Gearing up for a rainy hike
The following post originally appeared on our sister site on March 6. I was reminded of it by the prospect of a cooler, albeit wet, weekend ahead suitable for a nice hike. It is rerun here, in its entirety.
I awoke to gray skies, a steady rain and temperatures in the upper 50s.
Perfect day for an off-trail hike.
Alas, only nine other folks shared my feelings for Rod Broadbelt’s annual Wilderness Hike at Umstead State Park. The hike, 98 percent of which is advertised as being off-trail, has in the past attracted more than three times as many hikers. Through the Raleigh Recreational Hikers Meetup alone, at least 25 people were signed up. Yet the prospect of 10 miles in the rain off-trail apparently dampened the spirits of the masses. The weather only made me that much more excited. There’s something more intimate about the forest when it’s dripping wet, especially in winter. The season’s drab brown leaf-littered floor takes on a coppery glow, gray tree trunks take on a metallic sheen and the close, wet air adds an intimacy, a coziness if you will that makes hiking the woods a more personal affair.
I was excited by the weather for another reason: I’ve got the gear for it. Trust me, if I didn’t I would have stayed snug in bed, stirring about the time the hike was returning to the trailhead. I hate being wet. But the seductive allure of a cozy, gray rain forest has forced me to seek a solution. That’s why I have the essentials for staying dry in the rain:
Waterproof/resistant shell. You can spend $500 on a shell absolutely positively guaranteed by the manufacturer to keep the rain out and let your body breathe — and you’ll still get wet if you don’t carefully manage what you’re wearing underneath. Despite advances in breathable rain gear, I have yet to hear anyone rave about a particular garment. If the temperature’s much above 60, there’s a good chance you’ll produce more sweat than any miracle fabric can vent. Below 60, there’s hope. Early Saturday morning, with the temperature in the mid-50s, I wore a thin synthetic (for starting the sweat evacuation process by wicking the stuff off my skin) T-shirt under my REI rain jacket with eVent fabric, REI’s patented answer to Gore-Tex. (It originally sold for over $200, but I managed to wait it out through sales until it was under $100.) I stayed dry until the temperature advanced into the lower 60s. Fortunately, the rain let up and I was able to stuff the jacket in my pack. Temperatures below what we had Saturday would have required a juggling of increasingly heavier synthetic or wool fabrics, of long and short sleeves, to ward off/keep out/vent the wet. It can be done, but it takes practice and diligence.
Rain pants. You can spend a bundle on rain pants as well, but, for me at least, sweaty legs aren’t an issue. A pair of coated $80 Marmot zip-up-the-side (for quick ingress and egress) rain pants not only keep the rain out, they take the brunt of mud and slop you’re likely to encounter. I wear regular hiking pants underneath; at hike’s end I peel off the rain pants to keep the car seat dry and clean on the drive home.
Hat. I wear a waterproof ($20) ball cap, mainly to keep the rain off my glasses. If the rain picks up, I flip my rain jacket hood over top.
Wool socks. I remember having to enroll in group outdoor retail therapy the first time I dropped $20 for a pair of socks. Until then, I probably hadn’t spent $20 on athletic socks in my entire life. (Hey, I can score tube socks 6 for $6!) But what a difference darn good wool socks make: They get wet, they dry out. No more wet foot/blister guarantee.
Boots. Pardon me if I get misty here. Until recently, I thought heavy leather boots were the only way to keep your feet dry in wet weather. Even then, they required a good deal of maintenance, spending the evening before a big trip working a goopy waterproof treatment into their skin. And even then, leather boots were known to crack. Over the last several years, though, I’ve noticed an increasing number of folks going the fabric boot route, not just on day hikes, but on backpack treks of three and four weeks duration. So I decided to try the Vasque Breeze GTX, a leather and fabric Gore-Tex boot weighing just 2 pounds, 9 ounces. Saturday, the terrain ranged from wet leaves to wet pine straw to wet clay to really wet high-running streams. Five hours and 10 miles of wet, and at hike’s end my feet were bone dry. My feet are still in awe, a dry awe. At $160, a great investment. Can’t wait to take them backpacking.
A great hike Saturday thanks to my high-tech, not-all-that-high-cost wardrobe, and only good memories and photos to show for it. Nary a blister or sniffle to be had.