Wearing rain pants when you’re hiking or backpacking can be a mixed bag because you’re going to get wet whether you put them on or not, when it starts to rain.
Huh? Isn’t rain gear supposed to keep you dry?
Good luck with that. I sweat when I wear rain gear and I’m hiking, and I sweat when I put on my rain pants. I defer putting my (so-called waterproof breathable) rain pants on until I need to because I can hike faster and more comfortably without them. Up to a point..that is.
When is that?
When I start to get cold because I’m wet or I know that I will get even colder if I get wetter.
The Purpose of Hiking Rain Gear is To Keep You Warm
I believe that the purpose of rain gear is to keep you warm, not dry. If you’re wet and you put on a rain jacket or rain pants, they’ll trap your body heat (if you’re hiking rather than standing still) and warm up. It doesn’t matter if your clothing is wet or not.
NOTE: This only true if you are wearing synthetic clothing, not cotton! (See Why Does Cotton Kill?)
When it starts to rain, I defer putting on my rain pants until the thighs of my long nylon hiking pants are soaked because I know that hiking pants will become just as wet from sweat if I put them on any sooner.
When hiking, your upper body and backpack will shield your pants from getting wet for a while unless it’s raining very heavily. Since most rain showers start as a drizzle and may peter out before it starts to rain heavily, you can often get away with never putting on your rain pants because you’ll still stay reasonably warm and dry unless it pours.
Why wait to put on your rain pants when rain threatens? You’ll hike faster without them and be more comfortable.
If it’s very warm or hot outside, you may never need to put on your rain pants, even in heavy rain, because your body won’t be chilled by being wet. But even summer rainstorms are often accompanied by a sharp drop in temperature which can chill you. The trick, called thermoregulation, is in sensing when having wet legs will chill you. That’s when you want to put your rain pants on.