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  1. #1
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    Question Wind Jacket Only. No Rain Jacket?

    So I thru-hiked the AT this year and took the standard rain gear as anyone would for the AT. I had a OR Helium II and a ULA rain skirt. I learned two important things for me on the hike: 1- the rain gear on the AT was many times useless for rain protection due to already constantly being wet with sweat and 2- unless the temperature was in the 30s, I was usually warm enough while hiking with shorts and a short sleeved shirt. No jacket, gloves, beanie, etc... Ultimately, I only wore my rain jacket or skirt if I spent time on top of a windy, foggy, misty mountain top while taking a break. It did work well for holding in warmth. If it rained I usually chose not to wear my gear.

    I've heard that there's much less rain on the PCT when compared to the AT.

    What are your thoughts on me taking a wind breaker instead of my rain jacket on a NOBO PCT thru-hike? ( I still plan to take my rain skirt.). It seems like I can find a wind breaker that will not only hold my warmth, but will also weigh less and breath better than a rain jacket. And if it rains, I'll just get wet. Or if it's raining and cold, I'll wear my wind breaker and my rain skirt to hold in warmth.

    So specifically, would you take a wind breaker in place of a rain jacket?

    Thanks for your help. Mike

  2. #2

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    You sort of answered your own question when you said---"Ultimately I only wore my rain jacket if I spent time on top of a windy, foggy, misty mountain . . ."

    In my opinion the whole purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you alive in harsh conditions or changing conditions when hypothermia rears its ugly head.

    When you really need it---you really need it. Maybe once every two weeks but it's vital.

    A wind jacket to me is useless weight.

  3. #3
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    Thank you Tipi. My logic was kinda this: a rain jacket does 3 things, holds in warmth, blocks wind, and blocks rain. A wind jacket does the first two only. If I'm already wet with sweat, do I even need something that blocks rain?

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    You sort of answered your own question when you said---"Ultimately I only wore my rain jacket if I spent time on top of a windy, foggy, misty mountain . . ."

    In my opinion the whole purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you alive in harsh conditions or changing conditions when hypothermia rears its ugly head.

    When you really need it---you really need it. Maybe once every two weeks but it's vital.

    A wind jacket to me is useless weight.
    +1 Hypothermia occurs as the body starts to lose heat from its normal 98.6 degrees, once it reaches approximately 95 degrees, hypothermia becomes a real issue regardless of how good one feels in shorts and tee. Outside temperature in the 50s can trigger hypothermia, if there is a wind and/or rain component temperatures can be in the 60s, which can create an illusion of safety.

    The purpose of rain gear is to reduce evaporative cooling of the body in these conditions and resulting loss of mental acuity and ability to make rational decisions that impact survival.

    I think most would agree with Tipi - "when you really need it - you REALLY need it".

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tipi Walter View Post
    You sort of answered your own question when you said---"Ultimately I only wore my rain jacket if I spent time on top of a windy, foggy, misty mountain . . ."

    In my opinion the whole purpose of a rain jacket is to keep you alive in harsh conditions or changing conditions when hypothermia rears its ugly head.

    When you really need it---you really need it. Maybe once every two weeks but it's vital.

    A wind jacket to me is useless weight.
    The Helium is light enough you can use it as a wind shirt.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ethesis View Post
    The Helium is light enough you can use it as a wind shirt.
    And after seeing how crappy it was in just two hours of rain in the Wind River Range in August...there's no way I'd spend that kind of money on it

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by DuneElliot View Post
    And after seeing how crappy it was in just two hours of rain in the Wind River Range in August...there's no way I'd spend that kind of money on it
    True. at 3 oz, you get something like a houdini with DWR that is somewhat effective with light rain for awhile. Go up to 6 oz and you can get quite a lot more rain protection.... but also has its limits!

  8. #8
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    A wind jacket is a niche item. A very useful one depending on your kit, hiking style, etc.

    In cold conditions, I have found a fleece pullover and wind jacket excellent to hike in. Hiking in my rain jacket would be miserable at the same temps.

    Also, I can actually sleep in my wind jacket without getting clammy. It breathes and adds a good deal of warmth to a sleep system. I cant imagine sleeping in my rain jacket.

    Can "Swami" Honan swears by the Montbell Wind jacket. Hes a very accomplished lightweight hiker. Worth reading his blog on it.

    I have a Montbell one and i agree with their statement of no other clothing adds as much warmth to a layering system ounce for ounce as the windshirt. I agree.

    However, in my quest for UL freedom. I think im going to forego the windshirt on my next thru hike and just carry my rain jacket.... but im not a super ultralight hiker, where a very dialed in shelter/insulation system is used. Right now, my windshell is more a luxury item than anything, so at home it will stay.



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  9. #9

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    You may be able to get away with it, but it will depend on the weather cooperating with you. The question related to yours is can you handle cold temperatures AND rain with just your wind jacket? Given you can get a decent rain jacket for just over 6oz, is this really worth it? Remember, on the AT, it often rains when it's warm. On the PCT, if it's raining, it's usually cold.

    I live in California and often find myself on parts of the PCT through the lower 2/3s of the state. I personally would not try to hike the entire trail without a rain jacket even though I often don't need it because in the summer months, the weather is usually pretty good except for some thunder showers.

    But even SoCal in the spring, if it's happens to be a wet spring, you'll be surprised at how cold it is while its raining. One very wet spring, numerous hikers were bailing out to Julian from the desert to try to find better rain gear as they mostly were carrying minimalist rain protection. I remember one year some people bailed out of the San Gabriels (between Wrightwood and Aqua Ducle) because they were experiencing freezing rain without rain gear (but I heard it doesn't rain in SoCal is often said). Did I mention I've seen it snow near Wrightwood in early June more than once in the last 10 years. So much for it being all desert. When I thru-hiked the trail, I met another hiker up north who talked about how in SoCal she had to be evacuated off trail by some people she met due to a storm hitting when she was hiking just after the Mojave Desert, due to being almost hypothermic. She thought she could mail her rain gear ahead to Kennedy Meadows and she was soaked from hiking in cold rain all day, her gear was soaked, and she couldn't stop shivering.

    Then you have the High Sierra where in July I've seen the temperature plunge from low 70's into the 40's within minutes when a massive thunder storm broke near Muir Pass dropping hail and a lot of rain in a short period of time.

    And don't even think about Washington. I know some people who hiked in almost daily rain with cool to cold temperatures for the entire time.

  10. #10
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    She thought she could mail her rain gear ahead to Kennedy Meadows and she was soaked from hiking in cold rain all day, her gear was soaked, and she couldn't stop shivering.

    It's not unheard of to place oneself in this position...especially the newb narrow fair weather(summer) experienced AT types who advise to always hike drenched...often as an excused reply because their rain gear and/or its usage is deemed inappropriate. Ya have to think hard about IF this all day rain and cold scenario happens how it will be addressed...without rain gear...under different trail/hike/route scenarios with one's personal LD philosophical approaches and skill sets. If she could have stayed warm while being wet OR stopped and set up shelter and gotten into her bag/quilt OR had a crystal ball Jesus like command of the weather it could have been different.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    She thought she could mail her rain gear ahead to Kennedy Meadows and she was soaked from hiking in cold rain all day, her gear was soaked, and she couldn't stop shivering.

    It's not unheard of to place oneself in this position...especially the newb narrow fair weather(summer) experienced AT types who advise to always hike drenched...often as an excused reply because their rain gear and/or its usage is deemed inappropriate. Ya have to think hard about IF this all day rain and cold scenario happens how it will be addressed...without rain gear...under different trail/hike/route scenarios with one's personal LD philosophical approaches and skill sets. If she could have stayed warm while being wet OR stopped and set up shelter and gotten into her bag/quilt OR had a crystal ball Jesus like command of the weather it could have been different.
    Iím in a Facebook group discussing some hypothermia rescues of people who decided to skip rain gear.

    Sobering to read.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Navster View Post
    So I thru-hiked the AT this year and took the standard rain gear as anyone would for the AT. I had a OR Helium II and a ULA rain skirt. I learned two important things for me on the hike: 1- the rain gear on the AT was many times useless for rain protection due to already constantly being wet with sweat and 2- unless the temperature was in the 30s, I was usually warm enough while hiking with shorts and a short sleeved shirt. No jacket, gloves, beanie, etc... Ultimately, I only wore my rain jacket or skirt if I spent time on top of a windy, foggy, misty mountain top while taking a break. It did work well for holding in warmth. If it rained I usually chose not to wear my gear.

    I've heard that there's much less rain on the PCT when compared to the AT.

    What are your thoughts on me taking a wind breaker instead of my rain jacket on a NOBO PCT thru-hike? ( I still plan to take my rain skirt.). It seems like I can find a wind breaker that will not only hold my warmth, but will also weigh less and breath better than a rain jacket. And if it rains, I'll just get wet. Or if it's raining and cold, I'll wear my wind breaker and my rain skirt to hold in warmth.

    So specifically, would you take a wind breaker in place of a rain jacket?

    Thanks for your help. Mike
    Timeframe?

    A WP rain jacket is more than for rain IMO. However, when PCT NOBO's start in late March/ April getting done before temps plummet and risks of the white stuff and sleet in WA pose higher risks I've seen some roll with a DWRed wind jacket. These tend to be the fast and lightest quite advanced get er dun types. I've been there too.

    There are different modes of thought I've went with. 1) use a good DWRed wind jacket i.e.; MB Tachyon, Pat Houdini, etc And, if caught in a rain especially cold sleety rain up north carefully plan for layering underneath and extremities for warmth. This can be tricky if found dilly dallying on the NOBO when weather changes in WA or caught exposed on windy cold exposed ridge. IMO wind jackets can be hard to layer appropriately. BTW, dont assume deserts are always hot and sunny! The Mojave at night during mar and Apr experiences freezing temps! It's not all low elev either! Look at the first 700 mile elev PCT profile. If anticipating early AM or night hiking when it CAN be windy at a moderated watch carefully where I step pace a rain jacket can be fine as an outer layer. Personally I was darn glad to have a ZP Challenger or MB Versalite in WA on PCT NOBO's and on one NOBO PCT LASH a Marmot Essence when still hiking into early Oct. It rains in BC too IF going into CAN! I rarely wore these rain jackets during the day(between 8 am and 7 pm in CA and OR however. SO, it depends on your approach. I don't like dead wt! Personally, for all of CA and OR a DWRed wind jacket would have been OK with my apparel layering on two first or second wk of Apr starts. In OR a wind jacket was rarely needed other than for the vampires at dusk/dawn and night. 2) employ one of the highest breathability and mechanical venting very UL fully WP rain jackets as both a pseudo wind jacket and rain jacket while also it being worn as part of my sleep warming system. This makes the "rain jacket" less of a dead wt. I cringe when I hear kit wt conscious hikers tell me they haven't worn their rain jacket in days or wks because their was no need as it hadn't been raining. MVTR ZP Challenger specs are very very high plus ya get mechanical venting features - which IMHO are more important to proactively properly employ in thermoregulating than relying on breathability! 3) not necessarily for a PCT NOBO starting in Mar/April but use both - the most UL/SUL wind jacket - like the sub 2 oz MB Tachyon and a sub 7 oz WP highly breakable rain jacket making for a ton of versatility at a minimal sub 8 maybe even sub 7 oz wt penalty. Of course, wearing both means having to wisely consider an appropriate base layer. And, of course one's anticipated hiking conditions have to be carefully considered if one is to avoid the habitual dead wt scenario. I took such a system on a very wet and cool PNWT LASH(w/ above treeline alternates) and a stormy winterish Lost Coast thru making for a quite effective layering combination and tons of versatility. On a July Oregon Coastal Tr SOBO thru a new Pat Houdini was aces. Timeframes, direction of travel, exact routes, skill set(s), and varying approaches played into the effectiveness.

    In general the lightest wt wind jackets are about 2-3 ozs. My MB Tachyon is a sub wispy 2 ozs though. The ZP Challenger(no longer my version made) I wore weighed about 5.3 ozs. The richly featured MB Versalite is 6.4 ozs. I don't see that much a significant wt savings or under that comparison that hard core a functionality difference for LD backpacking. Personally I like rain jackets with hand pockets. Sometimes the wt savings in the most minimalist wind jacket verse most minimalist rain jacket means I have to also carry 1.6 - 2 oz runners gloves. It's largely a gear wt savings wash. I like gloves anyhow as I habitually hike through the night and get early am starts. But, I've had frost nip previously so I need to address extremities. Maybe, you have less absolute need other than possibly WA?

    I see little need for a rain skirt at your start and up until WA BUT perhaps I'm missing something. I see the rain skirt as dead wt up until then. I'd rather you not carry true WP rain pants or rain skirt OR wind pants and throw the ozs into a minimalist WP highly breathable very ventable rain jacket with appropriate layers. All of this means little if you don't proactively thermoregulate. ANY amount of breathability and ventability in either a true WP rain jacket OR WIND JACKET can be compromised. THEN, the jackets are typically blamed rather than the user's inattentiveness and ignorance.


    Wind jackets and rain skirts in my mind dont "hold" the heat so much than might protect from convective heat loss. In my LD backpacking scenario the way I primarily get and stay warm is by always moving NOT relying overly on gear. However, this includes maintaining warmth by not taking my pack off. Packs on hold in the heat and in my mind are pseudo part of the "layering equation."

    As you're aware wet and warm without that much exposure as is often the situation on the "green tunnel' during typical AT thru times WITH an AT lean to every 7 or 8 miles is different than wet and more exposed on the PCT at higher elevations in northern OR or WA WITH no lean to availability. I'd be careful opting for the warm and wt scenario on many trails/many hikes expecting to address it solely by a rain skirt and wind jacket(not yet named). In my mind the AT is a more forgiving place than many other hike scenarios. Imagine, if you will being drenched while attempting to stay warm with a rain skirt and wetted out wind jacket while exposed with roaring wind and quickly plummeting temps and darkening sky with constant drizzle above treeline going through the Whites with no hut availability...during late summer or early fall. This may not exactly be what you experience on your PCT hike but dont assume AT east coast lower elev conditions are what you'll find everywhere.

  13. #13

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    Windjacket only? Nope
    Windjacket plus umbrella? Maybe

  14. #14
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    I wouldn't do it, either.

    My current and all-time favorite rain jacket is a home-made silnylon anorak, packs the size of a fist and weighs three ounces.

    But like all gear, it needs to be used with full knowledge of it's limitations. I'm a firm believer that experience counts way more than clothing carried when it comes to harsh weather. Like the newby wearing an expensive down garment under a Goretex shell when climbing, in the rain. An old hand in a wool shirt and poncho will probably more comfortable at the end of the day (if you'll forgive the cliche).
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

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    One of my biggest surprises after moving to the east coast a few years ago was how warm and muggy it often was when raining. I can only imagine an AT (east coast) hiker moving to the PCT (west coast) and being shocked in the other direction, i.e. how friggin cold the darn rain is!

    Out east, even in cold seasons, the rain is no colder than the air. Out west, it can be high summer and when it starts raining, the rain is jarringly cold and temperatures drop and is really unpleasant if not dangerously cold for someone that is also wet.

    On the PCT, there is also not generally much rain until you get into Washington, but there can be, and it can be at a very bad place and time. But, a rain coat seems like overkill. I get it.

    Bring your windshirt and a poncho!
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  16. #16

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    Why not go the other route...rain jacket not WP.

    The rain not be as prevalent here on the west side of the country, but I can tell you from experience that when it does rain, esp in the mountains, it gets dang cold. I recently got caught in a two hour rain storm in the Wind River Range at the end of AUGUST and even though I had a good poncho to keep most of me dry I still got so cold to be almost dangerous...if the rain had continued there could have been problems. The rain is not warm and you won't be constantly covered in sweat like you are on the AT.

    Don't leave rain gear behind.

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    I toyed with the idea myself this year, and it turns out I actually could have gotten by with it for the first 700 miles, as not a single drop of rain fell on my head from Campo to Kennedy meadows, but even with that, if I were to do it again, I would still carry a rain jacket. With today's UL rain kits, it is just not worth the risk for saving that few ounces (say, 3 ounce wind jacket vs. 6 ounce rain jacket).

    One other aspect: what blew me away (so to speak) on the PCT this year was the amount and magnitude of The Wind. Wow, The Wind! "Wind Jackets", at least my UL wind jacket, does not block the wind (and cold from it) nearly as well as my 6 ounce "rain jacket". So, what I'm saying, is that in addition to being rain protection, rain jackets are also warmer, when it's dry, than wind jackets.

    The temperature swings here out west seem to be more severe than back east, so it sure is nice, and sometimes downright vital to have warm enough gear. A $20, 6 ounce Dri Duck (AKA: Frogg Togg) jacket might be all you need. Too bad you have to buy a set, the DD/FT pants are nearly useless.

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    Wow, all of you guys are great. Thanks so much for the thorough input and stories of experience. Exactly what I was looking for. I can check one decision off the list. I will be taking my rain jacket!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Navster View Post
    Wow, all of you guys are great. Thanks so much for the thorough input and stories of experience. Exactly what I was looking for. I can check one decision off the list. I will be taking my rain jacket!!
    Now the question is: do you also bring an umbrella? I often carry both and find the umbrella gets more use Most of the time.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliotrope View Post
    Now the question is: do you also bring an umbrella? I often carry both and find the umbrella gets more use Most of the time.


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    Tough call, I carried one but only used it a couple times to block mid-day sun, if I were to do the southern CA 1000 miles again I would not carry one for those parts. It's pretty darn windy so much, they are hard to use consistently. FWIW, I found perfectly functioning UL umbrellas in hiker boxes twice, we're talking $50 UL umbrellas. I almost left mine once (but it had one broken spine and I just couldn't part with it). However, further up north in more rainy climes, I think they are useful for their more traditional use. We just hiked the CO trail recently and used umbrellas almost every day (we had rain every day, some days hard rain).

    Basically I'm sold on umbrellas use for some long distance hiking, but not for the southern half of the PCT (up to northern CA).

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