The following information is provided to help you pick out raingear for FOP. Please note, raingear must have a hood. Unacceptable raingear includes any type of warm-up jackets, wind-breakers or plain nylon jackets, as well as ponchos designed to fit over backpacks. Any jackets or pants that have a non-polyester or cotton lining are unacceptable. RAINGEAR IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF CLOTHING YOU HAVE. A good test (we're serious) is to wear your raingear in the shower. If you have any questions about raingear you are buying or if you are borrowing from someone and don't know exactly what they are giving you, simply contact us and ask.
When looking for raingear, you can use a few basic features to distinguish between pants and jackets in order to decide what you want to buy.
There are several types of waterproof materials that are used in rain jackets, but most fall into three categories: rubberized raingear, coated nylon, and Gore-TEX.
- Rubberized or plastic jackets usually made from PVC are excellent at repelling water and often very inexpensive. They are heavier than their Nylon and Gore-TEX alternatives and don't "breathe" (allow water vapor to escape through the fabric) so sweat and water accumulate on the inside of the jacket.
- Coated nylon jackets provide an inexpensive, breathable alternative to PVC jackets. By applying a proprietary polyurethane coating to a layer of the fabric, the fabric keeps water out while still allowing breathability. They make great jackets at a great price.
- Gore-TEX: By stretching Teflon into a thin membrane, Gore created a fabric that repelled water in it's liquid form (rain), but allowed it to pass in a vapor form ("breath"). This waterproof membrane is often embedded beneath an outer layer of nylon in Gore-TEX jackets. Though often considered the top-of-the-line jacket, they are quite expensive.
Raingear comes in three basic categories: ultralight shells, midweight, and expedition weight. All three weights are suitable for FOP, although ultralight shells may not respond well to the high degree of wear from the heavy backpacking.
- Ultralight shells are made for lightness and packability. They are made for bare-bones day-hiking or running and often have few extra features.
- Midweight jackets are more durable and a bit heavier than the ultralights. They have less reinforcement than the expedition-weight jackets and are still light.
- Expedition-weight jackets are built to withstand all weather and terrain. They are ruggedly reinforced, often in the elbows and shoulders, and loaded with options.
Fit Over Clothes
Make sure that your raingear fits over three layers of clothing including your heavy fleece or wool jacket. Wear or borrow clothes at the store to test the fit. If the jacket is too small, it will restrict your movement and decrease insulation when wearing three layers.
Additional Raingear Features
- Durable Water-Repellent Finish (DWR) is a final coating put on coated nylon and Gore-TEX jackets that causes water to bead up on the shell rather than soak in. When the DWR coating washes or wears off, the jacket will absorb more water. To restore the DWR coating, see the Raingear Care section below.
- In coated nylon and Gore-TEX jackets the waterproof layer is enclosed in either a two-tiered or three tiered layer of fabric. In two-ply, a mesh lining protects the delicate waterproof layer on the inside of the coat, while in three-ply, a fabric sandwich encloses the waterproof layer on both sides. Three-ply jackets protect the waterproof layer, creating a more durable jacket, but are heavier.
- Look for a spacious hood with the ability to adjust size and a generous and stiffened bill. For use on FOP, your raingear MUST have a hood.
Two of the biggest reasons that rain jackets lose water-repellency or waterproofness is dirt and grime working it's way into the fabric and the DWR finish being washed or worn off the garment.
It's important to wash your raingear after every use to prevent dirt buildup. To do away with minor dirt, wash the raingear in warm water with no detergent. For a more thorough cleaning, machine wash with a mild detergent or non-detergent soap like Nikwax Techwash. Rinse the garment twice to eliminate soap residue. Dry the jacket on low or steam-iron it on warm or synthetic. Either process will redistribute the DWR finish more than an air-dry. NEVER use bleach, fabric softener or dry-cleaning solvents on rain jackets.
Eventually, through washing and wear, the DWR finish on a jacket may rub off. Many outdoor stores sell DWR-reviving solutions that you can spray on the outside of the coat or add to the wash and wash-in. Wash-in DWR applications work well, but coat the jacket inside and out and can inhibit the wicking capability of a storm shell's liner.