Forecasting weather in the New Zealand outdoors has always been difficult, with it being not uncommon to experience all seasons in one day.
The presences and effectiveness of your Wet Weather Gear, can thus make all the difference to the success of your trip, perhaps even your survival depending on the location.
My wet weather gear consist of three items;
Hikers with cooler Thermal profiles and or those hiking in Alpine areas, will often include Waterproof Weather Trousers in this list also. For me with a hot thermal profile I have always found my Gaiters did the trick just fine.
I often see hikers without pack covers, and while its not a must, there are a number of reasons why I would recommend using one in all weathers on all packs;
- It allows you to “wear” a high visibility (or contrast) colour on your back, for your own safety, particularly if you are in areas where permitted hunters may also be operating. (this can also mean illegal poachers also)
- The cover keeps the Pack dry or mostly dry in bad weather. A wet pack is a heavier pack.(i.e.: My 15 year old MacPac tramping pack weighs 2kg dry/ empty, this increases to 8Kg wet/ empty!)
- Keeps the Pack clean, which prolongs its life and function, and the cover is way easier to clean then your pack. Dirt and mud will also reduce any waterproof properties the pack might have.
- The inside of the pack stays dry in heavy weather, even modern packs will start to leak in heavy weather. While most Hikers expecting these conditions will also pack their gear in dry bags, a dry interior is so much nicer.
- Streamlining the pack so straps don’t hang down or get caught in vegetation, and stuff cant fall off your pack( hen you leave the zip open 😉
What I look for in a Pack Cover
- An elastic draw string around the entire outside of the pack cover, with a tensioning toggle at the top.
- A Restraint strap, which runs around your pack between the pack frame and your harness and holds the pack cover in place in windy conditions.
- Drain holes in the base – preferable more than one with a metal ring around it
- High visibility colour with reflective strip or high contrast colour ( i.e.: blue in native bush)
- Here are the things I look for in buying a new Rain coat (often also called an outer shell / or Hard shell)
Fabric or Coating
Quality modern Hiking Rain coats are;
- Often much lighter then the more traditional also.
Made from either a laminated fabric membrane (i.e.: Gor-Tex) or a Polymer coated fabric,(i.e.: Reflex) both are very good at keeping the elements out and and letting your body head escape so your not walking on the more traditional small sauna.
Generally the fabric type is best in cold places/ Alpine environments(*1) while the polymer coating is best at lower altitudes / warmer places.
While both kinds can be fairly expensive compared to more traditional rain coats, both are very durable and last the distance(*2) when well looked after.
What I look for in and Outdoor Coat
- As a Kiwi that prefers to hike in short pants all year around (wet legs are easier to dry then long pants) I like the length to be at least mid thing to cover.
- I go for one size bigger than my size, which allows me to comfortably wear additional warm layers if the conditions are cold as well as wet.
- This larger size also means the sleeves are usually longer enough to cover my wrist and hands when down at my sides walking, a great way of keeping them warm in bad weather.
- I prefer the minimum number of pockets, One map pocket upper torso and 1 or 2 angled entry lower down is fine, but I rarely use them- to much weight in the coat is restrictive to movement.(in one coat if found the documentation in a hidden pocket 10 years after I brought the coat…clearly I didn’t need that pocket!)
- Thick chunky durable zip. (great for cold hands)
- Double ended front zip. (can unzip from top or bottom)
- Watertight flap with domes that covers the front zip.
- Gusseted waist so the coat doesn’t ride up under a pack.
- Waist draw cord. (pull in the excess in high winds)
- $350 – $600 NZ is around the range for a good hiking Rain coat in fabric or coating.
- My advice is buy the best you can afford, because it will last a while and can be used hiking or not.
When shopping for a new Rain Coat, always take along all the layers you would normally wear under a coat in bad weather, and try the coat on over them.
Once you have brought a coat – always test it around home in the rain as soon as possible and BEFORE your next hike to ensure the coat actually does what its supposed to. The worst place to find out it doesn’t is when your life depends on it in the outdoors.
A reliable Hiking Rain coat is likely to open a whole new chapter in hiking for you.. yes you can actually still hike in the Rain and enjoy your self!
Modern Hiking Boot Gaiters essentially come in to lengths – ankle and high leg, and are either made from;
- Cheap, heavy non breathable Canvas
- Moderately priced, Light strong Rip stop/ Cordura type Fabrics (limited fabric breathing)
- Most expensive, Fully breathable Gor-Tex / Cordura type.
In New Zealand and Australian conditions I prefer the high leg Gaiters, Gor-Tex Gaiters. While all types will successfully;
- Protect your legs from being scraped by vegetation, rough surfaces, nasty animals(only in Australia!) and the sun.
- Keep track debris, sand, mud out of your boots.
- To some degree help your legs stay warm in cold conditions
The Gor-Tex go a step further;
- When paired with waterproof boots, your feet stay dry in pretty much any wet conditions including stream crossings,(*3) and deep mud patches.
- Your legs stay dry to mostly dry in heavy rain or snow conditions, which assists greatly with keeping you warm.
- In Humid or hot conditions, just like the raincoats made of the same fabric, well looked after Gaiters keep things cooler around the legs and feet then the other kinds can.(*4)
(*1) In Cold environments where you are generating heat as you slog in the snow / alpine temperatures, the body heat you generate actually helps Gor-Tex to work better than it would lower down.
(*2) Provided you follow the manufactures care instructions.
(*3 The act of detouring around a large mud puddle can give plenty of laughs for the Gaiter wears when you slip back in, it does also serve to make the mud puddle bigger. Gor-Tex Gaiters and lined boots mean you can walk through streams rather than dicing with death and severe pain jumping on boulders.
(*4) In really hot sunny summer days even Gor-Tex Gaiters can get pretty hot, particularly if you have a hot thermal profile.