From the beginning, the challenge for rainwear manufacturers has been keeping the rain out without holding body heat in.
A search for the perfect solution to your rainwear needs should begin by selecting the right category, and narrowing it down from there. In the broadest sense, rainwear can be separated into three basic categories: uninsulated, insulated and system pieces. All of these options can be found in jackets, pants, parkas and bibs.
Further, rainwear is separated by the method of protection, or treatment such as a membrane or laminate. Other methods include PVC coated fabrics and DWR (durable water-repellent) treatments applied to nylon.
Membranes are specially developed, breathable fabrics such as GORE-TEX® and Dry-Plus®, which are designed to keep moisture out while letting body moisture escape, to reduce that clammy feeling. Other similar fabrics are available under proprietary labels from manufacturers such as Columbia’s Omni-Dry® and Browning’s Hydro-fleece.
Laminate fabrics are treated with a DWR, and it’s actually the DWR coating that makes the rain bead up and shed away. The down side is that no DWR is permanent. With extended wear and many cycles through the laundry, the effectiveness fades; however, it is possible to use a spray-on product to restore the waterproofness. When the DWR coating has lost its effectiveness, the laminate will still keep you dry, but you feel clammy because the outer layer becomes damp. A regular care regimen will ensure that your rainwear lasts for many years.
Lightweight PVC rainwear is backed with nylon, but industrial-grade rainwear is made of PVC-coated, woven cotton twill or a polyester scrim. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, traditionally used for building materials, but when plasticizers are added, PVC becomes soft, pliable and impervious to water. PVC-coated rainwear resists punctures and other hazards as well. Also, PVC-coated rainwear tends to be a little stiffer and heavier than other options, but in really foul weather it’s a fair trade. Rainwear of this type is typically used in rugged work environments such as that of an Alaskan commercial fisherman. Look for features like storm flaps that provide additional protection at critical openings and a well-fitted hood with drawstring closure.
Uninsulated rainwear is intended for warm climates, or the warmer months in cold climates, but it also can be worn over a layering system that offers the warmth you need in colder weather if you don’t mind the extra layer and bulk. Uninsulated rainwear can be found at several price points, depending on the features, fabric and durability. The lightest level is a nylon packable jacket and pants. Higher-grade nylon rainwear has taped and sealed seams to keep moisture from seeping through even the smallest thread holes.
Another critical issue in the selection process is determining what level of service you expect in terms of weather severity and duration. Rainwear that will keep you dry during a short jaunt from your canoe to a cabin doesn’t have to be that sturdy, and if you’re in a region where light rains blow through quickly, it becomes even less of an issue; however, if you have to be out all day in a real frog strangler for work or by choice for fishing, camping or hiking, you’ll need a more stalwart set of togs.
When cold and rain combine it can be a miserable day, especially when you throw some wind in the mix. Under these conditions, insulated rainwear is a must. Options for insulation include a microfleece lining and Thinsulate™, combined with DWR-treated nylon, or for heavier applications, with specialty fabrics like GORE-TEX® and Dry-Plus®.
Parkas offer the most protection, combined with the best mobility. Jackets work well but are more restrictive in the chest area, compared with parkas. Rain pants are fine for most outdoor applications, like hiking, but if you’re involved in activities that produce wear, like sitting or kneeling, bibs will last longer and offer the best protection.
The advantage of a system
For heavy-wear activities, the best option is a combination of parka and bibs, and the ultimate in that category is Cabela’s Guidewear®, with a GORE-TEX® laminate and Thinsulate™ Ultra Insulation, recognized widely as the best set of rainwear available at any price. Guidewear is a system that gives you the flexibility to adapt to changing weather. On cold, damp mornings, the zip-out liner jacket holds in body heat while the outer layer keeps you dry. Later in the day, when the rain stops or the temps start to rise, you have the option of removing the rain protection and wearing either piece separately.
I find myself wearing my Guidewear right from the dock, even if it isn’t raining. This is especially so in the early-morning hours when a fast run across the water can chill you to the bone. Cabela’s-exclusive Guidewear fabric was developed in a joint venture between Cabela’s and W.L. Gore. This revolutionary material is the toughest fabric to ever incorporate the 100% waterproof, breathable GORE-TEX® membrane, and it’s 25% heavier to make it even more resilient to wear and abuse. Features on the bibs like reinforced knees and seat add to their indestructible design, and zip-to-the-knees openings make them very quick to put on or take off without removing your footwear. Additional improvements to the bibs’ fit include a gusseted crotch and curved articulation in the seat. Guidewear is also available with or without Thinsulate™ Ultra Insulation. Neither bow spray nor torrential downpours will keep you from your appointed rounds when suited up with a set of Guidewear.
Once you’ve selected your rainwear, the next important thing is to take it with you. I can’t count the number of times I’ve hunted or fished with guys who headed back to the truck because they didn’t think it was going to rain.