Getting the Right Kit: Waterproofs
The top layer of your clothing. In all honesty this is one of those items you hope to be carrying in your pack the whole way rather than having to wear it, but usually this is not an option! When the chips are down you need something that is going to keep you dry. It’s not just that you will be miserable when you get a bit damp, but you start to lose heat rapidly through water (about 12x as fast as when dry in fact!) This can quickly spiral to something a lot more dangerous to your health. The good thing is that it’s quite easy to stay dry – step one is to pick up a waterproof layer. We’ve put down our main things to consider when looking at the suitability of a jacket or trousers.
It wants to be waterproof. This sounds like common sense but there are a number of jackets out there that look and feel waterproof, but it’s only when you look at the actual facts you see they are not. The worst are those that are showerproof, or water-resistant. These will start to let water through within 30 minutes of rain if you’re lucky, or within a few minutes if you’re not. There are some materials that guarantee their fabric such as Gore-Tex, however these are pricier because of it. Those in the middle ground – such as Hyvent from The North Face, AQ2 from Berghaus, or Texapore from Jack Wolfskin - are a good way to go if you’re only going to use it occasionally after the expedition is over.
Get a good hood. There is nothing worse than it raining on you consistently for hours at a time. Unless it’s being accompanied by a strong wind pelting you in the face that is. A hood that has toggles to make them easily adjustable and a stiffened peak (some will have a metal wire, others maybe use a plastic visor shape) to protect you from the terrible weather is essential. Fold away hoods are good for convenience when you’re conscious about your fashion, but this means they sacrifice some of the key features of a great expedition jacket.
Lots of pockets. You’ve hopefully taken a look at the Expedition kit list and have noticed lots of little things like compass, map (in a waterproof case of course), hats & gloves. There is no point having these tucked away deep in your rucksack, have them close to hand so that you don’t have to keep taking your pack off to get to them. It might feel great to take the bag of that often but you’ll feel the workout by the end of the day. Pockets are also great for keeping some snacks so that you can quickly stock up as you start up that hill! The other thing to think about with pockets is where are they on the jacket? Try on the jacket with your rucksack and see if you can still get to them with all the straps pulled tight. Remember though that most pockets are not 100% waterproof (usually it's the zip that will let in water) so dont store anything valuable in there like electronic items or your map!
Bright is right! You might think that a black jacket helps you look cool on an expedition, but it also blends into the surroundings. This is only really a problem if you get into difficulty, but having a bright jacket can make searching for a lost group a lot quicker. This should be offset against whether you would wear the jacket everyday, there isn't much point buying a jacket to use only once, so pick a colour you don't mind wearing in your day to day life too!
Venting. Some jackets now come with "Pit-Zips". These are small zips under the arms that allow for additional ventilation. Opening these up can help you cool down, without getting wet (unless you walk around with your arms above your head, but that's another matter). Make sure you can open and close these with your bag on, as some can be a bit fiddly if you're wearing a rucksack.
Breathable material. Many waterproofs now also claim to be breathable. Althought they do their best, the material is still a barrier to transfering moisture away from your body, so there can be a delay in pushing it through the waterproof material. Because of this some jackets can feel quite clammy inside, especially when you're working hard (e.g. walking uphill). The best way to help here is to wear long sleeve baselayers and trousers rather than shorts. This doesn't get rid of the moisture any faster, but it stops your skin coming into contact with the damp inner material of the waterproof. Some jackets include a mesh liner which, although adds weight to the jacket, can help to reduce the clammy feeling you get.
The same main principles apply to these as to your jacket - get something that is waterproof and fits well! Too long and you will trip over it, too short and water will leak into your boots, too baggy and they'll catch on things.
Side zips. The main feature that makes all the difference with waterproof trousers is how easy they are to put on. Many styles now have a zip up the legs which allow for easier access, especially when you have big walking boots on too! This means you don't spend as long getting them on, or have to sit down (or fall over) to put them on either. The additional benefit to these zips is that they can often be unzipped from the top too, which means you can use them to vent slightly if you find your getting a bit warm!
Although it is worth remembering that waterproof jackets should last for a while after your expedition – if you look after them this could be several years! We will be taking a look at what steps you should take to look after your waterproofs later in the year. If you are based in Edinburgh and don’t want to buy a waterproof for your expedition you can hire them from us at a nominal cost. These are heavier than others out there, but will keep the water out.