Affordable Rain Gear for Backpacking and Hiking
Choosing the right rain gear for your trip is a crucial decision. Getting wet running errands around town is an inconvenience, getting wet while in the backcountry is deadly. We are here to help you find the right rain gear for your hiking or backpacking trip. All of the current options for gear can be daunting. Outdoor stores are filled with every option from mild to wild and reviews, message boards, and youtube videos only add to the noise.
Here are the most common questions we answer about rain gear.
Do I need an expensive gore tex rain jacket?
While wearing a $500 rain shell with whatever logo is cool at the moment may look good, is it the best option for you? Most of the people who come backpacking with us are first-time backpackers. They do not yet know if or when they will need rain gear again but they do need it for a trip with us.
Are there affordable, functional options that do not cost an arm and a leg?
YES! As a non-profit, we are constantly searching for functional, quality gear that does not cost a fortune. If you would like to see how to pick good rain gear as well as our favorite options for good functioning rain gear that won’t break the bank, then keep reading.
There are so many options, how do I choose?
Here are the three steps to choosing what rain gear or shell is best for you.
Evaluate exactly where and how many times you will be using it. If you are going for a 2-hour hike in the desert your needs are different than if you are going backpacking in the pacific northwest 3 nights a month. For a desert hike where you are never more than 2 miles from the car you can take an emergency poncho, backpacking several times a year means you need to step up to something that can withstand multiple trips and activities.
Ask yourself, “What activities could I be doing when it’s raining?” Knowing when you will be using your rain gear is an important evaluation step in choosing the right gear. If you are backpacking or hiking while it is raining you can use a poncho, as it will cover your backpack and body while still letting your legs move freely. If you will be flyfishing and will be moving your upper body, a jacket that allows movement is a better choice. Climbing, running or other heavy sweating activities will need a jacket with openings and vents for airflow and to help you cool off quickly. Riding a motorcycle or bike while it’s raining will need a jacket with few or no vents or zippers for driving rain to work its way through.
Look at your budget. Gear companies have one goal…to make money. That is why they usually only feature their highest-priced gear in their advertisements. The reality is however that most people do not even need the highest-priced gear with all the bells and whistles. Look at your budget and then search for the best fit for your needs and budget
So now that you have narrowed down what you need, what are some affordable, reliable options for rain gear?
Here are our favorite budget options for hiking and backpacking rain gear.
Option 1: The rain poncho
For over 100 years the US military as well as militaries around the world issued soldiers a rain poncho for a simple reason: they work. Rain ponchos are big enough to be worn over as many layers as you need, store flat and take up little space, and can be used as emergency rain flys or even to wrap up and to sleep in. They are easy to care for, easy to repair, light, and take up little space. They may be the perfect rain gear for general use. When I first started backpacking in 1982, they were the go to for everyone. (Editor’s note: There is a growing group of ultralight backpackers now making ponchos and poncho like “rain skirts” out of super light space fabric and acting like they are the first ones who thought of how using ponchos saves weight for backpacking…it always makes me chuckle)
Not all ponchos are created equal, however. The free or cheap clear ones made from thin garbage bags are for emergency use only when you will not be outdoors long. Like when you are caught in a storm while shopping. A good thick rain poncho will only cost a few dollars more but will be 1,000 times more safe and reusable.
One popular rain poncho on amazon with over 5,000 ratings is this one. While we have not used this one, it has great reviews and is similar to the ones we keep on hand.
- Easy to use
- Non breathable
- Can be hard to use in the wind
Option 2: eBay thrift stores, and grandpa’s closet
Waaaaaay too many people buy quality gear and either never wear it, only wear it to the office, or simply chase the newest fad, brand, or marketing hype and get rid of it too soon. Used outdoor stores and eBay are filled with formerly expensive gear for very low prices. A $500 rain jacket from a reputable gear company will last 20-30 years when properly kept. I have a gore-tex rain jacket I purchased in 1995 for $250 (a ton at the time) that still looks and works great and I used it as a professional guide full-time for years!
When my kids were growing out of gear every 6 months but still needed good gear for our adventures, I bought tons of used rain jackets and rain pants on eBay, washed and re-treated them, used them until they outgrew them, and then passed them onto others. (Editor’s note our favorite outdoor gear wash and re-treatment products are from Nikwax)
Patagonia is leading an industry push to make “gear you only buy once” and will repair gear for life to keep gear in service longer and out of landfills. REI now has trade-in programs and also sells used gear on a special website.
Option 3: Buy new but buy smart
Ok so you have read this whole article and feel like a new, quality piece of rain gear for your next adventure is best. We get it. Full disclosure, I have a $500 rain jacket. In fact, I have several. That has a lot to do with my love of multiple sports and needing several different types of rain gear for different activities (remember step 2) I am proud to say however, that I have never paid full price for a jacket. Sales, closeouts, and returns (like at the REI garage sale) are your friend here.
If I had to pick one jacket to recommend to someone who needs a new rain jacket that would be good in most situations and for most people, I would recommend the Marmot Precip line of raingear. Not only is it my favorite jacket for most people, but I also own one and gave each of my sons one for Christmas last year. My oldest son used his jacket while working as a backpacking guide all summer. Last weekend while home for fall break he washed it, retreated it and it looks brand new.
The best part? This jacket has a retail price of around $100 (but can be found on sale from time to time in the $70 range)
If you are going to backpack the AT for 6 months, travel the world in a van, motorcycle the Pan American highway, or work as a professional guide, then some of our favorite brands of quality gear to also look at are Outdoor Research, Arcteryx, Mountain Hardware and Mammut
If you are coming on a trip with us and do not have rain gear we have some jackets, ponchos, and gear to borrow.