Rain Jacket Basics

Always, always, always bring a rain jacket.

Kyle tells a story about a time he was on a hike with someone who broke ALL the rain jacket rules. The leader of the hike had told them that “eh, there’s only a 20% chance of rain.” They ALL thought they’d most likely get lucky, but the storm clouds began rolling in anyways. A thunder clap echoed down from the sky and three out of four  hikers in their party unbuckled their packs, swung them to the ground, quickly threw on their rain jackets and covered their packs.

One member of the group was in denial. He stood there, sans rain jacket, and said, “nah, it’s just going to pass by.” Within minutes the sky opened up and let loose on the hiking party. The three hikers who were guarded from the rain watched as their partner and all of his stuff got wet. The fourth hiker’s rain jacket was at the bottom of a stuff sack at the bottom of his bag. FINALLY he pulled out his jacket, threw it on and Kyle said “duuude….that’s your rain jacket?” It was an old, Kmart brand swishy jacket that looked like it may have been water resistant at one time (maybe…10 years ago). The leader of the hike pulled out his tarp and set it up quickly so that they could all sit underneath while the brunt of the storm passed. There was no way they could keep going as one of them got completely drenched.

We don’t have very many pictures of us in the rain! Kyle’s camera broke during this downpour in the Catskills.

The lessons to learn:

1. Just because it looks like a rain jacket,
doesn’t mean it will keep you dry.

This has actually happened to me. I had a jacket that I bought a few years ago. It was never a top of the line rain jacket, but it did the job for a year or so. Unfortunately, after shoving it in my pack trip after trip, the DWR coating had diminished. Then, on one trip, a crazy storm rolled in while we were setting up camp. I said, “uh oh….I don’t think my rain jacket is a rain jacket anymore.” None of the rain drops were rolling off, they were all just melting into the fabric. So, while it poured and hailed on Kyle who was staking out the tent, I had to sit inside. Face palm.

  • Make sure your rain jacket is actually a rain jacket to begin with. I’m not going to get into specifics about what makes a good rain jacket in this post, but there are PLENTY of resources (a few are listed below).
  • Always consider re-treating your rain jacket with a fresh coating of DWR (durable water repellency). It’s easy to do and there are a few popular brands: here’s one.

2. Make sure your rain jacket is easy to access

You’re rain jacket will not help you at the bottom of your pack. Not only will you get wet while you are trying to get to your jacket, but all the things you have to pull out of your pack will also get wet. No bueno.

My recommendation: Put your rain jacket in the outside pocket near your pack cover. This way you can cover yourself and your pack quickly and easily.

3. Never assume: “Nah, it’s going to pass by.”

You don’t want to be in a situation where you think, “it’s only a 20% chance that it will rain…it probably won’t rain.”

When you find out what a 20% chance of rain looks like, you won’t be happy.

I once met a hiker who looked up at the sky, saw that it was a clear night, and decided to cowboy camp (sleep under the stars). Hours later he woke up laying in a puddle. His down sleeping bag was completely soaked and he ended up throwing it out. That’s an expensive and uncomfortable night on the trail.

  • Consider that the forecast could change in an instant. Mother nature is not always forgiving.
  • You won’t always have service on the trail–it’s just better to be prepared.

I have more to say about the “right” rain jackets to buy and what to look for in a rain jacket. We’ll get there! I promise! For now, start by having a rain jacket, making sure it will actually repel water, and having it readily accessible.

Happy hiking my friends!

Sincerely yours–

The Mitteneers


  1. The 10 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking (2017) from The Adventure Junkies
  2. How to Choose the Best Rain Jacket from the REI Co-Op expert advice
  3. Top 10 Backpacker recommended jackets — 2017 from Section Hiker

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