View Full Version : Insulating layer under rain shell

Mr. Sparky
02-04-2016, 23:22
I would appreciate your thoughts on using a breathable rain shell for double-duty over insulating layers for spring and fall, and skipping an insulated jacket. How much in the way of insulating layers would you recommend for back-country living for cold Spring and Fall temps? Although I have fleece, I am old school and love wool. Thanks!

02-05-2016, 06:20
What are you going to use to keep warm when you stop moving? You are going to be wet from condensation from sweating while you hike. When you stop, you are going to get cold. I dont normally hike in a shell, unless its cold and windy. If its raining, I wear a shell and minimal layers underneath.

02-05-2016, 07:37
The wool will keep you warm even if it's damp, but really, a down puffy would be better.

02-05-2016, 08:16
OK, so a couple things:

1. It sounds like you are asking about using your rain shell as part of your layering system for cold weather. NOT that you are asking about wearing insulation under your shell while hiking, but rather in camp, etc. If so, then yes -- a rain shell is an excellent layering piece, it cuts convective heat loss to zero around your torso. Over a fleece it can add surprising warmth.

2. What do you mean by an insulated jacket? Like a down jacket or similar? Or one of the insulated hard or soft shells they make for, say, snowboarders? The hard shell over a fleece works fine for me in late spring, but as soon as the weather gets into the 30s at night, I want my down jacket. :)

3. Don't buy an insulated shell jacket of any sort.

4. In general, don't wear a lot of insulation under a rain shell while hiking, as your sweat will soak the insulation layer. A light weight wind shirt can be useful for this, as it is far more breathable.

02-05-2016, 08:25
What bigcranky said, many times over. I would add some stress to #4, with a corollary--if you have a wet layer from the day before, put it on in the morning rather than use a fresh dry layer. The first five minutes will be "uncomfortable," but you'll be glad you did it when you have a dry layer for your next break. (This could be one of the more difficult things to do when hiking in rain.)

The Cleaner
02-05-2016, 08:27
Wearing a rain shell as a windbreaker sounds great but unless it's really cold,you'll just get sweaty When you do need your rain jacket to wear in rain it will possibly be compromised with sweat and body oils. Many hikers wear a 3-5 ounce windshirt and baselayer only while hiking in colder temps.Some here don't do that thinking that the extra weight is too much.It's really hard to stay dry in even the most expensive rain shell,so wearing a lightweight merino wool baselayer is one way to keep warm while hiking.You will need some kind of insulating jacket for breaks and camp.I've got a Patagonia Nano puff which works well.During the winter months,which include March,I wear a softshell for hiking and take it off as I warm up.

Tipi Walter
02-05-2016, 08:34
I agree with Bigcranky and especially on point 4.

I always know winter backpackers I see are not carrying the proper clothing when they resort to using their rain jackets as a final warmth layer when temps dip to 10F or below. They go to "Defcon 6" and pile everything they have on to stay warm, and the last item is usually the rain shell. So of course they get cold in camp and have to cocoon up in their sleeping bags by 6pm to stay warm.

The better option is to bring a beefy down parka with down pants and use the rain jacket for what it was designed for: To stay alive and warm when moving under load in terrible conditions. And to keep snow or sleet exposure of your merino or capilene or fleece midlayers to a minimum when hiking in a such crap.

I always bring my Arcteryx rain jacket on every trip as it's the only thing I have which will keep my core warm while I'm backpacking in hypothermic winter conditions or in a cold summer rain.

Point is, there is cold wet and warm wet. I use the rain jacket to provide warm wet---whether wet thru sweat or leaking rain water---at least my core is warm. Cold wet comes by using nothing to keep in the heat, i.e. hiking in saturated capilene or merino tops without a shell.

02-05-2016, 09:36

DWR coatings on jackets can't handle the amount of sustained moisture that an active hiker produces. Don't do this. As the warm moist air rises up over your body, it gets trapped when it reaches your shoulders and immediately the water condenses out against the cold fabric. You end up with a rainstorm inside the jacket. What make things worse is that this area is also where your pack straps are located and there is already compressed insulation.

Getting enough breathability in cold weather is tough even without a DWR coating


02-05-2016, 09:55
I've read the responses below, and don't really understand them, so really cannot agree or disagree, so I'll just spout off my system.

First, I hiked the entire AT nearly exclusively in the spring and fall. Excepting some mid September hiking in Maine, still technically summer, I didn't do a step on the AT in the summer.

My upper body clothing kit consisted of four layers, a long sleeve, 1/4 zip merino wool top (or Capilene a earlier in the hike), a 100-weight microfleece 2nd layer, worn on the trail practically every morning, a UL down "sweater" (really a jacket, no hood), and my trusty Arctyrex rail shell. (I started the trail using a Frogg Togg jacket, but it failed me a couple times so I switched to my Arctyrex for most of the trail). A fairly heavy (200 or 300 weight)fleece jacket would work fine in lieu of the down sweater, but it would be much heavier.

A typical day would have practically any combination of these items, and some very chilly evenings and mornings in camp would have all four, a very warm system indeed. The beauty of having these four layers are all the combinations possible. I never once hiked in the down though, that was always "saved" for that warmth needed around camp. I did, many times, use the rain shell for warmth on the trail, even when not raining, which I think was part of your actual original question. The base layer, microfleece 2nd layer and shell is a very warm combo, worn many times for early morning hiking. As soon as I felt myself getting too warm, before sweating sets in, I would take off the shell. If it was raining yet warm, the base layer and shell is a great combo.

Just my own method, again, hiking the entire AT in the spring and fall.

02-05-2016, 10:32
For the cold days: I use a "breathable" rain coat, wool sweater, poly pro long underwear, wicking long-sleeved undershirt.

That's a really miserable day.

02-05-2016, 12:52
As said, skip the bulky ski-esque jacket and rely on a system of layering.

Where your rain jacket falls in this system well depend on your other layers.

I've made the mistake of not bringing a fleece-type layer during the shoulder season and was forced to wear my rain shell as a warming layer (see remarks about sweating inside a rain shell).

If it isn't raining, I try not to wear the rain shell. Instead I'll wear a light merino wool long sleeve. If I'm still cold, I'll wear my short shirt sleeve merino over the long sleeve, or put on my 1/4 zip fleece top.

Mr. Sparky
02-06-2016, 00:18
This has all been very helpful. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. The layering approach with a rain shell at an outer layer is what I was thinking, much like Colorado_Rob's system. However, I realize I probably need to invest in a packable insulating jacket like the Patagonia puff. Sadly, I will have to go with synthetics in lieu of light down since I am allergic to down. :(

02-06-2016, 10:19
As said, skip the bulky ski-esque jacket and rely on a system of layering.

If it isn't raining, I try not to wear the rain shell. Instead I'll wear a light merino wool long sleeve. If I'm still cold, I'll wear my short shirt sleeve merino over the long sleeve, or put on my 1/4 zip fleece top.

Agree with this fully, the only thing I might add is look at a Pat. Houdini type of wind shirt/jacket. It is sometimes easier to add and take off to keep the short sleeve shirt or the 1/4 zip fleece top from sweating out. It is a cost and a slight weight penalty, but I have found it adds a lot of versatility. I find that I am wearing it more and more as an outer layer that allows me to save the rain jacket for rain and defcon 6 as mentioned before.

Del Q
02-06-2016, 19:57
I LOVE merino wool tee shirts, hot cold, whenever, that is my 1st layer

Also carry a Go Lite wind shirt, love that gear - versatile.

Wish that I had a Capilene 3 or 4 top, bought 2 - too thin

Rain Jacket

Depending on the weather I decide what else to take.........the way I figure it when we are hiking its all good. When we finish lesson learned is get into my sleeping bag ASAP, do not get cold