If you’re going to buy Sierra Design’s Elite Rain Chaps, you’re going to want to buy them together with Sierra Design’s Cagoule Jacket – they should really be sold together as a set. The rain chaps alone are insufficient for rain protection unless used with a long trench-like hiking rain coat, like the Cagoule, or a rain poncho that completely covers your crotch.
I’m not exactly why Sierra Designs sent me the Elite Rain Chaps alone to test without the Cagoule Jacket, but I dutifully tried them out in hypothermia-inducing conditions in the pouring rain because you should never assume you know how gear is or isn’t going to work until you test it out.
Crotchless Rain Pants
The age-old problem with hiking in rain pants is that you get wet if you wear them and wet if you don’t! The reason you get wet is from sweat and/or condensation. It doesn’t matter if you buy rain pants with so-called breathable fabric, because the fabric can’t breathe fast enough to vent to moisture that accumulates.
Chaps, (like cowboys wear) are leggings without a crotch or seat that horseback riders wear to protect themselves when riding through dense brush. When the same open crotch and seat concept is applied to rain leggings, they significantly help reduce sweating and condensation in the crotch and lap area, where you build up a lot of heat when hiking.
Elite Rain Chaps
Unlike cowboy chaps, Sierra Designs Rain Chaps are two independent tubes of fabric, or leggings, that you pull up over your legs. Each legging has a piece of webbing on the outside that hooks on to your belt or pants waist to hold it up and a quarter-length slit from the knee down to make it easy to pull over your boots or shoes. The slits don’t have zippers, but close using velcro patches, since zippers fail so frequently.
Made using nylon and polyester, the seams of the leggings are all taped and a DWR coating has been applied to the outside to bead rain. They come in one size and the pair weights 3.6 ounces.
When worn above with a technical rain shell, there is a gap in coverage between the bottom of my rain coat and the tops of the rain legging, which becomes wet when rain collects on my rain shell and drips down onto my pants. What is needed is a longer rain shell, like the Sierra Designs Cagoule to cover the front of my pants and the seat to protect them from drips.
In testing the rain chaps, I did notice that the webbing straps consistently slip when worn, inching lower and lower down my leg. This is easily fixed by knotting them, as shown, but a better attachment system would be nice here to begin with. Sierra Designs may have since fixed this webbing issue, since I got an early production sample of these Chaps to try late last year (just before we got 100+ inches of snow).
While I’ve had somewhat mixed success with the Sierra Designs Elite Rain Chaps because they didn’t send me the Cagoule Jacket with them, I am sold on the notion that adding pit zips and vents to rainwear is a far better approach to keeping hikers dry than sipping the breathable fabric Kool-aid. Waterproof breathable laminates don’t works nearly as well as mechanical venting, where the you use body’s motion to help force air through a garment to carry off sweat and condensation.
This entire approach to clothing ventilation isn’t new, but Sierra Designs has taken it a lot farther than companies like Outdoor Research, that include pit zips and torso zips into their shells today. While selling it to hikers is going to take a lot of reprogramming and consumer education about the overblown claims of breathable fabrics, I actually think Sierra Designs has a shot at succeeding at reinventing this area of hiking gear, especially now that Andrew Skurka is working with them on hiker education.
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