Since moving to the West Coast almost a decade ago, I’ve experienced my fair share of wet-weather mishaps. From waking up in a tent sitting in a couple inches of water, to forgetting to pack a waterproof shell during thunderstorm season, I’ve been left waterlogged and grumpy from being caught unprepared more times than I’d like to admit. Most of these unfortunate events could have been prevented had I just put a little more thought into my rain-gear kit.
After spending years trying out different gear, I’ve come up with a list of simple items that can make adventuring in the rain a whole lot better. A good rain jacket is a no-brainer, but the best one depends on what activity you plan to use it for. Other than a waterproof coat you can count on, these six items can withstand the perpetually wet conditions of the Pacific Northwest—and if they can hold up here, they can hold up just about anywhere.
Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Rain Pants ($119)
The Torrentshell has a considerable number of features that make it a solid choice for most wet-weather activities. These three-layer eco-shell pants (available in XXS to XL in both men’s and women’s versions) have a durable water-repellent finish, an elastic waistband with an internal drawcord, two zippered hand-warmer pockets, and partially elasticized cuffs that also employ a snap-tab closure, plus they pack down into their own pocket to stow away until needed. But one of the most practical things about them is the two-way side zippers, which run cuff to thigh and can be thrown over boots quickly and, when unzipped, dump heat. Comfortable and sure to keep you dry, there’s not much more to ask for in a good pair of everyday rain pants.
Outdoor Research Seattle Sombrero ($65)
A wide-brimmed waterproof hat is a nice accessory to own when you live in a climate that gets as many wet days as dry ones. The Seattle Sombrero is a seam-sealed Gore-Tex rain hat that lends itself well to colder precipitous conditions, like North Cascades backpacking in the fall. The flexible brim allows you to direct water flow, and Velcro on two sides means you can wear it cowboy-hat style if that’s more your vibe. Thanks to UPF 50+ fabric, it can pull double duty on sunny days, although it is a little on the heavy side for regular hot-weather use. The removable chin cord, soft tricot lining, and packability are a few other reasons to declare the Seattle Sombrero an all-around winner. It’s available in a handful of two-tone colors and an all-black version, and in my opinion, it’s a classic article of clothing that you’ll use for many years.
REI Co-op Duck’s Back Rain Cover ($25 to $40)
Very few everyday backpacks are 100 percent waterproof, and when they are, they can come with a hefty price tag because of technical design features and special fabric. The easiest, fastest, and least expensive way to protect your backpack from getting soaked in a downpour is with a simple rain cover. There’s not too much to say about a good rain cover—they need to pack down small, weigh next to nothing, and, above all, keep your stuff dry. REI’s Duck’s Back does just that.
Available in a range of five sizes (extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large) this seam-sealed cover will fit all backpacks between 18 and 100+ liters. It’s a great thing to have in a pinch, and not just on the hiking trail but when you’re commuting to work or hanging at the playground, too. The downside: your stuff isn’t accessible without removing the rain cover to get inside your bag, so if you need to grab something mid-downpour, you’ll likely get your things a bit wet.
Sealskinz Waterproof All Weather Mid-Length Socks ($45)
I can tough it out for hours in the rain, but once my feet are cold and wet, it’s game over. Sealskinz waterproof socks have kept my feet warm and dry during all sorts of outdoor activities. I’ve worn them hiking, kayaking, paddling, biking, camping, and while doing chores around the yard. Like much of the best waterproof apparel, they’re made with three-layer construction: the merino wool liner that sits against your skin and keeps it toasty, the hydrophilic membrane that acts as a water barrier, and the durable blended nylon exterior that feels almost like a baby version of neoprene. I’ve worn these paddling in 50-degree weather, and when stepping into the cold ocean water, these socks offered great protection against its frigid temperatures.
If you plan to hike in the Pacific Northwest, one piece of advice I’d offer is that if your shoes aren’t waterproof enough to withstand wet weather, at least your socks should be. I wear Gore-Tex hiking boots, which keep my feet dry, but I always stash these in my bag as a backup in case my feet get soaked during a river crossing or I have some other water-related blunder. If you’re in between sizes, I recommend sizing down, as you’ll want these to be a snug fit inside your hiking footwear. Since these are technical, fairly expensive, and serve a pretty specific purpose, I also recommend going the all-weather midlength route to get the most use out of them.
Rite in the Rain Side Spiral Notebook ($8)
Whether I’m jotting down gear notes, writing myself a reminder, or keeping score in a campsite card game, I’ve always got a notepad on me, and Rite in the Rain’s all-weather notebooks actually stick my words to the page even while when it’s wet outside. Designed over a century ago in the Pacific Northwest, these notebooks come in a variety of sizes, cover colors, and page patterns (I like the universal version because I can keep my drawings to scale with the dotted grid). A flexible and durable plastic cover protects the pages from damage in your backpack, and handy metric and imperial rulers are printed on the back. Tested on the trail and in the shower, I’ve written in this notepad with heavy water splashing down on it and my writing remains intact and smudge-free, although you do need to use a classic pencil or an all-weather pen on the coated pages (I use Rite in the Rain’s plastic clicker pen).
Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On Water-Repellent Treatment ($22)
Over time, the waterproof coating on the outside of your favorite rain pants or your expensive Gore-Tex jacket is going to break down as oil and dirt grind into and clog the fabric. This compromises your garments’ ability to breathe and bead off water, which can cause it to wet out. After a while, you’re going to want to re-up your rain gear to restore water-repellency and recover breathability. There are a few simple steps to re-waterproof your gear, one of which is using a product like Nikwax. After cleaning your garment, spray on the DWR treatment—a preferable method to using a wash-in formula, because the DWR coating is meant for the outside only. This isn’t a product that you’d use all the time, but once you’ve finally found rain gear you love and that keeps you dry, you’re going to want to make sure it lasts.