Homer's Travels: Camino 2013 Gear Lessons Learned: Rain Gear

Monday, April 21, 2014

Camino 2013 Gear Lessons Learned: Rain Gear

When it came to weather, my two Caminos were quite different.  The first was sunny, sometimes hot, with only a couple days of significant rain.  My second Camino had less sun, more chilly overcast, and many more days of significant rain.  While I was hiking through pouring rain my thought sometimes went to the subject of Rain Gear.

There are basically two types of rain gear for hikers carrying backpacks: a combination of rain jacket, rain pants, and backpack cover or a backpacker's poncho.

A combination of rain jacket, rain pants, and backpack rain cover.  This was basically what I used on both of my Caminos except I did not carry rain pants.  The Northface convertible pants I wore dried exceptionally fast when worn and walking with wet legs really didn't bother me much.  I chose this option for its versatility.  The jacket could be worn to keep dry from the rain both while hiking and in the towns during the evening.  The jacket could also be used to keep warm.  I wore a Marmot Precip.  It is relatively light, full featured, and good at keeping you dry.  Like most rain jackets it is not as breathable as I would desire.  The trade off is usually breathable but not dry or dry and not breathable.  I found that I often overheated with the jacket on - even with the pit vents zipped open.  This meant that I was sometimes more wet from sweat than rain.  One thing I did discover is if I pushed my sleeves up to my elbows I didn't overheat as much.  Exposing my forearms was enough to keep me relatively cool and comfortable.  It also resulted in wet forearms which was not an issue.

My backpack was protected by my pack cover ... or at least it was supposed to be.  The pack cover is a waterproof elastisized bag that covers the pack like a raincoat to keep the rain off the bag.  They are not perfect since water can run between the pack and the hikers back where the cover does not cover.  On my first Camino my pack cover worked well.  On my second, the same pack cover provided only minimal protection.  I'm not sure if pack covers can wear out and lose their waterproof-ness.  Jackets can so I'd imagine the same could happen to pack covers.  My pack cover went into the trash when I got home.

Backpacker's Ponchos.  There are a couple types of ponchos.  The first is what most people think of when you hear poncho.  The standard backpacker's poncho pulls on over your head.  you arms poke out of sleeves.  Gv used this type of poncho on her Caminos.  The backpacker's poncho is different from your everyday poncho in that they have an extra hump of fabric on the back so it will go over the backpack.  The poncho keeps the upper torso and backpack dry.  Water will not run down between the pack and back like it will with a jacket/pack cover combination.  The legs can also be kept dry depending on the length of the poncho.  Usually the calves are exposed below the bottom of the poncho.  Ponchos have hoods to keep the hiker's head dry.  The only issue with ponchos is that it can take two people to get it on as the poncho inevitably hangs up on the backpack when you try to pull it on over your head.  My job this last Camino was to pull down the back of Gv's poncho.
The second type of backpacker's poncho is what I call a backpacker's raincoat.  It is essentially a poncho with a zipper down the front.  The backpacker's raincoat provides the same rain protection as the regular backpacker's poncho but the zipper makes it easier to get in and out of.  Examples of this type of poncho is the Ferrino Trekker and the Altus (A European brand popular with Camino pilgrims).

I considered getting a poncho for my second Camino but one thing stopped me - the lack of versatility.   If it's raining in the evening and you want to go to a restaurant, a rain jacket is more comfortable... not to mention fashionable ... to wear.  I would never consider wearing a poncho, either type, to a restaurant.  The Camino, though, is different than the Appalachian Trail.  On a wilderness trail a backpacker's raincoat might me a better choice for staying dry in the rain.

There are a few other accessories that can be useful for keeping dry.  Gaiters can help keep rain out of your shoes (I mentioned them a couple posts ago).  I wore my Tilley hat to keep my head dry (and the sun off when there was sun).  I found when it was really rainy and windy (like this day I will never forget) that I could pull my jacket hood up over my hat for extra protection.  An umbrella is useful in the towns but I'm not sure how convenient they are while hiking.  It's hard to hold an umbrella while walking with trekking poles.  I have heard, though, of people attaching the umbrella handles to their backpack shoulder strap thus making it a hands free umbrella.  This may work for gentle showers but I would imagine any significant wind would render the umbrella ineffective.

One last thing.  I've mentioned them before but I want to reiterate the necessity of using dry sacks in your backpack as an added layer of rain protection.  My dry sack, when I used it properly, never failed me and saved me some grief.  (Putting wet things in my dry sack was not a smart thing and I take responsibility for making that mistake.)  After a long day of walking in the rain a dry sack will ensure you have dry clothes to put on at the end of the day and that ...  that ... is a wonderful feeling.


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