Rain Gear in the Alps

Today, we’re going to answer the three most frequent questions we get about rain gear: First, should you bring rain gear when you’re hiking in the Alps? What type of rain gear should you bring? And what features should you look for in rain gear?

Realistically, the likelihood of rain on any given day in the Alps is low. I’ve been hiking for days on end and never had to pull out my full rain gear. But over the course of a week, you’re likely to have maybe a few hours where you’ll be wearing your rain gear.  If you spend boatloads of money and buy expensive, top-of-the-line rain gear I can’t guarantee it will rain. But, I can’t guarantee it won’t rain either. So my advice is to bring your rain gear and be pleasantly surprised if you never have to use it.

The Game-Changer

Perfect rain gear has always been the Holy Grail for hikers. It needs to be both waterproof and breathable. Then, in 1969, an engineer named Bob Gore was experimenting with a chemical compound called polytetrafluoroethylene—better known as Teflon. When he rapidly heated and stretched the polymer, he discovered that rather than snapping or shattering, it became incredibly elastic and formed billions of microscopic holes per square inch—holes much smaller than a drop of water, but much larger than water vapor.

This polymer membrane became the basis of Gore-Tex waterproof-breathable fabric. It keeps rain and snow out, but lets vapor from sweat escape from the inside. The membrane is then sandwiched between an inner layer that faces your body and an outer layer. The outer layer is treated with a durable water repellent chemical that protects the laminate and forms the water into beads. That way, the outside of the jacket doesn’t absorb the water.

The Gore-Tex name is synonymous with waterproof-breathable outdoor wear. It has broad applications in aerospace, medicine, and other industries. Gore-Tex is not alone, and other products from SympaTex, Polartec, and eVent have come to market and have built on the technology. But, Gore is still the industry leader and they’ve continued to improve fabric performance. The next evolution, known as Permanent Beading Surface is lighter weight, and even more water-resistant.

Jacket + Pants = Happy Camper

So, as you buy your jacket and rain pants, you have dozens of textile manufactures and clothing brands to choose from. Your jacket will be a multipurpose outer layer or shell which will protect you from rain, wind, and cold. Your rain pants will typically stay in the bottom of your pack, and only come out during a rainstorm. But, I have on occasion worn my rain pants as a windbreaker or a warmth layer. By the way, I also highly recommend hiking shoes with a Gore-Tex or other waterproof-breathable layer.

4 Features to Look for in Rain Gear

First, pockets: Both your rain jacket and your rain pants should have at least one easily accessible pocket for storing essentials like a phone, glasses, snack or keys.

Next, your rain jacket should have a fully adjustable hood.  It should be able to cinch around your face snuggly and comfortably. You don’t want it to flop around or disturb you as the wind blows. I also like a hood that fits snuggly around the bill of a ballcap. The ballcap acts as an awning to keep the rain off of your face.

If you want to stay dry in cold weather, get a jacket with a zipper under your armpits—pit zips as they’re called. Pit zips can be opened to vent off excess heat and moisture when you really start to sweat.

Finally, summer rain can come surprisingly fast and hard. You’ll want to be able to put on your rain pants quickly without having to sit down and take off your shoes. Look for pants that have an expandable ankle opening or zipper that allows you to slip your pants over your boots without having to take them off first. Nothing worse than starting a rainstorm already wet.

Wondering what else you might need for a trip to the Alps? Check out our Alps Packing List

Greg Witt
Latest posts by Greg Witt (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter

Stay up to date on the latest Alpenwild news. You're free to opt out at any time.