Stay Dry: 6 Thoughts On Choosing The Best Rain Jacket For You
Your day goes kinda like this…You got up for breakfast and it’s drippy. Or foggy. Or drizzling. Or dampish. You’re sick and tired of being cooped up. You only have a day for the woods before it’s back to 24/7 babysitting, shopping for groceries, dreaming about sunshine, or whatever. You’ll need the best rain jacket (for you) so you can deal with the elements and get in an outdoor adventure trip come hell or high water.
That means “raingear”.
Most 62+ adventurers who’ve been at it for a while own a raingear jacket. And, if they’re opinionated—this would be most DCMBers—there are some very definite strategies for selecting and nurturing this particular piece of apparel, with the general objective of staying dry.
These thoughts summarize fundamentals so even the not-yet-opinionated can get into the groove.
Thought #1 A poncho is not a rain jacket.
A poncho will flap in the wind: all the rain will end up on you. A poncho will snag in the bushes: all the rain will end up on you. A poncho will drip on your shins: you will not be happy. Ponchos are for tourists, soccer fans, and kids who get sent off to camp and will lose it anyway.
So, let’s dispense with the poncho concept right off the bat.
Thought #2 Water-resistant is not waterproof.
A top-quality water-resistant jacket will handle a light mist. Sometimes this is all you need. However, it can’t protect you from rain, as in Wellington boot weather, Noachian deluge, or beneath a drip-dropping-lovely redwood tree.
Waterproof is what we’re looking for here.
Insider knowledge: seams
Arm yourself with this little tidbit before you make any decisions
Most salespeople can’t distinguish between water-resistant and waterproof, so here’s what you’ll do.
Take a seam of the prospective “best rain jacket” and bring it right up in front of your eyes so you can examine it clearly. A waterproof jacket will have taped seams, so water droplets can’t wick through the stitching. See the outline of the tape? How about if you look on the inside of the jacket?
No tape, no waterproof. Think on it: there’s no reason to use tape otherwise.
Thought #3 What kind of waterproof?
An adventuring rain jacket is generally in the category “waterproof breathable”. Otherwise, you run the risk of being wetter on the inside than the outside, since sweat from exertion—or just hanging out—will have no method of moving out from under. You will be soggy and miserable.
“Waterproof breathable” involves a water-repellent finish (DWR) on the outside of the fabric and a laminate layer on the inside. The latter looks more or less like exotic teflon, but it has pores.
Both elements are crucial: The DWR finish on the outside of the jacket makes water bead and fall off like droplets on a leaf; the high-tech inner layer pulls water away from your body and allows it to escape.
Thought #4 Zips for Pits?
As in armpits. Yes, your go-to rain jacket should have zippers under the arms. That way, you can vent the interior, and keep yourself cool and dry, well, coolish and dryish.
Thought #5 Choices.
For the purposes of this article—tech weenies are more precise—there are 2 grades of “waterproof breathable”.
Basic best rain jacket
As of this writing, a basic, high quality, waterproof breathable jacket is around $100. Many technical companies offer a jacket in this approximate price range. If you’re baffled by styles, Muddy Boots suggests you reach for a Marmot Precip first, a very popular basic. Then all you have to do is settle on a color……
A jacket with the higher-grade fabric will have a very large black label indicating that it is made with Gore-Tex. Every item of gear that uses this kind of fabric must be approved by the Gore-Tex company. A go-to jacket made with real Gore-Tex will cost approximately twice as much as a basic rain jacket.
Generally speaking, more money=more waterproof, more breathable, and more durable.
Thought #6 Too much rain.
Sometimes even great raingear can’t keep up with weather. Muddy Boots, bossy and practical as always, says to stay indoors.
Muddy Boots Bonus Tip:
Do you have an old favorite rain jacket that’s become a little soggy in the rain? The DWR waterproof exterior of your jacket loses its effectiveness over time. When you first buy your jacket, feel the outside surface and notice the sheen. Do the same thing a year later, and observe that the jacket has lost some of its oomph. It may even be “wetting through”.
Wash and treat it
At least once a year, the jacket should be washed. But NOT in detergent: detergents scrub away interior laminate along with the dirt! Use soap especially designed to clean technical fabrics. When clean, spray your jacket on the outside with a fresh coat of DWR spray. This will restore the repellent finish.
Maintenance of this kind will extend the life of the jacket, always a plus for limited-budget Muddy Bootsers.
Shake, shake, shake…This doggie has a DWR finish!
Photo credits for best rain jacket. Featured image… Kids in Denali, Kidding Around: Public Domain by NPS. Group raingear photos are by Peter Stevens with permission. Thank you. Top, Hikers break: CC BY 2.0 by Peter Stevens via Flickr. Ponchos for tourists: CC BY 2.0 by klndonnelly via Flickr. Leaving the trailhead on a wet day: CC BY 2.0 by Peter Stevens via Flickr. Redwood forest: CC BY-SA by David Stone via Flickr. Droplets on leaves: CC BY 2.0 NPS photo by Emily Brouwer. Doggie with DWR coat: CC BY 2.0 by Angus Chan.