Don't Run Afoul of the Weather: A Guide to Staying Dry in the Wet

The price of outfitting yourself for wet-weather hiking or biking can range from a modest investment to a serious chunk of change, but the cost of not having the right equipment is a miserable and possibly dangerous outing.

Start at the top. Your head produces a lot of heat, so the key is to avoid overheating while trying to keep your "do" dry. On a bike, a helmet cover is your best bet; most hoods impair your peripheral vision.

Hikers have more options. Those wide-brimmed Aussie-style leather numbers (often called "bush hats") are popular, but beware that brims can channel water down the back of your neck if you aren't careful. For light rain, a breathable knit-style cap made of a moisture-wicking fabric will do the trick. The most convenient is the hood on your jacket, although most tend to give the wearer tunnel vision.

Wes Allen, of the Eugene, Oregon, REI store, says bikers and hikers have different raingear needs. Hikers need a top-flight jacket but can get by with light pants or tights in mild temps, while bikers need extra protection down low to combat splashes and spray.

Jackets are a tricky pick. While some can serve double duty for hiking and biking, you're better off having one for each activity, if possible. The biggest issue is length. A good hiking jacket will extend well beyond the waist to give you added protection around your midsection, but that extra length gets in the way when you are riding.

Things to Look For

  • Material that is water-resistant yet breathable. Gore-Tex is still among the leaders, but there are other substitutes that may suit your needs for less money. Remember that water-resistant is better than water-proof in most instances. Water-proof means you'll probably get just as wet from sweating as you would have from the rain.

  • Articulated (curved) sleeves. The cuffs will stay around your wrist and the shoulders won't bind when you stretch.

  • A hood that doesn't unnecessarily restrict your side-to-side vision.

  • Venting. Although the traditional underarm vents (pit-zips) remain popular, core vents in the pockets and front panel have become regular features.

  • Weight. Lighter is better, so long as it keeps you dry. Wear layers for warmth.

  • Bright or reflective colors. Especially important for bikers.

  • Rain pants should have adequate closure at the ankle, and bikers especially need a tapered leg to keep pants clear of the chain.

Agony of De Feet and De Hands

Wet feet are the quickest way to ruin a hike or bike ride. Wear good socks made with a wicking material (such as Coolmax) next to the skin, and add wool socks if temps require. There are many lightweight "approach shoes" ideal for hiking and light mountaineering. Allen noted that natural leather remains a popular choice which, properly treated and cared for, performs as well as more expensive synthetics and breathes better.

Bicyclists can get shoe covers and guards that go around the front of the shoe to protect against water. No matter what, Allen recommends carrying dry socks to put on when you reach your destination.

One final clothing essential for wet-weather bikers: Gloves.

Choose breathability over absolute water protection because your hands will heat up quickly.

When choosing raingear, Allen recommends sticking with well-known brands. You may save a bit with generic or off-brand stuff, but you'll pay later. Weathering a monsoon at 6,000 feet is no time to find out that your "bargain" jacket has leaky seams.

Gore-Tex fabric guarantees quality and water-resistance, but depending on the conditions you face, it may be more protection than you need. Other materials are lighter and more breathable.

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