Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dry, Comfortable, and Affordable

Being of the outdoor profession, it's often that I get caught working in the rain. I have never owned a rain jacket in my life (*gasp*) and decided to just bite the bullet this year and purchase one. After some preliminary research online, I was surprised to learn just how much technology goes into rain gear production. I was definitely overwhelmed with information, and figured that I can't be the only one. The following summarizes what I learned, and I hope it will be helpful in providing some clues to the rain gear mystery.

I begin my research by listing what qualities I know for sure I need. Breathability is my number one concern. I'm a warm natured person, and if I feel smothered, constricted, or overheated then the rain jacket goes to the back of the closet, never to see daylight again. I need a jacket that can keep me dry, which seems like a no-brainer, but I quickly learn the difference between waterproof and water-resistant gear. Lastly, I know at least half the time I'm using a rain jacket, I'll be in a climbing harness. That means it needs to be flexible and long enough that it won't ride up past my waist when my hands are working overhead. Now that my specifics are set, the real research begins.

Here is what you really need in a rain jacket:
- Waterproof, not water resistant. Patented waterproof technology a plus.
- Breathable material, underarm vents a plus.
- Seam-taped or sealed seams, to keep water out.
- Moisture-wicking lining, to keep things less sweaty.
- A hood. Adjustability and helmet-compatibility a plus.
These are the basics that you need. More benefits to look for include a long cut, velcro-adjustable wrists and waist, compactability (many rain jackets have a pocket where they pack into themselves) and the jacket should be lightweight. It's a good idea to order a size up, so you can layer well underneath in colder weather.

Affordability is my final requirement. I'm looking to spend no more that $75, but I still need quality. Brands like Mountain Hardware and Arc'teryx, whose rain jackets run between $160-$500 are of the utmost quality, but way out of my price range. Patagonia and Marmot are also of excellent quality, but still run over $100, unless you find a good sale. Stores like REI and EMS do run online sales on many brands like these, as well as offering their own products, which are not only comparable in quality, but reasonable in price. At REI's online site I'm surprised to find the North Face Venture women's rain jacket priced at $63.93 to $99.00. This jacket included all of the basics listed above, complete with patented Hyvent waterproof technology. After perusing the EMS website, I find that their Thunderhead series, which has respectable specs and System Three 10K waterproofing, is currently running for $79.20. Both jackets weigh 11oz, are easily packable, and have a few nifty pockets, which always seals the deal for me.

Eventually I must come to a decision. After hours of research and browsing online, I decide that I want to check with some local stores also. I do a lot of my shopping online, but since the fit and flexibility are still a top priority for this purchase, I want to be able to try on a few rain jackets also. After narrowing down my choices, I choose a winner. From Bass Pro Shops I purchase the Columbia Watertight Jacket. It meets all my requirements, although I choose to purchase the men's version after being disappointed with the unnecessarily short fit of the women's version. The jacket is multi-layered for breathability and uses Omni-Tech waterproofing. It has fully-taped seams, adjustable everything, and is lightweight and packable. Ringing up at 59.95, it is an excellent buy.

Hopefully these pointers will aid my readers in their quest to stay dry and comfortable. Please remember that if not properly cared for, or washed too often, no rain jacket will last. It's important to do your own research and read product reviews before choosing to make any purchase. As always, everything is what you make of it. Happy shopping!

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