As I’ve said before, I really dislike being wet unless I am showering or swimming. So, even though I’ve had wet weather gear for years, I’ve never really stress tested it because that would mean getting wet while hiking which never sounds fun to me. I knew I needed to though – because the last place I want to discover failed waterproof gear is on a 320k hike in a foreign country.
So first I walked a lunchbreak 2k in the rain with my Frogg Toggs, then did a similar walk in my Marmot jacket. I was shocked that the Toggs actually did much better than the Marmot which wetted out in about 15 minutes (in Marmot’s defense, this is an older jacket and I had done nothing to maintain it. SEE CORRECTION). As I will discuss below, none of my gear seems to be 100% waterproof – and as it turns out, this is not just because it’s inexpensive.
Am I doomed to be wet hiking due to either rain or sweat whether I have a $750 set of Gore-Tex® shells, a $200 Marmot Precip suit, or $20 Frogg Toggs? According to one sciency guy, the answer is: “Yes.”
At some point, every piece of gear he tested failed to keep water from getting in or vapor from getting out. Not only were none 100% waterproof or 100% breathable, many were wildly off on one or both measurements. (The best overall was from a motorcycle clothing company!)
Thee findings mirror my own experience (which, admittedly, is limited to the less expensive models), and is also consistent with what experienced hikers report.
My (Unplanned) Rain Gear Test
Last week I hiked a brutal trail in a windy downpour in my Frogg Togg jacket and some old Coleman rain pants I found in my camp gear. My Toggs jacket stayed almost completely dry inside. I was sweating even though I only had on a thin Dri-Lite t-shirt under it – but I’m pretty warm-blooded, so unless it’s below freezing, I am plenty warm while moving. Maybe the Toggs aren’t as breathable as the Marmot, but I’ve never felt overheated in either jacket. (Interestingly, I met a hiker prepping for the PCT who was wearing a Marmot Precip jacket who also reported it letting moisture in.)
The Coleman pants held up OK, but after a while the hiking pants I had on underneath were noticeably moist. My phone in the pocket was not kept completely dry either (thankfully it was in a case).
My shoes are not even like waterproof and let every drop in, but my toe-liner / Darn Tough sock combo came through yet again and kept my feet at the right temperature even when wet. Zero hot spots, zero blisters. That’s fine for a single hike, but I do think that for the Camino I will opt for the RSM version of the Altras as they seem to breathe just fine and can keep off at least minor wet irritants like mud or light rain. (The same PCT hiker had the RSMs and loved them.)
Making It Rain
So, I did not fully escape the rain!
However, even though I was not comfy, warm, and dry, I wasn’t uncomfortably cold or wet either. The gear still helped a lot. The wind was really blowing, and the gear limited the wet and cold from penetrating deep enough to cause discomfort (I felt like a wet broom vs. a wet mop).
So I’ve become skeptical about expensive waterproof clothing purchases for the Camino (or for hiking in general). It seems that whether it’s caused by rain, sweat, mud, or floods – I’m not going to be perfectly dry and comfortable in wet weather. It’s really more about mitigating the effects – not defeating them.