|Self supporting umbrella using water bladder clips attached to shoulder strap|
I’m not talking about carrying White Lightning into the backcountry, I’m talking about staying dry. From experience, I know that 90 percent of the time I carry rain gear and never use it. I also know that when I do, it only keeps me about 90 percent dry.
For years I carried only a large poncho. Even on long trails where I could expect every kind of weather event, the poncho seemed to be sufficient to keep me dry and comfortable. I also used this same poncho as my tent ground cloth, adding weight value. This poncho was sturdy material, which made it a bit heavy. It was large enough to cover me and my pack, keeping the contents of my pack dry also.
A poncho has some drawbacks, but I would deal with them because the need to deploy it seemed seldom and usually short lived.
On the plus side a poncho offers a lot of ventilation, was useful as a ground cloth footprint to protect my tent, and a piece of gear I could also use as a temporary shelter if I wanted to stop for a meal in a downpour.
Eventually, I began using a light weight 1443R Tyvek for my tent ground cloth and went to a poncho made from ultralight material. This combination was a significant weight savings from my heavy duty poncho, but I soon learned it had some issues.
The birth of new and exciting light weight materials has changed backpacking gear in amazing ways, but they do have a dark side. Some are fragile and must be handled carefully if you plan on them lasting any length of time. They are also harder to deal with in very windy conditions.
I have to use rocks to hold my light weight Tyvek in place until I get my tent erected over the top of it. Putting on the ultra light poncho is like wrestling with a snake in any kind of wind. Because the light material is so susceptible to blowing conditions, it is necessary to use a webbing strap at the waist to help hold it down.
Another problem that occurs when relying on a poncho in extended rain conditions is accessibility. If you want to take a short break, or retrieve something from your pack, you have to wrestle with the snake. The poncho has to come off and back on while it still may be raining and your gear is getting damp. It also does not protect the lower legs from wind and rain.
My personal rain gear evolution has taken many baby steps to perfect. Where I am today makes more sense to me than ever before, but experience is a constant motivator of change.
I don’t worry anymore about keeping my pack dry. Everything inside is protected with dry bags, ziplock bags, or cuben fiber. I also carry a light weight umbrella that works for both sun and rain. It is my first line of defense. Often I run into a constant light sprinkle that can slowly soak my clothing, but not enough to warrant pulling out a rain suit which can be hot when hiking. The umbrella is just what the doctor ordered and is simple to deploy and stow quickly.
If I’m experiencing a prolonged rain/wind event, the rain jacket, pants, or both come out and allow me to keep moving and still have full access to my pack and its contents.
My options now include the protection of the umbrella, rain jacket hood, and the full leg protection of the rain pants.
I have opted for very cheap Frogg Toggs Pro Lite. They have a light option now that only weighs 12 oz. for both jacket and pants. The material is very susceptible to wear and tearing, so I purchased these knowing they will not last a thousand miles of use, but they cost a third the price of more durable options. The fact that I use them so seldom, my goal is light weight and cheap.
Becoming proficient at staying comfortable in damp weather is as much method as gear. There is also a phycological element. Rain, wind and the condensation, that can creep right into your soul, can ruin a trip if you are not prepared in all three disciplines.
It is wise to spend a lot of time thinking about and testing the ways you plan to stay dry. Moisture is a very efficient nemesis. It will suck the heat from your body in the best of conditions and make you uncomfortable. In severe conditions it can kill you.
Many make the mistake of putting emphasis on low base weight disregarding safety or even common sense.
My suggestion is working toward carrying whatever 90 proof works for you. --KEEP SMILIN'