How to choose the best rain gear to stay dry in stormy weather


Once, my troop experienced three days of chilling rain during a canoeing trip. Most of the other canoeists we saw were soaking wet, while our Scouts were completely dry. Why’s that? At a pre-trip meeting, we modeled appropriate rain gear.

Cheap plastic suits that tear and ponchos that leak and blow aside in wind were not allowed. Every Scout was required to have a two-piece rain suit. Before your next trip, use these tips to help your troop or crew choose the best rain gear.

Choose a Base Layer

What you wear under your rain gear is important, especially when the temperature dips. Choose a polypropylene, polyester or wool T-shirt or a pair of long johns that serve as a wicking layer next to your skin. If it’s cold, add a wool or fleece shirt. Your wicking garments will absorb perspiration.

Select a Rain Parka

Choose a rain parka that is a full size larger than your usual clothing so it will provide good ventilation and fit when worn over layered garments. The throat area must seal tightly.

While it might add to the expense, look for jackets with a waterproof zipper — these are best, but standard zippers covered by double-facing flaps work, too. Parkas that have a single-zippered flap controlled by snaps or Velcro are sure to leak in blowing rain.

Avoid jackets that have standard zippers under the arms for ventilation — they will leak in long, hard rains.

Test the Fit

Before trying on your parka, first put on your base layer or clothing similar in weight. Then put on your parka and try these tests:

  1. Windmill your arms back and forth. Does the parka bind anywhere? If so, it is too small. Can you fully zip the jacket — and move actively — while wearing all your cold-weather clothes? If not, keep shopping!
  2. Water will dribble through elastic and snap cuffs. Velcro closures seal best. Do the parka’s wrist tabs seal over your bulkiest and thinnest garments?
  3. Integral hoods are best. Detachable options and those that zip into the collar of a jacket usually fit badly and allow rain to dribble through. Even the best hoods obscure some visibility. A big-brimmed sou’wester hat provides an all-around view — essential for boating in currents and rapids.

Opt for Rain Pants

Rain pants can be a blessing in long rains, particularly when it’s cold. Otherwise, they can be excess baggage. Review the local weather forecast before deciding what gear to leave behind.

Your raincoat usually goes on first, followed by pants as the storm picks up. When choosing a pair of rain pants, avoid the ones with a bib and suspenders — these can be a hassle to put on and take off with each passing rain because you’ll need to remove your jacket each time.

Instead, choose pants with an elastic waist cord or cord lock. Make sure the waistband fits well — rain pants will gain weight when exposed to water, which can cause sagging if your waistband isn’t tight.

Rain pant legs should be clown-like — but not too loose to risk tripping — and they should hang straight. When shopping for rain pants, wear your boots so you can make sure the pants fit when worn outside your footwear. Avoid ankle closures of any kind. They don’t keep out water — they just restrict ventilation. Scouts with shorter legs should note that rain pants with a zipper on the ankle can’t be shortened without relocating the zipper.

Take care of your waterproof gear
by storing the parka and pants in a nylon sack at the top of your pack. Stuffing unprotected rain clothes into a pack might damage the thin waterproof coating.

Wear only when needed. No waterproof garment, regardless of price, will last long if you wear it every day as you hike or paddle. Save your good rain gear for rain, and put on a porous nylon shell for wind.

Two lightweight rain jackets — one worn on top of the other — will keep you dry no matter how hard or long it rains. Plus, you’ll have a spare jacket to share with a friend in an emergency.

A lightweight nylon rain tarp will provide quick shelter if a storm brews up while you’re hiking. Learn a quick-pitch pattern that defies the wind.

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO STAY DRY IN THE RAIN? Test your skill with this interactive quiz at


  1. I liked this information! (I personally and especially enjoyed the last tip—learn an effective, quick-pitch method of erecting a tarp.)

  2. I absolutely love the rain, and it is not something that keeps me from going camping. However, I don’t like catching a cold or other sicknesses; I’ve been looking for really good rain gear for a while. It is super helpful to see so many suggestions for good rain gear and to read tips on how to find it. Thank you for such detailed information, I will be purchasing some good rain gear soon!

  3. Chest pocket comes in very handy. A pack belt can make getting to side pockets a pain. The chest pocket is much more accessible.

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