    I’ve read your comments on rain gear and I have to agree. I think a lot of outdoor enthousiasts will have the same experience and have spend a lot of money on expensive raingear that – after some time – loses its effectiveness. So I have looked and found a brand that is a bitt out of the ordinary because it’s not waterproof but it keeps you warm even when wet: Buffalo (Buffalosystems on the web). It’s a Uk brand so they know something about rain (and it’s still made in Scheffield!) and I have to say: it works. The trick is the combination of pertex and pile that wicks mousture away from your body. Therefore it works best when you wear it next to your skin. I’ve used already 2 products (the Mountain shirt and the Teclite shirt) and both perform well in the rain. Of course, no pro’s without cons. There is no fixed hood on the Mountain shirt but can buy an optional one and attache it (and leave that one on). As it’s not 100 percent waterproof it can get heavy.
    All the best,
    Jan

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