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Weather can be unpredictable. During the summer, though it may be hot and sunny, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be dry until fall comes around. When it comes to rain, it doesn’t matter the season, it’s going to come when it wants to.
Now, if you’re camping, this may not be a big problem for you, as you can just escape with your car and cancel the camping trip if the weather becomes too intense. However, if you’re backpacking, having the proper clothing with you is crucial as it’s not so easy to just call it quits.
This is why it’s important to both invest in and properly care for clothing which is going to make sure you’re kept dry and warm.
Durable water repellent
Durable water repellent (DWR) is sprayed onto rainwear products and is similar to Teflon in the sense that it essentially coats the outer layer of fabric which prevents any water from entering. What results is that the water beads and then rolls off the jacket, keeping you perfectly dry.
Now, this is completely different than fabric being water-resistant, as this literally prevents any water from entering and sitting within the material. Thus, DWR prevents your rain jacket from becoming waterlogged, heavy in weight, and the lining from sticking to your skin.
Now, what’s commonly overlooked when purchasing rainwear with a DWR coating is the maintenance of the DWR finish. Many people are unaware of the importance of DWR care but you want your jacket to have a long life. When the DWR finish wears off, what results is the jacket’s surface becoming wet when in contact with water.
Though the underlying membrane will be effective to keep the water away from you, the outside fabric which is now wet will slow the movement of sweat when leaving your jacket. What results is the lining sticking onto your skin, giving you the feeling that water is leaking in.
So what do you do? Good question. Well, it’s time you learned about durable water repellent (DWR) care, that way, you can ensure the longevity of your rain jacket.
How do DWRs work exactly?
You know what a DWR is, however, you’re unsure of how they actually work in order to protect yourself from the water. Well, DWRs are designed to increase the “contact angle” that’s created when water comes into contact with the material. This basically means a high contact angle works to create almost a spiky surface which keeps the water droplets on the outer layer of the fabric.
With DWR, it keeps the water droplets in a circular shape, almost like a bubble. The rounder a water droplet is, the easier it is for it to roll off of the fabric. If the water droplet has too low of a contact angle, it’ll adopt a flatter shape, allowing it to spread out and seep into the fabric.
But with all of these DWR finishes on the market, how do you know which one is effective?
DWRs go through a manufacturer test which measures the effectiveness of the finish. Water is essentially sprayed onto the material and the amount of water which stays onto the fabric is then assessed.
The finish is given a score out of 90 points which shows that approximately 90% of the fabric is complete without water sticking to it. Naturally, the higher number you have for a DWR rating means it gave a better performance. This test is then tested repeatedly after a number of washings in order to measure the DWR’s durability.
The test scores and the number of washings which the DWR can withstand is then put together in order to have a final rating. For example, you’ll see on a rain jacket a score of 80/10. This means that the spray test was given a score of 80 points after 10 washes.
Now, not all manufacturers publish their DWR ratings, however, if you do see a rating, here’s how to interpret it:
- Good: 80/10 – 80 points after 10 washes. Buying any product with a rating lower than this is not advisable!
- Excellent: 80/20 – 80 points after 20 washes.
- Exceptional: 80/50 – 80 points after 50+ washes
When should I reapply Durable Water Repellent (DWR)?
Now, there are many factors which contribute to the weakening of DWR performance. Some of these factors include body oils, launderings, usage, and dirt. Thus, some rainwear may last longer than others simply because you may wash or use it more often.
However, this doesn’t mean you should tiptoe around your jacket and only use it when you think you really need to. Your rainwear is meant to be used. Though you’re worried about DWR, don’t be as you’re able to maintain it with proper rainwear care.
In order to see the effectiveness of your rainwear, you should place some water drops on the exterior of your jacket. Now, does the water roll off or does it stick onto the jacket? If it rolls off with ease then your DWR is still in good condition. Now, if it takes a couple shakes in order for the water to get off of the exterior of your jacket, then it’s time you gave your DWR a little facelift.
In addition, it’s important to know that DWR finishes which are environmentally-friendly wear out quicker than previous DWR products. Thus, reapplying DWR on a regular basis will ensure that the finish is on your jacket.
How to Restore Existing DWR
If your jacket is losing some of its DWR protection, then you need to revive it. Here are a couple steps you can follow in order to get your DWR back to normal.
Step 1: You need to clean your jacket. Make sure you follow the washing instructions that are on your rainwear. Make sure you wash the dirt and oils off of your rainwear in order to restore the DWR.
Step 2: Then, you’ll need to apply heat. After you wash your rainwear, you’ll want to expose it to heat as that’s what will bring the DWR back to life. Though it’s different from each product, in general, you’ll want to place your rainwear in the dryer, on low to medium heat for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Gore-Tex: You can use a steam iron on a warm setting in order to inactivate the DWR. It’s best if you place a towel between the steam iron and rainwear for extra protection.
eVent: If your rainwear is coated with eVent, then you should be aware that the manufacturer does not recommend to place the garment into the dry. Instead, they suggest you hang dry it. You can use a steam iron on a warm setting, and just like with Gore-Tex, place a towel between the steam iron and rainwear for extra protection.
However, what if you have to apply a new DWR to your rainwear?
How to Apply New DWR to Your Rainwear
So, you’ve shaken your jacket and realize that the water droplets aren’t coming off as they should. You’ve also followed the above steps and nothing seems to work. Well, this means it’s time to apply a new DWR to your rainwear. This is usually needed if the rainwear has been excessively used and has had multiple launderings.
You can actually reapply a DWR finish to your garment with either a spray-on or wash-on DWR product. Many companies produce this finish, so it won’t be hard to find.
Step 1: Spray the worn out areas with a DWR finishing product.
Step 2: Use the synthetic setting on your iron and apply either low or medium heat to the garment. Make sure that the garment is able to be ironed and always check the garment’s instructions prior to applying a DWR finish to it.
Rainwear care is essential if you want your jacket to withstand harsh rain conditions. Make sure, if needed, that you do the above steps in order to revive your DWR finish.
The Importance of Staying Dry
If you’re out in the hot summer sun, getting wet doesn’t seem like such a big issue. In fact, it’s considered a luxury to get to be able to cool down from a long day’s hike. However, during the rain, getting wet is a nightmare.
Backpacking is hard enough as it is. You have to think about the trail, your food and the surrounding wilderness. Add a flash storm or long-term rain and you have another problem to think about.
Now, spending a couple minutes in the rain isn’t going to ruin your trip, neither is walking in it. However, if you’re not prepared with the proper shelter and clothing necessary, this is when backpacking in the rain can become dangerous.
Hypothermia is the #1 fatality of people who are in the outdoors and is always a concern for those in natural and manmade disasters. Hypothermia is when your body loses heat faster than it’s able to produce heat. This causes your body to drop drastically in temperature.
When your body drops its temperature, your internal organs and nervous system cannot function optimally. Depending on the severity of your situation, hypothermia can take minutes or hours for it to set in.
People suffering from hypothermia are less likely to realize that they’re experiencing these symptoms because they occur gradually in the body. However by taking precaution and preparing yourself for these types of situations, you’ll be able to reduce your chances of getting hypothermia.
What Causes Hypothermia?
Now, you may be curious as to what exactly causes hypothermia. Well, the causes of hypothermia can be:
- From wearing clothing which isn’t warm enough for the given weather conditions
- Staying outside in the cold for long periods of time
- Staying in wet clothing
- Being unable to move to a warm and dry area
Now, it’s natural that you’re going to continue walking while it’s raining as sometimes you simply cannot stop and take shelter. This is why wearing water-repellent clothing is essential for backpacking. But, how do you choose the right rain jacket?
How to Choose the Right Rain Jacket
When you’re looking for a rain jacket, you want to start off by figuring out what you’re going to be using it for. If you’re just looking for one that’ll take you around the town, then you may need something less technical than if you’re looking for a rain jacket for backpacking.
There are three different types of rain jackets: 2-layer, 2.5-layer, and 3-layer. Overall, all three types have two layers which include a coating and a laminate. Now depending what you need this jacket for, these layers can make a huge difference in which one you choose.
A 2-layer rain jacket is essentially the jacket you’d choose if you’re going around town or travelling. The membrane layer is designed inside the outer fabric layer with a loose-hanging liner to protect the membrane. Because of its design, it’s the quietest as the construction makes it less swishy than the other designs. A 2-layer rain jacket is moderately priced and is great for light activity.
Best Use: travel or urban wear
A 2.5-layer jacket is the lightest option of all three constructions. The 2.5-layer uses a lightweight material as the first layer while the second layer is made of polyurethane laminate that’s placed inside the first layer.
Then, there’s a protective print considered the half layer that’s placed on the second layer. This jacket is great for high-intensity activities where you’ll be sweating. In addition, these jackets are usually budget-friendly.
Best Use: high-intensity activities
In 3-layer jackets are the most intense and most expensive out of the three constructions. These jackets are traditionally heavier and designed with more durability thus, they’re best for harsh weather conditions. These jackets are generally designed with higher-quality membrane and water-repellent coating.
Best Use: harsh elements
Types of Weather Protection
Now that you know how rain jackets are constructed, you need to know types of weather protection which can be used on a rain jacket. Most rain jackets offer some level of protection against moisture, however, knowing each level of protection can help you decide which rain jacket you need.
Waterproof vs. water-resistant
There’s a difference between waterproof and water-resistant. When giving a jacket the title of being waterproof, it means that the jacket is able to sustain itself by keeping out the rain. However, there are different types of waterproofing that need to be closely looked at.
This construction is breathable and is best for light rain situations. These jackets are typically windbreakers. Though they’re optimal for light rain, if you’re planning to go in areas which are prone to rainstorms, these won’t be able to support you. The jackets are typically made of nylon and polyester which eventually will become soaked.
In this case, these are usually emergency ponchos or rain slickers. Maybe you caught up in a wind and rain storm, thus, you’re stuck standing under a tree until it settles down. It’s relatively inexpensive and is designed usually for emergency purposes.
This form of construction is designed to keep the water from penetrating through the jacket and getting to your skin. At the same time, it also works to move the sweat away from the body, keeping you as dry as possible. This is best if you’re going to be doing high-intensity activities which will get your heartbeat pumping.
The fabrics used with waterproof jackets are able to handle heavy and constant rainfall. Each brand will use a different technology for their membranes, however, some of the well-known membranes are eVent, GORE-TEX, and DryQ.
Types of Shells
There are a couple of different types of shells that will further help you decide on the type of weather protection that you’d like with your jacket.
A hard shell is synonymous with waterproof rain gear. Most fabrics which are hard shells are stiffer than soft shells. Hard shells aren’t insulated, thus, any warmth will be produced by the base and mid layer.
A soft shell jacket is typically a water-resistant shell that has an insulating layer. The insulating layer acts as both a mid layer and outer layer which provides you with better breathability, though, gives you less protection from the elements. They’re best for high-intensity activities.
This is usually a hard shell and soft shell combination which offers waterproof and windproof fabrics. These jackets tend to be more breathable and flexible when in use. Though you may find the traditional hard shell or soft shell jackets more durable.
If you’re going to be in elevated areas or in colder regions, then an insulating shell is a great option. These shells are usually filled with either synthetic fabrics or down and are both breathable and water-resistant. Not all of these shells come with waterproof fabric, however, it’s possible to find some that offer extra protection against the rain.
Though you now know the importance of DWR on your rain gear, there are a couple other things you should know to help make your trip a dry and pleasant one.
Ditch the cotton. We all know how comfortable cotton is, however, when you’re hiking, cotton is a big no-no. This is crucial especially for garments that are close to your skin. This is because cotton doesn’t wick away moisture and it also takes longer to dry. If you stay in damp and soggy clothing, you become vulnerable to hypothermia. Thus, it’s best if you choose materials such as wool, polyester, and nylon.
Check your rainwear. You need to check all your rainwear as this is the only way you’ll be able to tell if you need to revive it with DWR finish or not. If you don’t check, you run the risk of ending up in the rain without any proper protection. In addition, make sure your jacket is waterproof. If it’s not, go to the store and buy a new jacket, you’ll need it.
Take a rain hat. Remember, you want to avoid wearing cotton, so, a rain hat will help you by keeping the rain off of your face.
Have a stash of dry clothes. Extra clothing is essential when you’re backpacking. Do not skip out on bringing a couple of extra pairs of socks, underwear, shirts, and pants. When rain falls, you’ll be happy that you have a dry outfit to change into. If you remember, one of the causes of hypothermia is from being in wet clothes for a long period of time. Once you get wet, get changed.
Be prepared for blisters. When there’s rain, there are blisters. When moisture is around your feet, you become susceptible to blisters. They’re extremely painful and can easily become infected when you’re walking on your feet all day, sweating. Make sure you have enough wool and synthetic socks, plus, a couple blister-treatment items in your backpack.
Check your footwear. Though you know you have a pair of hiking shoes in your closet, have you checked them to make sure they’re good enough to use on your trip. Shoes are essential when it comes to hiking and can make or break your trip. If you’re in cold conditions, waterproof shoes don’t keep your feet warm, thus, you’ll need to bring thermal socks with you. On the other hand, non-waterproof footwear becomes vulnerable when rain hits and can result in your feet being completely wet – you know this isn’t good.
Extra Pack Protection
On top of your clothing, you’ll need to make sure that your backpack is kept dry. Of course, your extra clothing and first-aid kit are all going to be kept in your backpack which you don’t want to become wet. Naturally, most backpacks are made with waterproof materials, however, having extra protection on your backpack can give you the security you need during rainy weather.
Pack liners. You don’t need to go and buy yourself a fancy pack liner. Instead, you can use a garbage bag or a couple of small plastic bags for important gear. When it rains, your main pack and pockets will most likely become wet, making your pack heavier. But, at the end of the day, your important gear will stay dry which is the most important.
Dry sacks. These can be used just like pack liners. You should use your dry sack for your most vulnerable gear. Naturally, you should use one for your sleeping gear as well, especially if your sleeping bag is made of down. You can also store food in your dry sack as well which will eliminate any moisture from soiling it.
Pack raincover. Some backpacks will comes with a raincover while others you’ll have to buy separately. If not, you can also use a trash bag. The point is, you’ll be able to cover the exterior area of your pack, reducing contact with water.
Waterproof cases. This will help your phone and electronic gear from getting wet. You’ll want to get yourself a waterproof case as this will provide you with the ultimate protection against the elements.
Of course, keeping yourself dry is important, but keeping your camping equipment dry is also a priority. Rain really is a hassle, right? Well, with these tips, you’ll be able to keep your camping gear as dry as possible.
Go for high ground. When you notice bad weather approaching, you’ll want to move up to higher ground. You’ll have less moisture in the air, thus, your tent will not have as much condensation inside.
Pitch up under trees. Trees are amazing for creating warmth, plus, they also protect you from the elements as well. By pitching your tent under trees, your tent will produce less condensation.
Avoid damaged areas. Though you want to set up camp underneath trees, you need to make sure that you’re not under any damaged limbs.
Stay away from areas in between peaks. If you’re in between two high areas, you do not want to pitch your tent in the low area between them. What happens is that the rain will channel its way down into the low area, causing it to pool where your tent is.
Place the door away from the wind. The last thing you want is rain to come flying into your tent. The good thing is that this is an easy fix. When pitching your tent, simply set up the tent so that the door faces away from the wind.
Other tips for backpacking in the rain
Of course, now you know everything there is to know about rain gear and the importance of DWR care. However, there are some extra tips that you should follow in order to make sure that you and your equipment stays as dry as possible.
Dry out your gear. This is specifically at the end of your trip. It’s crucial that you dry out your gear when you’re finished using it. If you do not, you run the risk of mildew and mold growth which will completely ruin your gear. Dry out your equipment and make sure that you give it a good check before storing it away. Also, make sure at the end of your trip that your rain jacket is washed. That way, debris and dirt won’t further diminish the DWR finish.
Switch to dry clothing during the day as well. At midday, it’s important that you change your outfit and put on a new, fresh pair of socks, pants and base layer. Not only will this be a refreshing change for you, however, it reduces any dampness from sticking to your body.
Open your pack only when you need. If it’s raining outside, the last thing you want to be doing is opening and closing your pack as you’ll allow moisture to enter inside. The more you open your pack, the more moisture builds up inside and will most likely stay inside your pack for the duration of your trip. To reduce this from happening, only open your pack when needed and make sure your valuables are in ziplock bags.
Think about your gear when you layer. Layering is extremely important when you’re dressing for a backpacking trip. Your base of mid-layer and long-sleeve shirts are the easiest and most comfortable to wear if you’re looking for something that won’t impair your movement, yet, still will keep you warm and dry. Then, you want a jacket which will provide you with full-length coverage while still being comfortable as well.
Don’t forget about zippers. We often forget the importance of zippers. When rain hits, water can easily seep through the zipper’s teeth causing your equipment to get wet. However, what you need to make sure is that your backpack is designed with either rubberized coating or a storm flap. In addition, your zipper also needs a cover that will help shield the water from the rain.
Think about packability. When you’re thinking about your jacket, you need to look at what it offers. Make sure it offers you places to store some of your items. You’ll want to be able to store some of your personal items that you would like close to you, however, without the risk of it becoming wet.
Vents matter. When you’re looking for rain gear, you’ll want breathable garments. If not, you’ll end up sweaty, especially if you’re performing a high-intensity activity. This is why breathable rain gear is crucial as it’ll help remove the moisture from inside your jacket.
I know what you’re thinking, it probably sounds a little overwhelming right now after reading this entire guide, however, it’s not actually that complicated. The important thing to know here is that once bad weather hits, it hits hard. This doesn’t mean that your trip is ruined, but this does mean that you need to take a couple of extra precautions in order to make sure you maintain optimal health until the end of your journey.
Make sure you overpack on socks and underwear and don’t be scared to bring a couple of extra base layers with you. The goal of this is simply to keep you dry when wet weather hits. Make sure you also do the little extra steps to make sure that your DWR is optimal and that you properly protect your equipment.
If you’re on a budget, making sure that your DWR finish is updated is one of the best and easiest things to do. The rest, you can be creative with garbage bags and ziploc bags in order to protect your things. With these simple steps, you can completely waterproof yourself and your backpack. Getting wet isn’t going to be an issue then since now you’re prepared!