Foraging is a wet hobby!
Keeping dry while gathering nature’s bounty is your key to comfort, safety and production. We nearly always carry a raincoat and rain pants in our backpacks when we are out foraging… and we use them frequently! As beginner foragers, we thought that keeping dry meant keeping the rain out. Armed with our boots, rain pants and raincoats, we were ready to go! Over the last few years, we have learned some hard lessons about rain gear.
What we learned:
- Dry feet are the most important comfort factor.
- Rain pants are hard to put on in the field, when the rain is coming down and your boots are already muddy.
- Wearing a rain jacket is hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.
So, what do we do as modern foragers?? We made some uncompromising decisions about our outerwear. This is our story.
Kristen and I got into foraging with pretty much the exact same kind of equipment:
- A $60 raincoat:
- Kristen: NorthFace Venture Hyvent 2.5L
- Trent: Mountain Hardware Finder Jacket with DryQ
- A $40 set of rain pants
- A light pair of hiking boots or shoes that were comfortable, but, actually waterproof. Curiously, we thought they were waterproof when we bought them!
The first thing we discovered was that our “waterproof” boots would get soaked by walking through wet grass and our feet were always wet. We worked the wool sock thing and lived with it for about a year before each getting new boots.
What we learned:
- Boots all fit differently by brand (different widths, arch support, etc) and once we found a brand that fit our feet comfortably we stayed within that brand. You absolutely have to go to a good hiking boot store (or several) and try on a lot of boots. Be very very picky about the comfort.
- Kristen favors La Sportiva because they fit her narrow feet
- I prefer Salomon. Getting the 1/2 size was really important…12 too small and 13 too big in the Solomon.
- Full waterproofing is really vital! Kristen had a really hard time finding a waterproof boot that actually supported the claim. Curiously, this La Sportiva GoreTex boot although still well-loved and super comfortable, just would not stay dry. She loves the fit of this brand – thankfully the Trango (which was a bit more of a serious hiker than she thought she needed) did the job! GORE-TEX is probably the most common fabric used. But, we researched online reviews reviews to make sure real people found them waterproof – we found that the “professional reviewer” was more reliable and accurate than the 60 comments on Zappos or whatever.
- A lighter style boot was preferred – we wanted the ankle and foot protection boots offer, but, we didn’t need a “heavy” pair of boots that might be better for carrying heavy backpacks or mountaineering. We typically put 5-10 miles on them per trip, so a lighter boot is nice. (We did find that GORE-TEX boots are hotter – if it is hot and dry we might opt to wear a different boot) Kristen’s boots are pretty stiff and a bit heavier, but despite her initial “overkill” concerns, she loves them.
- Protecting your feet is key – after 10 miles of bushwhacking at elevation on varied terrain, your feet get seriously worn out. We always wear wool socks and insoles with great arch support. Check out Superfeet if you have problems with your feet and need a great support system.
Although we had to invest some pretty serious dollars, we ended up with boots we love and will hopefully last us several seasons. They are comfortable and 100% dry:
- Kristen: La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX
- Trent: Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX
- Plus, we both sport these shoes: Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX
Two extra tips:
- Make sure your pants or rain pants are not tucked in your boot tongue at all — they need to be out and around the ankles. That will keep water from running down you pants in right into your boots!
- Some foragers like to wear gaitors for extra protection and dryness… we often do when we know torrential rains are not in the forecast.
With rain pants the main switch was to get zippers. Not little half zippers to the knees either: full zip-off rain pants. Why? Try putting on rain pants, in the rain, in the field, while wearing muddy hiking boots. It doesn’t work very well. Beyond that, we went different routes.
I got Mountain Hardware stretch ozonic pant. This is a very stretchy and soft fabric with superb mobility… quite comfortable. Importantly for me, it has a built-in belt and a thigh pocket. It is also very breathable. But… it is not really 100% rainproof. It does a pretty good job, but, tends to let water in especially when I kneel down or stretch the fabric a bit. I give up some waterproofness for comfort and breathability. It comes in different waist and length sizes for a good fit and weights about 10oz.
Kristen opted for the REI talusphere FZ pant. The FZ stands for full zip. It is 100% waterproof but not quite as breathable. It is soft and stretchy, but, not as much as the Ozonic. It is more windproof and has two zippered hip pockets. They are also a bit heaver at about 14oz.
Staying dry means two things when foraging: keeping the rain out and letting the heat/sweat out! Breathability is just as important as rainproofing. We both hated our older jackets! We would put them on the rain and get soaked on the inside – they were sticky and clammy yet hot and humid. We began by researching fabrics, trying on a lot of jackets, and talking to the salespeople in stores.
We discovered there were a lot of fabrics and narrowed it down to these options.
- GORE-TEX (especially GORE-TEX Active) is breathable, durable, windproof, waterpoof and light. But, it is not as breathable as eVent. And, it is warmer. We found the pricing of GORE-TEX to be all over the board, partly because I think they have different version (GORE-TEX, GORE-TEX PRO, GORE-TEX ACTIVE). Definitely consider pit-zips if you get a GORE-TEX jacket to help it breathe better.
- eVent – This was the fabric we decided on for both our jackets. It was a bit pricier, but it seemed to breath better, and be better for warm weather than GORE-TEX. On the down side, it is a bit “loud” (I like softer quieter fabrics) and needs to be washed occasionally to keep breathable.
- NeoShell (by Polartec) would probably been a good option too, but it wasn’t available in any jackets where we shopped.
- Pertex Shield+ was a fabric we really liked. The jackets made with Pertex Shield were incredibly light (6oz by RAB Flashpoint and Outdoor Research Helium II) and compact, but didn’t breathe that well, even with pit zips.
Like everything else, different brands and models fit entirely differently. Trying them on was key! Sometimes they looked great on the shelf, or had a good price, but they weren’t comfortable when we tried them on. These are the two jackets we got and would recommend:
- Kristen: RAB Muztag (she was thrilled to find a deal on this jacket at backcountry.com)
- Trent: REI Rhyolite
For a more inexpensive alternative take a look at the Marmot Precip, this jacket fit nicely, was lightweight and gets great reviews.
The Hardest Lesson
If something you love requires you spend lots of time in the wind, rain and mud – invest the money to stay cool, dry and happy from day one. None of these options we landed on are inexpensive, in fact – they are pretty high range. However, in the long run it’s cheaper to find good, solid, durable gear that will keep you smiling from the get-go and hopefully last you a long time. We learned this lesson the hard way.