Rain gear considerations for difficult weather situations
Rain gear is going to be the most wind and water-resistant piece in your layering system. Most of the quality rain gear is coated to increase water-resistance while promoting breathability. Additionally, the fabrics used for rain gear are inherently water-resistant, but they are also noisy. Thought must be given to when you will be wearing your rain gear (only when it is raining vs. all day).
Waterproof vs. Breathable
It is important to understand that the only truly waterproof rain gear is not breathable at all (i.e., rubber). While modern rain gear is pretty close to being waterproof, it can still let some moisture through over time as fabric coatings break down due to abrasion and wear. Look for rain gear that has the highest ratings in both water-resistance and breathability and you will find the best combination possible.
To understand waterproof and breathability ratings, we first need to talk about how rain gear is tested.
Textile manufacturers represent the waterproof rating of a fabric in millimeters (mm). What this means is that if a fabric has a waterproof rating of 20,000mm, you could put a square tube with inner dimensions of 1” x 1” over a piece of the fabric in question and fill it with water to a height of 20,000mm before water would begin to leak through. The higher the number, the more waterproof the fabric.
Breathability is measured in terms of how many grams (g) of water vapor can pass through a square meter (m2) of the fabric from the inside to the outside in a 24 hour period. Looking at fabric with a breathability rating of 20,000g fabric, the rating is telling us that 20,000 grams of vapor can pass through one square meter in a 24 hour period. Just like with the waterproof rating, the larger the number, the more breathable the fabric.
A note about waterproof points of failure
Waterproof jackets often fail in the same places: seams and zippers. As pressure and exposure increase, seams and zippers are usually the first place water begins to seep through. To avoid this as much as possible, look for welded seams rather than taped seams. Welded seams remove bulk and weight and are also generally more waterproof. When it comes to zippers, make sure that the zippers are high quality and coated.
Another rain gear factor to consider is construction. Some rain gear is single-layered (think of a cheap poncho); this type of rain gear will do the job in the most basic sense, but at the slightest snag or abrasion it will fail. Most rain shells today use 1.5 - 3.5 layer construction and durability increases as layers increase. The tradeoff is that weight also increases. A two-layer shell might only weigh 11 oz to 16 oz. while a three-layer shell can weight 25 oz. or more.
Related to the issue of durability is the breakdown of face fabric coating under abrasion. When the outer face of a rain shell is scratched, the outer coating can break down, leading to the fabric being less effective. While many will not even see that negative results caused by this, if you are hunting in wet environments like the Pacific Northwest then you want every possible advantage to staying dry. Be sure that you understand the durability of the face fabric as well as the coating before you buy.
Choosing the right rain gear involves thinking about the environments you hunt in and the time you will be wearing your rain gear. Do you hunt in open country or thick brush? Will you be multi-purposing your rain jacket as an outer layer, wearing it all day, or will you only be wearing it during heavy rains while sitting still? All of these factors must be considered when deciding on the rain gear you will be wearing.
When it comes to rain gear, you want to get the most bang for your buck, but you also don’t want to just buy something cheap because this will more than likely leave you wet, sweaty, and disappointed. When it comes to affordable rain gear (you get what you pay for), companies like Eddie Bauer, Marmot, North Face, Arc'teryx, and Patagonia make high-quality gear in the non-hunting space (some at more of a price than others). Often times you can find these items on sale through retailers like REI and get an even better deal. Great options in the hunting space are First Lite, Sitka Gear and KUIU.
A well thought out layering system is worth its weight in gold (and sometimes feels like it costs about that much, too). When you have effective layers that do their respective jobs well while also being weight efficient, you will be much more comfortable in the field and, in turn, will be much more effective as you will be able to focus more on the hunt rather than how wet, cold, and miserable you are. If you want to stay warm when the temperature drops, stay dry when the water falls, and stay cool when the temperatures rise, you need to invest in a good layering system.
If you’re just reading this and would like to check out the previous two articles on layering systems, you can check them out here: Base layer essentials for warmth and weight and A look into insulation and outer layer essentials for late season hunts.