Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Death to Rain Pants

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I reckon Sir Joe Newton does not need an introduction, him being a fellow Nordic Lightpacker et al. But for the uninitiated:

Mr. Newton hails from the UK, but relocated to Norway a few years back. He's a really laid back fellow, has a superb sense of humour (like mine, to be found at the black end of the spectrum - as you'd expect from an Englishmen!) and has a burning passion for lightweight adventures and good music. In former lives he rode BMX, road and mountain bikes, had a company car and a great 9-5 job which he left behind for a down-to-earth, simple life in Bergen, where he works at an International School. Read his blog Thunder in the Night and follow him on Twitter - but not before he declares the end of rainpants here.

Sometimes we need to take a step of faith to break with traditional thinking, especially in pursuit of lighter backpacks. So you’ve already switched from tents to tarps? You’ve ditched sleeping bags for quilts? You’ve scrapped the camp chair, camp shoes and multi-tool. Why not leave your rain pants at home on your next trip?

I’ve always carried rain pants, not just on backpacking trips but also on long day hikes, and ski tours. They sit in the bottom of my pack, ready to be pulled on if the rain started to fall heavily but then stuffed away again as soon as the rain stopped because they’re too sweaty. I started with a pair of Rab Bergen pants. Made from eVent they cost a fortune and weigh 322g in Large. They also leak at the knee in heavy rain. Then I bought a pair of GoLite Reeds. Cheap, waterproof, fairly breathable and with simple ankle zips my size Large tip the scales at just 175g a pair which was part of the reason they gained such cult status amongst UL backpackers.

Then last year I had an epiphany. Usually in the summer I hike in running shorts and carry the GoLite Reeds for rain and a pair of water resistant ‘wind’ pants as long leg-wear, to protect me from too much sun, ticks in long undergrowth and mosquitoes in the evening. During a backpacking trip across the Hardanger mountain plateau in western Norway I realised I’d forgotten my rain pants. Panic!

When the rain hit on the third day of my trip I pulled on my wind pants over my running shorts and hoped for the best. Would I die a horrible, lingering death? Would my legs fall off without expensive 3-ply rain pants? The answer was an enlightening ‘no’. They worked fine. Sure, after a while, in sideways rain, they wetted out but as long as I kept moving my legs were perfectly warm. I knew that at the end of the day I would be warm and dry in my change of clothing, under my quilt. In fact the pants dried out completely over night and I pulled them on in the morning and kept on trucking in them all day through heavy showers. Unlike my rain pants they breathed really well, so well that I didn’t need to keep taking them off every time the sun came out. I didn’t miss my rain pants at all.

I find hiking produces enough heat from my leg muscles to overpower traditional waterproof/breathable rain pants, even ones constructed with eVent’s supposed legendary vapour transfer capabilities. This means I still get wet, from sweat. I’ve been hiking long enough now to realise that when it’s really wet outside no modern waterproof breathable fabric will keep you dry all the time. Warm and damp is pretty much the best you can hope for! Then it’s down to the gear and skills to get and keep yourself dry and warm when you make camp. My current wind pants are Haglofs Shields. The recycled fabric has a DWR and they weigh a measly 170g. Similar models are made by Montane and Montbell as well as others brands.

Ditching the rain pants isn’t just about saving weight, it’s about simplifying too. Less to carry, less to think about. More time for your surroundings. In summer especially we can get away with carrying far less, as well as far lighter gear. I’m not suggesting ditching the rain pants for shoulder season trips where there is a high chance of rain and sleet and temperatures just above freezing. They’re conditions where hypothermia is a real risk. Use your judgment and take appropriate gear for the conditions you’ll face.

But right now, with warmer temperatures and the peak backpacking season upon us, take another step of faith and leave the rain pants at home.